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ESA takes another step towards the search for Earth-like planets and gravitational waves

ESA takes another step towards the search for Earth-like planets and gravitational waves

27 September 2001

CASA and Astrium UK start to work on ESA's future mission SMART-2

Two European companies, CASA (in Spain) and Astrium UK, will perform two independent 'Definition Studies' of ESA's technology mission SMART-2, due to be launched in 2006. Over a one year period both companies will analyse SMART-2 requirements and propose the best solutions, information that ESA will use to move to the design and development phases of the project.

SMART-2 is an ESA mission designed to test key technologies for two future cornerstone space missions, namely Darwin and LISA. Darwin will search for Earth-like planets harbouring conditions suitable for life; LISA will try to detect so-called gravitational waves, the 'ripples' that propagate through space-time when two massive objects, such as black holes, move.

Darwin will be launched in 2015 and LISA in 2011, but since they rely on completely new, untested technologies, an intermediate technological mission is needed. Darwin and LISA cannot be built without the knowledge that SMART-2 will provide.

SMART-2 will consist of two satellites flying several hundreds of metres apart. For the LISA mission, SMART-2 will check sensors that can tell whether a 100 kg spacecraft has moved 10 millionth of a millimetre. For Darwin - which will be a 'flotilla' of no less than eight satellites - SMART-2 will make sure that the relative position of spacecraft that are hundreds of metres apart can be controlled up to a few thousandths of a millimetre.

The independent definition studies performed by CASA and Astrium UK will help ESA to evaluate the mission requirements, to identify the most critical elements in SMART-2 and, ultimately, to chose between different mission concepts taking into account the technical and budgetary constraints. The studies will cover all aspects of the mission: the orbit and mission analysis, the launcher segment, the spacecraft and its subsystems, the ground segment and the operations.

"SMART-2 is like a puzzle made up of many different pieces. Each piece is a different, amazingly complex and demanding technology that needs to be tested on ground and in orbit," explains César García Marirrodiga, ESA's definition study manager for SMART-2. "SMART-2 is a true challenge, especially if you consider that two of ESA's future missions rely on us. In a way, the ability of mankind to detect gravitational waves, or to search for Earth-like planets, depends on what we learn with SMART-2."

For further information please contact:

César García Marirrodriga

ESA Science Communication Service
Tel: +31 71 5653223

Last Update: 1 September 2019
13-Aug-2022 11:42 UT

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