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Romania, a key participant in the HERA mission for planetary defence

on 15 September 2020

Romania will play an essential role in the HERA mission, the European Space Agency’s first mission for planetary defence, part of an international asteroid deflection effort, carried out in collaboration with NASA. Today, ESA awarded a multi-million euro contract covering the detailed design, manufacturing and testing of Hera, set to perform sustained exploration of a double asteroid system.

Romania is one of the key partners in the commercial consortium. Our country is responsible, together with Portugal, for the development of the laser altimeter which will provide crucial information for the autonomous navigation functions. In addition, Romania is developing the image processing unit, harness and the electrical test equipment (while also contributing to its GNC development). 

“The HERA mission is a major step in the protection of our planet, and Romania will bring a decisive contribution to the global effort of planetary defence” said Marius-Ioan Piso, President of the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA). “With the exploration of a binary android system, as well as the experimental deviation of the trajectory of one as the asteroids, along with carefully examining the result, space exploration reaches a new milestone in human history.”

Four companies and one research institution from Romania will contribute to the mission.  GMV Innovating Solutions — Romania will develop the navigation related component that is based on image processing from the Guidance, navigation and control  System (GNC) and the Fault Detection, Isolation and Recovery (FDIR). Additionally, GMV is responsible for the developing and production of the unit processing image. ATOS Romania through ATOS Convergence Creatorswill be involved in the ground testing system for the satellite and primary data processing.  Sonovision Romania will be responsible for the harness system. EFACEC Romania will carry out the Planetary Altimeter (PALT) manufacturing and testing, for both the hardware & software.

The National Institute for Research and Development for Optoelectronics - INOE 2000 will contribute to the PALT design, the testing functionality of PALT optics and the development of the optical ground support equipment.

Marius-Ioan Piso, ROSA President, stressed that “for Romania, this mission represents an important advance in the industry’s capacity development for participating in deep-space missions”.

The contract was signed today by Franco Ongaro, ESA Director of Technology, Engineering and Quality, and Marco Fuchs, CEO of Germany space company OHB, prime contractor of the Hera consortium. The signing took place at ESA’s ESOC centre in Germany, which will serve as mission control for the 2024-launched Hera.

The contract was signed today by Franco Ongaro, ESA Director of Technology, Engineering and Quality, and Marco Fuchs, CEO of Germany space company OHB, prime contractor of the Hera consortium. The signing took place at ESA’s ESOC centre in Germany, which will serve as mission control for the 2024-launched Hera.

2020 09 HERA Image B

Credit image: ESA - ReMediaIT

Hera is the European contribution to an international planetary defence collaboration among European and US scientists called the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment, AIDA. The DART spacecraft – due for launch in July 2021 – will first perform a kinetic impact on the smaller of the two bodies. Hera will follow-up with a detailed post-impact survey to turn this grand-scale experiment into a well-understood and repeatable asteroid deflection technique.

While doing so, the desk-sized Hera will also demonstrate multiple novel technologies, such as autonomous navigation around the asteroid – like modern driverless cars on Earth – while gathering crucial scientific data, to help scientists and future mission planners better understand asteroid compositions and structures. 

Hera will also deploy Europe’s first ‘CubeSats’ (miniature satellites built up from 10 cm boxes) into deep space for close-up asteroid surveying, including the very first radar probe of an asteroid’s interior – using an updated version of the radar system carried on ESA’s Rosetta comet mission.

Due to launch in October 2024, Hera will travel to a binary asteroid system – the Didymos pair of near-Earth asteroids. The 780 m-diameter mountain-sized main body is orbited by a 160 m moon, formally christened 'Dimorphos' in June 2020, about the same size as the Great Pyramid of Giza.

DART’s kinetic impact into Dimorphos in September 2022 is expected to alter its orbit around Didymos as well as create a substantial crater. This moonlet asteroid will become unique, as the first celestial body to have its orbital and physical characteristics intentionally altered by human intervention. Hera will arrive at the Didymos system at the end of 2026, to perform at least six months of close-up study.

Hera’s mission control will be based at ESA’s ESOC centre in Darmstadt, Germany, also the home of ESA’s new Space Safety and Security programme, of which Hera is a part.

This contract signing covers the full Hera satellite development, integration and test, including its advanced guidance, navigation and control (GNC) system. Contracts for Hera’s two hosted CubeSats and relevant technology developments are already ongoing.

The contract has been awarded to a consortium led by prime contractor OHB System AG in Bremen. Of 17 ESA Member States contributing to Hera, Germany is in the forefront. Italy, Belgium, Luxemburg, Portugal, Czech Republic and Romania also bring a significant contribution. Other participating states include Austria, Denmark, France, Hungary, The Netherlands, Finland, Poland, Ireland and Latvia, as an ESA Associate Member State.

Useful links:

HERA Mission

DART Mission

Main image: ESA–ScienceOffice.org