13 February 2024 News

Thales Alenia Space to provide comms for planetary defence mission

Thales Alenia Space, the joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), has signed a contract with prime contractor Ball Aerospace to supply communications equipment for NASA’s NEO Surveyor mission.

The main goal of this five-year mission, scheduled for launch in 2028, is to advance efforts to defend our planet against near-Earth objects like asteroids and comets, specifically within 50 million kilometres of Earth’s orbit.

NEO Surveyor will employ an infrared space telescope designed to discover and characterise at least two-thirds of the near-Earth objects more than 140 m across that would be capable of causing significant damage should they impact Earth.

Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), NEO Surveyor will journey 1.5 million kilometres to a region of gravitational stability – called the L1 Lagrange point – between Earth and the Sun, where the spacecraft will orbit during its five-year primary mission.

From this location, NEO Surveyor will view the solar system in infrared wavelengths – light that is invisible to the human eye and mostly blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere. By using two heat-sensitive infrared imaging channels, its space telescope will be capable of detecting both bright and dark asteroids, which are the most difficult type to find, and to make accurate measurements of NEO sizes and gain valuable information about their composition, shapes, rotational states and orbits.

Thales Alenia Space will provide S-band Transponder, K-band Modulator and K-band Travelling Wave Tube Amplifier (TWTA) equipment for the NEO Surveyor spacecraft. The S-band Transponders are the units in charge of receiving the telecommands sent from NASA’s Deep Space Network, and transmitting the spacecraft’s telemetries back to Earth, as well as the ranging signals used to measure the spacecraft’s distance. The K-band Modulators and Power Amplifiers are in charge sending to Earth the images captured by the NEO Surveyor telescope.

Emmanuel Terrasse, Vice President Equipment of Thales Alenia Space, said: “We are thrilled to provide key communications equipment for the NEO Surveyor mission, which will represent a significant advance in NASA-led planetary defence efforts to protect our planet from hazardous asteroids and comets.

“We are grateful to prime contractor Ball Aerospace for their choice and trust in Thales Alenia Space. For more than 40 years, Thales Alenia Space has contributed to hundreds of missions providing critical communications technologies, from low Earth orbit to deep space, including flagship NASA missions to explore the universe such as the James Webb Space Telescope and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope.”

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