Europlanet Science Congress 2020
Virtual meeting
21 September – 9 October 2020
Europlanet Science Congress 2020
Virtual meeting
21 September – 9 October 2020

Oral presentations and abstracts


This session will highlight planetary science and space mission concepts based on small satellites in the class of NanoSat, MiniSat and planetary SmallSats. Recent advances in small platforms make it possible for small satellites, including CubeSats, to be considered as independent or complementary elements in planetary exploration missions, for example the small probes as part of the Hayabusa 2 mission and Hera mission. Presentations on Deep Space Planetary CubeSats, e.g. the small satellites accompanying the new F-class ESA mission Comet Interceptor and those selected or proposed for the NASA SIMPLEX program are welcomed. Concepts for future mission may either be an augmentation to larger missions or as stand-alone missions of their own. We encourage presentations on new Planetary science mission architectures and associated technologies, as well as dedicated instrumentation that can be developed for these applications.

Convener: John Robert Brucato | Co-conveners: Marilena Amoroso, Patricia Beauchamp, Vincenzo Della Corte, Simone Pirrotta

Session assets

Session summary

Chairperson: John Robert Brucato
Kaushik Iyer, Mathias Axelsson, Jordi Boldu, Max Eichenberger, Adrien Engrand, Frederik Haider, Suzanne Herzog, Albert Jansson, Sara Ghika, Danai Katrali, Stefano Bassoli, Nickolay Ivchenko, and Gunnar Tibert


The Bistable Boom Dynamic Deployment (B2D2) project is an experiment scheduled to be launched on the RX30 Rocket in March 2021 which aims to demonstrate high quality measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field using a self-deployable boom carrying two magnetometers. As part of the REXUS/BEXUS student programme, the project aims to develop an ejectable Free Falling Unit (FFU) containing a magnetometer boom, a recovery unit and other required instrumentation. Since the magnetometer boom is intended to be used in a low gravity environment, low gravity testing is essential to help qualify it for further research and future space missions. The time history of magnetic field vectors from both magnetometers, the attitude of the FFU and the raw GPS data will be recorded. These will be used to reconstruct measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field within an accuracy of 50 nT as compared to magnetic field model calculations and ground based measurements. The successful demonstration of the boom will help qualify it for further research and future space missions. This project is being conducted by a team of students from KTH Royal Institute of Technology with the goal of familiarising themselves with applied space missions as a preparation for a future in the space industry. 



Astronomical bodies like asteroids and meteorites are remains of the creation of the solar system they are embedded in. Celestial bodies such as these can be observed and studied by investigating their magnetic fields. Most planets and celestial bodies have a magnetic field surrounding them and accurate measurements of these magnetic fields would result in important inferences regarding their mass, material composition, physical properties, etc. However, magnetic interference from various other electronics in a measurement system is one of the major hindrances in producing accurate measurements using sensitive magnetometers. To avoid such interference, extensible booms are often used in CubeSats and small satellites which create a distance between the magnetic sensors and other electronic equipment. Qualification of such a boom requires a low gravity environment which would be provided by the REXUS 30 Improved Orion Rocket as part of the REXUS/BEXUS student programme. 

The REXUS/BEXUS programme is realised under a bilateral Agency Agreement between the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Swedish National Space Agency (SNSA). The Swedish share of the payload has been made available to students from other European countries through the collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA). Experts from DLR, SSC, ZARM and ESA provide technical support to the student teams throughout the project. EuroLaunch, the cooperation between the Esrange Space Center of SSC and the Mobile Rocket Base (MORABA) of DLR, is responsible for the campaign management and operations of the launch vehicles. 

Deriving from research in the field of experimental space physics at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, and by adapting heritage equipment from previous REXUS teams from KTH, we aim to perform high quality measurements of the Earth magnetic field using dual fluxgate magnetometers placed on a self-deployable bi-stable composite boom. 


The central part of the experiment is a 1.5 U cubesat shaped Free Falling Unit (FFU) which is stowed inside a REXUS rocket cylindrical module. This 220 mm long rocket module also includes a camera, an electronics box which interfaces with the rocket, and the ejection mechanism which would eject the FFU at an approximate altitude of 57 km. This ejection mechanism is adapted from the design of the TUPEX 7 REXUS team [1]. The FFU is composed of two distinct units: The Experiment Unit, which houses the experiment electronics and the Magnetometer Boom Assembly, and the Recovery Unit, which houses the parachute and the localization system to aid in the recovery of the FFU after landing. Figure 1 shows the FFU during ejection from the rocket module. Post ejection, the FFU will be stabilized using an Attitude determination and control system and will deploy the composite boom at an approximate altitude of 73 km. The magnetometers will record their measurements and store it in an onboard memory card. Upon re-entry, at an altitude of about 5 km, the recovery unit will deploy its parachute and the localization beacon will be activated. The FFU will be recovered and its data will be used for further analysis and other outreach purposes.

