UK-based Teledyn e2v is collaborating with STFC RALSpace and the University of Birmingham in developing the Cold Atom Space Payload (CASPA) Accelerometer, a quantum technology-based instrument enabling future space missions to take sensitive measurements of atmospheric drag, the company announced on 25 November.

The company was selected through an open competition for the 13th Earth Observation (EO) technology call, run by the Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation (CEOI) on behalf of the UK Space Agency, following its submission of a proposal for a highly innovative space-based instrument.

The Earth’s upper atmosphere is a highly active region that plays a key role in the planet’s energy transfer, influencing climate and weather. Understanding the dynamics of the Earth’s upper atmosphere will rely on extremely sensitive measurement of the forces acting on a specially designed satellite as it passes through the rarefied atmosphere of Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO).

The new accelerometers are based on an area of quantum technology that uses alkali atoms, which are cooled by lasers close to absolute zero, without the use of cryogenics. The sensors will enable a dramatic step forward in our understanding of upper atmospheric dynamics and drive advances in climate modelling, weather forecasting and satellite orbit prediction.

This project will build on Teledyne e2v’s previous work to build the CASPA CubeSat, which demonstrated a cold atom trap and represents a major step toward using cold atoms for space applications.

This industrial and academic collaboration aligns strongly with the key objectives of the UK Space Agency EO technology strategy, and reinforces the UK’s position as a world leader in the provision of cold atom payloads and sensors for a new generation of Earth observation satellites.

The CASPA technology demonstrator. (Credit: Teledyne e2v, image part furnished by NASA)

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