Italian satellite may fly with NASA’s Earth science payload

HOUSTON – NASA is in talks with the Italian space agency to fly an Earth science instrument originally planned for use on a commercial small satellite.

At a meeting of the Earth Science Advisory Committee on August 2, Greg Stover, manager of NASA’s Earth System Pathfinder program, said that NASA is in talks with the Italian Space Agency (ASI) about flying the Multi-Aspect Camera for Aerosols (MAIA). instrument on the future Italian satellite.

“We are working with the Italians to find space access for the Multi-Angle Imager to be able to launch it in the next couple of years,” he said. “We are currently working on international agreements to do this.”

Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Sciences Division, added that NASA and ASI have not yet finalized this agreement. “This is an active discussion. We have signed agreements to take the next steps. Although this is not a completed agreement, it is promising.”

MAIA is designed to study particulate air pollution in urban areas and help scientists understand its effects on human health. The mission is designed to operate in a polar orbit at an altitude of 740 kilometers.

MAIA was originally planned to fly on the General Atomics Orbital Test Bed (OTB) 2 spacecraft. In 2018, the agency awarded a $38.5 million contract to General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) to place MAIA on the OTB spacecraft -2. General Atomics was responsible for launching the satellite in February 2021, it contracted with Firefly Aerospace to launch Firefly’s Alpha rocket..

Stover said “we had to stop the pursuit” of the MAIA flight, but did not reveal why. NASA has not publicly announced the cancellation of the contract with General Atomics. “The MAIA instrument will reside on a primary satellite to be selected by NASA in the future,” the mission statement said. site currently the state

“NASA and General Atomics have mutually agreed to terminate the MAIA Hosting contractual relationship at the end of 2021 due to overall technical consistency and programmatic issues,” NASA spokesman Jacob Richmond said on August 5. “We have been actively looking for several avenues, including exploring collaboration with the Italian Space Agency.”

He added that Charles Webb, then associate director of flight programs in the Earth Sciences Division, had briefed the scientific community on the potential delay to MAIA’s launch at the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting in January. At that time, however, the delay was due to problems at Firefly Aerospacewhose largest shareholder, Noosphere Venture Partners, divested itself of its stake at the request of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

“Greg Burgess, vice president of GA-EMS Space Systems, said in an August 5 statement: “General Atomics is no longer hosting the MAIA instrument as a result of a mutual decision between General Atomics and NASA. “The rest of the hardware and software on this OTB spacecraft is being repurposed for use on other General Atomics spacecraft.”

General Atomics entered the small satellite industry through the 2016 acquisition of manufacturer Miltec and US subsidiary Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. in 2017. The company has received several orders from NASA, as well as the US Space Force, the Space Development Agency (SDA) and DARPA. for small satellite missions.

OTB-2, however, is not the only General Atomics small satellite program that has run into problems. The SDA Laser Interconnect and Networking Communications System (LINCS) mission included two Cubesats developed by General Atomics to test laser intersatellite communications. however, satellites fell after deployment on a joint SpaceX Transporter-2 mission last June and failed to complete the mission. Burgess, speaking in February, blamed the failure on a “problem with the launch vehicle,” but did not elaborate.

General Atomics also ran into problems developing the Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor-2 (TSIS-2) spacecraft for NASA. as part of a $32.9 million contract signed in 2020. The company won the contract by offering its OTB bus at a price that was 40% lower than the other bidder, Southwest Research Institute.

In a separate presentation at the Aug. 2 meeting of the Earth Science Advisory Committee, Kathleen Boggs, acting associate director for flight programs in the Earth Sciences Division, said there were “problems” in the development of TSIS-2, citing unspecified problems identified by the permanent monitoring panel. missions.

“It’s a new vendor that’s new to the space arena, so we thought it was a good opportunity to help a fledgling space company,” she said. “We spent some more time with them. Goddard [Space Flight Center] helped to deal with planning problems. They now have what we believe is a good schedule and are preparing for the CDR, or Critical Design Review, mission scheduled for September. Italian satellite may fly with NASA’s Earth science payload

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