Minimize PROBA-3

PROBA-3 (Project for On-Board Autonomy-3)

Spacecraft    Launch    Mission Mode Design    Formation Flying Demonstration   References

PROBA-3 is the third small satellite technology development and demonstration precursor mission within ESA's GSTP (General Support Technology Program) series. The primary mission objective is to demonstrate the technologies required for formation flying of multiple spacecraft in the fields of space science, Earth Observation and surveillance. This involves the in-orbit validation of these new Formation Flying (FF) techniques and technologies through a series of precision FF maneuvers, including formation acquisition, high precision pointing, reorientation, maintenance, resizing, rotation and slew.

The PROBA-3 mission concept comprises two independent minisatellites in HEO (Highly-elliptical Earth Orbit) in PFF (Precise Formation Flying) formation, close to one another with the ability to accurately control the attitude and separation of the two satellites. 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) 9) 10) 11) 12) 13) 14) 15) 16)

The basic PROBA-3 mission objectives are summarized in the following list:

• Formation flying demonstration: The primary objective of PROBA 3 is to demonstrate and validate formation flying with high precision and to demonstrate it for future formation flying missions.

• Equipment qualification: Precision Formation Flying and efficient use of propellant calls for technology development in metrology, e.g. RF metrology systems and high accuracy optical metrology systems. The PROBA-3 mission will demonstrate these technologies to TRL 9 (Technology Readiness Level 9).

• Development, design and validation principles for formation flight: The distributed character of Formation Flying systems calls for new development, design, implementation and validation principles. PROBA 3 will contribute towards the establishment of these principles, and the development of required tools (simulators, etc.). Advanced assembly, integration and verification approach and tools. Relative dynamics experiments: PROBA-3 will incorporate 6DOF formation control with thrusters, realistic collision avoidance demonstration and rendezvous experiments.

• Guest payload: In addition to the Formation Flying experiments and demonstrations a scientific Guest Payload will be flown - a large (length about 150 m) solar Coronagraph Instrument distributed over the Formation. Using the PROBA-3 generic Formation Flying capabilities, the Formation Flying of this distributed single Virtual Instrument will constitute a convincing demonstration of Formation Flying in addition to provide scientific mission return.

Consortium of PROBA-3: The project is lead by a consortium of industrial companies in several ESA member states (in alphabetic order): DEIMOS (Spain, Portugal), EADS-CASA Espacio (Spain), GMV Space and Defence (Spain), NGC Aerospace (Canada), OHB-Sweden, formerly SSC (Sweden), QinetiQ Space NV (Belgium), SENER (Spain), Spacebel (Belgium). SENER Ingeniería y Sistemas S. A. is the designated the mission prime for the CDE phase. Collaboration with CNES is under discussion between the two space agencies. The Scientific payload is proposed by the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille (France).

It is important to note that the PROBA-3 mission design is completely driven by the need to fulfil the FF (Formation Flying) demonstration objectives. The mission and system requirements are mainly derived by the PROBA-3 technology demonstration mission envelope, in particular the need to constrain the budget and maximize the PROBA platform reuse. Figure 1 illustrates the PROBA-3 spacecraft acquiring formation.


Figure 1: PROBA-3 spacecraft acquiring formation (image credit: PROBA-3 consortium)

PROBA-3 history:

- The Phase A of PROBA-3 started in October 2006.

- During the last years PROBA-3 has evolved from the initial CDF studies at ESA, through the phase A studies, to the phase B1 and B2 reaching PDR (Preliminary Design Review)in the fall of 2012.

- PROBA-3 Phase CD/E1 proposal is in preparation and will start in Autumn 2013.

PROBA-3 mission challenges:

Two European missions have already collected some experience in formation operations in LEO (Low Earth Orbit).

• The DLR (German) TanDEM-X (TerraSAR-X add-on for Digital Elevation Measurement) mission is composed by two large Earth Observation satellites, of 1350 kg each, flying a SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) payload. The satellites were launched in June 2007 and in June 2010 , respectively, into a circular orbit of 514 km altitude. The mission uses relative GPS navigation to control the formation with typical distances between 250 and 500 m. TanDEM-X autonomously controls the formation with an accuracy of 10 m (1σ), while typical ground-in-the-loop formation accuracy is about 30 m (1σ).

• The Swedish PRISMA (Prototype Research Instruments and Space Mission technology Advancement) mission consists of two small satellites: Mango of 95 kg and Tango of 50 kg (total of ~ 145 kg). The satellites were launched in a stack configuration on June 15, 2010 into a near-circular orbit of ~725 km altitude. The mission uses relative GPS, FFRF (Formation Flying Radio Frequency) sensor and VBS (Vision Based Sensor) navigation to demonstrate different formation maneuvers from few kilometers distance, down to 2 m. The autonomous formation control, exclusively performed by the Mango spacecraft, achieved decimeter level accuracy.

• The PROBA-3 mission is meant to go a step further and to demonstrate the Formation Flying technology that will enable virtual structure build up. The are several challenges for achieving this ambitious goal. PROBA-3 will autonomously execute a set of maneuvers with millimeter level accuracy. In particular PROBA-3 will demonstrate formation station keeping at different relative distances, from 25 m to 250 m. The mission will exercise formation resize between 25 m and 250 m, formation retargeting up to 30º and combination of station keeping, resize and retargeting maneuvers.


Figure 2: PROBA-3 FF demonstration maneuvers (image credit: PROBA-3 consortium)

Mission concept:

To achieve the mission objectives, PROBA-3 is required to tackle several challenges:

• The PROBA-3 formation flying demonstration shall extend over several hours and cannot be achieved in LEO where the high gravity gradient would require high thrust authority and large propellant quantities to maintain the formation. Therefore, the two spacecraft will be launched into a HEO (Highly-elliptical Earth Orbit) and FF will be exercised during the apogee phase. Then, since formation cannot be maintained at perigee, a formation break and reacquisition is required every orbit.

• In case of off-nominal situations, the spacecraft will autonomously manage the formation and will need to take mission critical decision with no ground supervision. The satellites will not only worry about collision but also about formation evaporation. Very energetic collision avoidance maneuvers may lead in few orbits to large separation between the satellites. This separation needs to be limited otherwise excessive mission time and resources to reacquire the formation will be needed.

• During Formation Flying operation periods, GPS measurement will not be available. PROBA-3 will embark a dedicated metrology sensor suite capable of acquiring the formation and providing relative position determination with micrometric precision. The metrologies sensors' field of view limitation, will force the spacecraft to point to the companion satellite to acquire relative navigation.

• Sun off-pointing will cause thermo-elastic deformations and periodic in flight autonomous calibration will be mandatory to compensate them.

• End-to-end formation flying verification on ground is impossible in the required formation range and in a representative environment. The PROBA-3 approach for FF performance verification is to use a dedicated software-based bench.




The PROBA-3 mission concept consists of two independent, three-axis stabilized minisatellites flying in a formation with relative position control accuracy of less than 1 mm. The two minisatellites are referred to as CSC (Coronograph SpaceCraft) with a mass of ~320 kg and OSC (Occulter SpaceCraft) with a mass of ~180 kg. QinetiQ Space NV is developing one of the two satellites, the CSC (Coronagraph Sapcecraft) as subcontractor to OHB Sweden, and is providing the on-board computer for both spacecraft.

The two spacecraft will be controlled in space as if they were two parts of a rigid structure (e.g. telescope optics and detector). This virtual rigid structure will be commanded to rotate and point to any desired direction. It will also be possible to set the relative distance of the two spacecraft from 25 to 250 m (i.e. change the focal length).

In order to complete the end-to-end validation of the formation flying technologies, a scientific instrument, a coronagraph, has been selected with the goal of taking pictures of the inner solar corona. The coronagraph system is distributed over the two satellites; one carrying the detector and the second one carrying the Sun occulter disk. The PROBA-3 satellites are named according to the hosted payload element: CSC and OSC.


Figure 3: Illustration of the OSC (left) and of the CSC (right), image credit: PROBA-3 consortium

PROBA-3 mission objectives:

PROBA-3 mission has the goal to demonstrate in-flight FF (Formation Flying) key technologies and obtain scientific results from a coronagraph science payload, including also dedicated rendezvous demonstration. After completion of the PROBA-3 mission, the following mission results are expected:

Validated formation flying control algorithms. A complete FF Guidance Navigation and Control (GNC) including a set of generic FF manoeuvres and configurations will have been analysed, developed and validated in orbit. Experience will be gained in at-tempting to meet future formation flying mission performance requirements.

Mature formation flying metrology. A set of new metrology systems will be validated in orbit in term of behaviour and performances. A complete metrology chain will be available "off the shelf" for future FF operation.

Demonstrate formation autonomy and robustness. Autonomous FF distributed architecture will have been analysed, implemented and tested in a complete system in orbit. The safety and reliability of formation flying will have been demonstrated.

Advanced assembly, integration and verification approach and tools. A development approach including the validation approach and an iteration of the engineering infrastruc-ture will have been deployed and exercised. Models of the metrology units and GNC simulators will be available and correlated with their actual flight performances.

Scientific return. Scientifically relevant coronagraph measurements will be made with performance superior to any current or past mission.

Exercise rendezvous in high elliptic orbit. A Rendezvous experiment will be per-formed, which intends to demonstrate that autonomous rendezvous in a highly elliptical orbit using only 2D imagery is feasible.

Technology experiments deployment and demonstration. PROBA-3 will incorporate technology experiments, to be flown and demonstrated in flight. These include 6DOF formation control with thrusters, realistic collision avoidance demonstration and technology payloads.

The main AOCS (Attitude and Orbit Control Subsystem) software innovation resulting from the PROBA-3 requirements is the application of the PROBA-2 AOCS software technology to a FF mission. Because PROBA-3 is a FF mission, the guidance, navigation and control function has been separated into two modules: the Formation Flying GNC (FF-GNC) software at formation flying level and the Spacecraft GNC (S/C-GNC) software at spacecraft level.

The FF-GNC software performs the navigation and guidance function, in addition to computing the control commands, for the relative position and relative attitude of the two spacecraft. The S/C-GNC software, which is being designed by NGC (NGC Aerospace Ltd.), performs the GNC function for the absolute position and absolute attitude of the individual spacecraft. In addition, the S/C-GNC software is responsible for managing the commands to the actuators at low level including, when applicable, transmitting the commands received from the FF-GNC software. The S/C-GNC software and the FF-GNC software interact with the spacecraft through the platform software. 17) 18) 19) 20) 21)


OSC (Occulter Spacecraft)

CSC (Coronagraph Spacecraft)


1.77 m2

3.34 m2

Wet mass

~211 kg

~339 kg

Dry mass

190 kg

327 kg

SRP (Solar Radiation Pressure) coefficient

1.9 (1.5)


Thrust per thruster

10 mN

1000 mN

Number of thrusters in direction of minimum thrust



Fraction of thrust allocated for control



Table 1: Some spacecraft characteristics (Ref. 19)

FF technologies and algorithms:

PROBA-3 will validate in orbit novel Formation Flying metrology sensors that will allow the acquisition of the metrology chain. The metrology chain consists on GPS receivers, CLS (Coarse Lateral Sensor) and FLLS (Fine Lateral and Longitudinal Sensor) to finally acquire the CI (Coronagraph Instrument).

