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Spacebel contributes to an international planetary defence mission

In conjunction with Asteroid Day, the UN-sponsored global asteroid awareness day celebrated annually on 30 June, Spacebel presented its various activities in the framework of the ESA's Hera planetary defence mission, which will revolutionise our understanding of asteroids and how to protect the Earth from their potential impact.

The Hera satellite will be a pioneer in many ways. About the size of a desk, it will be the first spacecraft to encounter a binary asteroid and its small moon as part of a planetary defence initiative supported by the ESA and NASA. The experiment will take place in two phases.

Hera will also deploy the first European deep space CubeSats. Their objective is twofold: to collect more detailed scientific data and to evaluate a new inter-satellite link technology.

SPACEBEL's involvement in this ground-breaking project includes several large contracts:

  • For the flight segment of Hera, SPACEBEL has been in charge of the spacecraft's software system since 2018; it will have extreme on-board autonomy similar to that of a driverless car. This flight software, called the core software, provides real-time functions for both the satellite platform - including the on-board computer - and the instruments that cover, among other things, the management of operational instructions and measurements, the processing of scientific data, and the control of communications between the main spacecraft and its two CubeSats on the one hand, and between the main spacecraft and the Earth on the other.
  • SPACEBEL is also developing a software validation based on a simulator that will facilitate the design of the equipment, allow system tests and be used during the operational phase.
  • For the ground segment, SPACEBEL is responsible for the development of the CubeSat Mission Operations Centre. Located in Redu, Belgium, it will oversee mission operations and control the two Hera CubeSats. It manages mission requests, flight dynamics, telemetry and data exchange between the main spacecraft and the CubeSats.

"Hera is the European contribution to this international collaboration on two spacecraft. Hera will follow up with a detailed post-impact study that will transform this large-scale experiment into a well-understood and replicable planetary defence technique. In addition, Hera will demonstrate several innovative technologies such as autonomous navigation around the asteroid - similar to modern driverless cars, and will collect crucial scientific data to help scientists and future mission designers better understand the composition and structure of asteroids. The Hera spacecraft, scheduled to launch in 2024, will perform high-resolution visual, laser and radio scientific mapping of the secondary body, which will be the smallest asteroid visited so far, to create detailed maps of its surface and internal structure. By the time Hera reaches Didymos in 2026, Dimorphos will have acquired historical significance, as it will be the first object in the solar system whose orbit has been moved by humans in a measurable way. By actually venturing onto Dimorphos, measuring its mass and its orbit displacement at very close range, and conducting its own "crash site investigation", it will be possible, for the first time, to validate or refine numerical models of the impact process at the asteroid level, making this planetary defence deflection technique ready for operational use if it is ever needed to protect our planet, Earth."

SPACEBEL is particularly proud to be part of this extraordinary international space adventure to protect life on Earth.

Sources: ESA et Spacebel

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