London: Draper Laboratory and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a nano-satellite the size of a loaf of bread that will undertake one of the biggest tasks in astronomy: to find ``Exoplanets`` beyond our solar system, which could support life like Earth.
It is slated to launch in 2012.
Seamus Tuohy, director of space systems at Draper Laboratory, which has developed the ExoPlanetSat with the MIT, said the mission was ground breaking.
“While there have been many small satellites, these are typically used to perform simple communication or observation missions,” a newspaper quoted Tuohy as saying.
“We are doing something that has not been done before,” he added.
At just 10 cm wide and 30 cm long, the 3-million-pounds device works by surveying the brightness of a star as an orbiting planet passes in front of it. By working out how much a star dims, scientists can work out the planet`s size.
Calculations to work out how long the planet takes to orbit mean they can then work out how far that planet is from its star.
Measuring a star`s brightness however means the spacecraft must be kept stable as any disturbances will blur the image making it unusable. Special technology has been developed to make sure movement is kept to a minimum.
Experts say the tiny satellite is designed to work in conjunction with larger satellites, like NASA`s Kepler satellite, which launched two years ago.
Each nano-satellite costs 379,000 pounds once it is in production but only has a shelf life of one to two years.