Figure 1: FFU ejected from the Rocket Module 


The Magnetometer Boom Assembly, contains the self-deployable composite boom and dual fluxgate magnetometers. The purpose of the boom assembly is to separate the magnetometers from the rest of the experiment electronics, and thus, minimize the magnetic  interference in the measurements. The boom assembly consists of 3 components: the plates which carry the magnetic sensors, the tape springs which provide the energy for self deployment, and the magnetometers which are placed on the base and the tip plates. The tape springs are bi-stable, which means they are stable in their coiled and deployed positions. The entire boom assembly is intended to be approximately 2 metres in length. This concept of a Magnetometer Boom Assembly is being developed according to ECSS mechanisms standards. Figures 2 and 3 show the MBA in its deployed and stowed configuration respectively. 

Figure 2: MBA deployed

Figure 3: MBA stowed


[1] TUPEX-7, “Student Experiment Documentation v4.0,” Dec. 2019.

[2] Mao, H., Ganga, P. L., Ghiozzi, M., Ivchenko, N., and Tibert, G., “Deployment of Bistable Self-Deployable Tape Spring Booms Using a Gravity Offloading System,” Journal of Aerospace Engineering, vol. 30, 2017, p. 04017007.

[3] Forslund, Å., Belyayev, S., Ivchenko, N., Olsson, G., Edberg, T., and Marusenkov, A., “Miniaturized digital fluxgate magnetometer for small spacecraft applications,” Measurement Science and Technology, vol. 19, 2007, p. 015202.

[4] Ivchenko, N., and Tibert, G., “SOUNDING ROCKET EXPERIMENTS WITH EJECTABLE PAYLOADS AT KTH,” 21st ESA Symposium European Rocket & Balloon Programmes and Related Research, Oct. 2013.

[5] Sa, “Home,” Rexus/Bexus Available:


How to cite: Iyer, K., Axelsson, M., Boldu, J., Eichenberger, M., Engrand, A., Haider, F., Herzog, S., Jansson, A., Ghika, S., Katrali, D., Bassoli, S., Ivchenko, N., and Tibert, G.: B2D2 – A REXUS experiment to demonstrate the deployment of a bi-stable composite boom, Europlanet Science Congress 2020, online, 21 Sep–9 Oct 2020, EPSC2020-1115,, 2020.

Andrea Meneghin, Daniele Paglialunga, Giovanni Poggiali, Simone Pirrotta, Gabriele Impresario, Alessia Sabatini, Claudia Pacelli, Augusto Nascetti, Lorenzo Iannascoli, Stefano Carletta, Luigi Schirone, Laura Anfossi, Mara Mirasoli, Liyana Popova, Alessandro Donati, Antonio Bardi, Michele Balsamo, and John Robert Brucato


AstroBio CubeSat (ABCS) is an Italian Space Agency (ASI) 3U CubeSat (100x100x340 mm) selected by European Space Agency (ESA) to be launched with the Vega C qualification maiden flight, as piggy back of the ASI LARES2 main satellite, by the end of 2020. ABCS will be deployed in an approximately circular orbit, with about 5900 km altitude and 70° of inclination. It implies that ABCS will spend a significant part of the orbital period within the internal Van Allen belt, close to its maximum. The radiation environment is characterized by a very high flux of charged particles, which have a significant effect on electronic components in terms of permanent damages due to accumulated dose effects and single events. Considering the extremely harsh space conditions, the estimated mission lifetime useful to perform the payload experiments should be defined in 3 months.

ABCS Project is funded and managed by ASI in cooperation with INAF-Astrophysical Observatory of Arcetri, that will coordinate the scientific and engineering team. Partners of the projects are the School of Aerospace Engineering of Sapienza University of Rome, the University of Bologna, the University of Torino, and Kayser Italia.

ABCS Payload

ABCS will host a mini laboratory payload based on an innovative lab-on chip technology suitable for research in astrobiology. The objective is to test in space environments an automatic laboratory able to provide a highly integrated in-situ multiparameter platform that uses immunoassay tests exploiting chemiluminescence detection by means of on-chip a-Si:H photodiodes. The experiment will consist in a set of lateral flow immunoassays (LFIA) on nitrocellulose support where target biomolecules are immobilized in specific test areas. Reagents are deposited in a non-permanent fashion and in a dry form in the initial part (starting area) of the microfluidic path. When the reagents-delivery-system provides a volume of liquid reagent to the starting pad, capillary forces will guide the reagents through the LFIA microfluidic pathway. During the flow, liquid reagents will solubilize and transport along the path the deposited reagents, triggering specific reactions and allowing the chemiluminescence detection by the photodiodes.

ABCS also mounts an ancillary radiation dose payload, to investigate the degradation of  of electronic components exposed to the space environment. The device has twin components protected by established radiation screens, kindly provided by Thales Alenia Space Italia and by CESI, so that the degradation can be assessed on the basis of the difference between the observed currents.

ABCS architecture and payload are based on the strong heritage gained by the research team with the ground validation of the PLEIADES (Planetary Life Explorer with Integrated Analytical Detection and Embedded Sensors) instrument, an R&D ASI project recently concluded.

