A pioneering Finnish nano satellite has now reached space equipped with the world’s smallest infrared hyper-spectral camera. The photos with infrared data taken from the satellite provide new solutions for monitoring and managing the effects of climate change. The hyperspectral camera is a trailblazing innovation from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. The Reaktor Hello World nano satellite was launched into space on 29 November 2018 by the Finnish space technology startup Reaktor Space Lab.
In the past, hyper-spectral imaging – the simultaneous collection of the optical spectrum at each point in an image – was feasible only with larger, exorbitantly priced satellites. The larger satellites also came with significant restrictions: a single satellite provides new data only when passing over a specific location and produces new imagery on several-day intervals.
New tiny nano satellites, such as the Reaktor Hello World satellite, weighing only a couple of kilograms are relatively cheap and fast to build. In groups, nano satellites can form cost-efficient constellations. With the help of the new Finnish imaging technology, nano satellites are now able to collect critical, nearly real-time data on the state of our planet. That development has far-reaching benefits for monitoring climate change.
The groundbreaking innovation comes at a pivotal time as climate change continues apace. “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.
The infrared wavelength region shown by the hyperspectral imager contains a significant amount of data. That data can be used to recognize ground targets such as fiel-s, forests, mines or built infrastructure and analyze their features based on unique spectral fingerprints. Such features could be related to the presence of chemicals like fertilizers, biomass content or rock species, for example. Hyper-spectral imagers can also monitor 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 specializes in building advanced nano satellites for space-based services.
The infrared hyper-spectral imager on board the Reaktor Hello World nano satellite is a small, lightweight, 2D-snapshot tunable spectral imager operating in the short-wave infrared spectra (900–1400 nm). In the future, the team believes that this hyperspectral imaging technology can bring completely new solutions for space exploration.