In PROBA-3, the relative GPS sensors will be commissioned first. The way to commission it, will be to downlink the absolute GPS data of the CSC and OSC spacecrafts and calculate on ground the same solution obtained in flight. Since the solar radiation pressure coefficients are hard to estimate on ground, several orbits will be devoted to the characterization of this perturbation. Once the relative GPS is commissioned, its propagated solution will be used to commission the CLS. No maneuvers will be performed from the perigee GPS navigation to the CLS acquisition, in order to have the maximum propagation accuracy. CLS lateral measurements and GPS longitudinal measurements will be used to acquire and commission FLLS. Finally FLLS will be used to acquire and commission the CI (Coronagraph Instrument). The incremental sensor commissioning approach is depicted in Figure 4.


Figure 4: Incremental sensor commissioning approach (image credit: PROBA-3 consortium)

Coronagraph Spacecraft (CSC) hosts the CI (Coronagraph Instrument)

Occulter Spacecraft (OSC) hosts the occulting disk


GNC sensors

GNC actuators


GNC sensors

GNC actuators

HAM sensor

3 x STR (Star Tracker)

4 x RW (Reaction Wheel)

VBS (Vision Based Sensor)

3 x STR

4 x RW

CLS sensor

6 x SAS (Sun Acquisition Sensor)

2 x 8 N thrusters

Corner cubes

6 x SAS

2 x 8 mN thrusters


2 x Gyros


ISL (Intersatellite Link)

2 x Gyros



2 x GPS



2 x GPS


Table 2: The metrology elements of CSC and OSC

Metrology element

Operational range

Measurement accuracy (1σ)


At perigee

7.5 cm (at perigee), <10 m when propagated up to at apogee entry

CLS (Coarse Lateral Sensor)

±13 m @ 150 m (lateral)
25-250 m (longitudinal)

1 mm @150 m (lateral)

FLLS (Fine Lateral and Longitudinal Sensor)

±20.5 mm (lateral)
25-250 mm (longitudinal)

21 µm (lateral)
30 µm (longitudinal)

Table 3: PROBA-3 metrology chain (Ref. 21)

CLS (Coarse Lateral Sensor)

CLS is the second level in the chain of PROBA-3 relative metrology. The CLS allows enough LOS precision to acquire the fine/ranging metrology. The CLS working principle is the following:

1) a defocused laser beam is sent towards a corner cube located on the companion satellite

2) the laser bounce on the corner cube and is retro-reflected to the sensor lens, which images the light on a detector

3) a filter blocks all unwanted light

4) the detector captures the images

5) an electronic unit records the images and localizes the return light bright spots

6) this unit computes the centroid and forwards this information as output via a RS422 communication link.

In the current specification, the attitude of the S/C will be controlled within ±10 arcsec. It is understood that the S/C will face toward each other with this accuracy. Given the typical dimensions of the PROBA-3 S/C (1 m) we can say that with this accuracy the position of a target will be controlled within a volume of 100 µm size (t<100 µm). This is negligible with respect to the millimeter accuracy level, requested for the CLS in this work.

Architecture: The current CLS baseline is the instrument developed by CSL (Centre Spatial de Liège), Liège, Belgium. The lateral sensor is based on a camera (CMOS detector: Cypress HAS2 CMOS APS type detector that allows quick read-out of sub-windows of interest), a telecentric lens designed at CSL, a fiber-coupled laser-diode bar and a corner cube. 22)

The fiber-coupled laser-diode bar emits a diverging beam, from the master spacecraft to the slave spacecraft. A corner cube located on the slave spacecraft sends the light back. This light is captured by the telecentric lens and camera (built by Deltatec of Liège). A lateral shift "d" of the corner cube is seen on the camera as an image displacement. Real-time centroidization algorithms will allow tracking the image position and feed the on-board computer with this information via a RS422 link, allowing further position stabilization. The imaging system is adjusted and designed for a depth of field from 25 m to 250 m.


Figure 5: Coarse lateral displacement in formation flying (image credit: CSL)

The CLS is based on the following architecture:

• A corner cube (50 mm diameter) which is the target on the OSC (Occulter Spacecraft)

• A CLS telescope unit containing a barrel, lens(es), Interference filter, neutral Density Filter, Alignment Cube. The CLS telescope unit is composed of 5 lenses, 2 filters, an alignment cube and a divergent lens.

• A CLS detector unit based on a Cypress HAS2 CMOS APS detector

• The centroid data is downloaded via a RS422 link to an EGSE (Electrical ground support equipment)

• The laser diode driver is controller via the detector unit

• The laser diode itself is a fiber optic pump laser diode (Instantaneous Optical Power 40 W) attached to a fiber collimator/NA converter.


Figure 6: Architecture of the Coarse Lateral Sensor. The measured data is send to the EGSE (Electrical Ground Support equipment), image credit: CSL, ESA

Because of the large depth of operation, all lateral system performances are angular ones. The system requires:

- Tracking capability for a spot moving @ 0.5 arcdeg/s in the field of view of the camera.

- Spot detection with the sun (bright source) in the field of view

- Centroidization accuracy: 0.1 camera pixels (3.5 arcsec)

- Absolute calibration accuracy: 0.14 camera pixels (5 arcsec).

The system is a standalone unit. Once connected to an unregulated 28 V power-supply, it delivers, after spot detection, pixel coordinates to the RS422 link at a 10 Hz rate. Its average power consumption is < 8 W. The system can be put in a programming mode, to allow uploading settings in the camera. Tracking, absolute calibration, resolution and sun avoidance have been measured in a field of 10 arcdeg and the range of depth of 5 m to 80 m.

Optical design: The system operates as an angle to position converter. The angular accuracy requirement is 5 arcsec in a FOV of 10 arcdeg. The 10 arcdeg are imaged on a 1024 x 1024 HAS detector (18 µm pixel). The system is telecentric in the image plane (Figure 3). The NDF (Neutral Density Filter) and interference filter (IF) are placed as first components. Putting the NDF as first lens will act as a cold filter, and in this way, reduces the thermal load on the CLS.


Figure 7: Schematic view of the CLS telescope lens design (image credit: CSL, ESA)


Figure 8: Photo of the CLS sensor from Centre Spatial de Liége (image credit: CSL, ESA)

The coarse lateral sensor is a stand-alone detection system, which provides automatic coordinates of the image of a corner cube even with the sun in the field of view. The system operates in a narrow band around 980 nm.

FLLS (Fine Lateral and Longitudinal Sensor)

FLLS is the third and last level in the chain of PROBA-3 relative metrology. The optical metrology FLLS working principle is the following:

1) a laser pulse train is generated and split in two parts

2) one part is transmitted to a corner cube located on the other satellite, whilst another is sent via a reference arm of the interferometer, prior to recombination of the two sets of pulse trains

3) the reflected light is received back at the optical head

4) part of the received light is split and sent to the lateral position sensor

5) the remaining light is mixed with the reference and sent to the distance detector

6) distance is finally computed from the interference between the signal and reference beams.

QinetiQ SIPOD has been selected as baseline FLLS for PROBA-3.


Figure 9: Illustration of the FLLS instrument (image credit: QinetiQ)

The FF algorithms are designed to combine and propagate the available metrology sensors measurement and execute the commanded timeline. The estimation of the performances of the formation flying demonstration will rely on the highest accuracy element of the metrology chain.

The Formation Flying station keeping maneuver, at about 150 m relative distance, will be validated using the coronagraph instrument. In particular, the coronagraph instrument images and the shadow position sensors readings will be combined with the orbital data and the other GNC sensors telemetry (STR, SAS, etc) and post-processed on ground. The obtained information on the relative position of the spacecrafts will be used as reference to estimate the FLLS performances and validate the FF algorithms. FLLS will be calibrated to a very high level of accuracy using coronagraph instrument data. FLLS measurement will be used by the ground and combined with orbital information and the other GNC sensors telemetry (STR, SAS, etc) to derive a filtered solution that will be used as reference for the performances analysis of Formation Flying resize and retargeting maneuver. Figure 10 depicts the metrology sensors validation approach.


Figure 10: Metrology sensor validation approach (image credit: PROBA-3 consortium)

For RVX (RendezVous Experiments) it is foreseen to use relative GPS and FLLS measurements post-processed on the ground to validate the VBS sensor. Given the relative distance between the spacecrafts during the RVX experiments, FLLS and GPS data will only be available during a reduced time frame. Outside these periods, VBS measurements will be used. The metrology sensor data will be combined with the orbital data and the other GNC sensors telemetry (STR, SAS, etc), post-processed on the ground and used as reference for the RVX algorithms performance estimation. Figure 11 shows the RVX sensors validation approach.


Figure 11: RVX sensor validation approach (image credit: PROBA-3 consortium, Ref. 21)


Figure 12: Illustration of the two PROBA-3 spacecraft (image credit: ESA, Ref. 19)


Figure 13: View of the Occulter spacecraft with cross shaped solar array and a circular occulting disk (image credit: OHB Sweden)

The spacecraft combine standard platform technology with new technology for formation flying, command, GNC (Guidance, Navigation & Control), relative metrology sensors and thrusters.


Figure 14: Spacecraft equipment layout showing the OS rear face and the CS front face (image credit: EADS)


ISL (Intersatellite Link):

The ISL capability is used to exchange data between the different elements of the constellation or network spacecrafts, either for time, attitude and position synchronization, for relative position determination or even for telemetry relay to Ground. Since ISLs are used in a very specific context, their requirements are fairly different from those of traditional telemetry, tracking and command subsystems, which are more directed to ground-satellite communications. ISLs are used to exchange critical data and therefore require lower latencies and transmission error rates and usually operate without any ground intervention. For this reason, the Space market demands a new enabling generation of communication solutions that can cope with these requirements. 23)

GAMALINK is a multifunctional SDR (Software Defined Radio) communications and networking platform, born in the terrestrial domain, spun into space for the small satellite market and now upgraded to meet the specific requirements of ISLs. One of its applications is the PROBA-3 mission of ESA, whose goal is to demonstrate in-orbit the concept of formation flying using 2 satellites and to study the Sun corona. The critical ISL subsystem will provide time correlation and synchronization between the two satellites, enable the exchange of formation control data among the platforms and determine their relative distance during the complete orbit including the precise formation flying maneuvers. Apart from the challenging performance requirements, the ISL must also be able to survive the harsh radiation environment.

ISLs have different challenges to tackle than those of TT&C subsystems, which shows a real need for this application that cannot be satisfied with the current existing solutions in the market.

Link availability: One of the major differences that ISLs have from regular TT&C systems is the availability requirement. In traditional mission configurations, space assets communicate with one (or several) ground stations in pre-established visibility periods. This means that all communications from or to space, as well as all actions taken during the mission, are planned in advance and accounted for in operations. In short, the ground link does not need to (and cannot) be always available.

ISLs, however, are designed for different mission concepts, involving multiple satellites and which are more dynamic in nature, requiring faster adaptation to the mission conditions. In such an environment, the different spacecraft need to be able to establish a link immediately when they need it, in order to guarantee continuity in coordination and safety of the formation. This means that there will be at least some parts of the mission where the ISL needs to be permanently available.

This challenge needs to be tackled at both system and subsystem level. Permanent availability requires the ISL to be always operating. This has a strong impact on the power budget of the satellite, since RF subsystems are inherently power demanding. It also requires that the antenna configuration is defined in order to ensure permanent coverage in any specific mission conditions (usually omnidirectional coverage is required). Hence, the ISL needs to be able to manage the antenna selection autonomously and seamlessly, which is challenging from a design point of view.

