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NEOSSat: observing asteroids, space debris and exoplanets

Canada's agile space telescope

NEOSSat is the world's first space telescope dedicated to detecting and tracking asteroids, comets, satellites and space debris. The suitcase-sized satellite orbits at an altitude of approximately 800 kilometres above Earth. It circles the globe every 100 minutes, scanning space near the Sun to pinpoint asteroids and comets that may someday pass close to Earth.

NEOSSat is sweeping the skies observing satellites and space debris as part of Canada's commitment to keeping space environment safe. It can also reveal the presence of exoplanets around distant stars using light intensity variation measurements.

NEOSSat applies industry-leading reaction wheels technology for which Canada has become known and has already demonstrated in our very successful Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars (MOST) satellite.

Tracking asteroids and comets

With NEOSSat, Canada is contributing to the international effort to catalogue near-Earth asteroids and comets.

Due to its lofty location, it is not limited by the day-night cycle, unaffected by weather or atmospheric conditions, and can operate 24/7. Therefore, it can look for near-Earth asteroids and comets that are difficult to spot using ground-based telescopes.

Comet C/2020-F3 (NEOWISE) animation processed from NEOSSat images taken on . (Credit: Canadian Space Agency [CSA])

Space debris

NEOSSat monitors orbiting space objects to help understand their behaviour and conduct research on techniques to reduce the risk of collisions. It is the first microsatellite used for this purpose. Unlike ground-based telescopes, NEOSSat is able to:

As part of Defence Research and Development Canada's (DRDC) Space Domain Awareness project, NEOSSat's High Earth Orbit Space Surveillance (HEOSS) mission enables scientists to perform a variety of experiments aimed at improving our understanding of both satellites and space debris. The information gathered by NEOSSat bolsters Canada's contribution to international efforts to maintain the safety of Canadian and international space assets.

NEOSSat image of RCM satellites

NEOSSat image of RCM satellites on , shortly after launch and before their final orbital phasing. (Credit: DRDC and CSA)

Monitoring planets around other stars

How to find exoplanets

Astronomers use NEOSSat to investigate subtle dimming of stars that reveals the presence of exoplanets as they pass in front of their star. NEOSSat helps to confirm the discovery of these exoplanets and determine their orbital period, which complements the science done with larger ground and space telescopes, such as NASA's TESS mission, advancing our understanding of exoplanets that will continue to be studied by observatories such as James Webb Space Telescope and Ariel, a European Space Agency mission.

An exoplanet is a planet that is outside our solar system. Exoplanets are found orbiting a star other than our Sun. In the same way that our solar system contains eight planets, other stars can have many exoplanets in orbit around them.

Exoplanet Kepler-186f

An artist's concept of exoplanet Kepler-186f. (Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech)

Ongoing space astronomy research and open data

Astronomers across Canada are using NEOSSat to:

  • confirm the existence of exoplanets and better understand them
  • provide orbital data on near-Earth asteroids and passing comets

Since , we have provided Canadian astronomers with observation time on NEOSSat.

All astronomy data from NEOSSat is made available in accordance with Canada's Directive on Open Government. Images are downlinked, and transmitted immediately to our FTP website, and archived by the National Research Council of Canada as part of the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre.

Space astronomy research
Name of PI Institution GO cycle Project description
Étienne Artigau Université de Montréal 1
  • Photometric Monitoring of Nearby M dwarfs: Disentangling Planets from Activity
David. D. Balam National Research Council Canada/Dominion Astrophysical Observatory 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Cycle 1: Astrometric Follow-up of NEOCP Asteroids and Comets
  • Cycle 2, 3, and 4: Morphology and Astrometry of Near-Sun Comets and Unusual Asteroids
Aaron Boley University of British Columbia 2
  • TransitDot: Constraining Changes in Exoplanet Transits
Emily Deibert University of Toronto 1
  • Constraining the Ephemerides of a Newly Discovered Young Planetary System
Chris Fox Western University 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Cycle 1 and 2: Follow-up Transit Observations of Confirmed TESS Exoplanet TOI-123b
  • Cycle 3: Transit Observations of TESS Planet Candidates TOI-1516b & TOI-2046b
  • Cycle 4: Transit Observations of TESS Planet Candidate TOI-2395.01 & Transit and Secondary Eclipse Observations of WASP-43b
Brett Gladman University of British Columbia 1
  • Fine time-scale monitoring of the first interstellar comet C/2019 Q4
Chris Mann Université de Montréal 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Cycle 1, 2, and 3: Long-duration Exoplanet Transits
  • Cycle 4: Catching an elusive re-transit of TOI 2010.01 & Follow-up of warm/cool Jupiters
Jason Rowe Bishop's University 1, 2, 3, 4
  • NEOSSat Observations of Transiting Exoplanets (NOTES) Survey
Paul Wiegert Western University 1, 2, 4
  • Cycle 1: Probing Activity on Near-Sun Asteroids Near Perihelion
  • Cycle 2: Observation of Periodic Near-Sun Objects & Tracing the Activity of Near-Sun Asteroid (3200) Phaethon Near Perihelion
  • Cycle 4: Forward Scattering by comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard)

Collaborators

NEOSSat is jointly funded by the CSA and DRDC. The satellite was built by Microsat Systems Canada Inc., with support from Spectral Applied Research and COM DEV International Ltd. (formerly Routes AstroEngineering). The CSA leads NEOSSat's space astronomy mission, and DRDC is responsible for the HEOSS space surveillance mission.

Animation depicting NEOSSat's mission. (Credit: CSA)

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