HERMES: a constellation of nano-satellites for high-energy astrophyscis

The HERMES-SP project (High Energy Rapid Modular Ensemble of Satellites - Scientific Pathfinder) was selected by the European Commission among the winners of the recent Horizon 2020 SPACE-20-SCI call. HERMES-SP is coordinated by Prof. Fabrizio Fiore of the INAF Astronomical Observatory of Trieste, and is based on an international collaboration that includes in addition to INAF (in particular the OA-TRIESTE structures, IAPS-Rome, OAS-Bologna, IASF-Milan , IASF-Palermo, OARoma), the University of Cagliari, the Polytechnic of Milan, the Universities of Trieste, Udine, Ferrara, Naples Federico II, Palermo, the Universities of Tubingen, Nova-Gorica, Eotvos Budapest, and several small and medium Italian, Slovenian, Hungarian and Spanish industries. HERMES-SP also avails itself of the strong support of the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The HERMES-SP project officially started on 1 November 2018.
HERMES-SP envisages the construction of three nano-satellites, equipped with small high-tech X-ray detectors, which will be added to three other analogues already under construction by Agenzia Spaziale Italiana. The HERMES-SP constellation will be dedicated to the observation of Gamma Ray Burst (GRB), huge cosmic explosions that occur when
 a star dies or when two neutron stars, or a neutron star and a black hole coalesce. HERMES-SP will be able, in a few years from now, to locate GRBs with a variable precision between a few degrees and a few minutes of arc, thus providing a significant contribution to multi-messenger astrophysics. This new frontier of research was born in August 2017 with the observation of the gravitational wave event GW170817 by Ligo / Virgo and its relative electromagnetic counterpart, found thanks to the rapid and accurate localization with the satellites operating in X-rays and gamma (NASA Fermi, Swift, Chandra, ESA INTEGRAL, ASI AGILE).
In the next few years the sensitivity of Advanced Ligo / Virgo will increase significantly, allowing the detection of events related to neutron star fusions in a cosmic volume about 1000 times greater than the recent past, and making the identification of the electromagnetic counterpart proportionally more hard. The satellites that have contributed to the observation of the GRB associated with GW170817 have been operating for at least 10 years, they are getting older and it is not guaranteed that they will remain operational in the next decade. Their successors will not be operational before 2030. HERMES will offer a less expensive fast-track and will provide a complement to these complex missions, using the so-called "disruptive technologies": inexpensive technologies but able to provide a high impact in the area in which they are adopted. Not only will HERMES prove that good science can be done with a constellation of very small and low-cost satellites, but also other applications, both scientific and commercial, will benefit from these developments.
The HERMES project is based on a constellation of nano-satellites, the size of a bottle of champagne, which house small but technologically advanced detectors. Michèle Lavagna of the Polytechnic University of Milan and her working group are involved in the development and construction of high performance miniaturized flight platforms, the integration of the instruments on board and the qualifications of the entire system for acceptance at launch in orbit . Claudio Labanti and Marco Feroci, together with a large work group that includes six INAF structures, as well as the universities of Trieste, Pavia, Udine, Milan Polytechnic, the INFN of Trieste and the Bruno Kessler Foundation, are involved in the development of the miniaturized sensor, of the latest generation for the detection of high-energy cosmic events.
Being based on relatively inexpensive nano-satellites and with a development time of just a few years, HERMES is a naturally scalable project. The first step was the approval of the HERMES-TP project, coordinated by Simone Pirrotta of ASI. HERMES-SP is the second important step, which will allow to perform GRB positioning experiments already with six satellites starting from 2022. The final step will be the realization of a large constellation of nano-satellites that will allow to reveal and position GRB over all the celestial vault, with accuracy better than the arcminute, sufficiently good then to determine their host galaxies in an unambiguous manner.
Prof. Fabrizio Fiore, HERMES Coordinator, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
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