Portuguese companies help in Planetary Defence

14 October 2020

In a deal worth almost 3M€, three Portuguese companies are involved in the space mission "Hera", ESA's first planetary defence mission.

Deflect an asteroid from the collision course with Earth may seem like a mission worthy of a superhero movie. The truth is that this is not a fictional story and has three Portuguese companies as real actors.

GMV and Efacec, member companies of AED Cluster Portugal, along with Synopsis Planet are the national entities contributing to the space mission “Hera”, which totals costs around 129.4 million euros. Of this amount, Portugal (and the companies mentioned) is responsible for a financial envelope in the amount of 2.9 million euros.

In a statement, the Portuguese Space Agency announces that the ESA and the German aerospace company OHB have formalized the contract that provides for “the development of the design, manufacture and testing of the Hera mission, which will launch, in 2024, a probe destined for a binary asteroid system” and that “this probe will be the European contribution to the international project that aims to divert an asteroid from the collision course with Earth and carry out the study of a double asteroid system”.

The launch of the Hera spacecraft is scheduled for 2024, fulfilling the second phase of a mission shared with NASA. In this pioneering initiative for ESA, the three Portuguese companies have very important contributions:

  • Efacec, according to Vasco Granadeiro, responsible for the aerospace sector of the company, will be in charge of developing a LIDAR altimeter (LIght Detection And Ranging) which consists of an “equipment based on laser technology capable of measuring distances up to 20 kilometers with an accuracy of 10 centimeters”.
    This device, which has the collaboration of Synopsis Planet, will be important to enable the study of the asteroid that is intended to deviate from Earth and also the effects of the collision between this asteroid and the space ship sent by NASA for the purpose of doing a redirection test.
  • For GMV, the challenge is historic: creating the first autopilot to bypass asteroids. For the first time, an automatic mechanism will be used to guide a probe around these celestial bodies which, due to their distance, speed and irregular nature, make the approach and navigation operations a task of rare complexity.
    João Branco and Teresa Ferreira, responsible for the Space segment at GMV Portugal, explain that the comoany will be in charge of the “onboard orbital manoeuvre control system, including the definition of hybrid navigation strategies between the Earth Segment and the ship’s GNC automatic control system” and that this is “an opportunity to progress in the value chain of a complex system as part of a very ambitious mission”.

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