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Using lasers to calibrate and characterise satellites pre-launch

The need

Satellite sensors require comprehensive calibration and characterisation in simulated operating condition before they launch. In addition to increasing radiometric accuracy requirements, many sensors need good spectral characterisation. None more so than those looking to measure the composition of the atmosphere, as their spectral resolution requires complex and expensive tuneable lasers as part of the measurement system.

The impact

We are working with M Squared Lasers, a leading provider of photonic and quantum technologies, to pioneer an innovative new service to ensure the highest traceable accuracy can be delivered to a broad range of satellites in a more cost-effective and efficient way.  

We are combining state-of-the-art tuneable lasers with more conventional radiometric and optical/image performance facilities into a flexible and tailorable Optical Ground Support Equipment (OGSE) that can be used in the clean rooms of satellite test facilities on a short-term loan basis. This will dramatically reduce the cost of calibration for each individual satellite and ensure that the services provided are always state-of-the-art and fully traceable to SI units.  

The Spectroscopically Tuneable Absolute Radiance calibration and characterisation (STAR-cc) equipment will be more efficient than existing methods as it enables radiometric, spectral and stray-light characteristics to be determined simultaneously, as opposed to through a sequential series of measurements, although such options will also built into the facility.  

The STAR-cc-OGSE can deliver accuracies under vacuum close to those previously only attainable in National Measurement Institutes. The first sensor to use the STAR facility will be MicroCARB, a French-led mission to measure greenhouse gas emissions which is due to launch in 2021.