BAE’s technology enables discoveries in space

BAE’s smartphone-like Rosetta space probe is attempting to land on comet ‘67P’, and the technology that enabled this is revealed.

At BAE’s Advanced Technology Centre in Great Baddow, Essex, a team of engineers have developed a ‘smartphone’ like system which enables the European Space Agency to communicate with, and control the movements of, the probe moving at speeds of up to 55,000kms an hour and, currently, more than 500 million kilometres away.

BAE Systems’ technology also enables all the imagery of the comet and scientific data Rosetta is capturing to be received back on Earth.

The system, known as the Intermediate Frequency Modem System (or IFMS for short), is capable of measuring Rosetta’s speed to within fractions of a millimetre per second, and its distance to within a metre, anywhere in the solar system; factors which are critical to the success of the €1.3bn (£1.02bn) programme mission.

When used at two ground stations, the technology utilises triangulation to determine the direction with an accuracy of a millionth of a degree-the equivalent to the diameter of a 10p coin at 1000kms away.

IFMS also features a receiver that can pick-up signals sent back to Earth from the probe, converting them into data that can be used to communicate the probe’s findings.

Nick James, lead engineer for the project, said: “Approaching, orbiting, and landing on a comet requires delicate and accurate manoeuvres. The target comet is a relatively small object about 4kms in diameter.”

“To help make any of this possible, what we, in layman’s terms, created a ‘smart phone’ for interplanetary communication that gives ESA the capability to communicate with and control the Rosetta probe throughout its 10 year mission, as it travels more than five times Earth’s distance from the Sun.

“The reliability of our system has also played a key role in the mission’s success. Launched in 2004, Rosetta has spent a decade chasing 67P. IFMS was designed to provide cutting edge performance for decades.”

The interplanetary guiding system designed by BAE Systems.

Used in European Space Agency ground stations around the globe, IFMS has supported the European enterprises in space, including Herschel (the ESA space telescope), Mars Express, and Venus Express. The BAE Systems team are now working on the next IFMS, the Telemetry Telecommand and Control Processor (TTCP).