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Thales Alenia Space confirms position at forefront of space robotics

Cannes – WEBWIRE
© Thales Alenia Space/Briot
© Thales Alenia Space/Briot

The I3DS project coordinated by Thales Alenia Space within the scope of the European Commission’s vast Horizon 2020 research program, won an Etoiles de l’Europe (“Stars of Europe”) award at the 7th annual ceremony, held yesterday in Paris, with the French Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, Frédérique Vidal, in attendance.

Sensors for tomorrow’s space robotics

The I3DS project was tasked with developing a suite of sensors for space exploration missions. A European Commission H2020 project, it was conducted by Thales Alenia Space in collaboration with European partners, and was successfully completed in February 2019. In particular, I3DS enabled the development of the navigation systems needed for tomorrow’s robotic systems. The idea was to design a dozen sensors, along with a control unit, capable of carrying out measurements in three dimensions and in real time. Above all, the I3DS concept is intended for missions involving a rendezvous with another vehicle or an object in space to support Thales Alenia Space’s new In-Orbit Servicing* solution, or to allow the return of samples from other planets. The same suite of sensors could also be mounted on vehicles such as the rover used in the ExoMars 2020 mission, or on an “astromobile” for lunar exploration. The innovative solutions used on I3DS include cameras fitted with light or laser flashes, designed to take measurements in the visible or infrared bandwidths, along with sensors for mechanical contact measurements. Bringing together mechanical, electronic, computer and optical technologies, the I3DS project successfully integrated these basic building blocks to build two demonstrators: an orbital module and an astromobile.

The Etoiles de l’Europe award for this H2020 project was given to Sabrina Andiappane, as manager of the Thales Alenia Space team that coordinated I3DS.

“I’m very proud that our H2020 project I3DS, combining robotics and space technologies, was recognized at the seventh Trophée des Etoiles awards ceremony,” said Patrick Mauté, Chief Technical Officer of Thales Alenia Space. “At the recent ESA Ministerial meeting, member states approved the development of extraordinary exploration missions, such as the Lunar Orbital Gateway, dedicated to lunar exploration, and Mars Sample Return, an iconic mission that aims to bring Martian soil samples back to Earth. In both cases, the technologies developed through the I3DS project will be used as basic building blocks to design tomorrow’s robotic space systems.”

*In-Orbit Servicing: spacecraft designed for In-Orbit Servicing will be able to carry out a wide range of operations in orbit, including deorbiting space debris, robotic manipulation, extending the service life of satellites, refueling in orbit, inspections and much more. These new vehicles represent a real paradigm shift in space: upcoming systems will no longer be “abandoned to their fate” once in orbit, but can evolve over their lifetime. Thales Alenia Space is one of the leading pioneers in the trend towards In-Orbit Servicing, which signals the advent of a new approach to space access. When humanity considers the possibility of building lunar bases sometime in the future, the company’s I3DS and In-Orbit Servicing technologies will underpin the solutions developed to transport and assemble the constituent elements.

Drawing on over 40 years of experience and a unique combination of skills, expertise and cultures, Thales Alenia Space delivers cost-effective solutions for telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation, environmental management, exploration, science and orbital infrastructures. Governments and private industry alike count on Thales Alenia Space to design satellite-based systems that provide anytime, anywhere connections and positioning, monitor our planet, enhance management of its resources, and explore our Solar System and beyond. Thales Alenia Space sees space as a new horizon, helping to build a better, more sustainable life on Earth. A joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), Thales Alenia Space also teams up with Telespazio to form the parent companies’ Space Alliance, which offers a complete range of services. Thales Alenia Space posted consolidated revenues of 2.5 billion euros in 2018 and has 8,000 employees in nine countries.

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