Latency: In the same line, latency is also currently handled in different terms than traditional TT&C systems. Indeed, given the predefined visibility periods with ground stations, data is transmitted with high latency, both on uplink and downlink. The command uplinks are meant to be executed as part of the overall operations plan, at a defined time, and therefore can be uploaded in advance. As for downlink of telemetry, this information is processed offline and therefore does not have any kind of latency requirements.

Multi-satellite cooperative missions, however, need ISL data to be exchanged in realtime, in order to be able to coordinate actions and maneuvers between the platforms. For formation flying missions, latency is critical, in order to ensure that the different platforms know their relative position and attitude with adequate time accuracy. This adds a new challenge, mainly in terms of attitude control and guidance software development.

Reliability: In multi-satellite missions, ISLs are considered critical subsystems. In case of a failure, the platforms lose their ability to cooperate, either momentarily or permanently. This is no different from current space communications subsystems, since if the satellite cannot establish a link with the ground, no data can be sent from orbit and the mission is lost. However, in terms of data reliability, the criticality of TT&C systems is lower. If a message is deteriorated because the channel conditions are degraded, it can try later on a different ground station pass. Operation procedures account for these situations and the satellite is not lost.

In collaborative missions, such an event can jeopardize the satellites formation. If corrupted data are received, this may lead to a misinterpretation of a given satellite information, for instance, and to a bad decision from the other spacecraft. For this reason, in practice, ISLs need to be designed for lower BERs (Bit Error Rates) and considering efficient FEC (Forward Error Correction) techniques, which not only allow for message recovering, but also do not compromise the latency requirements.

Networking: The last three challenges are common to all space missions relying on ISLs. Platforms need to send a message immediately (high availability), with short delivery times (low latency) and ensuring that it is correctly interpreted at the destination (high reliability). The networking challenge is related with a capability that is highly desirable when the mission involves more than two satellites, such as scalable swarm missions or satellite networks. A network would simplify share data between all platforms.

GAMANET gathers satellites and ground stations in a transparent and integrated network, in order to maximize coverage and throughput of each space platform. This concept will be demonstrated in the upcoming QB50 mission, which will deploy a network of 50 CubeSats into orbit.

Such a network needs to be self-managed by the nodes creating it in order to ensure independency from ground intervention. It also needs to have a low overhead in communications or otherwise it will reduce the effective data rates and increase latency. These requirements are hard to achieve, which will ultimately increase the demand for more bandwidth and higher raw data rates in ISL communications.

Synchronization: Whether in a network or in a point-to-point ISL communication system, another major challenge is the synchronization. Coordination requires, not only that spacecraft are able to communicate effectively but also to perform their actions in a coherent fashion. In LEO missions, satellites can take advantage of GNSS systems to provide a reliable time reference, but in higher orbits they need other procedures to ensure that their working clocks are aligned.

Such a challenge is tightly connected to ranging, another useful capability in satellite constellations that allows the spacecraft to determine their relative distance. Accurate ranging techniques rely on propagation time measurements to calculate this distance. In order to determine the free-space time, other internal propagation times (software and hardware) need to be accurately known throughout the mission lifetime. Since electronic parts have variable delay times, depending on several factors, such as temperature, ageing or total dose radiation effects, this imposes a considerable design challenge in an ISL design.

PROBA-3 mission: The two PROBA-3 satellites will be injected into a highly elliptical Earth orbit, 600 km x 60,524 km, and perform the formation flying demonstration activities and scientific experiment near its apogee. In view of the specific PROBA-3 orbit, the satellites will cross Earth's radiation belts and its mission lifetime over 2 years, radiation-hardening techniques and SEE mitigation strategies must be present and implemented throughout the ISL design implying additional challenge. Finally, to complement and compare the results with the other on-board formation flying metrology systems, radio frequency ranging algorithms will be implemented in the ISL platform, providing an interesting alternative to determine the relative distance between the satellites.

GAMALINK platform for PROBA-3:

GAMALINK is an advanced SDR communications platform for space vehicles developed by TEKEVER (Portugal), which provides simultaneous support for multiple types of ground and ISLs. By creating mobile wireless ad-hoc networks in space, GAMALINK provides unprecedented flexibility for satellite constellations and flight formation missions, enabling the creation of ISLs for synchronizing and coordinating actions. Additionally, GAMALINK receives and decodes GPS signals, providing precise positioning and timing information, it also supports precise ranging measurements. GAMALINK is available for different types of vehicles and missions, from nanosatellite missions, for which there is a CubeSat standard compatible version, to missions involving larger satellites and higher orbits.

The GAMALINK main specifications are listed in Table 4. It natively supports a frequency range going from UHF to S-band and is configurable according to mission and system communication and power consumption requirements.

Frequency range

300 MHz to 3 GHZ


40 MHz

Data rate

up to 80 Mbit/s

Positioning precision

5 m (GPS)

GPS update rate

5 Hz

PCB (Printed Circuit Board) size

95.9 x 90.2 x 11 (mm)

Total PCB mass

< 100 g

Data interface


Storage capacity

from 2 x 2 GB

Supply voltage

3.3 V or 5 V

Table 4: GAMALINK specifications

Even though GAMALINK has slightly different challenges than those for the PROBA-3 mission, its purpose, technology and basic functionality are perfectly suitable for the mission requirements and needs. Therefore, GAMALINK was chosen as the baseline ISL subsystem for PROBA-3. However, some general design adaptations are needed in order to optimize the solution to the specific mission requirements. On the one hand some available features of the GAMALINK platform are not required and can be removed, saving therefore resources, on the other it brings new challenges that were not being considered so far, such as radiation-hardening and redundancy concerns. GAMALINK was originally developed for LEO missions with few months lifetime, without major design drivers in terms of implementing SEE mitigation techniques or design-level redundancy.

The approach to comply with the PROBA-3 requirements is to apply cold redundancy and use radiation-hardened qualified components. However, all components from the original design are not available in rad-hard nor high reliability grade for the desired functionality, in this case alternative solutions have to be considered.


Model progress of PROBA-3 formation-fliers

The design evolution of ESA's PROBA-3 double satellite mission is shown by this trio of 3D-printed models in Figure 15. "These paired models, 3D printed in plastic, were not made for show," explains Agnes Mestreau-Garreau, ESA's project manager. "Instead, they're used almost daily. Because PROBA-3 will be the first precision formation-flying mission – with the two satellites flying in tandem– these models help the team to visualize their orientation, as well as to explain the mission easily to people. So the models have ended up somewhat battered as a result. 24)

"The first model set was printed after our System Requirements Review, followed by our PDR (Preliminary Design Review) and now MCM (Mission Consolidation Milestone) – with consequent changes in mission mass, volume and design details."

The latest member of ESA's experimental PROBA minisatellite family, PROBA-3's paired satellites will maneuver relative to each other with millimeter and fraction-of-a-degree precision, intended to serve as the virtual equivalent of a giant structure in space and so open up a whole new way of running space missions.

As has become traditional with PROBA missions, the success of PROBA-3's technology will be proven through acquiring high-quality scientific data. In this case, the smaller ‘occulter' satellite will blot out the Sun's fiery disc as viewed by the larger ‘coronagraph' satellite, revealing mysterious regions of our parent star's ghostly ‘corona', or outer atmosphere.

When in Sun-observing mode, the two satellites will maintain formation exactly 150 m apart, lined up with the Sun so the occulter casts a shadow across the face of the coronagraph, blocking out solar glare to come closer to the Sun's fiery surface than ever before, other than during frustratingly brief terrestrial solar eclipses.

The challenge is in keeping the satellites safely controlled and correctly positioned relative to each other. This will be accomplished using various new technologies, including bespoke formation-flying software, GPS information, intersatellite radio links, startrackers, and optical visual sensors and optical metrologies for close-up maneuvering.

PROBA-3's next milestone will be the Payload Critical Design Review for its coronagraph, expected in the autumn followed by the System Critical Design Review for the mission. The two satellites will be stacked together for launch in 2019 before separating in orbit.


Figure 15: The design evolution of ESA's PROBA-3 double satellite is shown by this trio of 3D-printed models, each pair – from left to right – produced after successive development milestones (image credit: ESA, G. Porter)


Although the description of the PROBA-3 mission is still incomplete (regarding the spacecraft and its subsystems), the file is being presented on the eoPortal for reference. The mission will be updated as new information becomes available.


Development Status:

• July 17, 2017: ESA's Science Program has agreed to support the technology-demonstrating PROBA-3, a double-satellite formation-flying mission tasked with observing a region of the Sun normally hidden from view. 25)

- Set for launch in late 2020, the two satellites making up PROBA-3 will fly at a precise separation to cast a shadow across space, blocking out the disc of the Sun to reveal details of its ghostly surrounding ‘corona' – usually masked by dazzling sunlight.

- PROBA-3, like all the missions in the PROBA series, is first and foremost a technology demonstrator, exploring precision formation-flying techniques so that future multiple satellites flying together could perform equivalent tasks to a single giant spacecraft.

- But, following a longstanding PROBA tradition, the mission has also been given an ambitious scientific goal: returning scientifically useful data is a good way of proving the technology works as planned.

- PROBA-3 will offer solar scientists a window on the inner segment of the solar corona – a mysterious region because it is more than a million degrees hotter than the surface of the Sun it surrounds.

- Up until now, the best way to observe the corona has been during a solar eclipse, although stray light through Earth's atmosphere is a limiting factor.

- As an alternative, space-flown ‘coronagraphs' create artificial eclipses inside Sun-watching satellites such as SOHO and STEREO, but stray light still bends around their blocking discs, limiting access to the all-important inner corona.

- PROBA-3 will get around this by flying the disc of its coronagraph on a separate satellite, exactly 150 m apart, lined up with the Sun. This should open up a new view of dynamic regions extremely close to the solar surface, where the solar wind and the eruptions called ‘coronal mass ejections' are born. Coronal mass ejections are primary sources of disturbed space weather at the Earth.

- PROBA-3 is funded through ESA's Directorate of Technology, Engineering and Quality, but in June the Agency's Science Program Committee endorsed the mission for additional backing through the Directorate of Science.

- "It was clear that it would be very beneficial to have this mission supported in the Science program," explains Andrei Zhukov of the Royal Observatory of Belgium, serving as Principal Investigator for PROBA's coronagraph.

- "There was widespread enthusiasm in the solar physics community. The Science Program Committee is advised in turn by its advisory committees composed of scientists from all around Europe, giving independent endorsements, and they recommended PROBA-3 be supported as a ‘mission of opportunity'.

- "In plain terms, the running of PROBA-3's Science Operations Center, which will process and distribute scientific data to scientists across Europe, will be funded by the Science program. This center will be hosted here in Belgium, with contributions to the data processing pipeline made by Germany, Poland and Romania.


Launch: A VEGA launch of PROBA-3 is projected for the timeframe in 2020 (Ref. 24). 26)

Orbit: The reference orbit is a HEO (Highly-elliptical Earth Orbit) with a perigee of 600 km, apogee of 60,530 km, an inclination of 59º, and an orbital period of 19 hr 38 minutes.

The high apogee has been chosen to minimize the propellant consumption of the formation flying maneuvers. The orbit has a period of 24 hours. Formation flying will take place over a 12 hours arc centered on apogee allowing a minimum of 6 hours/day of coronal observations. Formation will be broken over the remaining 12 hours as differential gravitational effects would induce too large cold gas consumption. Data transmission will take place during the perigee pass. In order to minimize radiation dose from the Van Allen Radiation Belts the operational orbit will be inclined by 59º (Ref. 11). 27) 28) 29)

Non-Keplerian formation flying for both, ASPIICS and other science demonstrations, takes place during the apogee pass where the gravity gradient is very small. The perigee pass will be free-flying, with the natural evolution of the relative motion under the local gravity gradient.

