iXblue builds next generation of planetary seismometers

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iXblue’s blueSeis business line, that offers unique and reliable earth monitoring solutions, in partnership with a European consortium of research laboratories (ISAE-SUPAERO, ETHZ, IPGP, ORB, LMU), has recently won the Horizon 2020 call for proposals. funded by the European Commission, it focuses on the development of a new generation of planetary seismometers.

Coordinated by ISAE-SUPAERO, the PIONEERS project (Planetary Instruments based on Optical technologies for an iNnovative European Exploration using Rotational Seismology), in which iXblue plays a key role, aims at developing a unique breakthrough technology which will make it possible to sense deformations 100 times weaker than with currently available sensors.

“We were looking for an industrial partner to support us in answering the H2020 program call and iXblue, being a leader in rotational seismology, was the most obvious choice for us.” explains Raphael Garcia, Researcher at ISAE-SUPAERO. “Their strong implication in research and scientific instrumentation, combined to the advanced skilled of their engineers only confirmed this choice. Another key factor that convinced us also was iXblue’s strong track-record of successful collaborations with research laboratories and academic partners.”

The future space probes that will be developed by the consortium, whose mission will consist in characterizing the composition of planetary bodies by studying a range of parameters including their density, mass distribution, and elastic mechanical properties are therefore going to be equipped with the Fiber-Optic Gyroscope (FOG) technology developed by iXblue. Optical interferometry techniques (involving measurement of a motion using the interference between two light rays, whose difference in the path covered varies with the movement to be measured) will be used to measure, not only the translation movements, but also the rotational motions at the surface of the planetary bodies. This new dimension of rotational measurement will complement traditional seismometers which only measure translation, and hence open up the way to new methods for the exploration of planetary interiors.

interiors. “ISAE-SUPAERO came to us mainly thanks to our unique ability to measure what we commonly call the 6 DoF (or 6 Degrees of Freedom). To put it simple, a movement can only be fully described if we’re able to measure both its translations and its rotations in the three directions of space.” explains Frédéric Guattari, who leads the blueSeis business line. “Another important factor in winning this project has been our FOG technology. Being fully adaptive, it means we can provide a solution for sensors ranging from the ultra-compact to the very large. So the challenge ahead for the project is going to be to develop a single electronics package for the three gyroscopes and three accelerometers.”

An additional challenge for the iXblue teams involved in the project will be the requirement to deliver a “mock-up level” giant FOG, one meter in diameter, and therefore to develop specific electronics that can be used both on small coils for observation of asteroids and larger coils for observation of the moon. The benefit for Europe being not to have to fund additional developments each time there is a new mission.

By bringing together cutting-edge skills including planetary instrumentation, geodesy, rotational seismology, electronics and spatial optics, iXblue and its partners will be able to develop breakthrough technology to measure the translation and rotation of the surface of planetary bodies within a single probe.
Frédéric concludes: “This H2020 project opens up great opportunities for iXblue. iXblue’s navigation, space and blueSeis teams will be able to work together in perfect synergy to deliver this exciting project. Thanks to this, we will be able to position ourselves in the emerging New Space market, along with our Motion Systems and Photonics divisions, as this is an extremely dynamic segment with lots of growth opportunities. Moreover, it’s an incredible showcase for iXblue’s expertise. This is true recognition for the quality of our technology.”