France Sends Nanosatellite PicSat Into Orbit To Study A Distant Planet In Milky Way Galaxy

French satellite PicSat being launched into space.
ESA/CNES/Arianespace-S.Corvaja / Getty Images

On Friday, French nanosatellite PicSat 3U was sent into orbit aboard Indian Space Research Organization’s PSLV rocket.

PicSat has been created by a team of engineers from the High Angular Resolution Astronomy at the Paris Observatory in France. The nanosatellite was completed in a period of about three years. It will move in a polar orbit nearly 505 km above the surface of the Earth.

The primary aim of sending PicSat into space is to gather more information about a massive, bright star named Beta Pictoris and its mysterious exoplanet Beta Pictoris b. This star system is located in our Milky Way galaxy. Beta Pictoris, a very bright star, was discovered in 1984. The mass of Beta Pictoris is nearly 1.8 times that of our sun. This star is relatively young as it is just 20 million years old. It lies approximately 60 light years away from the Earth in the Pictor constellation, according to Scientists also reveal that a massive debris disc, rich in carbon and oxygen, surrounds the star. PicSat will try to study this debris disk in detail.

The planet Beta Pictoris b was discovered in 2009 by a team of French astronomers. This gas giant is nearly seven times more massive than Jupiter and 3,000 times more massive than our Earth. Beta Pictoris b orbits its host star from a distance of nearly 1.5 billion kilometers. A day on this planet lasts for just eight hours.

The champagne box-sized PicSat weighs 3.5 kg and has a dimension of 10 cm x 10 cm x 30 cm. It is equipped with a 5-cm optical telescope that will allow scientists to receive high-quality images of the exoplanet. PicSat is carrying with it a radio 145/435 MHz FM transponder that will be used to communicate with the satellite. The nanosatellite will consume just 5W of power, which will be generated through solar panels installed on PicSat.

A team of scientists at Lesia in Meudon will operate this satellite. The mission is expected to last for one year.

Astronomers are expecting Beta Pictoris b to pass in front of its star in 2018, according to Sputnik News. This transit, which occurs once in every 18 years, could help scientists gather precise details about the atmosphere on Beta Pictoris b, its exact size, etc. PicSat will continuously monitor this star system. In the event of a planetary transit, the European Southern Observatory’s telescope in La Sille, Chile will be instantly put into action to monitor the event. The combined data of two telescopes will help scientists to have a better understanding of Beta Pictoris b and its host star.

The PicSat project has been backed by the French space agency CNES, European Research Council, the Université PSL, and the MERAC Foundation.