Solar System Exploration

One of the tasks of remote sensing is the observation of the Earth, but also of the other planets of our Solar System.
In fact, besides the Sun, the Solar System is formed by ten planets (the tenth planet, Xena, very distant from the Sun, has been discovered in 2005). Recently the attention of the Space Agencies is world-wide turning to the observation and the study of Solar System planets, in order to give concrete responses to the numerous questions which the man asks in his thirst for knowledge.



Representation of a Solar System similar to ours. Credit: NASA

Each space mission is designed to address some of the questions that interest us all: what are the origins of our Universe? What is its future? What are the mechanisms that drive it? Is it possible a human colonisation on another planet? Thereby the need to provide space platforms with sophisticated, technologically advanced instruments, has promoted research activities on sensors specifically designed to carry out their punctual task, according to the mission's aim.
In this field the European Space Agency and NASA are developing ambitious programmes, which include the design and development of advanced and reliable systems, able to win the challenge of the time necessary for carrying out very long missions. Moreover, the problems connected to this kind of research are different: from the adaptability of new sensors to the space platforms, to the difficulties connected with remote control, to the subsequent data reception and processing.

CO.RI.S.T.A. carries out research activity for the development of advanced remote sensing systems within Solar System Exploration projects.
In fact, starting in 2001/2002 and 2003 he worked on laser altimeters for planetary exploration, respectively on behalf of the Italian Space Agency (project "Micro-satellite laser altimeter for the correction of stereoscopic model") and of the European Space Agency (project "LAPE: Definition Study of a Laser Altimeter for Planetary Mission").

In 2002 CO.RI.S.T.A. starts working on ShaRAD radar (2002/2005) and, later on, in 2004, on MARSIS radar (2004/2007), within two missions toward Mars planet.
SHARAD (SHAllow RADar) is a subsurface sounding radar, conceived by the Italian Space Agency for the NASA Mars Reconaissance Orbiter mission, which has reached Mars orbit in 2006. The radar is being employed to explore Mars surface and subsoil searching for water, some few hundred meters depth (up to one km), with a very high resolution.
CO.RI.S.T.A. has had a part in the project in the team leaded by Thales Alenia Space Italia, for the definition and implementation of the requirements of the ground test instruments, EGSE (Electrical Ground Support Equipment), and, in particular, the implementation and validation of MEGS (Mars Echoes Generation System), which allows to simulate the radar echoes as received by Mars surface (see "SHARAD - Phase E").

MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding), is one of the seven instruments onboard the space vehicle of ESA Mars Express mission, the European Space Agency first mission to Mars. MARSIS is a multi-frequency ground penetrating synthetic aperture radar. It has been designed for this mission and developed in Italy thanks to the excellence of our scientific and technological level in this sector, with the active collaboration of American scientists of the JPL and the Iowa State University. These have also contributed to the realization of the hardware , providing the antenna and the radio-frequency system instrument. MARSIS, in fact, is formed essentially by three subsystems: Antenna, Radio-frequency subsystem, Digital Electronics subsystem.
On behalf of Thales Alenia Space Italia, CORISTA has participated also in the research activities of the phase E of the radar, in particular it has dealt with the radar Ground Segment, one of the elements of the project devoted to the instrument control and monitoring, able to receive and process on the earth the scientific data sent by the radar onboard the orbiter.

