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controls. “We completed the project in just 16 months, which I
believe is the world record,” says Saúl Martín, Iberia Mantenimien-
to’s shared services and special projects manager.
Scientists want to deploy large telescopes into space to probe fur-
ther into the nature of the universe, explains Diego Rodriguez,
director of Sener’s space department, but they’re constrained by
the size of the satellites. The ideal telescope would need to be a
long, stiff structure, he points out, “and there’s limited room in
the launcher... With traditional technology, you can only use a
structure that can be retracted and deployed.”
A solution to such a challenge is a strategy known as formation
flying, where two satellites would be launched and would then fly
together; one might house, for instance, the lens of a telescope,
and the other its detector.
This technique has already been employed in the aeronautics
sector. In such a system, airplanes fly a set distance apart from one
another and maintain a distance precisely. In the case of satellites,
two satellites would be launched. One would contain an extremely
accurate metrology system to monitor the location of the second to
within a tenth of a millimeter, ensuring a perfect alignment between
the lens on one satellite and the detector on another. “On the
second satellite, you incorporate very small thrusters that provide
extremely low but very accurate forces to compensate for the sat-
ellite’s position, maintaining the alignment,” continues Rodriguez.
While spacecraft have previously been launched that maintain
positions relative to one another, none have yet achieved a suffi-
ciently high degree of accuracy to unite the elements of a telescope.
Developing a successful for mation-flying technology is the goal
of Proba-3, a research project of the European Space Agency
(ESA), and the first ESA mission to be headed by a Spanish com-
pany. Sener will lead the mission in primary partnership with GMV,
a technology business group whose space headquarters are based
in Madrid, and Madrid-based EADS CASA Espacio. (Two other
members of the core team are the Belgian companies QinetiQ and
Spacebel.) Sener will focus on control systems that will be continu-
ously monitoring the satellites to maintain the appropriate distance.
GMV, a top guidance, navigation, and control company, will design
and implement the formation-flying system, which includes both
onboard and related ground-based systems. EADS CASA Espacio,
Spain’s leader in the field of launchers, antennas, and satellites, will
build one of the two satellites, which will incorporate new elements
such as highly sensitive thrusters.
The deployment of two small satellites flying in precise location
relative to one another will allow for the launch of much more
powerful telescopes, x-ray sensors, or sensors that operate via radio
frequency, to explore a variety of sources for infor mation about
the universe. Another such project, which the ESA is incorporating
into the Proba-3 mission, is the study of the sun’s corona, accord-
ing to Gonzalo Galipienso, EADS CASA Espacio’s political affairs
director. For such a study, one of the satellites must act in much
the same way the moon does during a solar eclipse, that is, it must
use an instrument to block the body of the sun so that the second
satellite’s instr uments can record the image of the solar corona.
EADS CASA Espacio recently developed instruments for an
ESA research satellite that collects data for a project called SMOS
(Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity). The company is also devel-
oping two Earth observation satellites: Ingenio and PAZ. And
GMV’s work in the space sector has led that technology company
to become the world’s top supplier of ground control centers for
commercial telecommunications operators, and among the leading
suppliers of navigation and control systems.
“For mation flying is an extremely challenging technology,” says
Jorge Potti, general manager of GMV Aerospace. “This will surely
enable exciting new missions that today aren’t feasible.”
Learn more at www.technologyreview.com/spain/aero
p h oto courtesy of sener
Sener has designed composite manufacturing
installations for Airbus in Spain.
8/2/2011 10:49:19 AM
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