ESA developed a simulator at ESA/ESTEC, a testbed facility intended to be of service for all formation flying mission demonstrations. PROBA-3 is the first ESA mission to use this facility. The testbed was developed by Belgium's Spacebel, also responsible for PROBA-3's flight software. The project was backed through ESA's GSTP (General Support Technology Program), which aims to mature prototypes into operational hardware. 30) 31) 32)

Perigee, apogee

600 km, 60,530 km

Semi-major axis

36943 km





RAAN (Right Ascension of the Ascending Node)


Argument of perigee


Orbital period

19 hr 38 minutes

Table 5: Overview of the orbital elements of the OSC spacecraft

The ultimate coronagraph: artificial total eclipse created using two spacecraft in flight formation (Ref. 15).

• The formation flying is maintained over 6 hours in every 20-hour orbit: around a factor 100 improvement in the duration of uninterrupted observations in comparison with a total eclipse.

• A technological challenge: the distance between the spacecraft is about 150 m, and the accuracy of their positioning should be around a few mm!


Figure 16: Precise formation flying of PROBA-3 (image credit: ESA, D. Galano)


Figure 17: Segmentation of the orbit into experimental and non-experimental phases (image credit: TAS, Deimos)


Figure 18: Schematic view of PROBA-3 orbit activities (image credit: image credit: ESA) 33)



PROBA-3 mission mode design:

The PROBA-3 mission is organized into four system modes: STACK, MANUAL, OPERATIONAL and PARKING. The STACK and MANUAL modes are used for commissioning and contingency, while the OPERATIONAL and PARKING modes are used for nominal operations. In particular,the OPERATIONAL and PARKING modes are high autonomy modes requiring minimum ground intervention. Figure 19 depicts an overview of the system modes with nominal and contingency mission transitions (Ref. 13) .


Figure 19: Overview of the PROBA-3 system modes diagram (image credit: PROBA-3 consortium)

7) STACK mode: The OSC is sitting on top the CSC that is connected to the launcher interface. After launcher separation, the spacecraft will boot in STACK mode. CSC will be the only active satellite while OSC will stay passively connected to the CSC. CSC will detumble the stack, acquire and maintain sun pointing. Very limited autonomy is implemented onboard while in STACK mode. Ground is individually commanding the spacecraft via telecommand.

Commissioning of the CSC and OSC will start in stacked configuration. This first commissioning will include spacecraft subsystems functionalities and performances of star trackers (STR), GPS, thrusters and reaction wheels (RW). The non-formation guidance and navigation modes will also be tested. The spacecraft separation into safe relative orbits will be performed at a defined orbital position, with the correct attitude and correct thermal environment. Following separation, the two spacecraft will be held with actuators inhibited for a given amount of time, to allow reaching adequate separation distance.

8) MANUAL mode: The system MANUAL mode is entered for the first time after the two satellites separate from the stacked configuration. While in MANUAL mode, the CSC and OSC spacecraft will acquire and point to the Sun waiting for commands from ground.

Continuous ISL (Intersatellite Link ) communication between the two spacecraft is foreseen to allow formation commissioning. In particular the approach for the incremental commissioning of the relative metrology sensor follows the principle of the "accuracy chain". First less accurate metrology is commissioned. Then next element is commissioned up to the highest accuracy sensor that is the scientific instrument.

The MANUAL mode is also the boot mode while the spacecraft are separated. It will be the spacecraft safest configuration and will be used in case of a problem and to limit the power consumption during long eclipses.

9) OPERATIONAL mode: After successful commissioning, the complete mission is carried out in the OPERATIONAL mode. OPERATIONAL mode will be entered around apogee when nominal conditions are met: power and equipments are nominal, the inter satellite distance is between 100 m and 200 m and the relative navigation solution accuracy is better than 15 m and 2 mm/s, respectively. This means that if the system is in MANUAL mode, the ground shall plan and command a sequence of maneuvers to enter into the OPERATIONAL mode acquisition boundary. In OPERATIONAL mode, the designed orbital routine for the PROBA-3 nominal operation is rather complex and consists of four different phases detailed in the following list:

• During the Formation Acquisition Phase (2 h), the formation flying metrologies are acquired while the spacecraft are drifting. Formation is then acquired with the two satellites are at a distance of about 150 m.

• Then in Apogee Operation Phase (6 h), the formation flying demonstration and experiments activities takes place. Formation flying demonstration counts on different maneuvers to be exercised. The experiments include different GNC software modes and risky operations like realistic collision avoidance scenarios.

• After apogee phase, in Perigee Pass Preparation Phase (2 h), perigee pass maneuver is executed to ensure no collision risk at perigee and formation reacquisition at next apogee entry.

• Finally Perigee Pass Phase (9.5 h) is the longest phase centered around perigee. In this phase the satellites are free flying and pointing towards the sun. An absolute and relative navigation solution is obtained below about 5,000 km from the GPS receivers. The relative position is then propagated up to the next formation acquisition phase.

CSC will host the formation metrology sensors and provide the measurements to the OSC. The OSC will process the measurement and command the nominal formation changes along the four phases of the operational sequence. Maximum autonomy is implemented onboard. The ground is only providing mission timeline information every 4 days. The timeline includes a plan for one week.

10) PARKING mode: The PARKING mode represents a formation standby mode, where the two spacecraft are maintained on slightly different orbits. The PARKING mode may be entered in case of operation problems or to perform maintenance activities. For instance, in case of an empty operation timeline, the FF software will autonomously command the two S/C to go to PARKING mode. While in PARKING orbit the propellant consumption is minimized and nominal operation recovery is feasible within one or two orbits. In PARKING mode, the two spacecrafts will repeat the same main operation sequence every orbit. The sequence is composed of four phases:

• In Apogee Parking Operations Phase (2 h), the two spacecraft point towards each other and acquire relative navigation using formation flying metrologies. CSC executes the first parking orbit maintenance maneuver. Relative navigation is acquired and "go ahead" for free drift phase is given. This phase last about one two hours.

• During the Descending Orbit Free Drift Phase (8 h) the two spacecraft drift up to the beginning of the GPS visibility at perigee. No maneuver is executed. The relative state is propagated.

• In Perigee parking operations Phase (1.5 h) the Relative GPS navigation is acquired. CSC executes the second orbit maintenance maneuver before the end of the GPS visibility. Relative GPS navigation is performed after the maneuver and "go ahead" for free drift phase is given. This phase lasts about 1 ½ hour.

• The last phase is the Ascending Orbit Free Drift (8 h) where the two spacecrafts drift up to the beginning of the Apogee parking operations. No maneuver is executed.

Transition from OPERATIONAL to PARKING and back is part of the system autonomy.

PROBA-3 mission timeline: The PROBA-3 nominal mission lifetime is two years. The mission is composed by three main phases:

• LEOP (Launch and Early Orbit Phase), lasting less than 2 days

• Commissioning, lasting about 2 months

• Nominal Operations, lasting about 22 months.

It will be possible to extend the operations up to the maximum mission duration of about 2.5 years depending on the launch date. At the end of the operation phase PROBA-3 is decommissioned waiting for its passive reentry into the atmosphere. — Within the PROBA-3 nominal operations, the operation priority is addressed according to the objective importance: FF demonstration first, then science and finally experiments (Ref. 13).



FF (Formation Flying) demonstration:

The completion of the FF mission objectives depends on the execution of the FF demonstration tasks. The demonstration will start with small scale (few meters) rigid resize and retarget tests. The objective of these tests is to assess the initial accuracy of the uncalibrated system. Then calibration maneuvers will be executed. Dedicated maneuvers will allow metrology and GNC equipments performance characterization. Prior to the execution of full scale formation maneuvers, collision avoidance maneuvers will be demonstrated. Formation resize (from 25 to 250 m) and retarget (from -30º to +30º) will be finally demonstrated. This will include station keeping operations at different ISDs. The rigid maneuver objective is to demonstrate operations foreseen from future formation flying missions. In particular space telescope or interferometer mission will perform part of their scientific observation during rigid maneuver. Rigid maneuvers will require well defined trajectory, the highest accuracy metrology system and formation control with maximum level of performances. Loose maneuver objective is intended to demonstrate service operation and in particular move from point A to point B in order to perform an additional operation (e.g. station keeping or start a resize or retargeting maneuver).

Coronagraph science:

A total of 167 orbits are needed in order to complete the planed minimum 1,000 hours of coronagraph observations. The science payload on PROBA-3 consists of a distributed coronagraph system . The coronagraph system is composed by a Coronagraph Instrument and four SPS (Shadow Position Sensors) mounted on the CSC, and an Occulting Disk and six OPS (Occulter Position Sensors) mounted on the OSC. The coronagraph instrument will take images of the inner solar corona with observational parameters never achieved before. Broad and narrow band images as well as polarization measurements will be possible. The PROBA-3 spacecraft will fly during the apogee phase in station keeping configuration at about 150 m inter satellite distance. Coronagraph science operations will last about 4.5 months. The planning of these operations mainly depends on the availability of the dedicated downlink ground antenna (Ref. 13).


Three experiments are currently considered within the PROBA-3 mission. Additional experiments may be included in the mission at the beginning of phase C. The experiments include:

• 6DOF (6 Degree of Freedom) control with thrusters

• Rendezvous experiment and Realistic Collision Avoidance

• FDIR (Failure Detection, Isolation and Recovery) test maneuvers.

A future interferometer mission will avoid the use of ball bearing reaction wheels to limit the internal vibration. Within the 6DOF control with thrusters experiment, PROBA-3 will repeat the formation maneuvers controlling the relative spacecraft position and attitude only with the thrusters.

In order to ensure spacecraft and formation safety in case of contingency, a distributed FDIR (Failure Detection, Isolation and Recovery) system is designed. PROBA-3 FDIR deals with the complexity of fault management of two spacecrafts flying in close formation. The FDIR system has to monitor and recover failures at spacecraft level (as a stand-alone entity) and failures that can cause a collision between spacecrafts. Any failure at spacecraft level could impact in the formation flying and vice-versa. PROBA-3 FDIR design is composed by two separated entities working together in the system: Spacecraft FDIR (SC-FDIR) and Formation Flying FDIR (FF-FDIR).

Distributed System Autonomy: The FDIR main principle is that lowest-level isolation and recovery is attempted first. This approach minimizes the impact in the system operation. Five recovery levels:

• L0: Action None (Unit Level Local recovery)

• L1:Unit/Function Recovery (Recovery by FDIR)

• L2: Unit/Function Reconfiguration (Unit substitution by FDIR)

L3: OBC / System Recovery (Safe orbit entered & System Mode to MANUAL)

L4: CAM (Drifting orbit entered & System Mode to MANUAL)


Figure 20: Schematic view of FF-FDIR distributed system autonomy (image credit: PROBA-3 consortium)



Sensor complement: (ASPIICS)

ASPIICS (Association de Satellite Pour Imagerie et l'Interferometrie de la Couronne Solaire):

In the early 21st century, classical externally-occulted coronagraphs are limited in their performances by the distance between the external occulter and the front objective. The diffraction fringe from the occulter and the vignetted pupil which degrades the spatial resolution prevent useful observations of the white light corona inside typically 2-2.5 solar radii (Rsun). Formation flying offers an elegant solution to these limitations and allows conceiving giant, externally-occulted coronagraphs using a two-component space system with the external occulter on one spacecraft and the optical instrument on the other spacecraft at a distance of ~100 m. Such an instrument, namely ASPIICS, has been selected in 2010 by ESA to fly on its PROBA-3 mission of formation flying demonstration. 34) 35) 36) 37) 38)

The classical design of an externally-occulted coronagraph is adapted to the formation flying configuration allowing the detection of the very inner corona as close as ~0.04 solar radii from the solar limb. By tuning the position of the occulter spacecraft, it may even be possible to reach the chromosphere and the upper part of the spicules.

