BENGALURU: Come January, a petite European spacecraft, christened “Bikini,” will hitch a ride aboard India’s trusted
, soaring to a staggering altitude of 500km before making a re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and plunging into the deep sea.
Weighing a mere 40kg,
is the brainchild of The Exploration Company, a European startup aiming to make inroads into the in-space delivery sector. The success of the Bikini mission promises to unlock new possibilities, propelling the company toward even grander re-entry missions in the future.
Originally slated to partner with Arianespace, The Exploration Company has secured a contract with
Space PSU NewSpace India Limited
) owing to delays in the development of the Ariane 6 rocket.
For the re-entry endeavour, NSIL will harness the PSLV’s final stage — the PS4. NSIL CMD
D told STOI: “This marks our maiden voyage into such a venture for a customer. Our plan involves mounting the re-entry capsule onto PS4. Once our primary satellites have been deployed post launch, the PS4 will part ways with Bikini.”
While the ultimate destination of Bikini’s descent is yet to be determined, the capsule will not be recovered by The Exploration Company. That said, the data from Bikini’s journey during the re-entry will serve as a valuable building block for the evolution of the firm’s re-entry and recovery technologies.
The PS4 has also been used by India for
PSLV Orbital Experimental Module
(POEM) experiments in the past and more POEMs are expected in the future. However, for POEM, PS4 becomes an orbital platform, that is, the instruments are housed in PS4 which orbits Earth while conducting experiments.
This won’t be the case when it carries the European capsule. In Bikini’s case, it would be attached to the top of PS4 and remain there until the main mission is complete. And given that Bikini will have no propulsion systems, it would rely on the PS4 to reach an appropriate altitude from where it could re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
“For the main mission, the altitude being targeted is around 500km. PS4 will then come out of that orbit, deboost itself with Bikini and separate from the payload while at an altitude of 120-140km. From there, Bikini would fall back into the sea,” Radhakrishnan said.
Earlier, Isro had carried out a Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE–1) on the PSLV in 2007. SRE-1 was a 550kg capsule that demonstrated the technology of an orbiting platform for performing experiments in microgravity conditions. After completion of the experiments, the capsule was deorbited and recovered.
The mission provided Isro valuable experience in fields like navigation, guidance and control during the re-entry phase, development of reusable thermal protection system (TPS), recovery through deceleration and flotation, besides acquisition of basic technology for reusable launch vehicles.