PROBA-2: an autonomous satellite in orbit

On the night of the 1st and 2nd of November, a Russian rocket named ‘Rockot’ placed the “Made in Belgium” micro-satellite PROBA-2 onto its heliosynchronous orbit – at an altitude of some 725km – to carry out scientific and technological experiments, alongside the ESA Earth Explorer Programme’s SMOS satellite (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity). The Liège Space Center (CSL) is heavily involved in the creation of PROBA-2: it developed the two highly miniaturised instruments which constitute an observatory of solar activity in the ultraviolet spectrum (UV) for space weather information.

PROBA stands for the PRoject for On-Board Autonomy. It consists of demonstrating that a spacecraft, no matter how small, can act intelligently during orbit thanks to on-board software. It was the Liège company Spacebel – created in 1988 as a CSL spin-off - which developed this software. It is particularly powerful as it means the satellite is autonomous, once it has received its orders from the control team at the ESA station in Redu (Province of Luxembourg). PROBA-1, which was sent into satellite by the Indian rocket PSLV on the 22nd October 2001, demonstrated that autonomy in orbit was possible: It proved itself to be a sturdy satellite, continuing regularly to take high-quality pictures of the Earth’s surface some eight years after going into orbit. Its excellent behaviour as it circles the Earth is a great success for the Belgian spatial micro-systems industry.

Proba2 EN

A group of innovative satellites

Refined versions of this on-board intelligence, which means the satellite can act autonomously in space, can be found in the PROBA-series ESA micro-satellites, which were created by the Verhaert Space company at Kruibeke, near Anvers. After PROBA-2 which has just been launched, PROBA-V(egetation) is planned in 2012 to permanently monitor global vegetation. PROBA-3 is planned for 2013 as a training flight in the context of an astronomy mission. PROBA-IP (Interplanetary) is planned for 2015 as an asteroid flyby. Verhaert Space and Spacebel are also marketing PROBA-X, a version for spatial teledetection applications (high resolution imagery and hyperspectral vision). Spacebel has supplied control equipment to the ESA station in Redu, where operations are carried out for ESA by Redu Space Services, a joint company with SES Astra Techcom Belgium and Verhaert Space.

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