The ASPIICS (Association of Spacecraft for Polarimetric and Imaging Investigation of the Corona of the Sun) instrumentation, proposed by the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille (LAM), France, is composed of two platforms separated by about 145 m, and forming a giant externally-occulted coronagraph: one satellite (OSC) hosts the external occulter and the second one (CSC), the optical system (Figure 21). Philippe L. Lamy of LAM is the PI (Principal Investigator) of ASPIICS. A total of 12 institutes from 9 different countries are involved in the ASPIICS project, each supported by its national funding agency.

The ASPIICS instrumentation is developed by a consortium of European Institutes and Industries from Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Russia, and the UK — referred to in the text as the ASPIICS consortium.


ASPIICS is designed to perform high-resolution two-dimensional imaging and spectroscopy of the solar corona (continuum and emission lines) over a FOV (Field of View) extending from 1.02 Rsun (from the center of the solar disk) to 3 Rsun, where the magnetic field plays a crucial role in the coronal dynamics, thus providing continuous observational conditions very close to those during a total solar eclipse, but without the effects of the Earth's atmosphere. The instrument should be able to detect low-contrast structures in the corona close to the very bright solar disk thus requiring both an extremely low level of instrumental stray light and a high spatial resolution near the solar limb. 39) 40) 41) 42) 43) 44)

The science objectives of ASPIICS are to address the following questions:

• How is the corona heated? What is the role of waves? The origin of the plasma fluctuations (waves, turbulence and shocks) that are believed to heat the corona and accelerate the plasma is not yet entirely clear.

• How are the different components of the solar wind, slow and fast, accelerated? For some time, it is known that the fast solar wind originates from coronal holes; however, the respective roles of plumes and inter-plumes is disputed. The combined imaging and spectral diagnostics capabilities available on ASPIICS will allow to map the velocity field of the corona both in the sky plane (directly on the images) and along the line of sight by measuring the Doppler shifts of several emission lines. Spatially resolved velocity profiles will be reconstructed and will shed new light on the above questions.

• To what degree do coronal inhomogeneities affect the heating and acceleration processes? An important aspect of solar wind investigations is to determine how the dominant physical processes vary between neighboring flux tubes in the inherently filamentary nature of the coronal plasma.

• How are CMEs accelerated? The most basic question involves the nature of the interaction between the CME plasma and the magnetic field that drives the eruption.

• What is the configuration of the magnetic field in the corona? The importance of obtaining physical measurements of the magnetic field direction in the corona (as contrasted with field directions inferred from the simple appearance of structures) is crucial in a magnetically dominated corona.


Figure 21: Artist's view of the 2-component space system realizing the ASPIICS externally-occulted coronagraph (image credit: ESA)

Legend to Figure 21: PROBA-3 will operate in a solar pointing mode with -145 m separation between the two spacecraft. Here a front spacecraft carries an occulting disc, flown on the OSC (Occulter Spacecraft), allowing instrumentation on the rear spacecraft, the CSC (Coronagraph Spacecraft), to make detailed observations of the solar corona with ASPIICS.

Methodology: The scientific objectives will be achieved thanks to broadband imaging of the corona at high spatial resolution and to diagnostic capabilities aimed at characterizing the local plasma (temperature, velocity). While imaging is straightforward, the second capability requires a specific device. Our preferred approach consists in analyzing the bi-dimensional distribution of the spectral profiles of several coronal emission lines (CEL) by a set of quasi concentric fringes generated by the Fabry-Perot etalon interferometer, a technique already implemented during solar eclipses.

To perform a precise line profile analysis far enough out in the corona, the strongest emission line available, the forbidden line of Fe XIV at 530.285 nm, is the prime choice. Additional emission lines will be included to better address different coronal regions as well as a broad spectral channel to image the white light corona and derive electron densities. The fringes have an instrumental profile of typically 0.02 nm, narrower than the width of the line (~0.1 nm for Fe XIV), so that the observed profiles are not significantly affected by the instrumental function and directly give the real profiles of the coronal emission line to a very good accuracy. The etalon will be mechanically tilted to displace the set of fringes and increase the resolution.

General architecture:

The ASPIICS Coronagraph System is composed of the CI (Coronagraph Instrument), the OD (Occulter Disk) and the metrological sensors. The coronagraph instrument itself is composed of the COB (Coronagraph Optical Box), the CEB (Camera Electronics Box) and of the CCB (Coronagraph Control Box). The coronagraph instrument is mounted on the CSC (Coronagraph Spacecraft) while the Occulter Disk is mounted on the OSC (Occulter Spacecraft).

The COB holds the optics, the detector and its radiator, the FDA (Front Door Assembly), the FWA (Filter Wheel Assembly), and the SHM (Shutter Mechanism).

The metrological sensors are the SPS (Shadow Position Sensor) and the OPSE (Occulter Position Sensor Emitter). The SPS is mounted in the COB and its operation is fully integrated in the COB operations. The OPSE (set of LEDs) is mounted in the center of the Occulter Disk and is observed by the instrument.

Optical design: The ASPIICS optical design follows the general principle of a classically occulted Lyot coronagraph. As shown in Figure 22, the external occulter (D1) blocks the light from the solar disk while the coronal light passes around the occulting disk then enters through the circular aperture of the coronagraph (A1). The primary objective (O1) forms an image of the external occulter onto the internal occulter (D2). The image of the surrounding bright fringe is blocked by slightly oversizing the internal occulter. The secondary objective (O2) re-images the entrance pupil (A1) onto the so-called "Lyot Stop" (A3) that blocks the light diffracted by the edges of the pupil. Finally, the corona image is formed by a camera (O3) onto the focal plane (F).


Figure 22: Basic scheme of an externally occulted Lyot coronagraph (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)

The external occulter (EO), hosted by one spacecraft, blocks the light from the solar disk while the coronal light passes through the circular entrance aperture (50 mm diameter) of the optical telescope on the second spacecraft. As shown in Figure 23, the PO (Primary Objective), located 200 mm behind the entrance pupil, forms an image of the external occulter (EO) onto the internal occulter (IO). The image of the surrounding bright fringe is blocked by slightly over-sizing the internal occulter (1.04 Rs instead of 1.02 Rs). The RL (Relay Lens) re-images both the entrance pupil onto the so-called "Lyot Stop" and the corona image onto the CCD detector (protected by a glass window). The detector is a 2048 x 2048 with 15 µm pixel size. The effective focal length of ASPIICS is 1150 mm with an overall length (from the entrance pupil to the detector plane) of 700 mm.


Figure 23: Overall layout of the ASPIICS optical design (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)

The PO (Primary Objective) is composed of two separated lenses made of radiation resistant glasses to avoid darkening. The relay lens is made of two sets of lenses: a doublet, followed by a lens and another doublet. A filter wheel is inserted after the Lyot stop and contains 4 polarizes and 2 filters: a wide band filter [(540 nm – 590 nm) and a narrow band filter centered on the He I D3 line (587.6 nm)].

Optical design simplification: Initially, ASPIICS incorporated a Fabry-Perot interferometer to perform 3D-diagnostic of the corona. However the limited resource available on the PROBA-3 platforms led the project to descope the Fabry-Perot instrument. This descoping allowed drastic simplifications of the optical design. In particular, the pupil diameter has been reduced (from 140 mm to 50 mm) allowing to replace the TMA (Three-Mirror Anastigmat) by a lens objective (doublet). The doublet preserved the image quality: even if intrinsically it offers lower image quality, by taking into account the manufacturing and alignment errors, the doublet is comparable to the TMA. By using a doublet, the overall optical train can be implemented on-axis and the whole mass is reduced by about 30%. The use of a doublet relaxes the thermal stability requirements of the optical bench.

The primary objective has an effective focal length of 300 mm and is composed of two separated lenses made of BK7G18 and SF6G05. The two lenses are made of radiation hard glasses to avoid any darkening effects while the optical performance are strictly equivalent to those achieved by classical glasses (e.g. BK7 and SF10). The separation (of 0.5 mm at the edge) allows to cope with the differential thermal dilation between the two lenses and allows mounting the two lenses in a common barrel. The primary objective has been optimized for finite distance object (144 m) for a FOV (Field of View) corresponding to the outer edge of the external disc (i.e. ~1.02 Rsun).

Optical specifications

- Telescope effective focal length: 1150 mm
- Entrance aperture diameter: 50 mm
- Stray light/Sun disk light rejection: 5 x 108
- FOV: 1.02 Rsun ± 2.7/3 Rsun
- Spatial scale: 2.8 arcsec/pixel


- Size: 2048 x 2048 pixels; 15 µm pixel
- Dynamic range: 16 bit
- Operating temperature < 60ºC

Wavelengths / operational modes

- Bandpass 540–590 nm
- Fe XIV 530.3 nm; He I 587.6 nm
- Calibration lamp: 546.1 nm (Pen-Ray Mercury line source)

Table 6: Specifications of the ASPIICS coronagraph

Image quality: The optics of ASPIICS shall produce diffraction limited images in both planes of the internal occulter and the focal plane. Indeed the image quality specification is divided in two in order to meet the two main functions of the coronagraph:

1) Image of the corona on the detector which is required to observe the corona with the specified spatial resolution (about 2.8 arcsec/pixel) over the whole FOV (about ±2.7 Rsun)

2) Image of the external occulter onto the internal occulter which is required to reduce the stray light in the instrument.

Figure 24 shows the image quality at the focal plane for an object at infinity up to 0.8º (i.e. 3 Rsun). On the right hand-side, the spot diagram is given for four wavelengths (0.540 µm, 0.555 µm, 0.570 µm and 0.588 µm). The boxes are 30 µm square (i.e. 2 x 2 pixels). On the left hand-side, the plot shows the variation of the RMS spot radius across the FOV for the same four wavelengths. The specifications are met for a circular FoV of 2.7 Rsun and only the corners of the detector (up to 3 Rsun) are slightly out-off specification.


Figure 24: Image quality in the image plane: spot diagram (right) and RMS spot radius versus FoV for four wavelengths (left), image credit: ASPIICS consortium

Figure 25 shows the image quality at the internal occulter plane for an object located at 144 m. Indeed, the internal occulter is the conjugated plane of the external occulter. The optimization has been made for a ring of about 1.02 Rsun corresponding to the edge of the external occulter.


Figure 25: Image quality at the internal occulter: spot diagram (right) and RMS spot radius versus FOV for four wavelengths (left), image credit: ASPIICS consortium

Stray light performance:

The major source of stray light is the diffraction by the EO (External Occulter) edge of the direct Sun light. Indeed, the intensity of the Sun is several orders of magnitude higher than the corona in visible light; and even if the external occulter blocks the direct Sun light, the light diffracted by its edge remains a major concern and this contribution must be estimated. A computation has been made in two steps:

1) Diffraction by the external occulter based on the Fresnel-Kirchhoff theory at the pupil and the primary objective level.

2) Propagation of the diffracted light in the instrument with ASAP.

