The program called MISTRAL (Air-launchable Micro-Satellite with Reentry Capability) fits into the broader range of space re-entry systems for recovery and return on Earth of samples and others materials from space that may become of great importance in the future. In fact, with the recent end of the NASA Space Transportation System program (Space Shuttle), this activity will depend in the near future only on the Russian Soyuz TMA capsule, thus putting limits and economic constraints to the development of space activities. In this scenario the development of a low cost, easy to use, small capsule could demonstrate to be a convenient alternative to perform different types of scientific and technological missions.
The primary objective of the MISTRAL project is therefore to develop a multi-purpose air-launchable 20-30 kg class micro-platform with reentry capability. This approach decouples the use of the platform from the availability and intrinsic limitations of any ground launch base, providing to the system high flexibility with respect to a specific mission and guaranteeing short time to use. As an R&D project, MISTRAL will development a full prototype ready to execute a demonstration mission in which the payload will be essentially focused on monitoring and eventually management of the functional and health status of the capsule during its first flight.
In terms of innovation in processes, products and services, the platform will be characterized by the use of new ultralight alloys and polymers, green materials & technologies, advanced coatings and health monitoring system thanks to sensors placed inside the structures. The platform will be equipped with electronic bus multifunctional with capacity for self-diagnosis and self-reconfiguration, thanks to the large computing power available with the use of latest generation processors. The heat dissipation of the electronic components could be solved with thermal control systems based on advanced biphasic heat-pipe. The attitude control will be ensured with micro-actuators and sensors COTS or products within the DAC with components ITAR-free.
The design choices stem from economic and practical reasons given the need and opportunity to develop in the medium term a reliable system with cost levels capable of enabling wide applicability. The project aims to develop research and experimental development to reach the prototype demonstration phase for a small space re-entry capsule, able to return limited mass and volume payloads back to Earth from Low Earth Orbit.
The main characteristic of the capsule is a deployable front structure that will be used as both an aero-breaking device to slow down the capsule and produce the orbit decay, and a heat shield during the most demanding reentry phase. During the orbital phase, the deployable structure will be used to control the duration of the orbital decay phase in order to assure the right approach to the defined aero-capture point, where the reentry phase starts. The deployable “umbrella-like” structure can also be integrated with other functional elements, such as solar panels, antennas, payloads, etc.
Despite the domestic industry has in the past participated in activities aimed at developing re-entry spacecrafts, also in the frame of European programs, so far a capsule with similar characteristics has been neither in Italy nor in Europe produced.
The project will be developed by a cluster including large industries, SMEs, research organizations and universities with the aim of acquiring the necessary know-how to plan the industrialization phase of the product, qualified and suitable for different commercial applications.
This project does not overlap the field of activities already planned within national programs currently underway, but will conversely integrate them as a natural complement.