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Groundbreaking space-based thermometer on HOTSAT-1 fails just months after debut image release


The world’s most advanced space-based thermometer, aboard the HOTSAT-1 satellite, initially captivated scientists with its groundbreaking images but is now defunct. The HOTSAT-1 satellite’s debut images, unveiled in early October, offered an unparalleled view of Earth’s surface temperature fluctuations.

The satellite’s cutting-edge camera, renowned for its sensitivity, could discern even the thermal signatures of trains from space. However, a mere six months following its launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, the experimental spacecraft has ceased functioning.

On Friday, December 15, SatVu, the manufacturer and operator of HOTSAT-1, disclosed that the spacecraft encountered an “anomaly,” likely affecting its ongoing operations. Although the statement did not specify the anomaly’s nature, the BBC reported that HOTSAT-1’s invaluable thermal camera ceased operation “earlier this week.” Despite ongoing communication with the spacecraft, engineers from SatVu do not anticipate restoring operations. SatVu, headquartered in London, is collaborating with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, a UK-based small satellite manufacturer responsible for constructing HOTSAT-1, to diagnose the issue.

The company unveiled the initial images captured by the 3.3 by 3.3 by 3.3 feet (1 by 1 by 1 meter) spacecraft in early October, fulfilling its promise to provide an unprecedented view of heat distribution on Earth’s surface. With the ability to resolve details as small as 11 feet (3.5 m), HOTSAT-1’s innovative camera enabled scientists to visualize thermal impacts, such as the influence of city parking lots on nearby structures or the cooling effects of harbors and maritime ports. Furthermore, the camera offered insights into wildfire behavior and notably captured the thermal footprint of a train traversing a main rail line in Chicago in a particularly striking sequence.

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