Diffraction by the External Occulter: The evaluation of the diffraction pattern on the pupil plane was performed by means of the Fresnel-Kirchhoff diffraction theory. The solar disk can be schematized as a finite set of non-coherent source points. Using 419 points to describe the full disk allows achieving a typical precision of ±1% on the computation of the diffraction pattern. The project neglected all the intensity variations on the solar disks (e.g., sunspots), except for the limb darkening effect.


Figure 26: Normalized profile of the light diffracted by the external occulter in the entrance pupil (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)

Figure 26 shows the normalized profile of the light diffracted by the external occulter in the entrance pupil plane considering a simple occulting disk. The profile is almost constant (about 6 x 10-4 with respect to the Sun disk brightness) over the entire entrance pupil. The previous computation has been made assuming a simple disk as occulting system. However, ASPIICS will incorporate a conic occulter edge that will reduce the amount of light diffracted toward the entrance pupil. Experiments to optimize the occulter edge shape have been made in the past (in particular during the second Startiger initiative. In the region 1 Rsun to 1.1 Rsun, it is possible to reduce by a factor 2 to 5 the light diffracted towards the pupil by using a conic shape occulter. This is shown in Figure 27 which plots the ratios between the simple knife-edge (simple disk) and some other occulter shapes (including the cones). The experiments were performed with a set-up replicating a portion of the large occulter (~1.5 m), approximated by a straight edge. The stray light in the solid angle subtended by the ASPIICS pupil was measured.


Figure 27: Ratios of light diffracted towards the entrance pupil between different occulter shapes (including cone) and the knife-edge reference (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)

Instrumental stray light: The study was performed with the ASAP® ray tracing software. A view of the mechanical model with the optical elements used for the stray light analysis is shown in Figure 28. This model was used to assess the expected final stray light level on the detector taking into account: optics scattering, ghosts, scattering and reflections by mechanical parts, etc.

Several sources have been considered: in particular, the external occulter, Earth and Moon up to 15º of the line of sight, and reflections and scattering on the rear side of the external occulter. The model allowed the project to propagate the diffracted light through all the optics up to the detector taking into account all effects (scattering, ghosts, etc.). It appears that the scattering of the PO drives the stray light level between 1 and 2 Rsun. Indeed, the IO (Internal Occulter) blocks the direct light from the external occulter but the part which is scattered before (i.e. by the PO) produces a pattern on the detector as shown in Figure 29. Therefore the critical parameter is the micro-roughness of each surface of the PO (Primary Objective).


Figure 28: ASAP model for stray light analyses of the ASPIICS coronagraph (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)


Figure 29: Spatial distribution (left) and profile (right) of occulter diffracted light scattered by the optics on the detector (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)

Figure 30 shows the final expected performance considering a micro-roughness of 0.5 nm RMS for each surface. In this case the expected stray light level is compliant with the specification (red lines). Note that if all surface roughness is degraded by a factor 2 (i.e. 1 nm RMS), only the very inner part is significantly affected and the specification is not met below 1.2 Rsun. - Several investigations and prototyping are foreseen to assess the typical micro-roughness that can be achieved on the Primary Objective lenses.


Figure 30: Scattered light on detector due to EO diffraction and PO micro-roughness (0.5 nm), image credit: ASPIICS consortium

Hence, it has been demonstrated, that the proposed optical design for ASPIICS will allow observing the very inner corona (from 1.04 Rsun) with an unprecedented spatial resolution. Indeed ASPIICS will fully take advantage of the formation flying technique.


ASPIICS COB hardware components and mechanisms:

Mechanical and thermal design: The thermo-mechanical concept of the COB (Coronagraph Optical Box) has to preserve the position stability of the optical parts after their alignment. The selected optical design concept with axis-symmetrical dioptric optics and a low f-ratio widely helps this task. The stability required by the optics implies the use of a temperature controlled structure in aluminum alloy, associated to a time-stability of ±2°C. Moreover, with possible temperature gradients inside the instrument structure, the use of a honeycomb panel is rejected for the risk of temperature difference between the two skins, causing potential optical axis instabilities. To minimize thermo-elastic effects inside this structure, and in particular optical axis rotations, a concept based on a full symmetry with respect to skittle plane was privileged. A massive structure is therefore baseline of the project, and shall be dimensioned for temperature gradient effects minimization (Ref. 36).

The mechanical architecture is based on the use of a main structure, supported by three bipods in titanium, interfacing with the OBA (Optical Bench Assembly) of the CSC. The structure breaks down in two main parts, both in aluminum alloy:

• A Tube starting at the entrance pupil, and ending just before the focus plane of the first imager. It supports the SPS (Shadow Position Sensor), the FDA (Front Door Assembly), and the entrance objective (the entrance pupil diaphragm is a part of the SPS) at the entrance end, and the IO (Internal Occulter) with field stop at the other end. Several optical vanes are distributed inside, to trap the stray light.

• A structured parallelepiped called EQB (EQuipments Box) supports, the relay lens(es), the FPA and its radiator, as well as the filter wheel and the Lyot stop assemblies, the shutter mechanisms, and the venting systems. A lid will cover this structure, to prevent dust pollution. The venting systems with a protection against stray light and the electrical connectors interface complete the equipment of the EQB.

The three bipods support the above structure: two front monopods interface with the Tube while both rear bipods interface with the EQB, symmetrically disposed. The shape and size of these bipods have to be carefully calculated to:

- ensure the system rigidity and required first eigenfrequency of the COB

- minimize the mechanical constraints resulting from temperature gradients between the coronagraph structure and the supporting OBA

- minimize the transfer of OBA deformations (and resulting stresses) to the coronagraph structure

- minimize the thermal conductive leaks between the COB and the OBA.


Figure 31: Illustration of the COB (Coronagraph Optical Box), image credit: ASPIICS consortium

FDA (Front Door Assembly): The protection of the instrument against dust particles, during the storage and especially during the launch phase requires to use a protection door. Moreover, the presence of this door allows possible photometric calibrations of the instrument by use of a HDD (High Density Device) fixed in the center of the door, and, when lighted by the Sun, produces a flat field image on the detector. The FDA allows a several shot closing/opening of the entrance aperture by the use of a mobile lid moved by a stepper motor in normal conditions. This lid is only opened at the beginning of the observation period and closed at the end. As a redundancy, in case of a failure of this actuator, a one-shot wax actuator allows the definitive opening of the lid.

FWA (Filter Wheel Assembly): The several possibilities of observation - in a wide bandwidth, in a narrow bandwidth and in polarized light - force to use a motorized filter wheel with 6 positions: narrowband filter, wide-band filter, and 4 polarizers. These filters, mounted on the wheel, are inserted in the optical path close to the secondary pupil of the system, and tilted to avoid ghost images on the detector. The FWA consists of a wheel moved by a stepper motor / gear box with reduced backlash which positions the filters in the optical beam. The position is read thanks to a set of position sensors.


Figure 32: Front Door Assembly (left) and Filter Wheel Assembly (right), image credit: ASPIICS consortium

SHM (Shutter Mechanism): A mechanical shutter, under form of a blade, is linked to the use of a full frame CCD with short exposure times, and is needed to define the exposure time. It is located close to the intermediate focus and not close to a pupil as usual, because pupil planes are used by optical parts (field stop and Lyot stop).

This particular location allows a protection of the back end of the instrument against full Sun light when the shutter is closed. In this case, the Sun light is blocked by the shutter blade and the corresponding heating power (lower than 0.5 W with full Sun in the wavelength bandwidth of the coronagraph) will be mainly reflected and absorbed by the baffle and tube. All the sensitive parts behind the primary focus are then protected, and the only lighted part is the entrance objective, which can survive to this potential event. To complete the protection, the shutter will close automatically when unpowered, by action of a spring on the shutter blade. With this system, even in case of power failure, the instrument can support a long exposition to full Sun.

The mechanism uses a limited angle DC brushless torque motor, directly mounted on the shutter blade axis. This blade is in the closed position when unpowered, and maintained open by a small electrical current in the motor during the exposure time. The rotational spring is only used for closing the shutter when this current is suppressed. In normal conditions, the control loops ensure this movement. A position encoder completes the hardware to realize a highly reproducible movement.


Figure 33: Schematic view of the shutter mechanism (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)


Metrology subsystems: (SPS, OPSE)

SPS (Shadow Position Sensor):

The SPS verifies the safe centering of the entrance pupil of the coronagraph into the shadow cone of the occulting disc. Initially planned for a high sensitivity relative measurement of the umbra location with reference to the center of the entrance pupil of the coronagraph instrument, it has evolved towards a sensor giving an absolute location with a high accuracy. Another function required of the SPS is to signal to the satellite (CSC) that the umbra moves out of the nominal position range of the SPS, this is to prevent the risk of the full Sun inside the coronagraph instrument.

The SPS is based on the use of light sensors disposed around the entrance pupil diaphragm of the coronagraph. All sensors are located close to the pupil diaphragm and then, in the nominal flight configuration, in the penumbra zone given by the external occulting disk. For practical reasons (space around the pupil, redundancy, accuracy), the project disposed 8 light sensors, organized in 2 groups of 4 sensors. The sensors of a group are equally distributed on a circle centered on the entrance pupil center, and two circles with respective radii of 42 and 52 mm have been selected for the two groups.


Figure 34: Arrangement of the 8 light sensors around the entrance pupil of the instrument (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)

A sensor in the penumbra sees the light coming from a crescent of Sun. The surface of this crescent is nearly linear with the decent ring if it stays sufficiently small. Therefore, the light received by this sensor evolves nearly linearly with the distance with the full umbra, and the principle of measurement is based on this particular property.

As the photon current of a photodiode is perfectly proportional to its illumination, the voltage signals delivered by the front-end electronics and then digitalized are nearly proportional to the umbra displacements, except when they are in the full umbra of the occulting disc. Considering two opposite sensors, they are never in the umbra at the same time, and photometric information is always available.

The SPS head is a compact sub-system which is mounted in front of the instrument Tube, under the lid of the FDA (Front Door Assembly). Figure 35 shows the main parts of this head.


Figure 35: SPS mechanical implementation (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)

The head includes the 8 sensors distributed on two circles with respective radius of 42 mm (sensors #1) and 52 mm (sensors #2). They are mounted on a PCB (Printed Circuit Board) in flex-rigid technology (2 rigid annular parts connected together by a flex circuit and connected to an in/out connector). These two rigid parts of the PCB are mechanically mounted on the base plate (in dark blue) thanks to a set of screws and spacers. The PCB also includes the operational amplifiers, and small components needed to condition the current signals delivered by the photodiodes.


OPSE (Occulter Position Sensor Emitter):

The objective of the OPSE is to verify the positioning of the occulting disc in the FOV of the coronagraph that is the alignment of both spacecrafts independently of the pointing to the Sun.

The OPSE device consists of a set of 3 light emitters mounted on the rear side of the external occulting disc. Their images produced by the coronagraph have a characteristic pattern that uniquely defines the position along the transverse axes, with respect to the instrument coordinate system. Moreover an estimate of the intersatellite distance (ISD) and of the orientation of the external occulter is also provided.

The 3 OPSE elements are located close to the center of the disk, limiting in this way the size of the density hole in the center of the Internal Occulter in the coronagraph. The images are received by the CCD of the coronagraph which, after readout, can be sent to the ground for analysis. The information delivered by the OPSE is therefore not usable onboard in real time.

The use of the OPSE supposes a coronagraph fully operational, door open, and then with the entrance pupil in the umbra or low penumbra; this last point limits its use. The drive electronics is a part of the satellite, the coronagraph team has only to propose the architecture of this electronics and the corresponding requirements.


