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Safran, to the Moon… and beyond!

Innovation

More than 50 years after mankind's first steps on the Moon, lunar missions are once again back in fashion. Drawing on a wealth of expertise, the subsidiaries within the scope of the Space division of Safran Electronics & Defense are supplying state-of-the-art solutions in support of the ambitions of the space community. We find out more.

The moon

From launch vehicles and spaceships…

Of course, some applications enjoy a high profile and significant media coverage, such as NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mission, which launched on Wednesday, November 16. On board the SLS (Space Launch System) launch vehicle, the supply of video feeds is made possible via the onboard video imaging acquisition system provided by Safran Data Systems – a world leader in space test, telemetry and communications instrumentation, which has been supporting this program since 2010. This system plays a decisive role in assessing and visualizing the behavior of the launch vehicle during lift-off and throughout the duration of the mission.

The mega launcher sent the Orion capsule, without passengers on board for this first test flight, on an injection orbit towards the Moon, for a 400,000 kilometer trip. On board the service module, four solar panels provide the energy necessary to the good functioning of the Orion capsule. The panels are deployed and oriented by electrical motors supplied by Safran Electronics & Defense.

Furthermore, if some heavy launchers such as Ariane 6 were to take part in a lunar mission in future, they would be able to leverage the instrumentation, backup and telemetry solutions from Safran Data Systems that are currently undergoing qualification on Ariane 6.

For its part, Safran Sensing Technologies Norway – a specialist in inertial micro-sensors and ultra-compact gyroscopic modules – has fitted inertial measurement units (IMUs) on board the NEA Scout, a 6U CubeSat-format nano-satellite with a solar sail that was launched on the Orion spacecraft as part of the Artemis 1 mission. NEA Scout will fly by, and return images of, an asteroid close to Earth. The IMUs will control both the orbit of the satellite and the movement of its camera to deliver sharp images. Additionally, other Safran Sensing Technologies Norway gyro modules and IMUs are on their way to the Moon or already in place, either on board orbiting satellites or inside lunar rovers.

Another ambitious application: MMX (“Martian Moon eXploration”), a Franco-Japanese space mission scheduled for launch in 2024 with the goal of exploring Mars’s two moons, Deimos and Phobos, and returning a soil sample from the latter moon to Earth. In June 2022, Safran Reosc – a specialist in high-performance optical components – delivered a variable optical filter for integration into the “MMR Infra-Red Spectrometer”, which will be used to characterize the composition of the Martian system and select candidate sites for taking samples on Phobos. This will not be the first lunar outing for equipment from Safran Reosc, which has already delivered variable infrared optical filters to the Indian space agency for the Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon's surface launched in 2019, and also to the ESA for the JUICE mission to the moons of Jupiter, scheduled for 2023.

 

In addition, the electrical activities of Safran Spacecraft Propulsion demonstrated their reliability back in the early 2000s by propelling the SMART-1 probe – the first European scientific probe designed to enter lunar orbit. The current 5kW PPS®5000, which is already propelling all new generations of geostationary satellites, will doubtless contribute to overcoming the new challenges of cargo and service missions in (terrestrial or lunar) orbit, thanks to its very long service life associated with its excellent performance. 

…to ground stations

A ground station is also a strategic piece of equipment, and an essential component in the success of space missions. It provides exchanges of information between the Earth and spacecraft (launch vehicles, satellites, space probes, etc.) that determine the spacecraft’s trajectory, control its operation, issue commands to it and recover the data it collects. For the Artemis mission, NASA’s ground stations use satellite tracking and telemetry antennas, very high-speed receivers and radio frequency recorders, along with video processors from Safran Data Systems that deliver telemetry data and videos in real time.

Furthermore, Safran Data Systems has just been selected by the “Swedish Space Corporation” (SSC) to supply satellite tracking antennas and exploration probes compatible with NASA's LEGS (Lunar Exploration Ground Sites) requirements. To meet this specific need for distant communications, Safran Data Systems is developing a new very large-diameter antenna model based on three technologies for which Safran's tracking antennas are famous: A very high- precision positioning unit “designed-for-Ka” high frequencies, a patented tri-band S/X/Ka concentric source and base band units from the Cortex brand, a world-respected name in this field.

 

The conquest of space inevitably raises sovereignty issues! As a globally recognized player in space monitoring from earth with the WeTrack data service, based on passive radiofrequency technology, Safran Data Systems is already working with its customers to improve and enhance its infrastructure to offer a cislunar space surveillance solution, thus ensuring sustainable, secure access to the Moon.

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