The Earth through a 2 millimeter lens

The Earth from 6,000 kilometers through an extreme miniature camera

This amazing image of the Earth from 6,000 kilometers was captured with an extremely miniaturized camera the size of the edge of a 20 cent coin: 2 millimeters.

It’s a small technology experiment aboard ESA’s TRISAT-R CubeSat, the size of a shoebox.

TRISAT-R project director Iztok Kramberger from the University of Maribor explained in a statement: “This small camera measuring less than two cubic millimeters takes a picture of an object which measures approximately one trillion cubic kilometers (our beautiful planet Earth) from thousands of kilometers away.

TRISAT-R, a CubeSat made from three standardized 10cm boxes, is Slovenia’s second space mission, having flown last year’s inaugural Vega-C launch in Europe to relatively poor around the medium Earth orbit, a 6,000 km long. The mission’s orbital path takes it directly through the heart of the ionosphere – an electrically active layer of the Earth’s atmosphere – as well as the interior of the Van Allen radiation belt.

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This allowed TRISAT-R to test a set of radiation detection payloads. In addition, the TRISAT-R team sent a pair of small cameras, with lenses made of transparent borosilicate glass to provide limited radiation resistance, directly mounted on the 320×320-pixel image sensors.

Dr. Kramberger added: “The resulting image of the Earth has a very low resolution, because these miniaturized cameras are not intended for Earth imaging, and the TRISAT-R satellite uses magnetorquers for its attitude control, so it is difficult to achieve the exact goal.

“Our main interest is to obtain examples of the ‘Black Sun effect’, common in digital terrestrial images, where pixel oversaturation can make extremely bright areas appear dark. We succeeded in these investigation, but we were also lucky enough to get pictures like this one.

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Located in its unique orbit, TRISAT-R’s commissioning phase ends this month and will last for 16 months of on-orbit operations.