Contributions of the Italian Space Agency to Science and Exploration

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The International Space Station at night. Image Credit: ASI.

The International Space Station at night. Image Credit: ASI.

The Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana ‰ÛÒ ASI) was established in 1988, taking over from the foregoing National Council of Research’s ‰ÛÏPiano Spaziale Nazionale.‰Û The aim of the Agency is to coordinate Italy’s efforts and investments in the space sector, promote awareness about space science within Italian society, and ensure responsiveness to the goals and needs expressed by the citizens.

In its 25 years of life, ASI has played a significant role in the global stage of space activities. At a national level, it has developed space science and Earth observation satellites. At the European level, it is the third contributor to the European Space Agency on behalf of the Italian government. At an international level, it cooperates with major space exploration endeavours, such as the International Space Station (ISS) Program.

As outlined in the Document of Strategic Vision 2010-2020, the major goals and guidelines of ASI are to:

• Maintain and strengthen scientific knowledge through development, operations and data analysis of key scientific instruments; and to support human and robotic exploration

• Establish international partnerships; and achieve a global leadership position in Earth observation

• Foster independence and profitability in telecom infrastructure; and develop applications integrating space assets

• Give priority to dual-use programs and support national security objectives;

• Promote public-private partnerships to enhance resources availability and foster a national culture of space awareness and involvement.

ASI is based in Rome, with a workforce of about 250 people. Its headquarters are located at a new facility in the Tor Vergata University area. Matera’s Centre for Space Geodesy (CGS), in the South of Italy, is the ASI operating centre for space geodesy and remote sensing, including Cosmo-SkyMED civil data management. The historical Italian space launch center is located in Malindi, Kenya. Currently, the center is used as a ground station for data up-link (command) and down-link (telemetry, remote sensing).

Figure 1:  2010-2020 financial planning for overall expenses.

Figure 1: 2010-2020 financial planning for overall expenses.

ASI is primarily funded through the Ministry of University and Research. The economic and financial outlook of the last ASI 10-year plan assumes a constant annual ministerial fund amounting to about 600 million euros (about $799 million U.S.). However, cuts are expected in 2013 due to persistent international and national economic difficulties. Figure 1 presents the 2010-2020 financial planning for overall expenses.

Figure 2 shows the 2010-2020 financial planning for national programs, including the bilateral cooperations.

Figure 2: 2010-2020 financial planning for national programs.

Figure 2: 2010-2020 financial planning for national programs.

In 2007, ASI started a Pilot Projects Program, whose main goal was to demonstrate the benefit and promote the use of remote-sensing techniques in various thematic areas of environmental and natural hazard monitoring and management. Common features of the projects were to be developed in a national frame, having institutional main users, mostly the Italian Department for Civil Protection, and taking input data from multiple sources, either satellite or ground-based. Most of the projects have come to an end recently and the outcomes are to be studied subsequently.

ASI also is integrally involved in deep-space exploration through the participation inåÊ ESA’s missions to Mercury and to Mars, the Bepi-Colombo and ExoMars missions, respectively. The two probes will be equipped with primary instruments developed by ASI. In a similar way, ASI-funded instruments contribute to many ongoing science missions, such as ESA’s Planck and Herschel, and NASA’s Dawn and Cassini. The development of the national AGILE spacecraft, the participation to NASA’s GLAST mission, and the significant contribution to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer installed on the International Space Station (ISS) are examples of ASI support to the investigation of the gamma ray bursts phenomenon and overall to the study of cosmic radiation.

ASI has contributed significantly to the development of the International Space Station, both through ESA’s ISS Program and through bilateral cooperation with NASA. Close to half of the pressurized volume of the Station has been built in Italy. ASI provided the three MPLM (Multi-Purpose Logistic Module) modules to NASA, which supported for 10 years the Earth to-and-from-space logistics of the Station, and developed the PMM åÊ(Permanent Multipurpose Module) module, berthed to ISS in March 2011. Access to ISS utilization and flight opportunities for Italian astronauts is the payoff for the ASI bilateral participation to the ISS Program. Since 2003, ASI has developed 18 ISS payloads and performed 49 investigations involving about 120 main investigators. The Italian astronauts of the European Astronaut Corps, Luca Parmitano and Samantha Cristoforetti, who are planned for a six-month mission in 2013 and late 2014, respectively, are the next to benefit from ASI flight opportunities.

Figure 3: Mount Etna, viewed from COSMO Sky-MED.

Figure 3: Mount Etna, viewed from COSMO Sky-MED.

Beyond space science and exploration, in the last decade ASI has focused largely on Earth observation, communications and navigation applications. This has been driven by the strategic consideration that the three sectors have the most visible positive impact on the quality of life on Earth. COSMO-SkyMED (Figure 3) is a dual-use radar satellite constellation (civil and military) developed by ASI in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence, operating at the national level. The synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging system operates at X-band and has become part of Italy’s strategic infrastructure. ASI is committed to the launch of two next-generation satellites every seven years. PRISMA is a hyper spectral satellite that will provide scientists and engineers with high-resolution data for the development of natural risk-management applications. PRISMA is expected to be in service in 2014.

As well, ASI is committed to filling a gap in the national telecommunication infrastructure. For this purpose, ASI has established a public-private partnership for the development of a satellite-based infrastructure primarily for broadband institutional and governmental applications. ASI coordinates and leads the national participation to the European satellite navigation system, Galileo.

Themes and priorities in space exploration and scientific research are determined in a global perspective. No space agency can ignore the global dimension of contemporary initiatives in space science. In this perspective, ASI will strengthen international multi and bi-lateral cooperation with a strategy for promoting and giving prominence to national scientific and industrial areas of excellence. ASI will continue to research and develop activities that will enhance the cost effectiveness and performance of systems and technologies serving the sectors of Earth observation, communication and navigation. Focus on the launch sector is to be maintained in the future, too, specifically on the new medium class launch vehicle Vega developed by the Italian industry.



Salvatore Pignataro is the ASI ISS mission manager, holding the responsibilities for coordinating with NASA the implementation of the ASI ISS utilization plan. He has worked as program manager on the development programs of major elements and payloads of the International Space Station, as Node 2, Node 3, the Permanent Multipurpose Module, and the Mice Drawer System. In 2012, he was visiting scientist at the Joint Research Center of the European Commission for the ASI Earth Observation for Europe project.