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Corridor test of Proba-3’s formation flying sensors

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Enabling & Assist


The longest hall in ESA’s largest institution was become a check website for one of many Company’s most bold future missions, Proba-Three. The 2 satellites making up this mission will line up in order that one casts a shadow onto the opposite, revealing interior areas of the Solar’s ghostly environment. However such precision formation flying will solely be attainable by means of a vision-based sensor system permitting one satellite tv for pc to lock onto the opposite.

The Proba-3 pair will fly at a nominal 144 m aside for coronal observations, whereas as well as performing formation reconfiguration manoeuvres that can change their distance all the best way right down to 25 m, and as much as 250 m.

Preparing corridor test

Testing of this sensor system to make this attainable befell at ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, utilizing its 230-m-long principal hall, which hyperlinks challenge places of work with technical laboratories and the institution’s satellite tv for pc Test Centre.

Lights have been dimmed and displays eliminated to permit test-versions of the cameras to look at a flight-like goal bearing LED shows down your entire size of the hall.

Proba-3’s pair of satellites

“This vision-based sensor system is the preliminary approach that the 2 satellites purchase formation, and re-acquire it as soon as per orbit,” explains Damien Galano, ESA’s Proba-Three challenge supervisor.

“It’s designed to permit the pair to seek out one another and estimate their relative place down to a couple millimetres’ precision, throughout distances of 20 to 250 m, permitting the spacecraft to autonomously manoeuvre into formation. So we wanted an extended house to check it, and an indoor house similar to that is rather more controllable than outdoor, the place wind and different disturbances would intervene with the setup.”

Camera’s eye view of target

Deliberate for launch in 2023, Proba-Three’s two metre-scale satellites will line up in such a approach that one – the ‘Occulter’ – blocks the blinding photo voltaic disk for the opposite ‘Coronagraph’. It will give researchers a sustained view of interior layers of its faint environment, or ‘corona’, usually hidden in intense daylight – besides throughout temporary photo voltaic eclipses.

“The 2 satellites will fly collectively in an elongated or extremely elliptical 19.6-hour orbit,” says Raphael Rougeot, Proba-Three mission system engineer.


“Actively flying in formation all through this orbit could be impractical. As an alternative the satellites solely fly in formation for the six hours across the 60 000 km altitude high – or ‘apogee’ – of their orbit. The remainder of the time they’re manoeuvred right into a free flying relative trajectory which ensures the protection of the mission. Then, popping out of the underside of their orbit – or ‘perigee’ – they need to reacquire each other.”

A set of cameras shall be aboard the Occulter satellite tv for pc, searching for pulsing LEDs on the Coronagraph – one in every nook plus a smaller sq. sample on the appropriate hand aspect, supposed to disclose the satellite tv for pc orientation and allow proximity operations.

ESA’s technical heart

Raphael provides: “Two cameras with totally different fields of view are wanted. The primary digicam has a large 15 diploma area of view, used to seek out the Coronagraph. The second has a narrower area of view to supply the mandatory millimetre-scale accuracy. One other sensor permits the synchronising of their picture acquisitions with the LED pulses. Such exact synchronisation – right down to a matter of 10 millionths of a second – is critical as a result of the sunshine from the LEDs would possibly in any other case be misplaced within the Solar’s spurious reflection on  the Coronagraph, or within the vivid Earth within the background. As well as, the cameras may even have a filter optimised for the near-infrared LED mild.”

Testing of the digicam system and a sq. metre LED-bearing goal was spaced out at 30 m intervals alongside the size of the hall, yielding promising outcomes. With a purpose to simulate photo voltaic stray mild, a particular lamp with the proper spectral properties was used. This lamp was specifically characterised by ESTEC’s Optics Laboratory for this check.

Testing in GRALS

As a follow-up, a smaller model of the LED goal was mounted on a rail-mounted robotic arm in ESTEC’s Steering Navigation and Management Rendezvous, Method and Touchdown Simulator, or GRALS. This 33-m lengthy facility is used to simulate shut approaches, rendezvous and docking between house objects.

Jonathan Grzymisch, Proba-Three Steering Navigation and Management system engineer, explains: “The robotic arm moved the LED goal alongside a pre-programmed sample because the cameras watched, permitting the instrument software program to calculate its relative dynamic trajectory repeatedly. This permits us to characterise the sensor efficiency on a deterministic dynamic foundation. Each exams carried out properly, because of the cooperation of ESTEC’s Facility Administration and the related technical sections.”

Proba-Three’s vision-based sensor system has been developed by the Technical College of Denmark (DTU). The crew couldn’t be current in individual at ESTEC as a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions, however supported the testing remotely whereas ESA engineers ready and ran the check.

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