A groundbreaking Finnish nanosatellite has recently been launched into space fitted with the world’s smallest infrared hyperspectral camera. The photos with infrared data taken from the satellite offer novel solutions for tracking and managing the effects of climate change. The hyperspectral camera is a trailblazing invention from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. The Reaktor Hello World nanosatellite was sent into space on November 29th by the Finnish space technology startup Reaktor Space Lab.
In the past, hyperspectral imaging—the concurrent collection of the optical spectrum at each point in an image—was achievable only with larger, astronomically priced satellites. The larger satellites also posed major restrictions: a single satellite offers new data only when passing over a particular location and creates new imagery on several-day intervals.
New miniature nanosatellites, such as the Reaktor Hello World satellite, weighing just a couple of kilograms, are comparatively inexpensive and fast to manufacture. Nanosatellites in groups can form cost-efficient constellations. With the aid of the new Finnish imaging technology, nanosatellites are presently able to gather crucial, nearly real-time data on the state of the Earth. That advancement has comprehensive advantages for monitoring climate change.
The revolutionary innovation arrives at a crucial time as climate change continues rapidly. “This particular type of imaging data makes it possible to monitor the status of carbon sink resources. It also enables optimization of food production and reducing environmental load caused by agriculture, providing a way to sense water irrigation needs and optimize the use of fertilizers in fields,” says Anna Rissanen, Research Team Leader at VTT.
Unique hyperspectral data can help predict natural disasters such as forest fires
The infrared wavelength region shown by the hyperspectral imager contains a substantial amount of data. That data can be used to identify ground targets such as mines, forests, fields, or built infrastructure and examine their features based on unique spectral fingerprints. Such features could be associated with the presence of chemicals like biomass content, fertilizers, or rock species, for example. Hyperspectral imagers can also track vegetation health and the composition of greenhouse gases.
“This new technology will allow us to react to global environmental changes in near real time. That opens up many new business opportunities as well as ways to combat climate change,” says Tuomas Tikka, CEO of Reaktor Space Lab, Reaktor’s portfolio company that focuses on constructing advanced nanosatellites for space-based services.
The first images were captured on 2nd of December over the Sahara desert and they were downloaded from the Reaktor Hello World during the first weeks of December.
“The image above Sahara (Figure 1) shows how the water content of an area can be determined and mapped based on infrared spectral image data,” explains Antti Näsilä, Senior Scientist at VTT and the leading technical expert for the camera development of the Reaktor Hello World nanosatellite mission.
“This type of information could prove crucial for areas fighting drought or forest fires, both of which are becoming more common with the changing climate. In the future, nanosatellite constellations could provide, for instance, concurring updates about the severity of the droughts in each neighborhood in California”, says Näsilä.
The hyperspectral imager and nanosatellite technology in detail
The infrared hyperspectral imager on board the Reaktor Hello World nanosatellite is a tiny, lightweight, 2D-snapshot tunable spectral imager working in the short-wave infrared spectra (900-1400 nm). The world’s first nanosatellite compatible hyperspectral imager constructed by VTT was launched on board the Aalto-1 satellite in June 2017, exhibiting hyperspectral imaging for visible and VNIR range (500- 900 nm). Currently, the technology has effectively been extended to include also the infrared range. In the future, the team trusts that this hyperspectral imaging technology can bring totally new solutions for space exploration.