Enviromental challenges

The main challenges of the project are to mitigate the effects of the expected very high flux of charged particles, keeping the correct temperature (4°C/25°C) and pressure (about 1 atm) range for the payload to prevent reagents degradation. This invoked a series of technological solution to protect the payload. The pressurized environment is ensured by an inner aluminium box, hosting both the experiment and the main subsystems (batteries, on-board data handling, telemetry, tracking and control) hermetically sealed and providing shielding from radiation and charged particles. A thermal control system, including a passive control multi-layer insulation and an active heather mounted inside the pressurized box, maintain the temperature in the desired range.


ABCS mission aims at evaluating the overall system functionality (delivery of reagents, mixing of chemicals, LoC characterization, detection of emitted photons, readout noise, etc.) such as the chemicals and biomolecules stability (reagents and antibodies employed in the experiment) in the extremely harsh environment.

The in-orbit validation of the proposed technology would represent a significant breakthrough for autonomous execution of bio-analytical experiments in space with potential application in search for signs of life in planetary exploration missions, space biolabs without human support, health monitoring in manned missions.

How to cite: Meneghin, A., Paglialunga, D., Poggiali, G., Pirrotta, S., Impresario, G., Sabatini, A., Pacelli, C., Nascetti, A., Iannascoli, L., Carletta, S., Schirone, L., Anfossi, L., Mirasoli, M., Popova, L., Donati, A., Bardi, A., Balsamo, M., and Brucato, J. R.: AstroBio CubeSat: a nanosatellite for space astrobiology experiments, Europlanet Science Congress 2020, online, 21 Sep–9 Oct 2020, EPSC2020-943,, 2020.

Rico Fausch, Peter Wurz, Markus Rothacher, Nicolas Martinod, Tristan Trébaol, Alfonso Villegas, François Corthay, Marcel Joss, Jean-Paul Kneib, and Nuria Pazos

Chemical composition and density measurements of the upper atmosphere provide key insights into the origin and evolution of celestial objects. The density and the chemical composition of planet’s atmosphere may evolve from a hostile, dense primary atmosphere to a life‐harbouring tertiary atmosphere as present on Earth by losing atmospheric species to space upon formation of the object. The present-day atmospheric escape rates can be measured or inferred from exospheric temperatures and density profiles, for many species of the upper atmosphere. By modelling, these escape rates can be adapted to conditions in the past to study the evolution of the atmospheric composition.

The terrestrial exosphere and upper ionosphere are complex dynamic regions that adapt to several endogenous and exogenous drivers. The Sun as such a driver forces the upper atmosphere to respond to the solar UV/EUV flux and solar energetic particles. These external influences cause a variation of both the density, extent, and the chemical composition of the upper atmosphere on several time scales ranging from minutes to the age of the Solar System leading to various phenomena including atmospheric evolution and night-side transport of species. Although these interactions have been extensively studied over the past decades, the scientific community still lacks some basic measurements in the terrestrial upper atmosphere to derive the exospheric temperatures and its variation as a function of the corresponding drivers.

Figure 1: Computer model of the 3U CHESS satellite.

Thus, we designed the CHESS mission consisting of two 3U CubeSat-type satellites on different orbits. The science payload of each spacecraft consists of a new generation of dual-frequency GNSS receivers for total air density measurements from drag and total electron content above the satellites and a compact time-of-flight mass spectrometer for in situ measurements of both the chemical composition and density in the upper atmosphere. Enabled by these two novel scientific instruments, the primary goal of the CHESS mission is to record an inventory of the neutral species and ions present at various heights in the exosphere. From these measurements, we will derive numerous atmospheric properties including exospheric temperature profiles, compositional variations of the exosphere, atmospheric escape rates, as function of the external drivers.

How to cite: Fausch, R., Wurz, P., Rothacher, M., Martinod, N., Trébaol, T., Villegas, A., Corthay, F., Joss, M., Kneib, J.-P., and Pazos, N.: CHESS – Constellation of CubeSats: Analyzing the drivers of the Earth’s exosphere with MS and GNSS, Europlanet Science Congress 2020, online, 21 Sep–9 Oct 2020, EPSC2020-17,, 2020.

Fabrizio Capaccioni, Giancarlo Bellucci, Giovanna Rinaldi, Bortolino Saggin, Pietro Valnegri, Gianrico Filacchione, Vincenzo Della Corte, Demetrio Magrin, Matteo Angarano, Daniele Filippetto, Giampaolo Ferraioli, Elena Martellato, Pasquale Palumbo, and Alessandra Rotundi

The technological developments that led to the miniaturization of satellites, bringing to the market mini (<500kg), micro (<100kg) and nano (<10kg) satellites, impose that an analogue technological step forward is carried out as far as payload is concerned.

Small platforms allow reducing costs of development and management of single missions but also ease the possibility of using distributed systems in space making use of more satellites flying in formation or as a constellation. Furthermore, mini, micro and nano satellites are optimal candidate as platforms for the test and validation in space of innovative technologies with a lower level of maturity and thus not directly usable onboard “standard” sized satellites.

