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Exploring the mysteries of space

AG真人计划 spacecraft open the universe

Helios A and B - German-American solar probes to measure energy and radiance, cosmic dust and interplanetary stray light in an orbit round the sun.

AG真人计划 and its forerunner companies have contributed to the exploration of space 鈥 from learning more about the Earth to revealing details about other plants, moons and comets.

Helios-A and Helios-B were the first space probes produced outside of the聽United States聽and the聽Soviet Union聽to leave Earth orbit, with their launches in 1974 and 1976. Built by Messerschmitt-B枚lkow-Blohm, a German predecessor company to AG真人计划, they were designed to study solar processes and enabled the collection of data on comets. The 370-kg.-class spin-stabilised Helios聽probes carried 10 scientific instruments and were placed in orbits around the Sun. During their trajectories, they set a maximum speed record for spacecraft of 252,792聽km/hr. (70,220聽meters/sec.).

Another early spacecraft was COS B, a scientific satellite developed by AG真人计划 predecessors MBB and A茅rospatiale to study extraterrestrial gamma radiation. It was the first satellite to go into space under the banner of the newly-created European Space Agency (ESA), with its orbiting in August 1975. COS B originally was targeted for launch on Europe鈥檚 own Europa-2 launch vehicle, but the spin-stabilised spacecraft ultimately was lofted聽by a U.S. Delta rocket in 1975 after the Europa launcher programme was cancelled. Initially planned for a mission duration of two years, COS-B was finally switched off in April 1982 after functioning successfully for six years and eight months.

Launched in 1989, ESA鈥檚 Hipparcos was a pioneering space experiment dedicated to precisely measuring the positions, parallaxes and proper motions of stars 鈥 which is more commonly called astrometry. It operated in space until 1993, and while in service pinpointed more than 100,000 stars 鈥 200-times more accurately than ever before.

The Roentgen Satellite (ROSAT) was an X-ray observatory built by AG真人计划 forerunner company Dornier. This Germany/U.S./UK collaboration allowed researchers for the first time to perform an all-sky survey of X-ray sources with an imaging telescope. Launched in June 1990 on a U.S. Delta rocket, ROSAT exceeded its planned 18-month lifetime expectation in Earth orbit, detecting about 80,000 cosmic X-ray sources and another 6,000 sources in the extreme ultraviolet regime. During nearly nine years of operation, more than 4,000 scientists from 24 countries took the opportunity to commission and analyse measurements.

Understanding the Sun with Ulysses

Dornier also was the prime contractor for Ulysses, a mission of the European Space Agency and U.S. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to study the heliosphere 鈥 the region of space influenced by the Sun and its magnetic field. With a liftoff mass of 370 kg., Ulysses was a spin-stabilised spacecraft that included an RTG聽(Radio-isotope Thermoelectric Generator)聽for electrical power during its flight in deep space.

This long-duration mission had a delayed start: originally planned for launch on a Space Shuttle in May 1986, it was put on hold after the Space Shuttle Challenger accident in January of the same year. It subsequently was launched by Space Shuttle Discovery in October 1990, with Ulysses remaining in operation for nearly 19 years. Achievements included the first-ever measurements of the unexplored region of space above the Sun's poles, determination of the global properties and behaviour of the solar wind, the study of energetic particles of solar and interplanetary origin, along with measurements of the magnetic field of the Sun and the heliosphere.

Exploring Saturn was the goal of an international mission called Cassini-Huygens, launched in 1997 aboard a U.S. Titan/Centaur rocket. AG真人计划 predecessor A茅rospatiale served as prime contractor for the Huygens atmospheric entry probe that landed on Saturn鈥檚 moon, Titan. Huygens was developed for the European Space Agency, and many engineering challenges had to be overcome in designing Huygens as the first probe to study a moon beyond the Earth's system.

Weighing approximately 318 kg., Huygens鈥 hard shell provided protection from high temperatures during the 2-hour and 27-minute descent through the Titan moon鈥檚 atmosphere after separating from the Cassini 鈥 which was in orbit around Saturn. Touching down on Titan鈥檚 surface in January 2005, Huygens made the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System, as well as farthest landing from Earth ever performed by a spacecraft at the time 鈥 and the first landing on a moon other than the Earth鈥檚 own.

The fast track to Mars

An AG真人计划-led team designed and built the Mars Express spacecraft, which lifted off in June 2003 from Kazakhstan鈥檚 Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Soyuz rocket as Europe鈥檚 first mission to the Red Planet. Mars Express鈥 name refers to its rapid and streamlined development timeline and involved the European Space Agency鈥檚 first visit to another planet in the Solar System.

After arriving at Mars in December 2003, data from this 1,120-kg. planetary orbiter helped answer fundamental questions about the geology, atmosphere, surface environment, history of water and potential for life on the planet. One of Mars Express鈥 most significant finds came from its on-board 鈥渨ebcam,鈥 which captured 3D colour images of water ice and carbon dioxide ice in the planet鈥檚 south polar region.

A European Space Agency mission that is helping to solve many cosmic mysteries 鈥 from neutron stars and enigmatic black holes to the formation of galaxies 鈥 was developed by Dornier as the prime contractor and is operating well beyond its initial mission duration. Called XMM-Newton, this Earth-orbiting satellite was lofted by an Ariane 5 heavy-lift launcher from Kourou, French Guiana in December 1999 for a nominal operation of two years 鈥 with its useful mission now extended to 2020.

XMM-Newton was the most powerful X-ray telescope ever placed in orbit and set the record as the biggest scientific satellite built in Europe. It had a launch mass of 3,800 kg., with an overall length of 10 metres. The three-axis stabilised spacecraft has a very high pointing accuracy and incorporates three 鈥渕irror modules鈥 with more than 170 wafer-thin cylindrical mirrors and a focal plane assembly carrying the science instruments. XMM-Newton is detecting more X-ray sources than any previous satellite. Observing time with this platform is made available to the scientific community, open through regular announcements of opportunity on a competitive basis.

