NanoAvionics Small Satellite uses GoPro for selfie in space

A view of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from low Earth orbit (shown at 8 times normal speed).
gif: NanoAvionics/Gizmodo

Proprietary space cameras are expensive, limited, and cumbersome to develop. Smallsat maker NanoAvionics recently sidestepped all of the development hassles, opting for something off the shelf instead. The company used a GoPro Hero 7 mounted to a custom-built selfie stick to capture a selfie that’s truly out of this world.

NanoAvionics MP42 microsatellite bus captured the 12-megapixel selfie at an altitude of 342 miles (550 km) over Australia’s Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef, according to a press release. The private company, with offices in the US, UK and Lithuania, says it’s “the first-ever full satellite 4K resolution selfie in space with an immersive view of Earth.” The Smallsat, along with two other satellite buses built by NanoAvionics, started in April aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

12MP image captured by the GoPro.

12MP image captured by the GoPro.
photo: NanoAvionics

Typical cameras used for these types of applications do not have sufficient resolution, are too expensive, take too long to develop and do not always offer an immersive view. The GoPro Hero 7 was seen as a good solution, but some tweaking was needed. Engineers not only stripped the camera down to its “bare bones,” but “made a custom housing for the electronics, a custom “selfie stick,” and developed camera control electronics and special software to communicate with the satellite systems,” the company explained. Engineers “also tested it rigorously to prove it could survive the harsh environment of a rocket launch, as well as the vacuum and tremendous temperature swings of space.”

“The reason for taking the photo and video clip with the Great Barrier Reef in the background was partly symbolic,” said Vytenis Buzas, co-founder and CEO of NanoAvionics, in the press release. “We wanted to highlight the vulnerability of our planet and the importance of satellite Earth observation, particularly for monitoring environmental and climate change.”

Image for article titled This Tiny Satellite Used an Off-the-Shelf GoPro to Take an Epic Selfie in Space

picture: NanoAvionics

The company said it uses the GoPro to test and verify satellite operations, and also to test its new one PC 2.0 payload controller runs linux. According to NanoAvionics, the payload controller optimizes downlinks for “applications that require onboard processing of huge data packets”. The company hopes the camera will enable visual inspections of payloads, confirm successful deployment of things like antennas and solar panels, detect damage and other physical anomalies like small impacts from micrometeorites, and be used as an educational tool. Similar setups could also be used to continuously monitor satellites to assess changing conditions over time.

Satellites are increasingly being used by the private sector to look at the earth in addition to themselves. In April, San Francisco-based Planet Labs announced his plans to deploy a global constellation consisting of 32 Earth observation satellites. Incredibly, these satellites together will be able to track a dozen times a day and with a resolution good enough to find a toaster. Colorado-based Maxar Technologies has a satellite constellation with similar capabilities.

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