The new generation of mini, micro and nano satellites can be proficiently used for the exploration and commercial utilization of small bodies of the Solar System (NEA, NEO, MBC, Asteroids); the characterisation of those bodies, in terms of composition, dimensions and interior structure, is of fundamental importance for the study of the evolution of our Solar System but also for the exploitation of extraterrestrial natural resources.

There is a considerable advantage in using deployable systems onboard small satellites as these have considerable limitations in some of the resources, mainly mass and volume. The identification of payloads capable of minimising resources usage at launch, still guaranteeing in flight performances analogues to those of more “expensive”, in terms of resources, instruments is an extremely valuable benefit.

The capability of using deployable telescopes allows to access scientific objectives and applications otherwise difficult to reach. In fact, remote sensing payload in the VIS/IR is strongly handicapped by the limited resources available onboard a mini-satellite which limits the size of the primary mirror and/or the length of the telescope assembly, thus resulting in reduced performances in terms of spatial resolution and signal to noise ratio. Precision-deployable, stable, optical telescopes that fit inside smaller, lower cost launch vehicles and small platform are a prime example of a technology that will yield breakthrough benefits for future scientific as well as more commercially-oriented applications.

The DORA (Deployable Optics for Remote sensing Applications) project has been funded by the Italian Ministry of Research in the framework of the Italian National Research Plan 2015-2020 with a 30 months contract in a partnership between private companies (led by SITAEL the largest Italian privately-owned Company operating in the Space Sector), INAF (IAPS-Rome and Astronomical Observatory of Padua) the Parthenope University in Naples and Politecnico of Milan. Objective of the project is the design, realisation and test of a prototype of deployable optical system for Remote Sensing applications in the VIS and IR spectral ranges; a deployable telescope and straylight shield will be interfaced to a focal plane instrument (e.g. camera, imaging spectrometer, Fourier spectrometer). The telescope shall be stored in a closed configuration during launch to minimize volume and will be fully deployed in operative configuration once in flight by means of actuators. Similar deployable systems can be used to extend antennas used in microwave instrumentations (e.g., radiometers).  

The range of applications of such optomechanical technologies, in a space environment and onboard small satellites, are potentially very wide extending from Earth Observation satellites, used for environmental monitoring and for risk management, to Solar System exploration missions.  

In the framework of the DORA study the deployable optical system will be interfaced to an infrared Fourier spectrometer. We are taking advantage of the availability of the prototype of a miniaturised Fourier Spectrometer named MIMA (Mars Infrared MApper) [1] originally designed and built for the ExoMars 2020 mission but finally not among the selected payload; MIMA will be interfaced as a focal plane instrument to the Deployable telescope.

MIMA is a double pendulum interferometer providing spectra in the 2 – 25 μm wavelength domain with a resolving power of 1000 at 2 μm and 80 at 25 μm. The radiometric performances are SNR >40 in the near infrared and a NEDe = 0.002 in the thermal region. The instrument design is very compact, with a total mass of 1 kg and an average power consumption of 5 W. The prototype has been tested and reached a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 5 level of development.

The original FOV of the MIMA instrument was 3.2° which, although adequate for the in-situ analysis of the Martian soil, it is not sufficient to guarantee challenging results for typical Remote Sensing applications; thus MIMA will be matched to a 30 cm diameter, f/#=16, Cassegrain deployable telescope to reduce the FOV to ≤0.3°. The large sized primary mirror will guarantee the increase in collecting area needed to compensate for the considerable reduction of the FOV of the instrument.

Such a combined instrument can be used proficiently for the study of small bodies of the Solar System. These bodies are remnants of original planetesimals from which the planets were formed. Differently from planets, which have experienced alterations during their evolution, the majority of small-sized asteroids underwent much less internal heating, resulting in a better preservation of their pristine composition. Since small bodies were the impactors of the primordial Earth, they may have been the principal carriers of water and organic material, the building blocks necessary to create life.

A MWIR spectrometer like MIMA onboard a small mission will improve our understanding of the primordial cosmochemistry from small bodies remote sensing observations, providing unique data related to surface properties, mineralogy and thermal inertia. The scientific objectives can be summarised as:

  • Analyse the thermophysical properties of the surface by measuring the temperature changes occurring during the diurnal cycle;
  • Provide information on surface mineralogical composition and physical properties (grain size distribution, roughness);
  • Search for thermal anomalies associated to the presence of surface rocks;
  • Measure the thermal inertia of the surface


The presentation will describe the development status of the DORA project providing detailed information on its expected performances.

Acknowledgments. This study is funded by Ministry of Research PNR 2015-2020, specialisation area “aerospace” project n.ARS01_00653

References: [1] G. Bellucci et al., (2007). Proc. SPIE 6744, Sensors, Systems, and Next-Generation Satellites XI, 67441R, doi: 10.1117/12.737912

How to cite: Capaccioni, F., Bellucci, G., Rinaldi, G., Saggin, B., Valnegri, P., Filacchione, G., Della Corte, V., Magrin, D., Angarano, M., Filippetto, D., Ferraioli, G., Martellato, E., Palumbo, P., and Rotundi, A.: DORA: Deployable Optics for Remote sensing Applications, Europlanet Science Congress 2020, online, 21 Sep–9 Oct 2020, EPSC2020-1003,, 2020.

