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Testing Romanian-led mini-radar to peer inside asteroid

on 19 November 2021

Juventas, the smallest radar system to be flown in space, hosted aboard a breadbox-sized spacecraft and made with a significant Romanian contribution, was recently tested at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands.

Scheduled to fly to the Didymos binary asteroid system with ESA’s Hera mission for planetary defence in 2024, the compact radar aboard the Juventas CubeSat will perform the first ever radar sounding inside an asteroid. Juventas will peer up to 100 m deep within the 160-m-diameter Dimorphos moonlet of the 780-m-diameter Didymos asteroid.

CubeSats are mini-satellites built up from standardised 10-cm boxes. Juventas is a ‘6-unit’ CubeSat, measuring 10x20x30 cm, while its quartet of radar antennas measure 1.5 m long each. So the test campaign includes a structural model of the Juventas CubeSat, to evaluate how the body of the miniature spacecraft might affect the radar signals.

Franco Perez Lissi  of ESA’s CubeSats Systems Unit is overseeing the Juventas testing: “We’re measuring the radiation pattern in a full sphere surrounding the antennas- the results of which should also be very useful for Juventas’s critical design review, taking place next month – as well as the total radiated power. This entire campaign additionally serves as a dress rehearsal of sorts for the flight model of Juventas, which is scheduled to be tested here in early 2023.”

Juventas is being led for ESA by GomSpace company in Luxembourg with GMV in Romania, with its radar developed by the Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble group at the University Grenoble and Technical University Dresden, with Astronika in Poland constructing the antennas and EmTroniX in Luxembourg contributing the signal generation system.

Indeed, Romania will play an essential role in the HERA mission. 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 Creators will be involved in the ground testing system for the satellite and primary data processing. 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.

More details here.

Image credit: ESA-P. de Maagt