The service to be developed by Blue Skies Space will deliver a series of commercial science satellites built to meet the demand for data in specific science areas, by focusing on building cost-effective Low-Earth Orbit satellites using approaches developed by the Earth Observation and Telecommunication sectors. The satellites that Blue Skies Space plans to deliver will be made available to universities worldwide that can buy ‘telescope time’ on the satellites to carry out their scientific study.
The first satellite of Blue Skies Space is Twinkle. See www.twinkle-spacemission.co.uk
Users and their needs
This service will be developed for scientists in research institutions worldwide. The service aims to complement existing science satellite programmes and offers to users a direct access to world-class facilities. The first satellite, Twinkle, contains a visible to infrared broadband spectrometer (0.5 to 4.5µm) available in a sun-synchronous polar orbit.
Service/ system concept
The Twinkle satellite is available to be used for a number of science applications. The initial design of the satellite will be optimised for the spectroscopic analysis of exoplanet atmospheres, and is compatible with a number of demanding research areas that require broadband spectroscopy from the visible to the infrared.
Space Added Value
Our service focuses on areas of research where a space-based asset is necessary. For instance, our first instrument needs to be located in space to allow the scientific observations in the infrared spectrum not be blocked by the Earth atmosphere.
The Feasibility Study has been completed, culminating with a review in December 2019. Engagement with prospective users and identification of key early adopters is ongoing to help shape the access proposition. A wide range of users have already registered interest with a number of contracts secured.
An initial analysis reviewing the heritage of relevant technical solutions has been carried out. Preparations for a Phase B study include selection of an industrial team to define the overall mission and system architecture.
Blue Skies Space has developed a new commercial model to deliver and operate scientific satellites. Research satellites are currently exclusively provided by major space agencies, but through this model cost, timescales and geographical access restrictions lead to data scarcity for the scientific community. With Blue Skies Space, we will complement the existing model with a series of privately funded satellites designed to quickly address the needs of scientists worldwide.
There are a number of identified science cases:
1) Exoplanet Spectroscopy
- The primary design driver for the satellite.
- cientists observe exoplanets that transit their host stars (already known targets) – the observational requirements for this science case are expected to drive the spacecraft.
2) Exoplanet Photometry
- This type of observation mode, while less onerous on instrument capabilities, will rely on exoplanet targets and hence have similar operational requirements.
3) Asteroids and Comets
- There is a large number of scientifically relevant and interesting targets (1000’s) across the sky that can be observed by Twinkle, with abundant opportunity windows for observations.
- These targets are expected to require short observations and can be used to maximise time efficiency of the satellite, but the observation mode needs to be considered for the satellite operations: short observations may require extensive slewing of the spacecraft. Tracking speed may also constrain the variety of targets observable.
4) Stellar Spectra
- Many stars of interest may be monitored throughout the lifetime of the satellite, either for characterisation (e.g. Brown dwarfs) or for stellar variability monitoring over extended periods of time.