Simone Simonetti, Simone Pirrotta, Marilena Amoroso, Simone Pizzurro, Gabriele Impresario, Valerio Di Tana, Federico Miglioretti, and Biagio Cotugno

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is part of the plan developed by NASA for the Planetary Defence program, since space mission towards asteroid have become crucial to study their composition. Moreover, these missions are the future of space exploration, providing opportunities for testing novel technologies for extreme conditions. These are some of the many reasons why NASA developed the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission and the Italian Space Agency joined the effort. DART is a spacecraft acting as a kinetic impactor that will deflect the orbit of a binary asteroid by crashing itself into the moonlet of the Didymos binary system. In order to increase the accuracy of the deflection measurement, the ASI 6U Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroid (LICIACube) will be carried on DART and released by the main probe in proximity of the target. The effects of the impact will be observed also from ground-based telescopes. The small satellite that will be the only witness of this event, LICIACube, is an Italian Space Agency project, and has been designed, integrated and tested by the assigned aerospace company Argotec. The primary objective of LICIACube is to capture photographs of DART impact ejecta plume over a span of times and phase angles in order to confirm the DART impact on the secondary body of the Didymos binary asteroid system and to observe the ejecta plume dynamics. After the deployment from the DART spacecraft, LICIACube will perform braking manoeuvers, to increase the relative velocity with respect to DART spacecraft, allowing LICIACube to perform the scientific phase and fulfil the mission objectives. Following this phase, the LICIACube satellite will continue on its path for few months, transferring scientific data and performing radio-science experiments. Many of the scientific objectives will be accomplished by using the autonomous navigation algorithm and the imaging capabilities provided by the baseline platform, based on the heritage of the Argotec company. The images acquired by LICIACube will help the Italian involved scientific community to obtain relevant discoveries about the binary asteroid system.

The mission is articulated in a series of single critical moments: LICIACube will be deployed by DART 120 hours before the impact on Didymos B; the satellite will fly-by the asteroid with a relative velocity of 6.5 km/s, and it will document the effects of the impact, the crater and the evolution of the plume generated by the collision. To acquire images with the best spatial resolution, LICIACube will aim at fly-bying the asteroid close to the Didymos-B surface: considering the high relative velocity at the close approach, LICIACube will have to maintain the asteroid's pointing at an angular speed of approximately 10 deg/s. Scientific objectives will be accomplished by using the autonomous navigation algorithm and the imaging capabilities provided by the platform, based on the heritage of the Argotec company. The two optical payloads embarked on LICIACube have the duty of acquiring the images that are then processed on board through the navigation algorithm, thus allowing to identify the asteroid system, distinguish the main and secondary bodies and control the satellite attitude in order to keep the asteroid pointing during fly-by. The navigation algorithm is mainly based on neural network trained on ground using photorealistic images of the binary asteroid system and the plume generated by the impact.

The images acquired and downlinked by the LICIACube satellite will help the scientific community to obtain more detailed results about the binary asteroid, and provide feedback to the Planetary Defense program, pioneered by the Space Agencies. The scientific team is enriched by University of Bologna team, supporting the orbit determination and the satellite navigation, Polytechnic of Milan, for mission analysis support and optimization and INAF (National Institute of Astrophysics), providing support in the scientific operations of the satellite. The LICIACube mission will be a challenging opportunity for the entire Italian technical and scientific community leading to the implementation of a deep space mission based on a small scale but highly technological platform.

How to cite: Simonetti, S., Pirrotta, S., Amoroso, M., Pizzurro, S., Impresario, G., Di Tana, V., Miglioretti, F., and Cotugno, B.: LICIACube: Italian deep space small satellite technology for the Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, Europlanet Science Congress 2020, online, 21 Sep–9 Oct 2020, EPSC2020-212,, 2020.

| solicited talk
Elisabetta Dotto, Vincenzo Della Corte, Marilena Amoroso, Ivano Bertini, John Robert Brucato, Andrea Capannolo, Biagio Cotugno, Gabriele Cremonese, Valerio Di Tana, Igor Gai, Simone Ieva, Gabriele Impresario, Stavro Lambrov Ivanovski, Michèle Lavagna, Alice Lucchetti, Elena Mazzotta Epifani, Andrea Meneghin, Federico Miglioretti, Dario Modenini, and Maurizio Pajola and the LICIACube team


“LICIACube – the Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids”[1] is a CubeSat managed by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), that will be part of the NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission [2].

DART will be the first mission demonstrating the applicability of the kinetic impactor to change to motion of an asteroid in space and prevent the impact of Earth with a hazardous object.

