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CubeSats Deployer Flight Model Successfully Integrated into Hera Mission.


Two CubeSats are set to embark on a pioneering journey into the Solar System aboard Hera, a mission in Europe. Traditionally, deployers releasing CubeSats from their host spacecraft are ill-suited for the unique challenges of deep space. Addressing this, a collaborative effort between GSTP and ISIS Space in the Netherlands has resulted in the development of a specialized deployer tailored for the demands of deep space environments.

Hera’s mission extends beyond conventional boundaries, showcasing innovative technologies. These include visual-based asteroid close-proximity navigation and control, inter-satellite communication, and a novel, highly precise delta-DOR interplanetary radio-tracking and navigation technique. These advancements not only demonstrate cutting-edge capabilities but also lay the groundwork for future interplanetary missions. The utilization of CubeSats in deep space represents a significant advancement in space technology, marking a noteworthy milestone in Europe’s space exploration endeavors.

Paolo Martino, the Technical Officer overseeing the project, emphasized the departure from the typical environment CubeSats experience in low Earth orbit (LEO). The journey to deep space introduces unprecedented challenges, notably an extended operational timeline exceeding two years from launch to the commencement of operations, a situation rarely encountered by these miniature satellites. Martino highlighted the technical hurdles arising from Hera’s prolonged journey, noting that regular check-ups will be essential for CubeSats as their batteries, charged at launch, gradually lose power over the two-year duration. Consequently, the satellites may commence operations with only half their charge, presenting a suboptimal scenario.

As part of the mission’s development, GSTP has funded the creation of a CubeSat deployer tailored for deep space endeavors. Paolo Martino stressed the deployer’s pivotal role, acting as a conduit between the Hera spacecraft and the hosted CubeSats. Describing it as an “umbilical connection,” Martino explained that a set of cables links Hera with the CubeSats, enabling regular charging while the CubeSats are in a dormant state.

Martino further delved into the innovative adaptations necessary for deep space missions. Unlike traditional CubeSat deployers that employ strong springs for high-speed ejections, deemed impractical in the low gravity of asteroid environments, their developed mechanism ensures a controlled release, deploying CubeSats at a slow and precise rate of approximately two to three centimeters per second. This measured approach enhances control and accuracy, crucial for missions in such unique settings.

The project’s emphasis on a low-speed release mechanism, enabling precise deployment at two to three centimeters per second, underscores the commitment to greater control and accuracy crucial for missions in distinctive environments. The deployment strategy involves an intricate two-stage mechanism: firstly, a traditional spring pulls the CubeSat out of the deployer, leaving it suspended.

Following necessary check-ups of the CubeSats’ systems, a more delicate mechanism takes over, ensuring a controlled release for a gradual mission commencement. This approach showcases a meticulous and adaptive deployment process tailored for the unique challenges of deep space missions.

The culmination of these innovations has given rise to the Deep Space Deployer, a pivotal component seamlessly integrated into the Hera spacecraft. This deployer plays a critical role in ensuring the safe release of CubeSats at a low velocity in proximity to the asteroid system. This controlled deployment enables the CubeSat to undergo necessary diagnostics and power-up procedures before embarking on its mission.

The success of the Deep Space Deployer represents a significant milestone in space exploration. If proven effective, CubeSats have the potential to open up entirely new avenues for deep space missions, including commercial ventures beyond the moon and exploration missions around small bodies like asteroids. Paolo Martino highlighted the accomplishment of qualifying the Deep Space Deployer, with both manufacturing and flight models seamlessly integrated into the Hera mission, marking a substantial advancement in the realm of space exploration technology.

CubeSats Deployer Flight Model Successfully Integrated into Hera Mission.

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