Thales Alenia Space signs the final contract with Astrium

Thales Alenia Space today signed a contract worth about 200 million euros with Astrium GmbH for BepiColombo, the European spacecraft designed to explore Mercury. The two companies first signed an ATP (Authorization To Proceed) in 2007, kicking off work on this program.

Thales Alenia Space Italia is part of the industrial Core Team, coordinating 35 European manufacturers within its workpackage. The contract concerns the telecommunications, thermal control and electric power distribution systems, along with satellite integration and testing, plus support during the launch campaign. In addition, Thales Alenia Space Italia is developing the X- and Ka-band transponders, onboard computer, mass memory and high-gain antenna, a 1.1 meter diameter satellite dish that will enable the satellite to communicate with Earth, while also carrying out a Radio Science experiment during the mission. It is a further development of the antenna used on the well-known Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. 

BepiColombo is a joint Europe-Japan mission between the European Space Agency  (ESA) and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), with Astrium GmbH as prime contractor. The mission's primary goal is the detailed study of the planet Mercury and its environment. It is one of ESA's most ambitious scientific missions. The launch is scheduled for mid-2015 from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, using an Ariane 5 launch vehicle. 

The BepiColombo spacecraft comprises 3 stacked modules

  • Transfer module (MTM – Mercury Transfer Module), used to propel the spacecraft during the 6.5-year journey between the Earth and Mercury, subsequently jettisoned.
  • Mercury orbiter (MPO – Mercury Planetary Orbiter), which carries the European observation instruments.
  • Mercury magnetosphere observation module (MMO – Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter), developed by the Japanese Space Agency JAXA.

BepiColombo's primary scientific goal is to carry out the first close, complete and systematic observation of the planet Mercury, including both its surface and its magnetosphere.

BepiColombo’s distinctive feature is the incorporation of special high-temperature technologies. Mercury is only about one-third of the Earth's distance to the Sun, meaning that the solar radiation reaching the satellite around Mercury is ten times more intense than on Earth. When in orbit around Mercury, the probe will have to withstand temperatures higher than 300°C, in the part exposed to the Sun, while the instruments inside will be operating at temperatures from 0° to 40°C. It was therefore necessary to develop special materials and devices for all exposed elements, including thermal blankets, antennas, solar cells and the pointing mechanisms.

"We are very proud of winning this contract," said Luigi Pasquali, President and CEO of Thales Alenia Space Italia, "since it allows us to tackle the exciting technological challenges of this very special mission. Satellite integration and testing will be especially important since all the modules making up the satellite will first have to be assembled and checked independently, then integrated in the spacecraft for final checks before the launch. We are also delighted with the extreme performance offered by our antenna, which is an essential component and key to dealing with the severe environmental conditions found on Mercury.."

Source: Thales Group (Paris: HO.PA)
Date: Dec 6, 2012