Developed by a team of British and Russian scientists, the TwinSat project hopes to accurately predict where and when earthquakes will occur.
TwinSat was announced in early 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s journey as the first human being in outer space. The project is a collaboration between British and Russian scientists and institutions, which include Alan Smith, Director of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London (UCL), Vitaly Chmyrev of the Schmidt Institute of Physics of the Earth at the Russian Academy of Sciences and Peter Sammonds, Professor of Geophysics at UCL.
Slated to launch in 2015, the satellite will be comprised of two co-orbiting spacecraft—a 45kg microsatellite and a 2.5kg nanosatellite—known collectively as TwinSat. Each satellite will carry a suite of science instruments to measure coupling between the lithosphere, atmosphere and ionosphere (LAI). These LAI coupling events are associated with seismic activity and hence, are believed to be precursors to earthquakes.
Because the satellites are so small and are made of standard components, they are cheap to make and easy to reproduce. If the initial project proves successful, the team hopes to send many more satellites into orbit to cover the entire globe.
“It wasn’t long ago that if you said there was a chance of predicting earthquakes, people would say you were a charlatan, and not a real scientist,” said Professor Chmyrev. “But science moves quickly and I’m absolutely certain that sooner or later we’ll be able to make very accurate predictions.”
Over a three-year period, TwinSat expects to observe approximately 400 earthquakes. By identifying the sequence of events and signals that precede them, the TwinSat project hopes to develop a systematic system to predict the time and location of future earthquakes, saving millions of lives in the process.