Taking big STEPS into space
Space exploration and conquest recently captured medias’ attention thanks to the achievement of different goals ranging from Samatha Cristoforetti's mission to the space station, Rosetta’s and its lander landing on the comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko, the close encounter with Pluto the farest planet of our Solar system achieved by the New Horizons probe just a few hours ago.
Long-term objective are set to make man go back to the Moon by 2020 as well as bring humankind to Mars by 2030-2040.
The most important international space agencies such as NASA, ESA including Russian, Chinese and Japanese agencies have been working for a long time on this projects. In today’s scientific scenario Italy made its contribution to those technological advances that makes man achieving further. Those steps are necessary and “STEPS” (Systems and technologies for the exploration of space) is in fact the name of the R&D space exploration’s project launched in 2008 by the Piedmont Region and Thales Alenia Space, together with the Polytechnic University of Turin, the University of Eastern Piedmont, Altec and 25 SME’s in Piedmont, which second phase’s conclusive results have been presented in the last few days at a public meeting in Turin.
Hundred of researches worked on the project focusing not only on specific exploring technological missions but also on possible civil terrestrial spillover applications who would clearly be beneficial for Piedmont’s economy and employment.
During the first phase of the project, several technological demonstrators have been designed and produced -virtually and then physically- for the development of a soft landing system (Lander) and a surface mobility (Rover), applicable to both robotic and crew-requiring missions. Furthermore, a system of equipped laboratories for remote operations, simulations and virtual reality have been created reproducing Moon and Mars’ land and habitat conditions.
Started in 2013, the second phase of STEPS boosted several technologies’ development so that today those technologies will be used in the next five years European and international space missions. In particular, these technologies will be implemented on both Moon and Mars robotic exploration missions, on the International Space Station, and onboard crew-requiring and crewless reentry transportation’s systems.
STEPS 2 strategic contribution comprehend about 10 prototypes and technologies ranging from design and realisation of inflatable technology for inhabitable space modules, with an airlock function for the astronauts, the creation of a prototype of the landing system for a space vehicle, the heat control of tanks, essential for the propulsion system operations, the development of an energy storage system and innovative materials resistant to very high temperatures during atmosphere re-entry, the development of algorithms for the autonomous exploration of the Moon and Mars and their validation in an environment recreating conditions on Mars (ROvers eXploration facilitY).
Thales Alenia Space – a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Finmeccanica (33%), European leader in satellite systems and main actor in orbital infrastructures - as of prime contractor, has played the role of coordinator for the whole project and has actively participated in the development of technological solutions for navigation and steering, vision and recognition of the Earth, descent and absorption of impact system, innovative rigid and inflatable structures, environmental control and protection from dusts, virtual realities and man/machine interfaces and much else, as well .