As the Rosetta space probe prepares for its historic attempt to deploy a lander on comet ‘67P’, BAE Systems reveals the cutting edge technology it pioneered which makes the €1.3 billion programme possible.
At its Advanced Technology Centre in Great Baddow, Essex, a team of engineers have developed an incredibly powerful ‘smartphone’ like system which enables the European Space Agency to communicate with and control the movements of the probe moving at speeds of up to 55,000 kilometres an hour, currently more than 500 million kilometres away. In addition BAE Systems' technology enables all the imagery of the comet and scientific data Rosetta is capturing to be received back on Earth.
The system, known as the Intermediate Frequency Modem System (or IFMS for short), is capable of measuring Rosetta’s speed to within fractions of a millimetre per second and its distance to within a metre anywhere in the Solar System, factors which are critical to the success of the mission.
When used at two ground stations, it utilises triangulation to determine the direction with an accuracy of a millionth of a degree, equivalent to the apparent diameter of a 10p coin at 1000km away.
IFMS also features a highly sensitive receiver that can pick-up the incredibly weak signals sent back to Earth from the probe, converting them into data that can be used to communicate the probe’s findings. The images of the comet that have captured the attention of people across the globe have been received through IFMS.
Nick James, BAE Systems' lead engineer for the project, said: “Approaching, orbiting, and landing on a comet requires delicate and supremely accurate manoeuvres. The target comet is a relatively small object about 4 kilometres in diameter, moving at incredible speeds through the solar system.
”To help make any of this possible, what we have done, in layman’s terms, is create a ‘smart phone’ for inter-planetary communication that gives ESA the capability to communicate with and control the Rosetta probe throughout its 10 year mission as it travels more than five times Earth’s distance from the Sun.
“The reliability of our system has also played a key role in the mission’s success. Launched in 2004, Rosetta has spent a decade chasing 67P. In an age where high-tech can often mean ‘short life’, for example renewing your smartphone every 18 months, IFMS was designed to provide cutting edge performance for decades.”
Deployed in European Space Agency ground stations around the globe, IFMS has supported some of the most successful European enterprises in space including Herschel (the ESA space telescope), Mars Express, and Venus Express. The BAE Systems team are now working on the next generation of IFMS, the Telemetry Telecommand and Control Processor (TTCP) to take the system into future decades.
Source: BAE Systems PLC (LSE: BAES.L)
Date: Nov 3, 2014