GomSpace to design world’s first stand-alone nanosatellite asteroid rendezvous mission

GomSpace’s subsidiary in Luxembourg and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed a contract of EUR 400.000 for the Phase A design of the Miniaturised Asteroid Remote Geophysical Observer (M-ARGO) mission.

Under the contract GomSpace will be in charge of preliminary design of the mission, spacecraft and implementation planning. A “12U” CubeSat spacecraft configuration is envisioned for the mission, packing in beyond state-of-the-art advancements in miniaturised technologies including communication, instrumentation, electric propulsion and operational autonomy to be demonstrated in the deep space environment.

Expected launch of the mission is in 2023, subject to funding of the implementation phase, and it will be the first nanosatellite ever to rendezvous with an asteroid and perform close proximity operations over an extended period for identification of in-situ resources.

Many asteroids to explore and exploit

“The M-ARGO technology demonstration mission is intended as an enabler of a potential future operational capability for highly cost-effective in-situ resource exploration of the accessible Near-Earth Object (NEO) population using a fleet of deep space CubeSats,” says Roger Walker, Head of ESA’s Cubesat Systems Unit. The NEO population now has more than 20,000 largely uncharted asteroids and the M-ARGO capability will be able to access the nearest 100 or more in terms of propellant needed to achieve a rendezvous.

NEOs are interesting not only for scientific exploration, but also for the potential of future long-term exploitation of minerals and other useful materials mined from asteroids. In addition, NEOs pose a threat for potential collisions with the Earth, requiring the need for further understanding of their physical properties for future planetary defense purposes. Nanosatellite technology will allow future cost-efficient exploration of these objects in significant numbers.

Mission is taking our technologies to a new level GomSpace CEO, Niels Buus, says about the mission: “Activities like M-ARGO allow us to develop our internal capabilities and technologies to new levels – not only to the benefit of science and exploration, but also to build competitive advantage for the commercial markets”.

Reflecting on the recently announced deep space projects, (Hera’s CubeSat to perform first radar probe of an asteroid and ESA and GomSpace sign contract to adapt and improve smallsat subsystems for deep space), Niels continues: “With these orders we are very satisfied to have built significant momentum for space exploration capabilities – positioning us well to serve ESA – and other institutional customers – on future high-profile long duration missions”.

The work will be implemented in Luxembourg in line with GomSpace Group’s ambitions to benefit from the local space ecosystem. The work will be supported by the scientific-technological university, Politecnico di Milano in Italy, providing expert support on deep space mission analysis and navigation of low thrust trajectories associated with electric propulsion.

The contract is funded by the Luxembourg Space Agency through the Fly element of ESA’s General Support Technology Programme. The mission implementation beyond the current phase A contract is open to further European cooperation, and to maximise outcome of the mission a scientific committee on asteroid mining is being set up to consolidate the scientific requirements and propose the most suitable instruments for the mission.

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