Along with SARAL, this will be among the six satellites put into orbit

A space telescope that will watch for asteroids heading in Earth’s direction and a pair of tiny astronomical satellites are among the six spacecraft that the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV)-C20 will carry into orbit on Monday alongside its primary payload, the Indo-French ‘Satellite with ARgos and ALtika’ (SARAL).

Canada’s Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) will join global efforts to discover and track asteroids that might pose a threat to our planet. Just recently, the world got a sharp reminder of the dangers posed by such cosmic wanderers, with an asteroid hurtling past at an uncomfortably close distance while a meteor exploded in the skies over Russia with the force of several Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.

In a mission funded by the Defence Research Development, Canada, and the Canadian Space Agency, the spacecraft, the size of a large suitcase and weighing 74 kg at launch, will also be used to track satellites and orbital debris.

NEOSSat will be the only space telescope dedicated to searching for asteroids, remarked Alan Hildebrand of University of Calgary in Canada, who heads the science team for the satellite. “What you can uniquely do from space is to search the sky near the sun,” he told this correspondent. The satellite’s telescope was designed to allow it to look at a narrow arc close to the Sun.

Also travelling on the PSLV are two BRIght Target Explorer (BRITE) nano-satellites. Their designer, the Space Flight Laboratory of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) in Canada, says these are the smallest astronomical satellites ever built. Each cuboidal spacecraft weighs less than 7 kg at launch.

A small telescope inside the spacecraft will be used to observe the brightest stars in the sky. The pair that are going on the PSLV will be operated by two Austrian universities. Four more BRITE satellites are to be launched in the coming years.

“BRITE is expected to demonstrate that nano-satellites are now capable of performance that was once thought impossible for such small spacecraft,” according to Cordell Grant, Manager of Satellite Systems for the Space Flight Laboratory at UTIAS, in a statement on a university web page about the spacecraft. These high-performance spacecraft could be developed quickly and at low cost.

The PSLV will also launch small satellites, one each from Australia, the U.K. and Denmark.

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