In July 2005 CORISTA has begun to work at a project of research (CASSINI RADAR-Processing Altimetric Data-PAD 2005/2006) within Cassini-Huygens mission.
This mission is the result of an international collaboration between three Space Agencies with the contribute of seventeen nations. It aims at the exploration and the knowledge of Saturn and its moon Titan, pursuing the most ambitious effort in planetary space exploration ever attempted. The spacecraft consists of the orbiter Cassini and the probe Huygens. The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory has realized and managed the orbiter Cassini, the European Space Agency the probe Huygens and the Italian Space Agency has provided the high gain antenna onboard the space platform.
Cassini has entered Saturn orbit on June 30, 2004 after a seven years' journey started on October 15, 1997. The Huygens probe separated from the orbiter on December 25, 2004 and, on January 14, 2005, after a twenty days' descend landed on Saturn's biggest moon, Titan, perpetually wrapped up in a thick and hazy atmosphere, reaching the farthest place a man-made spacecraft has successfully landed away from Earth.
Cassini task is to study Saturn and its moon Titan, while that of the probe has been to gather as more information as possible during its descent to Titan in order to analyze and photograph its clouds, its atmosphere and its surface and then to send the collected data to the Earth through Cassini communication system.
Both are equipped with a great deal of sophisticated instruments, 12 on Cassini and 6 on Huygens probe. They are optical and microwaves instruments able to work from a great distance: cameras, spectrometers, radar and radio.
One of the instruments onboard Cassini is a radar able to operate in three ways: imaging, altimetry, and radiometry, where each mode allows collecting different types of data. At the moment is being carried out the enormous work of processing all the data arriving daily from Saturn and which Cassini will send during the whole four years' mission.
CO.RI.S.T.A. has been responsible for the data processing of the radar in altimeter mode.

In 2006-2007 the Consortium has carried out studies and preliminary projects on the theme "Italian Vision for Moon Exploration&, both in radar and electro-optical sector, in response to an invitation from the Italian Space Agency on this subject.

Further to the development of planetary missions of Solar System exploration and to the interest for this type of research, the need for an unitary European system for processing, collecting, cataloguing and utilizing geo-scientific data coming from different planetary space missions is felt as important and necessary. Therefore the Italian Space Agency, on the basis of the experience acquired with the research project MEGIS (Mars Express Geosciences Information System), has created a system of this kind, named PAGIS (Planetary Geosciences Information System Project 2006/2011). MEGIS in fact has helped to demonstrate the potentialities of a database able to gather geo-spatial information coming from the same mission, Mars Express, integrating and blending them together.
CO.RI.S.T.A. participates in PAGIS project which will aim at creating a net of institutions, with the coordination of the Italian Space Agency and of the International Research School of Planetary Sciences (IRSPS), able to analyze geo-spatial data and provide the ASI Science data Center (ASDC) with the relative scientific products for the distribution.

In 2007 it participates in the phase A of the programme for a "Earth Observation Mission based on Satellite Formation" (2007/2009) in the team leaded by Thales Alenia Space, responding to an announcement of the Italian Space Agency.
Recently, micro-satellite technology has greatly improved allowing applications more and more exhaustive. Therefore often the use of coordinated systems of small platforms (formations) instead of a large single platform offers more advantages. This project studies some aspects of a mission of this kind.

In 2007 CO.RI.S.T.A. carries out also research activities in the field of SABRINA mission (2007/2008), a small only receiving satellite which flies in formation with COSMO/SkyMed mission, a satellite constellation, conceived by the Italian Space Agency and equipped with SAR and electro-optical sensors for Earth Satellite Observation, according to the European Union strategies and whose main aims are natural disasters management, coasts and environment pollution monitoring.

Within the programme "The Living Planet" of Earth Observation from Space, the European Space Agency has scheduled a series of missions (Earth Explorers) whose aim is exploring in depth atmosphere, biosphere, criosphere and the inner of the Earth, to study the effects of the impact of human activity on these elements. They are six missions of two different kinds: three Opportunity Missions and three Core Missions, which deal with subjects of great scientific interest. CoReH2O is one of these missions and its aim is to provide accurate information on the characteristics of the cycle of snow, glaciers and surface water.
In 2007 CO.RI.S.T.A. has participated in the research activities on the mission, within the preliminary phase of requirements and project architecture definition, dealing with the performances of the Synthetic Aperture Radar planned for the satellite.

