QinetiQ signs €16m contract to develop ESA’s Proba-3 satellite

30 Mar 2015

QinetiQ avionics will enable Proba-3 to demonstrate formation flying technology

30 March 2015: QinetiQ has been awarded a contract worth €16m over three years to develop the computer and avionics for the European Space Agency’s Proba-3 satellite mission.

Proba-3's pair of satellites (image:ESA)

The contract exploits QinetiQ’s experience in testing and verifying software, integrating systems and providing hardware for small satellites. Building on methodology it developed through ESA’s first three Proba missions, QinetiQ’s Belgium-based team will produce compact avionics systems capable of processing millions of instructions per second while surviving the high-radiation environment of space.

Proba-3 consists of two small satellites, weighing 250kg and 200kg, which by precise formation flying will constitute a virtually fixed structure in space. They will be mounted one on top of the other for launch and sent into orbit around the earth together. QinetiQ will then test both satellites extensively before the mechanical connection between the two spacecraft separates. While the distance between two satellites is normally several kilometres, these new vessels will stay approximately 150 metres apart during formation flying manoeuvres.

During the two-year mission, Proba-3 will study the sun’s corona using an ‘eclipsing’ mechanism, achieved by fixing a camera to one satellite and a sun occulting disk to the other. These are spaced at the optimum distance to shield the camera from the sun at all times, creating conditions that are usually only observable during a solar eclipse.

Davy Vrancken, Business Development Manager for QinetiQ’s space division, said: “Through our work on the previous Proba missions and other similar projects we have established an enviable track record in delivering control systems for small satellites. This expertise and our proven methodology mean we can deliver cutting-edge technology within shorter timescales and at a lower cost to the customer.

“The mission demonstrates the importance of formation flying for the future of scientific research. Because the two small satellites can operate as a single larger entity, Proba-3 overcomes existing limitations and opens up exciting new prospects. We’re convinced that our experience will contribute to the success of this and future space missions.”

Read the QinetiQ blog to hear more from Davy on why satellite formation flying is challenging but important for the future of space exploration.

Notes for Editors:

  • A FTSE250 company, QinetiQ uses its world class knowledge, research and innovation to provide high-end technical expertise and advice, to customers in the global aerospace, defence and security markets. QinetiQ's unique position enables it to be a trusted partner to government organisations, predominantly in the UK and the US, including defence departments as well as other international customers in targeted sectors.
  • QinetiQ’s space business incorporates capabilities based in the UK and Belgium. The business is the major supplier of small satellites for the European Space Agency and has worked with ESA, NASA and the UK Space Agency to deliver projects including communication systems, electric propulsion, onboard computers and lightweight telescopes.
  • Follow us on twitter @QinetiQ
  • Visit our blog www.qinetiq-blogs.com

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QinetiQ signs €16m contract to develop ESA’s Proba-3 satellite