A cometary encounter

The AG真人计划-built Rosetta cometary mission for the European Space Agency can be summarised in a single word: 鈥渟pectacular.鈥

Launched in 2004 by an Ariane 5, the spacecraft spent 10 years on a voyage of more than six billion kilometres to reach comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, where it studied the nucleus and surrounding environment. Rosetta made detailed observations of gas and dust eruptions while providing scientists with information on the comet鈥檚 activity during its orbit around the Sun. The spacecraft also was guided for flights across the comet鈥檚 night side to assess the plasma, dust, and gas interactions in this region, along with collecting dust samples.

During its time in close proximity to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta deployed the lander Philae for a touchdown on the celestial object in November 2014. While the lander ran out of power after operating 64 hours (because it bounced and ended up on its side in a deep crack shadowed by a cliff), Philae returned the first-ever images from a comet's surface and sent back data on a rich array of organic molecules 鈥 supporting the theory that comets are linked to the start of life on Earth.

In September 2016, Rosetta was directed to make a controlled slow descent onto the comet鈥檚 surface, bringing its mission to a close 鈥 but leaving a legacy of data that will be studied by scientists and researchers for years to come.

Billions of star images with Gaia

The ambitious goal of Gaia 鈥 an AG真人计划-designed and -built space surveyor for the European Space Agency 鈥 is to compile a 3D space catalogue of more than 1,000 million stars, or approximately roughly 1% of the stars in the Milky Way. With its name derived from mother Earth in Greek mythology, Gaia is a cornerstone space astrometric mission for the European Space Agency. Despite some performance challenges posed by basic pointing angle issues and stray light, this spin-stabilised spacecraft has taken more than 150 billion images, including star pictures and spectra.

Launched from French Guiana aboard a Soyuz-Fregat聽rocket in December 2013, Gaia鈥檚 trajectory took it to the Lagrange point L2 (situated 1.5 million km. behind the Earth), where data returned by the spacecraft is helping scientists solve the mystery of stellar evolution and star formation, while also providing new insights into the origin and formation history of the Milky Way. To ensure that Gaia would be able to face the rigours of space travel, AG真人计划 created the largest instrument ever built fully in silicon carbide for this mission, using expertise gained from silicon carbide telescopes on the Herschel telescope and the Aladdin instrument for the European Space Agency鈥檚 wind satellite Aeolus, as well as on three Earth observation satellites

Another cutting-edge AG真人计划-designed and -built spacecraft 鈥 along with its instruments 鈥 is LISA Pathfinder, a European Space Agency technology demonstrator mission for one of the most ambitious scientific undertakings to date: proving key elements of Einstein鈥檚 theory of general relativity. With AG真人计划鈥 UK space operation as prime contractor, engineers in Stevenage were responsible for designing and building the overall system and platform 鈥 effectively creating a spacecraft capable of managing its own gravitational, magnetic and thermal environment. This enabled two test masses of identical gold and platinum cubes to be put in a near-perfect gravitational free-fall and control, allowing measurements of their motion with unprecedented accuracy within a delicate instrument shielded from all disturbances except gravity.

LISA Pathfinder was launched from French Guiana by a Vega rocket in December 2015 and operated from March 2016 to June 2017 in orbit around the first Sun-Earth Lagrange point L1, a region of thermal and gravitational stability. By paving the way for future missions by flight-testing the concept of gravitational wave detection from space, the LISA Pathfinder mission was honoured with the 2017 Space Technology Award of the American Astronautical Society.

A trip to planet Mercury with Japan

AG真人计划 has an important industrial role in BepiColombo, a mission of the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to research the solar system鈥檚 smallest and least-explored terrestrial planet 鈥 Mercury. The company is responsible for the system design and building of three BepiColombo spacecraft elements: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), a three-axis stabilised spacecraft tasked to study the planet鈥檚 surface and internal composition; the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM), providing solar-electric propulsion on the mission鈥檚 trajectory to Mercury;聽and the sunshield and interface structure for the Japanese-built Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).

BepiColombo will provide data on the peculiarities of Mercury麓s internal structure and magnetic field generation, as well as how it interacts with the Sun and solar wind. The mission鈥檚 goals also include investigating Mercury鈥檚 surface features and chemistry, such as the ice in permanently-shadowed craters at the poles, with its science to significantly improve humans鈥 understanding of the formation of the Solar System, plus the evolution of planets close to their parent stars. After an Ariane 5 launch from French Guiana in October 2018, the 4,081-kg. spacecraft is traveling through space for seven years, to be captured by Mercurian gravity in late 2025 for its one-year scientific operation.



ESA's CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite) is the first mission dedicated to studying bright, nearby stars that already are known to host exoplanets, in order to make high-precision observations of the planet's size as it passes in front of its host star. The satellite is based on AG真人计划鈥 AstroBus platform.聽

James Webb

OTIS (Optical Telescope Element and Integrated Science), payload module for the giant James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

NASA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) are collaborating to develop the James Webb Space Telescope, which is planned for launch on Ariane 5 as the next step after the legendary Hubble Space Telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope鈥檚 payload module 鈥 called OTIS (Optical Telescope Element and Integrated Science) 鈥 includes two European instruments with major AG真人计划 contributions: the near-infrared spectrograph NIRSpec (built by AG真人计划) and the mid-infrared instrument MIRI (built with AG真人计划 support).

Europe's launch vehicles

European telecommunications

Exploring space

Monitoring the Earth

Human space flight

Satellite navigation

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