As already said, in the field of Solar System Exploration our National Space Agency has taken part in the development and management of three radars employed successfully in so many missions of Planetary Exploration: MARSIS in ESA Mars Express mission, SHARAD in NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission and CASSINI in NASA, ESA ASI Cassini-Huygens mission. For each instrument the Italian Space Agency has realized an operative centre for the radar control and management, as well as for data processing and distribution. Although these three centres, SHOC.MOC and CASSINI PAD, have been conceived to work autonomously and independently apart, recently the need for an unique centre has been perceived and has led to the Planetary Radar Processing Center (PROC) project. This new structure will be able to receive, process and analyze the data coming from each single centre, unifying them from an hardware and software point of view. As the Italian Space Agency entrusted a team composed by Thales Alenia Space Italia and CO.RI.S.T.A. with the research activities concerning MARSIS, SHARAD and CASSINI projects (Phase E), now it has chosen the same work group for PROC project.
In 2008 CO.RI.S.T.A. has started the project activities (2008/2012) and it is responsible for data processing, updating of the software instruments previously developed within other research programmes, and the development of new ones according to the project aims.

Still in 2008 starts the project (2008/2009) for the design and development of FLORAD mission, which has been approved by the Italian Space Agency within the research activities on Small Space Missions. FLORAD is a micro-satellite Flower Constellation of millimeter-wave radiometers for Earth and space observation at regional scale, to carry out the analysis of the fundamental parameters of water cycle in terrestrial atmosphere on the Mediterranean area at high time repetitiveness and at high spatial resolution.
CO.RI.S.T.A. has to develop the mathematic model of the scanning radiometer and to evaluate the applicability of interferometer techniques for radiometer constellations.

In February 2009 CORISTA has started the Post EPS project (2009) within Thales Alenia Space Italia team, funded by the European Space Agency. ESA has developed six Earth Explorer missions within the Living Planet programme. Among them there are the Eumetsat Polar System (EPS) missions, whose space segment is occupied by MetOp, a series of three satellites which will provide data at least until 2020. Launched in October 2006, MetOp A is the first orbit polar satellite devoted to operational meteorology. At the moment preparations have started for EUMETSAT Polar System next generation, the so-called Post-EPS. In fact Post EPS programme refers to the polar meteorological satellites which will replace MetOp between 2018-2020.
This Post EPS project refers to the Phase 0 of Post EPS programme for the study of the Post EPS Micro Wave Imager (MWI). The MWI is a multi-spectral imaging satellite radiometer for the study of meteorological and climatic phenomena, able to measure the thermal radiance emitted by the Earth, at high spatial resolution in specified spectral bands in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

In 2009 CORISTA has participated also in SoRa (Sounding Radar) mission, entirely designed and funded by the Italian Space Agency, which is part of a programme of payload tests for planetary exploration. The experiment has taken part in July 2009 at Svalbard islands and has allowed the test of a ground penetrating radar, installed within a nacelle transported by a stratospheric balloon. The radar has been completely designed and realized by CORISTA in its laboratories with characteristics similar to the radars of Mars exploration missions, MARSIS of ESA Mars Express mission and above all SHARAD of NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission.

Within the research activities on SHARAD radar, CORISTA continues the activities carried out in 2005-2007 (SHARAD project-Phase E) when it has been responsible for the implementation of specific tools, operative instruments of the Ground Data System, devoted to the radar data processing and to its performances estimate. In this project (SHARAD Scientific Activities on MRO), started in 2009 and still in progress, CORISTA conducts research activities on behalf of INFOCOM (Department of Information and Communication Science and Technique of the University of Rome "La Sapienza"), which is also Team Leader of the project. CORISTA has the responsibility for the development of the "Operations Management" and the "Mission Operations" activities, besides the role of Deputy Team Leader for the scientific activities.

