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

August 8, 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: Weather satellites aid search and rescue capabilities

Related Stories

CloudSat exits the 'A-train'

February 26, 2018

Mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, this week lowered the orbit of the nearly 12-year-old CloudSat satellite following the loss of one of its reaction wheels, which control its orientation ...

Goonhilly antenna goes deep space

February 23, 2018

Until now, if you're an entrepreneur planning future missions beyond Earth, you'd have to ask a big space agency to borrow their deep-space antennas. Now, thanks to the UK's county of Cornwall and ESA, you'll have a commercial ...

Will the X3 ion thruster propel us to Mars?

February 19, 2018

X3 is a powerful ion thruster that could one day propel humans beyond Earth. The thruster was successfully tested few months ago, and could be selected by NASA as a crucial component of propulsion system for future Mars missions.

Recommended for you

NASA powers on new instrument staring at the Sun

March 16, 2018

NASA has powered on its latest space payload to continue long-term measurements of the Sun's incoming energy. Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1), installed on the International Space Station, became fully ...

Dawn reveals recent changes in Ceres' surface

March 15, 2018

Observations of Ceres have detected recent variations in its surface, revealing that the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system is a dynamic body that continues to evolve and change.


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.