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Proba-2 (Project for On board Autonomy)

On November 2, 2009, Proba-2, a small but powerful satellite focusing on solar observations and space weather, was launched into orbit from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. This is the second in European Space Agency's (ESA) series of microsatellites that are being used to validate new spacecraft technologies with its In-orbit Technology Demonstration Programme. Canadian space companies are contributing significant technology to this project.

The Proba-2 launched in northern Russia

The Proba-2 satellite was launched on November 2, 2009, on board the Russian Rocket Rockot from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. (Credit: ESA)

Why does the Proba-2 mission matter?

The Proba-2 mission will allow its users to test, in orbit, new technologies that are not mature enough to be initiated on operational missions. Launched as a secondary payload with the SMOS (Soil Moisture Ocean Salinity) satellite, its small size and simplified design has helped keep costs to a minimum. Proba-2 will test new technologies, while providing groundbreaking scientific data with the potential to expand understanding of the processes that affect our climate.

Among its many applications, the two-year mission is dedicated to surveying the behaviour of the sun, including its interaction with the Earth through the magnetosphere and its effects on space weather. This interaction can have important ramifications on communications and electrical infrastructure both on Earth and in orbit. A more thorough understanding of this process could better protect these critical systems and enhance future space exploration and the development of Earth-based technologies.

Canadian contributions

Three Canadian space companies are contributing their technology and expertise to the Proba-2 satellite: MPB Communications Inc.; Microsat Systems Canada Inc. (MSCI) and NGC Aerospace Ltd.

MPB Communications Inc. is providing a Fiber Sensor Demonstrator, which will be the first demonstration of a full fibre-optic sensor network used in a space environment. The sensors measure temperatures at different locations in the propulsion system and the spacecraft, as well as the xenon tank pressure. MPB is leveraging technological expertise developed through its terrestrial fiber-optic communication business. The successful demonstration of this advanced fiber-optic sensor network will provide spacecraft operators with a lighter, more compact and lower power-consuming centralized sensor system - critical for the monitoring of temperature and pressure.

MSCI has supplied four micro-reaction wheels, which are important to assure the accurate orientation of the spacecraft. These are an integral part of the spacecraft attitude control subsystem and are used in maintaining three-axis stabilized operation. The micro-reaction wheels represent part of MSCI's core business, which started with the development of the microsatellite reaction wheel onboard Canada's space telescope MOST.

NGC Aerospace Ltd of Sherbrooke Quebec is expanding on experience gained in the earlier flight of Proba-1, which used on-board intelligent software to support the autonomous guidance, navigation, control and failure detection of the spacecraft. This specialized software also supported the fine-pointing of remote-sensing cameras focusing on terrestrial sites of interest. Proba-1 was the first ESA spacecraft to fly the guidance, navigation and control software completely generated using automatic code-generation tools. It was also the first spacecraft to perform accurate pointing during large maneuvers without the use of a gyro to maintain stability. Launched 8 years ago in October 2001, Proba-1 is still operating successfully today. NGC Aerospace Ltd. is leveraging this flight heritage by deploying several elements on Proba-2, including: the design, implementation and validation of the autonomous guidance-navigation-control algorithms implemented as part of the attitude-and-orbit-control-system software; the design and implementation of the ground-based attitude-and-orbit-control-system telemetry analysis and calibration tool software; the design, implementation and validation of six innovative flight software experiments; and, the software-independent validation campaign on the system simulator.

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