Since June 2010 CO.RI.S.T.A. participates in the phase A of ESA CoReH2O project, having already participated in the preliminary studies (Phase 0) of the same project. In fact in March 2009 ESA "Programme Board for Earth Observation" has selected the three missions of the Earth Explorer Programme which will pass to the next phase of feasibility analysis (Phase A).
CoReH2O is the first satellite mission which will provide detailed information on the characteristics of the cycle of snow, glaciers and Earth surface water. CoReH2O mission aims at providing continuous and high definition information of snow and glaciers properties by the use of a two frequencies (X and Ku band, 9.6 e 17.2 GHz), double polarization Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to employ in two consecutive phases in order to obtain all-weather, year-round information on regional and continental scale, on snow and water.

In November 1998 the European Space Agency has established in ESTEC the Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) within the framework of ESA General Studies Programme. The Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) is an advanced facility equipped with a network of computers, multimedia devices and software tools, which allows a team of experts from several disciplines to apply the "concurrent engineering method": methodologies, techniques and instruments organically organised to provide the integrated design of a product and of the concerned industrial process.
In this field CO.RI.S.T.A participates in the "Space Instrument Design Modelling of Optical Active and Microwave Instruments (SIMOM2)" research project, co-ordinated and conducted by DEIMOS Space, S.L.U. (DMS - Spain), in collaboration with Serco (Serco-Italy), and Jena-Optronik GmbH (JOP - Germany), in reply to an Invitation to Tender of the European Space Agency for research activities in the field of the Concurrent Design Facility (CDF). The aim of this project is to develop and validate the technology of a system able to lay down the conditions of SIMOM, the Space Instrument Design Modelling of Optical Active and Microwave Instruments for ESTEC.

In January 2011 CO.RI.S.T.A. has started a research project that meets the need by the Italian Space Agency of a new P-band Radar system as part of a programme of payload test for planetary exploration, completely promoted and funded by the Agency itself.
The activities aim at creating a multi-band (150 and 450 MHz) and multi-functionality (imager and sounder) radar demonstrator to be mounted on aerial platforms, followed by a series of experimentations supporting the Italian scientific community for the research on Ground Penetrating Radar in space missions dedicated to Solar System exploration and as a means of validation for civil and military applications typical of low-frequency radar.

In 2011 have started also the research activities of ExoMars, the first mission of ESA Aurora Exploration Programme.
The main aim of this Programme is to develop and improve a long-term plan for robotic and human exploration of our Solar System, preferring some specific subjects as the Moon and Mars. A second aim, not less significant, is to look for evidence of life beyond Earth.
In the ExoMars Programme have been scheduled two missions in co-operation with the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos.
The one, to be implemented in 2016, which involves the launch of an Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module, while the other, to be implemented in 2018, includes a rover which will carry a drill and a suite of instruments dedicated to exobiology and geochemistry research.
Roscosmos will provide a Proton launcher for both missions.
CO.RI.S.T.A. is involved in the test activities of the EXOMARS Radar Doppler Altimeter (RDA). In particular it is responsible for the design, development and test of the two Echo Simulator Systems (ESS1 and ESS2)and it will provide two ATE (Automatic Test Equipment) units. The two Echo Simulator Systems will be integrated in the radar Electrical Ground Support Equipment (EGSE) and CO.RI.S.T.A. will support the integration phase into the EGSE of Thales Alenia Space Milano, as for the ESS1, and into the GNC SCOE of Thales Alenia Space Torino, as for the ESS2.
In a second project CO.RI.S.T.A. is responsible for the design and development of the "core" of the test system of the instrument, that is the Echo Generator, which allows to simulate the echoes coming from Mars surface and to inject them into the radar to test the instrument in various operating conditions.
The research activities will end in 2013.