Figure 36: Mechanical layout of the OPSE (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)


ASPIICS CCB (Coronagraph Control Box):

The instrument electrical design approach integrates the CCM (Coronagraph Control Module) together with MCM (Motor Control Module), AEM (Ancillary Electronics Module) and PCM (Power Converter Module) in a central CCM (Coronagraph Control Box) to achieve a highly compact and efficient design. The CCM together with an integrated mass memory provides sufficient computing resources to cover both, command & control of the complete instrument as well as sophisticated image data processing. This includes the interface handling towards the spacecraft, housekeeping data acquisition, automatic image data acquisition & processing, and execution of autonomous measurement sequences. 45)


Figure 37: Block diagram of the coronagraph electronics (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)

The CCB consists of a metallic box that houses five individual electronic modules and it has the central role controlling all the activities of the coronagraph instrument subsystems while being the only I/F with the spacecraft, for commands, controls or data exchanges. The electronic modles, PCB cards, are mounted on separate metallic brackets (Figure 38). The modules are interconnected through a backplane unit which is designated as the motherboard module of the electronic system. The backplane is also supported to a metallic plate, designed in order to withstand the required operational and vibrations loads.


Figure 38: Exploded view of the CCB (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)


CCM (Coronagraph Control Module)

The design utilizes a combination of a LEON-3 based main processor system within a fixed, radiation hardened and TMR by design, one-time programmable FPGA (Microsemi RTAX) together with a dedicated data compression function core implemented within an in-flight reconfigurable FPGA (Xilinx Virtex). Since all data processing steps are performed by dedicated FPGA hardware, the moderate processing power (20-30 MIPS) of the LEON-3 processor is sufficient for overall high-level instrument control and for communications with the spacecraft platform.

The processor will control and synchronise the camera electronics, the SPS (Shadow Position Sensor), the thermal control and the mechanisms control, including shutter, front door and filter wheels. All interfaces and instrument control/monitoring functions needed for basic operations are integrated in the fixed area FPGA to achieve highest reliability. Additionally, this FPGA acts as system supervisor to achieve the configuration control and required SEE radiation tolerance of the reconfigurable FPGA, supported by a high-reliable configuration memory for firmware storage.

The limited telemetry rate combined with the large amount of scientific information retrieved from the camera system demands sophisticated on-board data compression. This is achieved by a dedicated, in-flight reconfigurable processing core attached to the running system by a flexible and glitch-free on-chip communication architecture, named SoCWire (System-on-Chip Wire). The SoCWire is based on the well established ESA SpaceWire interface standard. Such a reconfigurable system is currently developed at IDA (Institute of Computer and Network Engineering) of the Technical University Braunschweig in the frame of the ESA DRPM (Dynamically Reconfigurable Processing Module) study.

On-board image data compression is based on the CCSDS-122.0-B-1 IDC (Image Data Compression) algorithm. The CCSDS-IDC is implemented as a reconfigurable core in a high density, space qualified reconfigurable FPGA which provides an excellent dynamically reconfigurable on-board payload data processing solution, featuring high reliability (with configuration memory scrubbing), high performance and high circuit density. The CCSDS-IDC core architecture provides a powerful, cost-effective and highly integrated solution since it does not require any external memory.

A complete non-volatile reliable mass memory system, providing significant storage capacity fulfils all needs of intermediate data storage at very low resources need. According to the proposed observation strategy, an anticipated memory capacity of 256 Gbit is more than sufficient and leaves ample capacity for future changes. For high data rates, it is directly controlled by a DMA-type of flash memory controller within the RTAX FPGA.

The design of the NAND-Flash based system will have complete error correction, taking into account the Flash handling. NAND-Flash based mass storages for space have been intensively studied by IDA in the SGDR (Safe Guard Data Recorder) study by ESA and are currently under development for the Sentinel-2 SSMM (Solid State Mass Memory).


Figure 39: Sxchematic view of the CCM architecture (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)


PCM (Power Control Module)

The CCB is the first equipment which is switched on after an OFF mode, by activating the only power line delivered by the spacecraft. This primary line powers the DCDC converter inside the PCM, and in particular, the CCM (Coronagraph Control Module), which, after the short time for boot and initialization, is able to manage the distribution of primary or secondary power to the others modules.

A power distribution unit is effectively included inside the PCM, which has to provide the following functions:

- to deliver the primary power to the Ancillary Electronics Module (AEM) to power the heaters needed for COB warming, thanks to the dedicated amplifiers

- to power the camera by a switch-on of the primary power line for the CEB, on order from the CCM

- to deliver the primary power to the MCM (Motor Control Module) to power the pin puller inside the FPA (Front Door Assembly) thanks to a dedicated switching system

- to deliver the primary power to the MCM after a short time needed to initialize circuits of motor controllers: this avoids the risk of motor jump at switch-on.


Figure 40: Illustration of the PCM architecture (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)


AEM (Ancillary Electronics Module)

The AEM is a module of the CCB. Its two main functions are:

- the acquisition and treatment of the data delivered by the SPS head (front head electronics close to the pupil of the instrument), before a transfer to the CCM

- the temperature control of the 2 controlled zones of the COB: the tube and the EQB. An additional heating line takes advantage of a CEB off to use the corresponding power to boost the heating for a faster heating.

The AEM receives from the SPS head 8 differential signals coming from the 8 light sensors and 2 temperature signals. It has to power the SPS head by a symmetrical power supply. The differential signals are received by instrumentation amplifiers, followed by two double multiplexers authorizing the selection of two signals at a time on the eight received from the SPS head. These two signals are digitized by two 16 bit ADC at a cadence of 40 samples/s, prior to the transfer to the CCM for a final treatment in software.

The temperature sensors needed by the SPS (2 in the head and 2 close to the ADC) are also conditioned by the AEM. The second part of the AEM is dedicated to the temperature control of two zones:

- the front tube of the COB

- the Equipment Box of the COB.


Figure 41: The AEM architecture for SPS data acquisition (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)

The second part of the AEM which is dedicated to the temperature control of two zones (the front tube of the COB and the Equipment Box of the COB) is shown in Figure 42. The temperature control of each zone is achieved by a comparison of the temperature order received from the CCM and the effective temperature measured in the zone. Two temperature values are received from the two temperature sensors mounted in the zone. Differences between these two temperatures (order and effective) are amplified in a PID controller and converted in a pulse width modulation at a fixed frequency of 20 Hz (controller and PWM are in software) and finally amplified to power the heaters of the zone. Two heaters and two power amplifiers are used for redundancy aspects. All temperature sensors are received by two multiplexers to avoid a single point of failure, amplified (2 amplifiers) and digitized (2 ADCs) to 12 bits.


Figure 42: The AEM architecture for thermal control (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)


MCM (Motor Control Module)

The MCM has to command and control the activities of all motors inside the COB:

- the Filter Wheel Assembly stepper motor

- the Front Door Assembly main motor, which is a stepper motor, and a pin puller system able to open the door in case of failure of the main motor

- the SHM (Shutter Mechanism), using a DC brushless, limited angle torque motor.

This subsystem includes the motor drivers, the position sensors acquisition and conditioning electronics, and all circuits needed to control the position or speed loops. It interfaces with the CCM thanks to a LVDS link. This module receives from the CCM all orders for mechanism activations, controls the motors accordingly, and sends back to the CCM the new positions reached by the mechanisms. Only one "intelligent" circuit is used for the 3 motor controls, which are fortunately never running at the same time, greatly helping the design.


Figure 43: Illustration of the MCM architecture (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)


ASPIICS CEB (Camera Electronics Box)

The primary function of the CEB is to operate the CCD, digitize the image data and transfer it to the CCM. An overall schematic diagram is shown in Figure 44. The FPGA is the core of the CEB, this receives commands from the CCM. It generates all the clocks necessary for driving the CCD and drive the DACs responsible for providing the bias voltages.

Image data from the CCD is read out serially and alternated through 2 separate 16 bit ADCs (Analog Digital Converters). The digitized data from these ADCs is then read back into the FPGA where it is assembled into Spacewire packets and transmitted to the CCM. Moreover, the CCD activity will be synchronized with the shutter displacements to preserve the stability of the exposure time of successive images. This is also performed by the FPGA.


Figure 44: Block diagram of the CEB (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)


Software architecture:

The S/W of ASPIICS draws substantial heritage from instrumentation on earlier missions, where a similar approach was implemented (SOHO-SUMER, ROSETTA-OSIRIS, VENUS EXPRESS, ...) and successfully run. The architecture is based on a RTOS (Real-Time Operating System) and foresees three layers plus a boot loader that resides in fixed memory. The approach is based on a RTOS and includes a dedicated OCL (Onboard Command Language), a compiler/interpreter system with a full C-like language set and macro-commands for functions specific to ASPIICS. OCL provides a flexible, safe, and easy to use implementation of in-flight reprogrammable procedures. The OCL is inherited from various ESA/NASA instruments and satellites application SW. The three major layer structures of the approach with the following sub layer functions are depicted in the Figure .

Layer 1: Low Level S/W

- Interface to the H/W with the next higher S/W level

- Real-time operating system and driver software

- I/Fs to both the RTOS and the driver S/W. All S/W I/Fs above this level shall be H/W independent.

Layer 2: RTL and Middleware

- Command execution, also within several operational modes

- Basic controlling functions, as so called RTL, e.g. for control of data processing, HK acquisition, etc. Also, control of file operations to and from image memory shall be allocated in the RTL.

- Autonomous, time- and event-driven, flexible, and safe instrument control system, OCL (On-board Command Language).

Layer 3: Application Layer (in OCL)

- High level application software, which is developed using the OCL functionalities, e.g. configurable management procedures for mode sequencing, data acquisition and processing sequencing, autonomous reactions on HK or data evaluation events, etc.


