MOST - A tiny satellite probes the mysteries of the universe

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Launch: June 30, 2003
Status: Active

Creating next-generation micro-satellites

The MOST project is a cooperative scientific partnership to create the world's smallest astronomical space telescope, capable of measuring the ages of stars in our galaxy and perhaps even unlocking mysteries of the universe itself.

Sponsored by the CSA's Space Science Branch, the various MOST project teams designed, built and monitor the microsatellite that orbits 800 kilometres above the Earth, so scientists can collect stellar data 24 hours a day.

The tiny satellite weighs only 60 kilograms and carries a high-precision telescope no wider than a pie plate. The device will measure the oscillation in light intensity of stars in order to determine their composition as well as age. Younger stars are comprised more of hydrogen than helium. Sound waves pass through hydrogen faster because it is lighter than helium. The sound waves set up pulsations in the star's surface, producing changes in the light intensity of the star. The satellite's telescope measures oscillations in intensity of the star, thus estimating its age.

The MOST satellite is unique not only because of its small size, but because it can conduct stellar measurements from space. Traditionally, scientists have relied upon expensive, Earth-based telescopes to provide research data. These instruments have been hampered by both the Earth's distorting atmosphere and its rotation—allowing for only a partial viewing of a star due to the day-night cycle. In space, the MOST telescope has an direct and constant view of a star for up to seven weeks at a time and can downlink data to ground stations at the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto. The telescope is mounted on a platform about the size of a suitcase. The ability to use such a small satellite for a space telescope is made possible by Dynacon's light gyroscope technology that corrects the wobbling motion of the satellite and accurately controls where the satellite is pointing.


Toronto-based Dynacon Enterprises Limited was selected as the lead contractor in the MOST project. Other key partners include: the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), as well as the Centre for Research in Earth and Space Technology (CRESTech) of Toronto, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT), which includes both Canadian and U.S. chapters, AeroAstro, Inc. of Ashburn, Virginia, Spectral Applied Research, Routes AstroEngineering, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC), and a team of consulting scientists from across Canada and the U.S., led by the principal investigator, Prof. Jaymie Matthews, of the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of British Columbia.

Canada is already a noted leader in the study of stellar pulsation and rapid variability. The MOST project builds on this expertise, helping to answer and expand upon fundamental questions about the nature of the universe that have intrigued scientists and non-scientists alike since the beginning of time.