MetOp Second Generation - Phase A/B1 System Study, started in 2011, concerns the activities of "MetOp Second Generation" Phase A/B1 for the European Space Agency. In particular it deals with the two imaging radiometers of the mission, the Microwave Imager MWI (ESA) e the Ice Cloud Imager ICI (ESA).
The European Space Agency has developed six Earth Explorer missions within the Living Planet programme. Among them there are the Eumetsat Polar System (EPS) missions whose three MetOp satellites will provide data at least until 2020, forming the EPS space segment. Currently preparations have started for the so-called PostEPS mission with the polar meteorological satellites which will replace MetOp between 2018-2020. In fact ESA, to ensure the flow of polar orbit meteorological data in the decades after 2020, has already moved the first steps towards developing the new generation of MetOp satellites.

The European Space Agency, with the "Earth Explorer" missions, intends to provide an important contribute to the global effort to deepen the knowledge of our planet in relation to changing environment.
After a preliminary phase of feasibility study, six mission have been selected for the second phase of implementation, all responding to specific areas of interest within the study of environmental issues.
BIOMASS mission is one of the three candidate to become the seventh "Earth Explorer" mission. It aims to improve the present assessment and future projection of the terrestrial carbon cycle by providing consistent global maps of forest biomass and forest area, forest disturbances and recovery with time, and the extent and evolution of the forest flooding.
The BIOMASS primary objectives can be achieved through P-band (435MHz) synthetic aperture radar (SAR) observations of global forest cover.
In this framework, CORISTA has been engaged by TAS-I to provide support to the definition and specification of the BIOMASS P-Band SAR.

During 2011 CORISTA participates, within the team of Thales Alenia Space Italy, in the research activities under the SIASGE project and, more particularly, in those pertaining to the SAR payload aimed at the Critical Design Review of the SAR instrument. Our participation, in the form of scientific support, takes place at the headquarters of the Argentina Space Agency CONAE (Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in close contact with the team of researchers from CONAE.
A first phase, which started in 2011 and ended in June 2012, was carried out on behalf of Thales Alenia Space Italia, while CO.RI.S.T.A., since July 2012, was charged directly by the Argentine Space Agency CONAE to carry on the activities which ended in October 2013.

In 2011 have started also the research activities of ExoMars, the first mission of ESA Aurora Exploration Programme.
The main aim of this Programme is to develop and improve a long-term plan for robotic and human exploration of our Solar System, preferring some specific subjects as the Moon and Mars. A second aim, not less significant, is to look for evidence of life beyond Earth. In the ExoMars Programme have been scheduled two missions in co-operation with the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos. The one, to be implemented in 2016, which involves the launch of an Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module, while the other, to be implemented in 2018, includes a rover which will carry a drill and a suite of instruments dedicated to exobiology and geochemistry research.
Roscosmos will provide a Proton launcher for both missions.
CO.RI.S.T.A. is involved in the test activities of the EXOMARS Radar Doppler Altimeter (RDA). In particular it is responsible for the design, development and test of the two Echo Simulator Systems (ESS1 and ESS2)and it will provide two ATE (Automatic Test Equipment) units. The two Echo Simulator Systems will be integrated in the radar Electrical Ground Support Equipment (EGSE) and CO.RI.S.T.A. will support the integration phase into the EGSE of Thales Alenia Space Milano, as for the ESS1, and into the GNC SCOE of Thales Alenia Space Torino, as for the ESS2. In a second project CO.RI.S.T.A. is responsible for the design and development of the "core" of the test system of the instrument, that is the Echo Generator, which allows to simulate the echoes coming from Mars surface and to inject them into the radar to test the instrument in various operating conditions.

As part of the verification activities developed to test the performances of ExoMars Radar Doppler Altimeter, the Field Test project represents an important step aimed at t esting the instrument on the field during a flight path with environmental conditions similar to those of Mars. CORISTA is responsible for the conduction of the field tests and the processing of the acquired data. The activities of Field Test will be carried out on behalf of Thales Alenia Space Italy in collaboration with the 'IRSPS International Research School of Planetary Sciences, which will handle the logistics and the test site.