In late 2020, the world’s first precision formation flying mission will take place. The Project for On-Board Autonomy (PROBA) is a series of satellite missions by the European Space Agency (ESA). The third mission in the project, PROBA-3 is dedicated to the demonstration of technologies and techniques for highly-precise satellite formation flying.
Neptec’s FLLS technology is central to the PROBA-3 mission
Neptec’s Fine Lateral and Longitudinal Sensor (FLLS) is a laser-based instrument designed to measure the lateral and longitudinal displacements between two cooperating spacecraft to sub-millimetre accuracy. This sensor is a critical component of the precise formation flying technologies ESA intends to demonstrate in-orbit with its PROBA-3 spacecraft.
PROBA-3 is comprised of two spacecraft; the Occultor Spacecraft (OSC) and the Coronagraph Spacecraft (CSC) which by precise formation flying will become a virtually fixed structure in space. PROBA-3 is predominantly a technology demonstrator, exploring precision formation-flying techniques so that future multiple satellites flying together could perform equivalent tasks to a single giant spacecraft. However, PROBA-3 will also use this opportunity to study the Sun’s corona by creating an artificial eclipse using a disk-shaped occultor on one spacecraft so that the coronagraph instrument can study the corona on the other spacecraft. This creates conditions that are normally only viewed during a solar eclipse.
Scientists have been able to study the Sun’s corona during a solar eclipse and other Sun-observing missions however, the brief window of opportunity during a terrestrial solar eclipse and stray light through Earth’s atmosphere have proven to be limiting factors. The PROBA-3 mission will provide the closest view of the corona that has ever been achieved – allowing scientists to study the region where solar wind and coronal mass ejections are born in order to better understand these phenomena.
Image Credit ESA