Wednesday, April 17, 2013

2 Spacecraft to Fly in Formation as Test for Future Huge Space Telescopes

For the Very First Time, Two Spacecraft Will Fly in Formation With Millimeter Precision

Apr. 16, 2013 — Spanish industry is leading the Proba-3 mission, a world first in precise formation flying. This European Space Agency (ESA) project aims to demonstrate that two satellites can move as one single object with sub-millimetre precision. This configuration will enable the creation of enormous space telescopes with the lens and detector hundreds of metres apart.

For the very first time, two spacecraft will fly in formation with sub-millimeter precision. (Credit: ESA - P. Carril)
"Proba-3 will be the first mission in which two spacecraft will fly through space as a single unit, pointing at selectable directions, and with sub-millimetre precision, in other words, relative position accuracy to within less than one millimetre," Salvador Llorente, director of this project in SENER, the first Spanish company to lead an ESA mission, explained. There have been very few formation satellite missions up to now, such as the Swedish Prisma project, and only in the near Earth environment and with a level of precision of tens of centimetres.

The new mission includes two satellites weighing approximately 340 kg and 200 kg. They will be launched in 2017 -several launchers are being evaluated, including one from India and another from the US- and they will travel jointly attached together until they separate in a highly-eccentric orbit. Their nearest point, the perigee, will only be 600 km from Earth. Every time they pass through this zone they will be in free flight, but under well controlled trajectories.

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Sources: Plataforma SINC, AlphaGalileo, and .


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