After being launched in summer 2021, the DART spacecraft will impact in autumn 2022 Dimorphos, the secondary member of the (65803) Didymos binary asteroid. With a mass of 650 kg and an impact velocity of about 6.6 km/s, DART is expected to change the binary orbital period of the 160-m Dimorphos by about 10 minutes, an effect that can be easily measured by ground-based telescopes.

The design, integration and test of the CubeSat have been assigned by ASI to the aerospace company Argotec, while the LICIACube Ground Segment has a complex architecture based on the Argotec Mission Control Centre, antennas of the NASA Deep Space Network and data archiving and processing, managed at the ASI Space Science Data Center. The LICIACube team includes a wide scientific community, involved in the definition of all the aspects of the mission: trajectory design; navigation analysis (and real-time orbit determination during operations); impact, plume and imaging simulation and modelling, in preparation of a suitable framework for the analysis and interpretation of in-situ data. The scientific team is led by National Institute of Astrophysics (OAR, IAPS, OAA, OAPd, OATs) with the support of IFAC-CNR and University Parthenope of Naples. The team is enriched by University of Bologna, for orbit determination and satellite navigation, and Polytechnic of Milan, for mission analysis and optimization.

The major technological mission challenge, i.e. the autonomous targeting and imaging of such a small body during a fast fly-by, to be accomplished with the limited resources of a CubeSat, is affordable thanks to a strong synergy of all the mentioned teams in support of the engineering tasks.

Nominal mission

DART probe will be launched in mid-2021 and LICIACube will be hosted as piggyback during the 15 months of interplanetary cruise, then released 10 days before the impact and autonomously guided along its fly-by trajectory. In  Figure 1 the nominal mission is shown. LICIACube downlinks images direct to Earth after the target fly-by.

Figure 1– The LICIACube nominal mission.

Scientific Objectives

LICIACube has the aim to testify the main probe impact on Dimorphos, the secondary member of the (65803) Didymos binary asteroid system, and to perform dedicated scientific investigations.

Several unique images of the effects of the DART impact on the asteroid, such as the formation and the development of the plume potentially determined by the impact  will be collected and transmitted to Earth.

The scientific objectives of LICIACube are:

  • Testify and characterize the DART impact;
  • Obtain multiple (at least 3) images of the ejecta plume taken over a span of time and phase angle, that, with reasonable expectations concerning the ejecta mass and particle size distribution, can potentially:
    • Allow measurement of the motion of the slow (< 5 m/s) ejecta: this requirement is intended as the possibility to acquire images at spatial scale better than 5 m/pixel, with the possibility to distinguish the movements of the slowest particles of the plume by the sequence of images.
    • Allow estimation of the structure of the plume, measuring the evolution of the dust distribution;
  • Obtain multiple (at least 3) images of the DART impact site with a sufficient resolution to allow measurements of the size and morphology of the crater. These images will be taken sufficiently late after the impact that the plume can be reasonably expected to have cleared;
  • Obtain multiple (at least 3) images of Dimorphos showing the non-impact hemisphere, hence increasing the accuracy of the shape and volume determination.

The whole project and its present status-of-the-art will be presented and discussed together with the in situ observing strategy and the expected performances.

Acknowledgements: The LICIACube team acknowledges financial support from Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI, contract No. 2019-31-HH.0 CUP F84I190012600).


[1] Dotto, E., et al.: LICIACube - the Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids: in support of the NASA DART mission towards asteroid (65803) Didymos, Plan. Space Sci., 2020, submitted.

[2] Cheng, A. F., at al.: AIDA DART asteroid deflection test: Planetary defense and science objectives, Plan. Space Sci., Vol. 157, pp. 104-115, 2018.



How to cite: Dotto, E., Della Corte, V., Amoroso, M., Bertini, I., Brucato, J. R., Capannolo, A., Cotugno, B., Cremonese, G., Di Tana, V., Gai, I., Ieva, S., Impresario, G., Ivanovski, S. L., Lavagna, M., Lucchetti, A., Mazzotta Epifani, E., Meneghin, A., Miglioretti, F., Modenini, D., and Pajola, M. and the LICIACube team: LICIACube: the Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids. , Europlanet Science Congress 2020, online, 21 Sep–9 Oct 2020, EPSC2020-946,, 2020.

Lunar X ray and Gamma Ray spectroscopy with miniaturized detector on cubesat platform
Michelle Lavagna and Fabrizio Fiore
Tomas Kohout and Antti Näsilä
Tomas Kohout1 and Antti Näsilä2
Tomas Kohout and Antti Näsilä Tomas Kohout1 and Antti Näsilä2
  • 1University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science, Helsinki, Finland (
  • 2VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, Espoo, Finland (
  • 1University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science, Helsinki, Finland (
  • 2VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, Espoo, Finland (


We introduce a novel concept for miniaturized spectral imaging instrument which can be used for planetary exploration missions. Key component in the spectral imager is a tunable Fabry-Perot Interferometer (FPI) developed at VTT (Fig. 1). It can be fitted in ca. 1 CubeSat unit (CU), thus making it suitable for all CubeSat sizes from 2U upwards. Depending on the mission requirements, the instrument can perform measurements from 0.5 µm up to 7 µm (Table 1). The visible and near-infrared (0.5 µm - 1.6 µm) components have already been flown and validated in low Earth orbit.

