Oxford Physics space instrument now successfully in Earth orbit on TechDemoSat-1

9 July 2014

Yesterday a Soyuz-Fregat rocket lifted off at just before 5PM and along for the ride was a new, compact infrared instrument developed by the Planetary Experiments Group in Oxford Physics and RALSpace at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Called the Compact Modular Sounder, or CMS, the instrument is designed to map surface and atmospheric temperature properties, is about the size of a shoe box and has a mass of just 4.5 kg. The instrument was carried into orbit as part of the UK's TechDemoSat-1 spacecraft, built by Surrey Satellites Ltd and will be operated using the new facility at the Satellite Applications Catapult, just up the road at Harwell. TechDemoSat-1 was funded by the UK South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) to provide a testbed for new UK space technologies. RALSpace provided the command and data handling electronics and here in Oxford Physics we designed, manufactured, tested and calibrated the rest of the instrument.

TechDemoSat-1 spacecraft (SSTL)

Oxford Physics has a long history of building instruments for space and we have components on spacecraft in orbit around the Moon, Mars, Saturn and now the Earth. CMS is an innovative compact space-instrument made possible by new types of infrared detectors and a novel optical layout. Its main purpose is to demonstrate that our new design can function in space and return calibrated data of a similar quality to that acquired by much larger instruments. For any instrument destined to be operated in space the best way of reducing risk is to actually fly it and TechDemoSat is fantastic opportunity to achieve flight 'heritage'. The CMS instrument is designed to be modular, so we can re-use parts for future missions or re-fly the same design as appropriate.

The Compact Modular Sounder (Oxford Physics)

Thermal mapping instruments like CMS have lots of uses. Typical applications include measuring the surface temperature and compositions of the Moon, the Earth and asteroids and the vertical temperature structure of a planet's atmosphere. We expect to switch on the instrument and test its performance in the next few days, before we start mapping the Earth during TechDemoSat-1's one year mission.

For further details of the TechDemoSat mission see: TechDemoSat-1

For video of the launch: Launch of TDS-1

For further details on CMS: University of Oxford Press release

[Launch image courtesy of Roscomso, TechDemoSat image SSTL ltd, CMS instrument Oxford Physics]