Leonardo’s joint ventures with Thales – Telespazio (67% Leonardo, 33% Thales) and Thales Alenia Space (67% Thales, 33% Leonardo) – participate in all the most important space programmes for Earth Observation, Navigation and Exploration pioneered by international space agencies and institutions.
Navigation and Telecommunications
Exploration and Science
The Artemis programme is led by NASA in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), to land the first female astronaut on the Moon in 2024 and to establish a human community there.
Leonardo is participating in the programme with production of photovoltaic panels and electronic units for power distribution aboard the European Service Module (EMS), which will transport the Orion capsule to the Moon.
Through Thales Alenia Space, Leonardo plays a leading role in the development and construction of thermomechanical systems for the module and for several pressurised modules for the Lunar Gateway, the future space station on the Moon, where astronauts will be able to live and work. This includes HALO, the first living module, due to be launched in 2024; I-HAB, the international living module; and ESPRIT, the communications and refuelling module.
The Axiom Space Station is the first commercial international space station, which will be built in the coming years by the US company Axiom Space, and is destined to replace the International Space Station (ISS) from 2030.
Through Thales Alenia Space, which built five modules of the ISS, Leonardo will be producing the first two pressurised modules equipping the new station, initially connected to the ISS. Thales Alenia Space will design, assemble and test the primary structure and the system that will protect the two modules against micro-meteorites and space debris. The modules, due to be launched in 2024 and 2025, will also contain laboratories for scientific experiments.
Euclid is a European Space Agency (ESA) project conducted in cooperation with a consortium of laboratories from 14 European nations, including Italy, with contributions from NASA and numerous US institutes. It will study the origins of the expansion of the Universe through high-precision mapping of the sky in the visible and infrared bands to add to humankind’s knowledge of dark matter and dark energy.
Leonardo is supplying photovoltaic panels to provide power to all the systems on the probe, which is due to be launched in 2022, and a sophisticated Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), a very high-precision star sensor necessary to measure the line of sight of the telescope aboard the satellite. Thales Alenia Space, which is prime contractor and leads the consortium building the satellite, will integrate an innovative, agile, precise positioning system and new generation telecommunications systems.
Developed by a European consortium of about 134 companies led by Thales Alenia Space, ExoMars is the fruit of international cooperation between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), with the support of the Italian Space Agency (ASI).
The ExoMars mission is divided into two stages included in the ESA’s Aurora exploration programme. Its principal goals are to search for traces of past or present life on Mars, geochemical characterisation of the planet to add to knowledge its environment and geophysical aspects, as well as identifying potential risks to future manned missions.
During the first mission in 2016, a Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) made by Thales Alenia Space was launched to study gases in the atmosphere of Mars and any biological or geological processes that might be under way, and to provide a data connection between Earth and the Mars rovers for use in subsequent missions.
Leonardo supplied photovoltaic generators and units for the transformation and distribution of electrical power for the satellite, electrical power distribution boards for a unit assembled on the Entry Descent Module (EDM), made by Thales Alenia Space, A-STR star trackers for orientation in space, and the CASSIS optronic observation system.
Telespazio developed several systems for the ground segment of the mission, including the Mission Control System (MCS) to monitor and control the TGO and the operational simulator that supports testing of the ExoMars ground infrastructure, including mission and flight control systems.
The second mission, scheduled for 2022, will launch an autonomous European rover capable of taking soil samples at a depth of two metres and analysing their chemical, physical and biological properties.
Leonardo will supply A-STR star trackers and photovoltaic panels to supply power to the space vehicle and the rover. It will also supply a drill developed to collect soil samples from Mars with the on-board Ma_Miss (Mars Multispectral Imager for Subsurface Studies), produced with funding from ASI, to analyse the geological and biological evolution of the subsoil on Mars.
Thales Alenia Space is developing control, navigation and guidance systems for the Carrier Module and Descent Module, the rover system and the analytic laboratory (ALD), including the specialised drill.
Telespazio will design, develop and maintain the ROCC Ground Communication Infrastructure (RGCI), supplying the Rover Operation Control Centre (ROCC) with the communications required to conduct the rover’s operations, send commands and receive telemetry data. Telespazio VEGA Deutschland has been selected by the European Space Operation Centre (ESOC) to develop the operational simulator for the second space vehicle in the ExoMars programme.
The James Webb Telescope (JWST), the largest ever astronomical space observatory, is an international programme led by NASA in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) with the assistance of Leonardo.
The telescope studies the formation and evolution of the first galaxies and the atmosphere of the exoplanets. Leonardo supplied key elements of the Near InfraRed Spectrograph (NIRSpec), capable of ‘seeing’ more than 100 objects simultaneously, under the responsibility of ESA.
Leonardo also provided elements of the space telescope platform, under the responsibility of project lead Northrop Grumman, and the Refocusing Mechanism Assembly (RMA), a high-precision cryogenic mechanism to focus the camera in orbit. Leonardo contributes to the correct orientation and maintenance of the telescope’s attitude and positioning instruments with three Autonomous Star Trackers and two Smart Sun Sensors.
The JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) mission is the first mission in the European Space Agency’s ‘Cosmic Vision’ programme for the study of Jupiter and its moon system (Ganymede, Callisto and Europa). The goal is to support scientists in establishing more precise theories on the conditions under which the planets were formed and the processes that led to the formation of life.
Leonardo built the largest ever photovoltaic panels (PVA) for an interplanetary mission (with a surface area of 85m sq), supplying the necessary electrical power at a distance of more than 750 milion km from the Sun, where temperatures drop to -230°C.
The company also built the JANUS optical camera, under the responsibility of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), with the contribution and scientific guidance of Parthenope University of Naples and the National Astrophysics Institute (INAF). JANUS studies the morphology of the geological processes of the moons and surface layers of the atmosphere of Jupiter, acquiring high-definition colour images of clouds, whirlwinds and waves.
Additionally, Leonardo constructed the MAJIS (Moons And Jupiter Imaging Spectrometer) optical head, visible in the infrared range, under the leadership of ASI and CNES (Centre National d'Études Spatiales) with the scientific supervision of INAF. MAJIS will observe and characterise clouds, ice and minerals on the surfaces of Jupiter’s moons and study the vertical distribution of water and ammonia, the greatest contributors of oxygen and nitrogen to the atmosphere’s chemistry.
Thales Alenia Space, with NASA contribution, is developing, building and testing RIME (Radar Sounder for Icy Moons Exploration) – an instrument to detect the internal structure of layers of ice. In addition, with Università di Roma La Sapienza Thales Alenia Space built KaT, a Ka-band translator for the 3GM (Gravity & Geophysics of Jupiter and Galilean Moons) instrument.
JUNO (JUpiter Near-polar Orbiter), the second mission in NASA’s New Frontiers programme, analyses the features of Jupiter. Leonardo contributed to the mission by building the Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) spectrometer, funded by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and operating under the scientific responsibility of the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Planetology (IAPS) at Italy’s National Astrophysics Institute (INAF).
JIRAM is capable of simultaneously acquiring images and information in the infrared spectrum using a double focal plane, enabling close-up observation of Jupiter to understand its formation, evolution and structure. Leonardo also provided the Autonomous Star Tracker that guided the probe for almost 3 billion kilometres to the orbit of Jupiter and will continue to supply important information to maintain the preset course.
Thales Alenia Space, with the support of a scientific team from ‘La Sapienza’ University in Rome and funding from ASI, built the Ka-Band Translator (KaT) to conduct radioscience experiments that will provide information on the internal composition and gravitational field of Jupiter.
Luna 27 is a Moon mission conceived through a partnership between the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) and the European Space Agency (ESA) with the support of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the UK Space Agency to send a lander to the south pole of the Moon.
The lander will have the task of operating a drill-laboratory called PROSPECT (Package for Resource Observation, in-Situ analysis and Prospecting for Exploration Commercial exploitation and Transportation), built by Leonardo, which will search for ice, and volatile and chemical substances, drilling into the surface at temperatures as low as -150°C and analysing elements using its on-board instrumentation.
Mars Sample Return is a NASA programme in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) aimed at returning soil samples from Mars to Earth for the first time in history, allowing humankind to discover more about the ‘red planet’.
The Sample Retrieval Lander mission will be launched in 2026 to deliver NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander to Mars, along with the ESA’s Sample Fetch Rover and the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), to recover containers filled with samples of Martian soil left behind by the Perseverance rover in the first mission to Mars in 2020 and to prepare them to be launched into orbit around Mars.
Leonardo is working on prototypes of two robotic arms for the mission. The first of these is smaller and more agile – it will have six degrees of freedom and be extensible up to about 110 cm – and will be assembled on the ESA’s Sample Fetch Rover to pick up containers off the ground with a ‘pincer’.
The second, more robust arm (with seven degrees of freedom and over two metres in extension), installed on NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander, will move the containers from the rover to the capsule that will be launched into orbit.
Leonardo’s robotic arms will work autonomously – a communication delay of up to 20 minutes between Earth and Mars means the arms cannot be operated rapidly from Earth. The arms will identify the container housing the Martian soil sample, choose a trajectory to collect it and place it in the collector, while being ready to respond to any anomalies.
The third mission in the Mars Sample Return programme will launch an Earth Return Orbiter to ‘capture’ the capsule in orbit around Mars and return it to Earth. Thales Alenia Space will supply a communication system enabling data transmission between Earth, the Orbiter and Mars, and will be responsible for the design of the Orbit Insertion Module.
Moonlight is a European Space Agency (ESA) initiative to create communication and navigation services and related infrastructure on the Moon to support future commercial and institutional Moon exploration missions.
