Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

European gravity mission to benefit from ion thruster precision

12.01.2007
Final testing of the ion thrusters that will enable a European space mission to measure and map the Earth's gravity field in far greater detail than ever previously achieved has been completed.

QinetiQ's T5 ion thrusters will provide high precision drag compensation for the European Space Agency (ESA) GOCE spacecraft, due for launch later this year. The data captured by GOCE will contribute significantly to our understanding of the Earth's structure, climate and the impacts of climate change.

QinetiQ was awarded a £4.6 million contract by Astrium, ESA's prime contractor for the GOCE platform, in 2001 to provide the two Ion Thruster Assemblies (ITAs) for the spacecraft. By using QinetiQ's T5 ion thruster the spacecraft will be able to compensate for the drag experienced in orbit, thereby allowing highly accurate measurements of the Earth's gravity field.

Travelling at 8 kilometres per second and operating at an orbital altitude of 240 kilometres, the spacecraft will experience a small but significant disturbance in its motion from atmospheric drag. This disturbance is constantly changing so continuous and precise compensation is needed to allow the highly sensitive accelerometers on board to map the earth’s gravitational field. The extreme control precision provided by the T5 ion thrusters has been likened to compensating for a snow flake landing on the deck of a super tanker.

Alex Popescu, ESA's GOCE mission manager, said: "The data collected by GOCE will be vital for the next generation of geophysical research and will contribute significantly to furthering our understanding of the impact of ocean circulation on the Earth’s climate. Without the precision that is provided by the spacecraft's thrusters the mission would be impossible. Consequently, the final testing of the propulsion system is an important milestone."

Steve Morton, QinetiQ's GOCE project leader, welcomed the impending delivery of the thruster assemblies, saying: "QinetiQ's ion thrusters will play a key role in the success of GOCE as the thrust accuracy requirements of the mission demand a lot of the spacecraft's propulsion system. We have needed to push the boundaries of current knowledge and technology and are proud to be so centrally involved in this important mission."

In addition to the precision provided by the T5 thrusters, the ion engines are also exceptionally mass efficient, requiring only 40 kilogrammes of propellant for the entire 20 month duration of the mission. This is achieved by ejecting xenon gas propellant out of the thrusters at a velocity in excess of 40 thousand metres per second, which is at least 10 times faster than any other conventional rocket thruster employing volatile chemicals, such as those used on the Space Shuttle.

In addition to providing the T5 thrusters, QinetiQ has produced control software and algorithms for the GOCE propulsion system. QinetiQ is also supporting the testing of the complete propulsion sub-system, the Ion Propulsion Assembly (IPA), of which the ITA is a key component and for which Astrium has overall responsibility.

QinetiQ is currently working with partners to qualify its T6 thruster, an even more advanced electric propulsion system aimed at enabling deep space missions and capable of extending the operational life of the next generation of commercial communications satellites.

About GOCE

The GOCE (Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer) mission is dedicated to measuring the Earth’s gravity field and modelling the planet's geoid, essentially a gravitational contour map, with extremely high accuracy and spatial resolution. It is the first Earth Explorer Core mission to be developed as part of ESA’s Living Planet Programme and is scheduled for launch in 2007.

A precise model of the Earth’s geoid is crucial for deriving accurate measurements of ocean circulation, sea-level change and terrestrial ice dynamics – all of which are affected by climate change. The geoid is also used as a reference surface from which to map all topographical features on the planet.

An improved knowledge of gravity anomalies will contribute to a better understanding of the Earth’s interior, such as the physics and dynamics associated with volcanism and earthquakes and also further our knowledge of land uplift due to post-glacial rebound.

Ben White | alfa
Further information:
http://www.QinetiQ.com

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods
19.10.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht NASA team finds noxious ice cloud on saturn's moon titan
19.10.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Electrode materials from the microwave oven

19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

New material for digital memories of the future

19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods

19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>