HOUSTON – NASA is in talks with the Italian Space Agency to fly an Earth science instrument originally planned for a small commercial mission.
At a meeting of the Earth Science Advisory Committee August 2, Greg Stover, program manager for NASA’s Earth System Pathfinder Program, said that NASA was in talks with the Italian Space Agency (ASI) for the Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) to fly. instrument on a future Italian satellite.
“We are working with the Italians to find access to space so that the Multi-Angle Imager can be launched in the next few years,” he said. “We are currently working on the international agreements to do that.”
Karen St. said. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth science division, that NASA and ASI had not yet finalized that agreement. “This is an active discussion. We have signed agreements to take the next steps. However, it is not a done deal, but it is promised.”
MAIA is designed to study particulate matter air pollution in urban areas and to help scientists understand their effects on human health. The mission is planned to operate in a polar orbit at an altitude of 740 kilometers.
The MAIA was originally scheduled to fly on General Atomics’ Orbital Test Bed (OTB) 2. The agency awarded a $38.5 million contract to General Adomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) in 2018 to host MAIA on the OTB-2 spacecraft. General Atomics was responsible for launching the satellite, and in February 2021 awarded a contract to Firefly Aerospace to launch Firefly’s Alpha rocket.
Stover said “we had to stop” the MAIA flight but did not reveal why. NASA did not publicly announce that it had terminated its contract with General Atomics. “The MAIA instrument will go on a host satellite, to be selected by NASA in the future,” the mission’s website currently states.
“NASA and General Atomics have mutually agreed to end the MAIA hosting contractual relationship in late 2021 due to overall technical alignment and programmatic challenges,” said NASA spokesman Jacob Richmond August 5. Italian Space Agency.”
He added that Charles Webb, then associate director for flight programs in the Earth sciences division, alerted the scientific community to a possible delay in MAIA’s launch at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in January . At the time, however, the delay appeared to be related to issues at Firefly Aerospace, whose largest shareholder, Noosphere Venture Partners, was taking advantage at the request of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the States. United.
“General Atomics is no longer hosting the MAIA instrument, as a result of a mutual decision between General Adomics and NASA,” Gregg Burgess, vice president of GA-EMS Space Systems, said in an Aug. 5 statement. “Residual hardware and software from that OTB spacecraft is being repurposed for use on other General Atomics spacecraft.”
General Atomics entered the smallsat industry through the 2016 acquisitions of manufacturers Miltec and the US subsidiary of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. in 2017. The company has won several orders from NASA as well as the US Space Force, Space Development Agency (SDA) and DARPA for smallsat missions.
However, OTB-2 is not the only General Atomics microcomputer program with problems. The SDA’s Laser Interconnection and Networked Communications System (LINCS) mission consisted of two cuboids developed by General Atomics to test laser intersatellite links. However, the satellites crashed after deployment on the SpaceX Transporter-2 travel mission last June and were unable to complete the mission. Speaking in February, Burgess blamed the failure on “an issue with the launch vehicle” but did not elaborate.
General Atomics also had problems with the development of the Total Solar Irradiance and Spectral Sensor-2 (TSIS-2) spacecraft for NASA under a $32.9 million contract awarded in 2020. The company won the contract by offering an OTB bus at a 40% lower cost the Southwest Research Institute, the other bidder.
In a separate presentation at the Aug. 2 Earth Science Advisory Committee meeting, Kathleen Boggs, acting associate director for flight programs in the Earth science division, said there were “challenges” in the development of TSIS-2, noting unspecified issues identified by the mission’s standing review board.
“It’s a new vendor, new to the space field, so we felt it was a good opportunity to help a new space company,” she said. “We spent more time with them. Goddard [Space Flight Center] they helped the work through their scheduling challenge. They have a good schedule now, we think, and are preparing for the CDR mission,” or critical design review, which is now scheduled for September.