Through Telespazio, Leonardo leads an international consortium appointed by ESA to design an infrastructure that meets the requirements of future public and private Moon exploration ventures, providing services to the various platforms in the Moon’s orbit and on its surface, such as rovers, landers or Moon bases.
The requirements include making the system interoperable with LUNANET, the infrastructure NASA is developing in support of the Artemis programme. Moonlight will facilitate the missions by producing navigation signals to guide orbiters and landers/rovers, helping reduce the cost of the satellite navigation system.
New Horizons is a NASA mission which departed in 2006 to study Pluto. Leonardo contributed an A-STR Autonomous Star Tracker to the mission to guide the probe to Pluto, orientating it in space and sending data back to Earth.
The version used in the mission consisted of a double sensor, allowing the device to function during probe rotation (cruising) and when it was permanently pointed towards Pluto. The on-board software enabled the star tracker to communicate with the on-board computer to pinpoint the vehicle’s attitude, enabling proper targeting of its payload towards Pluto.
Rosetta is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission to explore small bodies in the Solar System, and the first to reach the surface of a comet (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko).
Leonardo supplied hyperspectral and electro-optical instruments for the probe, the drill installed on the lander (S2D - Sample Drill & Distribution) to break the surface of the comet, and the photovoltaic panels on-board the probe and the lander.
Through Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio, Leonardo assembled, integrated and tested the satellite, and built the orbiter simulator which supported control tasks at various stages of the mission, as well as the mission planning and control systems.
The Space Rider programme, started in 2020 by the European Space Agency (ESA) and funded largely by Italy, will build an automated, unmanned and reusable miniature space transportation shuttle for routine access and return from Earth’s lower orbit.
The Space Rider will be completed in 2023, and will conduct experiments in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), satellite inspections, as well as Earth Observation missions. It will transport a series of payloads to different altitudes and inclinations in Earth’s lower orbit. The mini-shuttle will have an overall mass of 2.4 tons and the ability to carry a payload of 800 kg, with a maximum volume of 1,200 litres.
Leonardo will construct the electrical system, starting with the solar panels contributing to the satellites’ power supply. Technology first tested in the IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) programme will allow Thales Alenia Space, with the European Launch Vehicle (AVIO/ASI) consortium as co-contractor, to perform preliminary development of the automated reusable transportation system for the Space Rider. This will be used in Earth’s lower orbit by the new Vega C light launcher.
Thales Alenia Space and AVIO will be responsible for production and qualification of the flight segment. The space vehicle will comprise two main elements: the AVUM Orbital Module (AOM), under the responsibility of AVIO, and the Re-entry Module (RM), led by Thales Alenia Space. ALTEC and Telespazio will supply the ground control system, and Telespazio will manage in-orbit operations from its Fucino Space Centre.
The International Space Station (ISS) is an orbiting outpost for research and acquisition of new knowledge and opportunities in space – the product of a partnership between the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and the space agencies of 11 European Union member states.
Through Thales Alenia Space, Leonardo built numerous modules for the ISS. High-profile projects include the three Multi-Purpose Logistic Modules (MPLM) for transporting cargo and people; the Columbus European Laboratory for research into microgravity; and Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) modules, which are automatic logistics systems capable of carrying a maximum load of 7,300 kilograms of supplies and materials for the astronauts.
Thales Alenia Space also developed NODI 2 and 3, elements connecting pressurised modules of the ‘orbiting house’; CUPOLA, a special observatory allowing astronauts on-board the station to remotely operate the robotic arm during assembly of modules; and pressurised cargo modules (PCM) for the Cygnus supply shuttle.
As prime contractor for the IXV return demonstrator and its successor Space Rider on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA), Leonardo, through Thales Alenia Space, produced and tested the pressurised cladding for Bishop, the Airlock Module of NanoRacks (the first commercial airlock to operate on the ISS), which offers satellite deployment with five times more volume than the ISS.
Leonardo contributed numerous payloads and activities, including the Video Camera Assembly for Columbus Orbital Facility (VCA-COF), a video camera with zoom capability for surveillance and support of work aboard the ISS.
The company also contributed to FASTER (Facility for Absorption and Surface Tension Research), in orbit between March and September 2014, designed to study the physical/chemical bonds and properties on contact between different liquids. The aim was to acquire results for the food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries. FASTER was later replaced by LIFT (LIquid Film Tension), a more advanced device to analyse the same field – the physics of fluids.
Leonardo assembled and tested the ISSpresso, the first espresso coffee machine (in orbit since April 2015), designed by Argotec and Lavazza, which also enabled experiments concerning the behaviour of fluids and mixtures under microgravity conditions./p>
Telespazio has supported the performance of scientific experiments in microgravity conditions on-board space shuttles and the ISS since the early 2000s and was responsible for the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL) in the European Columbus module on the ISS between 2008 and 2014.
During the Beyond mission (2019-2020) involving astronaut Luca Parmitano, Telespazio managed, jointly with the prime contractor Argotec, five of seven experiments in the fields of medicine, biology and physics carried out in orbit.