30 March 2015 – QinetiQ has been awarded a contract worth €16m over three years to develop the computer and avionics for the European Space Agency’s Proba-3 satellite mission.
The contract exploits QinetiQ’s experience in testing and verifying software, integrating systems and providing hardware for small satellites. Building on methodology it developed through ESA’s first three Proba missions, QinetiQ’ Belgium-based team will produce compact avionics systems capable of processing millions of instructions per second while surviving the high-radiation environment of space.
Proba-3 consists of two small satellites, weighing 250kg and 200kg, which by precise formation flying will constitute a virtually fixed structure in space. They will be mounted one on top of the other for launch and sent into orbit around the earth together. QinetiQ will then test both satellites extensively before the mechanical connection between the two spacecraft separates. While the distance between two satellites is normally several kilometres, these new vessels will stay approximately 150 metres apart during formation flying manoeuvres.
During the two-year mission, Proba-3 will study the sun’s corona using an ‘eclipsing’ mechanism, achieved by fixing a camera to one satellite and a sun occulting disk to the other. These are spaced at the optimum distance to shield the camera from the sun at all times, creating conditions that are usually only observable during a solar eclipse.
Davy Vrancken, Business Development Manager for QinetiQ’s space business, said: “Through our work on the previous Proba missions and other similar projects we have established an enviable track record in delivering control systems for small satellites. This expertise and our proven methodology mean we can deliver cutting-edge technology within shorter timescales and at a lower cost to the customer.
“The mission demonstrates the importance of formation flying for the future of scientific research. Because the two small satellites can operate as a single larger entity, Proba-3 overcomes existing limitations and opens up exciting new prospects. We’re convinced that our experience will contribute to the success of this and future space missions.”