Eventech won an ESA contract to develop timers that will investigate the possibility of redirecting an asteroid
In a corner of the Riga Technical University campus, a team of scientists are working on technology that could one day prevent asteroids from crashing into Earth
High-precision hand-built timers in the laboratory of Latvian start-up Eventech are currently used to track satellites
This year, the company won a contract from the European Space Agency (THAT) to develop timers that will study the possibility of redirecting an asteroid before it gets too close to our planet for more comfort
NASA plans to launch the first part of the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission (AIDA), known as Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the 22 July 2021 on a Falcon rocket 9 owned by tech mogul Elon Musk’s SpaceX
The probe equipped with a 500 kilograms (1100 books) will fly to an asteroid named Didymos and crash into it, trying to make it jump from its current course which will see it pass close to Earth in 2123.
Eventech's deep space event timers are under development for the HERA monitoring mission, which should be launched five years later, to determine if the first mission was successful
‘To go boldly’ “Our new technology that will follow ESA's second spacecraft named HERA will measure whether the first impact took the Didymos away from its previous route, avoiding harm to humanity”, said Eventech engineer Imants Pulkstenis. AFP in the laboratory
“It is much more interesting to go boldly where no man has gone before than to make mundane consumer electronics for huge profits.”, he added, borrowing the famous Star Trek slogan, the cult sci-fi television series of the years 1960
Eventech's timers are part of a tradition of space technology in the Baltic state that dates back to Soviet times when Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, was launched in 1957.
They measure the time it takes for a pulse of light to travel to an object in orbit and back
Eventech devices can record the measurement at a picosecond or trillion of a second, which allows astronomers to convert a measurement of time into a measurement of distance with an accuracy of up to two millimeters.
Sending timers to deep space Approx 10 timers are produced annually and used in observatories around the world
They follow the increasingly congested atmosphere of Earth, filled with a new crop of private satellites alongside traditional science and military satellites
Although Latvia only became a full member of ESA in 2016, its engineers have been tracking satellites since the Soviet era
The University of Latvia even has its own satellite laser telemetry station in a forest south of Riga
Eventech engineers say they use analog parts whenever possible, mainly because microchips take nanoseconds to calculate the signal, which is too long for the incoming measurements going in picoseconds.
Even the physical length of the motherboard can affect the speed at which the signal travels from one circuit to another
While these timers are used for calculations on Earth, a different device for deep space missions is being developed in another corner of the same lab to track planetary objects from a moving space probe.
“There is no GPS data coverage available on other planets, so you should take your own telemetry precision with you”, said Pulkstenis
Developing devices for deep space will be a complex task, but Eventech engineers appreciate
“Our updated technology must withstand extreme temperatures in space and extreme cosmic radiation”, said Pulkstenis “It's a fun challenge”
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Asteroid, Earth, AIDA, Double Asteroid Redirection Test, Scientist
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