Figure 45: Schematic view of the software architecture (image credit: ASPIICS consortium)


1) "Proba-3: ESA's first step towards formation flying," Aug. 8, 2006, URL:

2) T. Sephton, A. Wishar t, K. Strauch, F. Teston, "EO Formation Flying Applications for Small Satellite Missions," Proceedings of the 6th IAA Symposium on Small Satellites for Earth Observation, Berlin, Germany, April 23 - 26, 2007

3) L .F. Peñín, J. C. Bastante, J. L. Cano, "Formation Flying Mission Analysis for PROBA-3," 58th IAC (International Astronautical Congress), International Space Expo, Hyderabad, India, Sept. 24-28, 2007, IAC-07-C1.7.02

4) A. Wishart, F. Teston, S. Kemble, S. Grocott, A. Davies, C. Warren, K. Geelen, "The PROBA-3 Formation Flying Technology Demonstration Mission," 58th IAC (International Astronautical Congress), International Space Expo, Hyderabad, India, Sept. 24-28, 2007, IAC-07-C1.7.01

5) "PROBA-3 Phase A Study Executive Summary Report," EADS Astrium, Dec. 2007, URL:

6) F. Sjöberg, A. Karlsson, B. Jakobsson, "PROBA-3: A Formation Flying Demonstration Mission on the Verge to be Realized," Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on Formation Flying, Missions and Technology, ESA/ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, April 23-25, 2008, ESA SP-654, June 2008

7) T. V. Peters, L. Tarabini-Castellani, C. de Negueruela, S. Llorente, B. Jakobsson, "PROBA-3 Formation Flying Mission Analysis," Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on Formation Flying, Missions and Technology, ESA/ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, April 23-25, 2008, ESA SP-654, June 2008

8) Fredrik Sjöberg, Cristina de Negueruela, Björn Jakobsson, Anders Karlsson, B. Larsson, C. Carrascosa, Salvador Llorente-Martinez, Frederic Teston, Franz Burger, "High Precision Formation Flying Guidance, Navigation and Control for the PROBA-3 Mission," Proceedings of the 59th IAC (International Astronautical Congress), Glasgow, Scotland, UK, Sept. 29 to Oct. 3, 2008, IAC-08.B4.2.5

9) PROBA-3 3rd Participants Meeting, March 13, 2008, URL:

10) "Proba-3 mission," May 20, 2009, URL:

11) Agnès Mestreau-Garreau, Kristof Gantois, Alexander Cropp, David Evans, Frederic Teston, "PROBA 3: In-Orbit Demonstration Mission for High Precision Formation Flying," Proceedings of the Symposium on Small Satellite Systems and Services (4S), Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, May 31-June 4, 2010

12) J. Salvador Llorente, Felix De Wispelaere, Felix, Francisco Javier Benito, Diego Escorial, Thomas Laroche , Agnes Mestreau-Garreau, "PROBA-3 System: In Flight Precise Formation Flying Technology Demonstration," Proceedings of the 4S (Small Satellites Systems and Services) Symposium, Portoroz, Slovenia, June 4-8, 2012

13) L. Tarabini Castellani, S. Llorente, J.M. Fernandez, M. Ruiz, A. Mestreau-Garreau, A. Cropp, A. Santovincenzo, "PROBA-3 Mission," Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Spacecraft Formation Flying Missions and Technologies (SFFMT 2013), Munich, Germany, May 29-31, 2013, URL of paper:; URL of presentation:

14) J. S. Llorente, A. Agenjo, C. Carrascosa, C. de Negueruela, A. Mestreau-Garreau , A. Cropp, A. Santovincenzo, "PROBA-3:Precise formation flying demonstration mission," Acta Astronautica Vol. 82, Issue 1, pp. 38-46, 2013

15) Andrei Zhukov, "The PROBA-3 Mission and Its Contribution to Space Weather Studies," Proceedings of HELCATS (Heliospheric Cataloguing, Analysis & Techniques Service), First Annual Open Workshop, Göttingen, Germany, May 19-22, 2015, URL:

16) "PROBA-3: set the controls for the verge of the Sun," ESA, Sept. 12, 2016, URL:

17) J. Côté, A. St-Amour, B. Paijmans, A. Kron, J.-L. Beaupellet, J. de Lafontaine, "Attitude and Orbit Control Software: Recent Innovations for Upcoming Missions," Proceedings of ASTRO 2010, 15th CASI (Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute) Conference, Toronto, Canada, May 4-6, 2010

18) R. Sánchez-Maestro, A. Agenjo, L. Tarabini, A. Cropp, "PROBA-3 High Precision Formation Flying Control System," Proceedings of the GNC 2011, 8th International ESA Conference on Guidance, Navigation & Control Systems, Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary), Czech Republic, June 5-10, 2011

19) Thomas V. Peters, João Branco, Diego Escorial, Lorenzo Tarabini Castellani, Alex Cropp, "Mission analysis for PROBA-3 nominal operations," Proceedings of the 7th International Workshop on Satellite Constellation and Formation Flying (IWSCFF-2013), Lisbon, Portugal, March 13-15, 2013, paper: IWSCFF-2013-07-06, URL:

20) "About PROBA-3, ESA, Nov. 19, 2012, URL:

21) L. Tarabini Castellani, G. Rodriguez, S. Llorente, J.M. Fernandez, M. Ruiz, A. Mestreau, A. Cropp, A. Santovincenzo, "PROBA-3 Formation Flying Mission," Proceedings of the 7th International Workshop on Satellite Constellation and Formation Flying (IWSCFF-2013), Lisbon, Portugal, March 13-15, 2013, paper: IWSCFF-2013-08-07, URL of abstract:

22) S. Roose, Y. Stockman, Z. Sodnik, "A lateral sensor for the alignment of two formation-flying satellites," Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Spacecraft Formation Flying Missions and Technologies (SFFMT), Munich, Germany, May 29-31, 2013, URL of paper: , URL of presentation:

23) Pedro Rodrigues, Ricardo Mendes, Pedro Sinogas, André Oliveira, Karim Mellab, "Enabling Inter-Satellite Link platform for multi-satellite missions," Proceedings of the 66th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2015), Jerusalem, Israel, Oct.12-16, 2015, paper: IAC-15-B2.5.7

24) "Models of PROBA-3 designs," ESA, May 4, 2016, URL:

25) "Science backing for formation-flying Sun-watcher Proba-3," ESA, 17 July 2017, URL:

26) "PROBA-3 precision formation-flyer takes next step to space," ESA, April 21, 2011, URL:

27) J. S. Llorente, A. Agenjo, C. Carrascosa, C. de Negueruela, A. Mestreau-Garreau, A. Cropp, A. Santovincenzo, "PROBA-3: Precise formation flying demonstration mission," Acta Astronautica, 2012

28) T. V. Peters, J. Peyrard, C. Carrascosa, D. Escorial Olmos, "Detailed design of the PROBA-3 formation flying guidance," Proceedings of IAC 2011 (62nd International Astronautical Congress), Cape Town, South Africa, Oct. 3-7, 2011, paper: IAC-11-C1.7.6

29) R. Sánchez-Maestro, A. Agenjo-Díaz, A. Cropp, "PROBA-3 Formation Flying High Performance Control," Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Spacecraft Formation Flying Missions and Technologies (SFFMT 2013), Munich, Germany, May 29-31, 2013, URL of paper:, URL of presentation:

30) "Simulating the formation-flying future of space," ESA, Sept. 9, 2010, URL:

31) João Branco, Diego Escorial, Valentin Barrena, "The Design of the Formation Flying Navigation for PROBA-3," Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Spacecraft Formation Flying Missions and Technologies (SFFMT), Munich, Germany, May 29-31, 2013, URL:

32) Julien Peyrard, Diego Escorial, Alfredo Agenjo, Aymeric Kron, Alexander Cropp, "Design and Prototyping of PROBA-3 Formation Flying Sytem," Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Spacecraft Formation Flying Missions and Technologies (SFFMT), Munich, Germany, May 29-31, 2013, URL of paper: , URL of presentation:

33) J. S. Llorente, A. Agenjo, B. Bereczki, L. Tarabini-Castellani, B. Jacobsson, A. Cropp, "PROBA-3 Formation Flying System Perspectives," Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on Formation Flying, Missions and Technology, ESA/ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, April 23-25, 2008, ESA SP-654, June 2008

34) P. L. Lamy, S. Vivès, W. Curdt, L. Damé, J. Davila, J.-M. Defise, S. Fineschi, P. Heinzel, R. Howard, S. Kuzin, W. Schmutz, K. Tsinganos, A. Zhukov, "ASPIICS: A Giant, White Light and Emission Line Coronagraph for the ESA PROBA-3 Formation FlighT Mission," ICSO 2010 (International Conference on Space Optics), Rhodes Island, Greece, Oct. 4-8, 2010, URL:

35) F. Stathopoulos, S. Vives, L. Damé, K. Tsinganos, "Mathematical Modelling of the complete Metrology of the PROBA-3/ASPIICS Formation Flying Solar Coronagraph," ICSO 2010 (International Conference on Space Optics), Rhodes Island, Greece, Oct. 4-8, 2010, URL:

36) J.-Y. Plesseria, P. Levacher, W. Curdt, S. Vives, C. Guillon, A. Mazzoli, F. Rouesnel, A. Paschalis, N. Kranitis, A. Poulakidas, B. Fiethe, S. Shestov, S. Gunar, G. Capobianco, P. Lamy, P. Rochus, K. Tsinganos, S. Kuzin, P. Heinzel, S. Fineschi, and the ASPIICS team. "Design and Development of ASPIICS, an Externally Occulted Solar Coronagraph for PROBA-3 Mission," Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Spacecraft Formation Flying Missions and Technologies (SFFMT), Munich, Germany, May 29-31, 2013, URL:

37) S. Vives, A. Mazzoli, F. Landini, R. Melich, C. Escolle, J.-Y. Plesseria, C. Guillon, P. Levacher, "Optical Performance of the PROBA-3/ASPIICS Solar Coronagraph," Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Spacecraft Formation Flying Missions and Technologies (SFFMT), Munich, Germany, May 29-31, 2013, URL:

38) S. Vivès, P. Lamy, P. Levacher, J. L. Boit, M. Saisse, " Formation flying applied to solar coronal diagnostics: the ASPIICS coronagraph", Proceedings of SPIE, Vol. 6265, 'Space Telescopes and Instrumentation I: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave,' Orlando, FL. USA, June 14, 2006; doi:10.1117/12.671621

39) P. Lamy, S. Vivès, "New Perspective in Solar Coronal Physics: Giant Externally-Occulted Coronagraphs using Satellites in Flight Formation," 58th IAC (International Astronautical Congress), International Space Expo, Hyderabad, India, Sept. 24-28, 2007, IAC-07-A3.1.02; also available in Acta Astronautica ,Volume 65, Issues 1-2, July-August 2009, pp. 273-278

40) S. Viv`es, P. Lamy, S. Koutchmy, J. Arnaud, "ASPIICS, a giant externally occulted coronagraph for the PROBA-3 formation flyer mission," 36th COSPAR Scientific Assembly, Beijing, China, July 16-23, 2006

41) P. Lamy, S. Vives, S. Koutchmy, J. Arnaud, "Scientific Objectives of the Novel Formation Flying Mission: ASPIICS,"

42) F. Landini, A. Mazzoli, M. Venet, S. Vives, M. Romoli, P. Lamy, G. Massone, "ASPIICS/PROBA-3 Formation Flying Solar Coronagraph: Stray Light Analysis and Optimization of the Occulter," ICSO 2010 (International Conference on Space Optics), Rhodes Island, Greece, Oct. 4-8, 2010, URL:

43) Sebastian Vives, Philippe Lamy, P. Leyacher, M. Marcellin, S. Koutchmy, J. Arnaud, E. Quemerais, L. Dame, R. Lallement, J. C. Vial, R. Harrisson, N. R. Waltham, P. Rochus, J. M. Defise, D. Berghmans, J. F. Hochedez, J. Pacheco, J. Blanco, J. M. Rebordao, D. Maia, W. Schmutz, A. Benz, G. Naletto, "ASPIICS on PROBA-3," Proceedings of SPIE, San Diego, August 26, 2007, URL:

44) M. Venet, C. Bazin, S. Koutchm2, P. Lamy, "Stray Light Rejection in Giant Externally-Occulted Solar Coronagraphs: Experimental Developments," ICSO 2010 (International Conference on Space Optics), Rhodes Island, Greece, Oct. 4-8, 2010, URL:

45) A. Paschalis, N. Kranitis, G. Theodorou, A. Poulakidas, G. Haritakis, D. Habas, P. Levacher, W. Curdt, H. Michalik, B. Fiethe, K. Tsinganos, C. Gontikakis, J.-Y. Plesseria, and the ASPIICS team, "ASPIICS CCB: The Functional Control Electronics of an Externally Occulted Solar Coronagraph Instrument for the ESA PROBA-3 Mission," Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Spacecraft Formation Flying Missions and Technologies (SFFMT), Munich, Germany, May 29-31, 2013, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

Spacecraft    Launch    Mission Mode Design    Formation Flying Demonstration   References
Back to top