Winner: Matra Marconi Space

Location: Stevenage, UK.

Achievement: Success, both commercial and technical, of the versatile Eurostar communications satellite platform.

In 1995, Matra Marconi Space began to reap the rewards of its long-term investment in the Eurostar communications-satellite platform. New orders have continued to roll in during 1995 for what is proving a highly versatile product.

Development of the Eurostar communications satellite platform dates back to the 1980s and Matra Marconi Space's forebears - Matra Espace and British Aerospace Space Systems. The aim was to fill a gap in the market for a strong lightweight platform capable of carrying extremely flexible, multi-service communications payloads of over 150kg and 1,000W RF power.

The Eurostar was not just targeted at one mission, however. From the start of the development, its structure and sub-systems were designed to be expanded and adapted, taking in new technologies as they became available. Neither was the platform designed for any specific launch vehicle, opening up the potential to use a range of competitive lower-cost launch options.

On 20 January 1995, a major milestone was achieved for the programme, when the Eurostar-based Orion 1 spacecraft was safely handed over to its US operator.

The launch marked several achievements, not least the fact that this was the first export of a European satellite to a US company. It was also the first all-solid-state Ku-band payload and the first communications satellite to use a supersynchronous transfer orbit, which took it almost one-third of the way to the moon.

Following the success of this launch, Matra Marconi has won a string of new business with the Eurostar. Orion has ordered a second satellite, which has almost twice the power of the original spacecraft.

Eutelstat also ordered a third Hot Bird direct-to-home television-broadcast satellite. With a payload of 230kg and a mass of almost 3,000kg, it is the largest of the Eurostar platforms now being built. Another export order also came from the Egyptian Radio and Television Union, for the Nilesat.

With these and other orders, the Eurostar has now been chosen for close to 20 satellites, and Matra Marconi Space promises more in 1996.



Finalist: Cisi

Location: Toulouse, France.

Achievement: Establishing an advanced mission management centre for the SPOT observation satellites and the newly lauched Helios 1.

Since France launched the first SPOT observation satellite in 1986, the spacecraft has been producing Earth images down to a resolution of 10-20m. The French space agency CNES has continued to maintain the service with the SPOT 4 programme and the launch of the first Helios military satellite in July 1995.

To achieve maximum advantage from the satellites, Cisi was given the task of establishing a sophisticated management centre, based at the CNES site in Toulouse. Its task is essentially mission management, payload scheduling, satellite command, control and checking.

The centre, which opened with the Helios launch in July, also handles the SPOT technical database.

The ground-control system is capable of providing simultaneous control over two satellites, and a high degree of automation means that only one operator is required to supervise the system while it is carrying out routine house-keeping of the satellites.



Location: Denham, UK

Achievement: Development of a parachute-based descent system for the Huygens probe which will explore Saturn's largest moon.

IN OCTOBER 1997, THE Cassini-Huygens spacecraft will be launched on a seven-year mission to explore Saturn and its moons, under a joint initiative from NASA and the European Space Agency.

The European contribution is the Huygens probe, which is designed to investigate Titan, Saturn's largest moon and the only one in the Solar System with a significant atmosphere. The probe, for which Aerospatiale is the prime industrial contractor, is the first of its kind to be produced in Western Europe.

The critical task of producing a system to decelerate and control the descent of the probe through the dense Titan atmosphere was given to Martin-Baker, the UK company famous for its ejection-seat technology.

The technical challenges are obvious, including the need to predict the performance of a parachute in an atmosphere five times denser than on Earth and with only one-seventh of the gravity. It also faces temperatures ranging down to -120¡C, with a descent beginning at a speed of Mach 1.5.

Besides the technical achievements, the Awards judges noted that Martin-Baker, which had not previously handled a space contract, delivered the system to Aerospatiale on budget and on schedule during 1995.

Source: Flight International