ENP Newswire - 13 June 2014
Release date- 12062014 - ESA's BepiColombo mission will be steered by a System comprising four high-precision adjustable thruster pointing mechanisms for the electric propulsion satellite thrusters together with a control electronics unit.
This pointing system was developed, built and thoroughly tested in just under five years by RUAG Space in Vienna. After successfully completing the overall system tests at RUAG Space, the four systems were delivered to Airbus Defence and Space (ADS) for pre-integration on the thruster platform. This platform will then be fitted to the satellite by ADS and fitted with electric propulsion thrusters. The launch of the BepiColombo mission to the planet Mercury is scheduled for July 2016.
BepiColombo, the next milestone in ESA's scientific program, is a joint mission with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to explore the planet Mercury, which is located in the very hot regions of our solar system. After its launch,planned for mid-2016, BepiColombo will spend over seven years en route to Mercury. The length of the mission and the high temperatures prevailing in the inner solar system pose significant technological challenges. RUAG Space in Vienna is supplying control electronics, pointing mechanisms, thermal insulation and test equipment for the BepiColombo mission at a total contract value of around 30 million euros.
For its long journey to the planet Mercury, BepiColombo will use four electric propulsion thrusters powered by solar energy. In order for these thrusters to operate efficiently, the thrust direction has to be very accurately controlled with the help of high-precision thruster pointing mechanisms. In 2009, the mission's industrial prime contractor Airbus Defence and Space appointed RUAG Space to develop pointing mechanisms and associated control electronics. With a total value of over 12 million euros, the contract represents the largest single order for an ESA program ever awarded to an Austrian company.
The mission's extremely demanding requirements in terms of weight, ambient temperature, mechanical stress during launch, reliability and service life meant that total development work amounted to some 80,000 hours. After nearly five years, the development and construction phase was successfully concluded with final system tests for the four flight mechanisms and central control electronics. The complete thruster pointing assembly made by RUAG Space in Vienna was delivered to ADS in Stevenage, UK for pre-installation on a thruster platform. The final assembly of the satellite will then be carried out by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy, where the thrusters themselves will also be fitted to the pointing system.
This contribution to the BepiColombo mission secures RUAG Space's position as leading supplier of pointing mechanisms for electric propulsion thrusters. Having supplied the first mechanism of this kind for a European satellite at the end of the 1990s, the company is currently working on products for next-generation telecommunications satellites.
Besides the pointing system, RUAG Space is also supplying the BepiColombo mission's complete thermal insulation, for which the high temperatures that the mission will be subjected to as it draws close to Mercury pose a real challenge. It was only by turning to special materials that RUAG Space experts were able to develop and produce an effective, durable protective casing for the mission.
RUAG Space has a long history as the leading supplier of thermal insulation and thermal systems in Europe. Most ESA satellites and many other national missions use multi-layer insulation to protect against the extreme temperature fluctuations of up 400-degreeC that occur in space.