Proba-3: ESA’s first step towards formation flying

Aug 08, 2006
Proba-3: ESA’s first step towards formation flying
Preliminary design for a Proba-3 spacecraft carrying an instrument for observing the solar corona. Credit: ESA

Proba-3 is the third in ESA’s series of missions for validating developments in space systems while carrying an ‘added value’ user payload which can directly benefit from the innovations under test. Proba-3 will demonstrate the technologies required for formation flying of multiple spacecraft. An instrument to observe the solar corona is being used for the ongoing design phase.

During the ESA Council at Ministerial Level held in December 2005, new activities were proposed to cover the design, development and in-flight operation of a set of small satellites for the full-scale testing and validation of formation flying missions.

Formation flying technologies will make new types of missions possible and provide a leap in the performance of future science, Earth observation and application missions.

Mastering formation flying missions requires the development of specific technologies well beyond the present state-of-the-art in fields such as metrology and spacecraft guidance, navigation, and control.

Proba-3, currently in its preparatory study phase, will comprise two independent, three-axis stabilised spacecraft flying close to one another with the ability to accurately control the attitude and separation of the two craft.

Utilising either cold-gas or electrical thrusters for agile manoeuvring, and both radio-frequency and optical (laser-based) metrology techniques for accurate position measurement and control, the combined system is expected to achieve a relative positioning accuracy of the order of 100 microns over a separation range of 25 to 250 metres.

Other Proba spacecraft

Proba spacecraft are part of ESA’s technology demonstration initiatives, funded through the General Support Technology Programme (GSTP). They are series of small, low-cost satellites that are being used to validate new spacecraft technologies, research techniques and development approaches, while also carrying scientific payloads.

The first satellite in the series, Proba-1, was launched in October 2001. Its primary payload is an imaging spectrometer for Earth observation. This instrument exploits the spacecraft’s autonomy and high-performance attitude control and pointing capabilities. Originally designed for a two-year mission, Proba-1 is now in its fifth year of operations.

Proba-2 is currently under development and due for launch in September 2007. Seventeen new technological developments will be flown on Proba-2. Eight items form part of the spacecraft infrastructure, while the other nine are being carried as passenger technologies to gain flight heritage and experience before committing them to the infrastructure of other missions. Proba-2 will carry four experiments: two for solar observations and two for space weather measurements.

Source: ESA

Explore further: Rosetta spacecraft sees sinkholes on comet

Related Stories

Europa—attempt no landing here, but a fly-by is fine!

Jun 25, 2015

NASA has now formally started to pack its bags for the next big discovery mission, this time heading to Jupiter's icy moon Europa. Last month NASA announced the instruments that will fly on this trip and now has ...

Image: LISA Pathfinder electrode housing box

Jun 22, 2015

This photo, suggestive of an old-fashioned lift cage, in fact shows inside a much smaller enclosure: one of the electrode housing boxes that will fly on ESA's LISA Pathfinder mission, planned for launch later ...

Looking back at the Mir space station

Jun 18, 2015

The Mir Space Station was Russia's greatest space station, and the first modular space station to be assembled in orbit. Commissioned in 1986, the name can be translated from Russian as "peace", "world", ...

Image: Messenger's iridescent Mercury

Jun 16, 2015

To the human eye, Mercury may resemble a dull, grey orb but this enhanced-colour image from NASA's Messenger probe, tells a completely different story. Swathes of iridescent blue, sandy-coloured plains and ...

Recommended for you

Rosetta spacecraft sees sinkholes on comet

13 hours ago

The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft first began orbiting comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August 2014. Almost immediately, scientists began to wonder about several surprisingly deep, almost perfectly ...

Me and my world: The human factor in space

16 hours ago

The world around us is defined by how we interact with it. But what if our world was out of this world? As part of NASA's One-Year Mission, researchers are studying how astronauts interact with the "world" ...

Radar guards against space debris

17 hours ago

Space debris poses a growing threat to satellites and other spacecraft, which could be damaged in the event of a collision. A new German space surveillance system, schedu- led to go into operation in 2018, will help to prevent ...

Why we need to keep adding leap seconds

19 hours ago

Today at precisely 10am Australian Eastern Standard time, something chronologically peculiar will take place: there'll be an extra second between 09:59:59 and 10:00:00.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.