July 13, 2024

A new EU project plans to expand adventures in the cosmos with a suitably space-age technology: lasers.

The INPHOMIR initiative is developing the lasers to enhance spacecraft sensors. By emitting tiny pulses of light, the devices could improve the precision of satellite navigation.

Their accuracy stems from their resistance to the harsh conditions of space. When vicious fog and dust descend upon satellites, traditional sensors are often impeded.

These disruptions can have severe impacts. A tiny measurement error can cause chaos to space missions — and cost millions of euros.

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Lasers provide a promising safeguard. Their ability to function in tempestuous environments reduces the risks of space exploration. With a tiny power consumption, they could also keep vehicles flying for longer.

“As we aim to explore space much deeper while conducting more complex missions, the need for precise, reliable, and efficient sensors is now more critical than ever,” said Daniele Palaferri, INPHOMIR’s project coordinator.

The EU’s laser quest

INPHOMIR is currently crafting two laser-based sensors: an optical gyroscope and a novel lidar system.

The gyroscope uses spinning beams of light to measure movement and direction. The lidar, meanwhile, emits laser light to produce 3D maps of the environment.

According to INPHOMIR, these sensors are poised to “transform space exploration and autonomous systems.” That potential has caught the EU’s eye.

Horizon Europe, the bloc’s key funding programme for research and innovation, has provided funding for the €5mn project.

INPHOMIR said the cash will boost Europe’s technological sovereignty — a key target in the EU’s space strategy.

For the last year, the bloc has had no independent access to the cosmos. That problem is set end next week when the Ariane 6 satellite launcher flies for the first time

Investing in new spacetech could create another path towards autonomy.

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