Small technology, big innovation

Trisat-R nanosatellite

"Envision a highly miniaturised camera, less than two cubic millimetres in size, embarked on a journey aboard the TRISAT-R nanosatellite, that is flying in the Middle Earth orbit, at an altitude of 6000 kilometres. This tiny marvel has captured a photograph of a very big object — our beautiful planet Earth," says Dr. Iztok Kramberger, Chief Innovation Officer at SkyLabs.

Photo of our beautiful mother Earth at the distance of 6000 km from a highly miniaturized camera.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has chosen the image captured from the TRISAT-R nanosatellite for publication on its website as the 'Technology Image of the Week'.

On board the spacecraft, there are two miniaturized cameras serving as technology demonstration for future advancements towards cutting-edge attitude determination and control systems. “While the primary focus of our experiment was capturing the Black Sun Effect caused by the pixel spill over on the camera sensor during Sun imaging, we also succeeded in taking this striking photo of our beloved Earth,” elaborates Dr. Kramberger. He further explains that the photo is of very low resolution since the highly miniaturized cameras were not intended to perform Earth imaging. Furthermore, the spacecraft is using only low-power active magnetorquer control, making it difficult to achieve good aim.

Photo of one of the satellite’s side covers, which are integrating the highly miniaturized cameras.

The TRISAT-R 3U nanosatellite is continuously flying through the heart of the ionosphere and the inner Van Allen radiation belt, one of the most radiation demanding environments. With several software upgrades performed in orbit, the mission has been stabilized and is daily providing useful radiation data from its on-board instruments provided by SkyLabs, CERN and ESA. With more than 16 months of successful operation, the TRISAT-R mission is showcasing how highly miniaturized and energy efficient technology can be used in the form of cost-effective nanoprobes for real-time environmental sensing - for applications like Space Weather monitoring – opening up opportunities beyond traditional Earth observation applications.

Enlarged image of the highly miniaturized camera (black spot in the middle of the red circle) at side of the photo diode (white component).

“This is a great achievement for us. First and foremost, we managed to design and produce our first space application integrated circuit in less than 18 months, amid the well-known semiconductor crisis. What is more - both miniaturized cameras are directly exposed to high radiation without any protecting shielding, thereby demonstrating the remarkable capabilities of our integrated circuit, following SkyLabs’s Radiation Hardened by Design approach. That ensures that our highly miniaturized technologies really do operate successfully in the most radiation-demanding environments,” concludes Iztok Kramberger. “The technologies developed and products designed by SkyLabs, in cooperation with University of Maribor, are not just very innovative, but simply amazing.”