Airbus Defence and Space

Airbus Defence and Space in Spain delivers the antenna for NASA’s latest Mars rover

  • This special antenna will be the first Spanish space system to reach the Martian surface

  • It is the result of a bilateral agreement on technological collaboration between the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA and CDTI

  • The antenna will provide communication with Earth, without intermediate links (‘orbiters’, satellites orbiting Mars).


Madrid, May 28th, 2010 Airbus Defence and Space Spain, through its site in Madrid, has delivered the flight model of the High Gain Antenna System (HGAS) to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA. This is the main and final milestone of this contract within the frame of bilateral collaboration agreements between JPL and CDTI (Centro para el Desarrollo Tecnológico Industrial) which holds the Spanish delegation to ESA. The programme was initiated back in 2006 as an extension of the Spanish collaboration in the REMS instrument led by the Astrobiology Centre (CAB), with support and advice from Professor Juan Pérez Mercader, Director of CAB during that period, establishing the signature of the corresponding bilateral collaboration agreements necessary for the participation of the Spanish space companies.


The High Gain Antenna System will be integrated on the next Mars rover that NASA is preparing - Curiosity - within the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission. Some of the objectives of this mission are: to examine rocks from Mars in order to analyse the geologic processes which formed them, to study the Martian atmosphere, and to determine the distribution and circulation of water and carbon dioxide in any state - solid, liquid or gaseous.


When the rover communicates with Earth from the Martian surface, it will send its messages through the HG Antenna. This antenna is capable of transmitting an information beam in a specific direction, as it is steerable, and it may be moved to point directly towards Earth. The advantage of a steerable antenna is that there is no need to reorient the rover itself in order to ‘speak’ with Earth, saving energy since the only movement required is that of the antenna.


Airbus Defence and Space Spain was selected to lead the HGA system programme, consisting of a gimbal pointing mechanism and the antenna. Its main mission is to send to Earth, without the need for orbiters or intermediate links, the scientific data of the various instruments on board the rover, the information about the ‘health’ of the rover itself, and to receive the instructions that the vehicle needs to perform its mission. The antenna design is based on the technology of radiating arrays in X-band developed by the company, and successfully flight proven in other applications like Galileo Giove-B and ASAR for Envisat. The other company involved in the programme is SENER, contributing to the programme with the development of the gimbal pointing mechanism, as well as the hold-down and release mechanism. The acceptance phase of these elements was particularly complex, given the fact that the test campaign had to be performed in simulated Martian atmospheric conditions, with temperature variations between -130º C and +90º C.


All the partners in the Project have expressed their satisfaction with the product and the close collaboration reached during the course of the programme. Pedro Méndez, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space Spain, said: “This first and successful step taken in the relations with JPL is a magnificent milestone for new collaborations in future exploration missions.”


Peter Theisinger, JPL MSL Project Manager, expressed his appreciation of the “outstanding cooperation between MSL and our Spanish government and industry partners, which has lead to a successful delivery of the High Gain Antenna System, a key MSL spacecraft component.”


This project was financed by CDTI. Airbus Defence and Space as prime contractor was responsible for the antenna system, SENER was responsible for the pointing mechanism, and INTA (Instituto Nacional de Técnicas Aeroespaciales) has collaborated in the testing of the system.


The MSL mission will be launched in 2011 and with it the first Spanish space system to reach the Martian surface.


About Airbus Defence and Space Spain 

Airbus Defence and Space Spain, is a holding created to consolidate the financial figures and to harmonise the strategy of the two Spanish space companies belonging to the AIRBUS Group: Airbus Defence and Space (an Airbus Defence and Space Centre of Competence in Composite Materials and Antennas, founded in 1966. Dedicated to the development and production of spaces systems for Launchers, Satellites and the International Space Station); and AIRBUS DEFENCE AND SPACE CRISA (an Airbus Defence and Space Centre of Competence in Electronics not associated with microwaves, it specialises in electronics systems for space, founded in 1985).


About Airbus Defence and Space

Airbus Defence and Space, a wholly owned subsidiary of AIRBUS Group, is dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services. In 2009, Airbus Defence and Space had a turnover of €4.8 billion and more than 15,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are Airbus Defence and Space for launchers and orbital infrastructure, Airbus Defence and Space for spacecraft and ground segment and Airbus Defence and Space for the development and provision of secure and commercial satcoms and networks, high security satellite communications equipment, geo-information products and services, and navigation services.

AIRBUS Group is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2009, AIRBUS Group generated revenues of €42.8 billion and employed a workforce of more than 119, 000.


Contacts for press:

Francisco Lechón (Airbus Defence and Space ESP)                                   Telephone: +34 91 586 37 41

Matthieu Duvelleroy (Airbus Defence and Space FR)                                   Telephone: +33 (0)1 77 75 80 32

Daniel Mosely (Airbus Defence and Space UK)                                           Telephone: +44 (0)1438 77 8180

Ralph Heinrich (Airbus Defence and Space ALL)                                         Telephone: +49 (0) 89 607 33971