The energy for the Hera mission comes from Italy


The solar panels for the Hera mission, which will be launched in October 2024 and reach the binary planet Didymos after 450 million kilometers, have passed all tests. This mission, developed by the European Space Agency, will return to visit an asteroid that was the subject of an unprecedented space experiment on September 26, 2022: the Dart probe was actually sent to impact Dimorphos, a satellite of Didymos, to check the feasibility of its deflection.

Uncertainty. The test was a complete success and was a milestone for strategies being studied to defend our planet should there be a risk of collision with a celestial body. After some time, Hera will verify the results of the impact, which changed the trajectory of Dimorphos (about 160 meters in size) thanks to the action-reaction effect caused by the dust thrown up by the asteroid for days.

Made in Italy. But to get to the Didymos-Dimophos pair, the road ahead is long, as mentioned, and the Hera probe will have to rely on a reliable power source for many years: solar panels made in Italy. Made by Leonardo in the Nerviano (Milan) factory, they are two “wings”, each consisting of 3 panels with a total area of ​​approximately 14 square meters and 1,600 cells, each almost twice the size of a credit card. .

Far from the Sun. The difficulty is actually producing enough power very far from the Sun, where the probe is headed. At its maximum distance from our star, it will receive only 17% of the energy that a satellite in Earth orbit can have, but the panels will still be able to generate 800 watts of power, the maximum power of a domestic microwave oven.

Extreme tests. To “qualify” the solar panels for the mission, Leonardo underwent a series of tests: first in a vacuum, like in space, then to withstand temperatures ranging from -100°C to +140°C. Furthermore, resistance to stress during launch, where the probe and its panels are exposed to intense vibrations and loud noise, was verified: for this last aspect, a subwoofer was placed in front of the wing, producing loud sounds like a rock concert. .

And again, the photovoltaic cells were checked one by one to detect even the smallest anomalies. Finally, “deployment tests” were performed to verify that the paneled wings were properly attached to the body of the satellite and opened and closed as expected.

The panels will now be removed from the satellite and locked in a “vault” until the launch date.

It is not for the first time. For Leonardo, Hera is the third ESA mission that requires photovoltaic panels capable of operating in such low-light conditions and at such a great distance from the Sun: the first example was ROSETTA (toward a comet) and the most recent case was JUICE (toward Jupiter). , 800 million kilometers from the Sun).


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