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Space Dynamics Lab to provide deep-space SmallSat radios for Janus asteroid mission

August 9, 2020 | KUTV

Space Dynamics Laboratory electrical engineer Craig Thompson is shown in this July 28, 2020, photo performing acceptance testing on one of the Iris radios at SDL in North Logan, Utah. The SDL-built Iris radios will provide communications for dual Lockheed Martin small spacecraft being built for NASA's deep-space mission called Janus, to visit near-Earth asteroids. (Credit: Kelden Peterson/Space Dynamics Laboratory)

(KUTV) — The Space Dynamics Laboratory in North Logan, Utah, announced during the annual Small Satellite Conference on Wednesday that it was recently awarded a contract for two small satellite radios for a NASA asteroid mission.

Making long-distance calls from deep space is technologically challenging. The SDL-built Iris radios will provide communications for dual Lockheed Martin small spacecraft being built for NASA’s deep-space mission called Janus, to visit near-Earth asteroids, which is led by principal investigator Dr. Daniel Scheeres from the University of Colorado Boulder.

The Janus mission is targeted for launch in August 2022 and will travel more than 10 million kilometers to meet up with the pair of binary asteroids designated 1991 VH and 1996 FG3, a press release stated. In deep space, communications for the two miniature spacecraft will be critical to the success of the Janus mission. The Iris radios are designed for just this task.

Tim Neilsen, SDL’s Iris program manager for the Janus mission, said in a prepared statement:

SDL is honored to be a part of this exciting mission under the leadership of Dr. Scheeres that will provide scientists with unprecedented information from small spacecraft about the workings of our solar system. Janus will add valuable insight on communication systems for future SmallSat deep-space programs. SDL will build upon the flight-proven heritage of Iris radios and our decades-long legacy collaborating with NASA to ensure mission success.

According to a press release, weighing only 1.1 kilograms, and about the size of a half loaf of bread, the Iris radios will use environmentally robust architecture, including radiation-tolerant parts necessary for deep-space communication over multiple years at a fraction of the mass and cost of other radios with similar reliability and capability. The design incorporates advanced thermal management necessary for navigation tracking, the release stated.