Planetary missions

Knowledge of planetary compositions is of a key importance in planetology. It enables us to determine the origin of solid material in different zones of our Solar System, as well as to understand current processes such as space weathering. Reflectance spectroscopy is one of the widely used tools to determine the composition of planetary surfaces. The key diagnostic features in the planetary spectra are Fe2+ (~ 1 and 2 µm) and Fe3+ absorptions (~ 0.7 µm) in silicates, H2O and –OH features (~ 1.4, 1.9 or 2.7-3 µm), C-H bonds in organics (~ 3-3.6  µm), Si-O silicate vibration bands in visible – near-infrared (VIS-NIR), or various ices and gases in mid-infrared (MIR). Hyperspectral imaging enables spatial resolution of these features, and thus mapping of composition of planetary surfaces in order to determine homogeneity of the target body or distribution of various minerals or volatile compounds. The continuous spectra measurement over broad wavelength enables determination of spectral continuum essential for determination of surface grain size, or in detection of the space weathering or shock effects.

The capability to combine different wavelength ranges in a compact volume makes the instrument highly useful in modern planetary exploration missions. Many larger space missions are planning to use smaller secondary spacecraft (InSight, Hera, Comet Interceptor) to perform secondary functions or to address different science objectives. As the larger missions are targeting very different objects (inner planets, outer planets, asteroids, comets) the required instrumentation differ. With standard CubeSat platforms and our modular instrumentation approach, it is easy to tailor an instrument suite for all types of targets and science cases.

CubeSat for Hera mission

The first mission for the modular spectral imager is European Space Agency’s Hera mission (launch in 2024). Part of this mission is a CubeSat with Asteroid Spectral Imager ASPECT as one of the payloads. Hera will study binary asteroid Didymos (primary 780 m and secondary 170 m in size) – target of the NASA DART (Double-Asteroid Redirection Test) kinetic impactor test mission. DART will impact the secondary asteroid, and create approx. 2-4 m sized crater with associated ejecta. ASPECT will map the composition of both asteroids, distribution of impact ejecta, space weathering effects on the asteroid surface, and impact-induced changes. ASPECT has four measurement channels: VIS (500 - 900 nm), NIR1 (850 - 1275 nm), NIR2 (1225 - 1650 nm) and SWIR (1600 - 2500 nm). VIS and NIR channels have imaging capability, while the SWIR channel is a single point spectrometer. All channels have good overlap with each other, so it is possible to construct the complete spectral slope from 500 nm up to 2500 nm.

Comet Interceptor mission

Comet Interceptor is a newly selected ESA F-mission (launch in 2028) to a dynamically new comet from Oort cloud. One of the key payloads is a modular hyperspectral imaging system MIRMIS (Modular Infrared Molecules and Ices Sensor) to detect the mineral, ice, and gas compounds in the comet nucleus and coma in NIR-MIR range, as well as to map temperature of the nucleus. The mission is first-of-its-kind to study the pristine material from the outer Solar System. Two of the MIRMIS channels, NIR and MIR, are based on VTT’s modular instrument concept. The NIR channel, measuring at ca. 1-1.6 µm has the same design as the NIR channels used for ASPECT. The MIR channel is a new development, and it will measure from 2.5 µm up to 7 µm.

Atmospheric science missions

Another important topic is the abundance of gases or substances in planetary atmospheres. Capability to identify different gas species can bring insight to the evolution of the planetary body and to the processes related to the climate. One of the most useful techniques for performing atmospheric measurements from a small spacecraft is solar occultation. In this method, the instruments look directly at the Sun during sunsets and sunrises. There are two great benefits: the Sun is the most powerful source of light in our Solar System, and the method is self-calibrating as the measurement signal is always divided by the out-of-atmosphere signal. With this technique, it is possible to identify many gases in the atmosphere based on their absorption spectra and at the same time the vertical profiles can also be generated.

PICASSO mission

The PICo-satellite for Atmospheric and Space Science Observations (PICASSO) is an ESA mission (launch in 2020) led by the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy. VTT has developed one of the payloads, VISION, for the mission. VISION has two scientific objectives: to study the ozone distribution in the stratosphere and to measure the atmospheric temperature profile up to the mesosphere. VISION is a spectral imager operating between 430 - 800 nm, and it is capable of taking 2D snapshots of the Sun at freely selectable wavelengths. VISION instrument will observe the atmospheric limb during orbital Sun occultation. By addressing the radiation absorption in the Chappuis band for different tangent altitudes, the vertical profile of ozone can be retrieved.

How to cite: Kohout, T. and Näsilä, A.: Miniaturized Spectral Imaging Instrumentation for Planetary Exploration, Europlanet Science Congress 2020, online, 21 Sep–9 Oct 2020, EPSC2020-118,, 2020.

