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TOPCAT – Topside Ionosphere Computer Assisted Tomography

A team from the Invert group have been chosen to fly their payload (TOPCAT) on the UKube-1 satellite. Along with three other experiments, it was chosen from a range of proposals made by companies and academia. UKube-1 is a CubeSat (a type of miniaturised satellite) and will be operated by the UK Space Agency.

The TOPCAT payload will consist of a specialised dual-frequency GPS receiver that is suitable for operation in the space environment. It will be used to study space weather, by observing the upper ionosphere, and the plasmasphere. (The ionosphere is the region in the upper extremes of the atmosphere, where the gas is partially ionized. The plasmasphere is a torus-shaped region of plasma surrounding the Earth, extending outwards to a distance of about 30,000km.)


Region around Earth, with the plasmasphere shown in orange (courtesy NASA).

The TOPCAT payload is being developed by first year PhD student Talini Pinto Jayawardena (a Bath Space Science and Technology MEng graduate) together with staff members Cathryn Mitchell, Robert Watson and Julian Rose. The project is supported externally by Chronos Technology, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the Mullard Space Science Laboratory. Additional financial support has come from the Bath Alumni Fund.


Talini holding a mockup of a cubesat (for testing antenna perfomance).

Construction is expected to be complete by August 2011. The UKube-1 satellite is due for launch in March 2012.