Picasso and Simba in orbit at last


After several delays due to the weather and the COVID-19 crisis, the rocket Vega finally lifted off from Kourou with two Belgian mini satellites on board, Picasso and Simba.

Good news for Europe which has to position itself in the space market where the competition is tough. It is the first flight funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) allowing the rocket Vega to put such a large number of small satellites into orbit in just one journey.  It has to launch 53 small satellites into orbit around the earth for 21 customers from 13 countries.

These very small satellites, called CubeSats, are 10 cm cubes and are very light - about 1.3 kg. Made with standard components, they allow scientific research to be conducted in space at a reasonable cost.

Two of these CubeSats are Belgian, and are named Picasso and Simba, and each one has a very specific mission. Picasso, developed by the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, will measure the mitigation of solar light by the earth's atmosphere at sunrise and sunset to determine the vertical distribution of the concentration of ozone in the stratosphere.

Simba, created by the Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium will analyse climate change. It will measure both the energy that the Earth receives from the Sun and the energy from the Earth that is lost in space. It is this imbalance that determines the heating or the cooling of the planet.

The space agency hopes that the CubeSats will show that they have achieved the technological maturity needed to become genuine scientific tools that deserve to be taken into consideration for the Earth's observation.