Luca Montabone, Bruce Cantor, Michel Capderou, Robin Fergason, Lorenzo Feruglio, Francois Forget, Nicholas Heavens, Robert Lillis, Steve Matousek, Michael Smith, Aymeric Spiga, Francesco Topputo, Michael VanWoerkom, Michael Wolff, and Roland Young

The Martian atmosphere (from the surface up to the outer layers) is a very dynamic system, quickly responding to strong radiative forcing coming from the absorption of solar radiation from dust particles lofted during dust storms. So far, such dynamical phenomena at short time scales and large spatial scales have been observed mainly from spacecraft in polar or quasi-polar orbits, which cannot provide continuous and simultaneous observations over fixed, large regions. This limitation can be bypassed using spacecraft in equatorial, circular, planet-synchronous (i.e. areostationary) orbit at an altitude of 17,031.5 km above the Martian surface. Besides their possible use as communication relays for ground-based assets, for space weather monitoring (they orbit outside Mars' bow shock), and for the study of surface properties (e.g. thermal inertia and albedo), the unique scientific advantages of areostationary satellites for weather monitoring are comparable to those provided by geostationary satellites. These platforms greatly increase the temporal resolution and coverage of single events, and are ideally suited for data assimilation in global climate models. Thanks to NASA PSDS3 program, we have elaborated a mission concept to put a low-cost, low-weight, ESPA-class SmallSat in areostationary orbit, which is capable of supporting various tank sizes in order to provide a wide range of ΔV for three different Mars arrival scenarios. ExoTerra Resource LLC adapted its "Electrically Propelled Interplanetary CubeSat" bus as part of the mission design. Despite the optimization of the flight trajectories and the use of machine learning algorithms to prioritize data downlink, the conclusions of the concept study clearly point towards the current challenges represented by propulsion, communication, and possibly radiation tolerance for scientific SmallSat missions to Mars. Such conclusions are generally common among all low-cost interplanetary SmallSat concepts. Furthermore, a single areostationary satellite is enough to provide a full-disk view to monitor regional dust storms and water ice clouds at specific locations, but cannot provide the global coverage required to understand extreme phenomena such as Martian planetary-scale dust events. For this reason, we have recently started to study a more advanced mission concept involving the use of at least three areostationary satellites. This new study is carried out in collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory within the scope of a wider NASA-funded project (PMCS program) looking at a constellation concept. The challenge is to keep the areostationary satellite configuration within the ESPA class limits, in order to take advantage of possible future rideshare opportunities.

How to cite: Montabone, L., Cantor, B., Capderou, M., Fergason, R., Feruglio, L., Forget, F., Heavens, N., Lillis, R., Matousek, S., Smith, M., Spiga, A., Topputo, F., VanWoerkom, M., Wolff, M., and Young, R.: Monitoring the Martian Weather with Areostationary SmallSats, Europlanet Science Congress 2020, online, 21 Sep–9 Oct 2020, EPSC2020-840,, 2020.

Stefaan Van wal, Ozgur Karatekin, Victor Manuel Moreno Villa, and Hannah Goldberg

The Hera mission will launch in 2023/2024 and explore binary asteroid Didymos after the kinetic impact of the DART spacecraft. It carries two 6U CubeSats, one of which is the Juventas CubeSat developed by GomSpace Luxembourg with the Royal Observatory of Belgium as principal investigator. The spacecraft will attempt to characterize the internal structure of Didymos’s secondary body, Dimorphos, over a period of roughly 2 months using a low-frequency radar. Afterwards, it will attempt a ballistic landing on Dimorphos, during which the spacecraft is expected to perform several bounces. Juventas is equipped with high-rate accelerometers and gyros with which it aims to characterize the interactions with Dimorphos’s surface. Once landed, Juventas will also use its gravimeter to obtain in-situ measurements of the surface acceleration on Dimorphos along two of its orbits around the primary body.

In this research, we perform preliminary investigations of the bouncing of Juventas on Dimorphos. Unlike the previous dedicated asteroid lander spacecraft MINERVA-II and MASCOT, Juventas has two solar array wings, each consisting of three panels connected with torsional springs, that extend from its bus. These are expected to interact with the asteroid surface during the bouncing process. Using Lagrangian mechanics, we model the flexing and surface interaction of the spacecraft bus including these flexible solar arrays. This model is used to perform dynamical simulations of the Juventas bouncing, which allows us to estimate the settling time, settling distance, and settling attitude of the spacecraft, as a function of different surface properties and initial impact conditions.

By tracking the simulated accelerations experienced by the spacecraft, we also gain preliminary insight into the structure of the signals that will be measured by the accelerometers and gyros during landing. This will inform the next phases of system and mission design of Juventas and provides context to a dedicated test campaign in which we will experimentally characterize the impact behavior of the CubeSat.

How to cite: Van wal, S., Karatekin, O., Moreno Villa, V. M., and Goldberg, H.: Preliminary investigation of the Juventas CubeSat landing on asteroid Dimorphos, Europlanet Science Congress 2020, online, 21 Sep–9 Oct 2020, EPSC2020-683,, 2020.