The FormoSat-5 satellite, showing the DTU Space star trackers at the top. Illustration: Formosat-5/Wikipedia

DTU equipment on board Taiwan’s first satellite in space

Monday 11 Sep 17


John Leif Jørgensen
Professor and Head of Measurement and Instrumentation
DTU Space
+45 45 25 34 48

Unique navigation by the stars

DTU Space has supplied star trackers for more than 75 space missions. The technology is continually being developed, refined, and adapted, and is therefore unique for each new mission.

The principle behind the star tracker is that a system of three individual cameras mounted on a satellite or other unmanned spacecraft takes digital images of the stars, which are then compared to a reference stellar map stored in the tracker’s computer.

Thus, the orientation of the satellite or spacecraft in space can be determined and thus adjusted to a high degree of precision.
Taiwan has launched its first domestically designed satellite which will be used for Earth observation. DTU has supplied the three star trackers which are used to precisely navigate the satellite.

Assisted by DTU, Taiwan has now entered the space age. This happened recently, when the FormoSat-5 satellite was successfully launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on a Falcon 9 rocket from the private company SpaceX.

With the mission, Taiwan has sent its first satellite into space. From a low orbit, it will be used to observe the Earth’s surface. It is the first major space mission that Taiwan has domestically designed, built, tested and prepared for rocket launch.

DTU Space has supplied an important piece of equipment which the satellite uses to navigate.

“We are proud to be helping Taiwan into the space age with our contribution to FormoSat-5—we have built three star trackers for the mission. This configuration ensures both a very high degree of precision and flexibility for satellite navigation,” says Professor John Leif Jørgensen from DTU Space.

Unique DTU equipment for each mission
DTU Space has delivered star trackers for many space missions. The technology is specially adapted for each individual mission.

The almost 500 kg FormoSat-5 satellite will primarily serve as an observatory, which is used to observe the Earth from a height of approx. 700 km. From here, the satellite will be able to study land areas for signs of drought and vegetation. For this, a camera is used—an optical multispectral telescope which can take high-resolution images of the Earth.

In conducting the launch, Taiwan and its national space agency, the National Space Organization (NSPO), have moved a step closer towards realizing their ambition of becoming an independent player in space.

Next-generation technology in the pipeline from DTU
NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is one of the next major projects with star trackers which DTU Space is working on.

Here, a special version of the tracker will be used to precisely position an X-ray microscope. The microscope will sit at the far end of the arm of the unmanned vehicle which will be put down on the surface of Mars to examine selected sites on the planet and search for signs of previous biological life.

“It will be a completely new way of using our technology. It requires considerable development work, which we are busy working on together with NASA and other partners,” says John Leif Jørgensen.

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