Astrobotic Wins NASA Research Contract to Target Landings on Icy, Outer Planet Moons

Astrobotic will develop software to help spacecraft on possible future missions land near unmapped or dynamic scientific targets in the solar system, including close the south pole of Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus. The Cassini spacecraft captured images showing plumes erupting from the moon’s surface (left) during multiple fly-bys of the moon. Scientists believe these plumes are the result of active thermal processes occurring in a salty, subsurface, global ocean (artist’s concept, right). (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PITTSBURGH (Astrobotic PR) – Today Astrobotic announced a program to study advanced navigation techniques that could allow the next generation of spacecraft to target landings at some of the most interesting scientific destinations in the solar system.

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Study: Europa Could Be a Very Tricky Place to Land

The green oval highlights the plumes Hubble observed on Europa. The area also corresponds to a warm region on Europa’s surface. The map is based on observations by the Galileo spacecraft (Credits: NASA/ESA/STScI/USGS)

CARDIFF, UK (Cardiff University PR) — A location often earmarked as a potential habitat for extra-terrestrial life could prove to be a tricky place for spacecraft to land, new research has revealed.

A team led by scientists from Cardiff University has predicted that fields of sharp ice growing to almost 15 metres [49 feet] tall could be scattered across the equatorial regions of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

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Japan, France & Germany to Study Martian Moon Rover & Sample Return

Martian moon Phobos

Joint Statement
By
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA),
The Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES),
and
Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt e.V.,
Linder Höhe, 51147 Köln, represented by its Executive Board
(The German Aerospace Center DLR)
on
Joint Study Activities for a Rover onboard Martian Moon eXploration Mission (MMX)

 The DLR – CNES asteroid lander MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) onboard Hayabusa 2 is intended to land on the surface of asteroid Ryugu on October 3,2018. MASCOT will significantly enhance the mission’s science result through performing remote observation as well as surface composition analysis.

In the light of this success, JAXA, CNES, and DLR jointly declare their wish to cooperate on the MMX (Martian Moons eXploration) mission as follows:

MMX is a JAXA led mission to explore Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, aiming for observation, landing, and sample return.

JAXA, CNES, and DLR have agreed that the rover onboard MMX would be developed through French-German collaboration.

The rover would be released to the surface of Martian Moon prior to the landing of its mother ship, MMX. The rover is to analyze the surface regolith and configuration in great details to optimize the MMX landing and sample return operation. This process is expected not only to reduce the mission risk but also to achieve scientific result as the rover acquires surface data in advance of the physical sample return to the Earth.

While the MASCOT with primary batteries allows approximately 1-day of operation, the rover onboard MMX is to be powered by solar cell, which is to enable mobile surface observation that is expected to last for several months.

The scientific observation instrument to be onboard MMX will be determined in the aim of maximizing the outcome of MMX mission.

JAXA, CNES, and DLR are going to jointly conduct study activities for MMX and the rover with the aim for launch in 2024.

In witness hereof this Statement has been signed on October 3, 2018 at International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany.

Hiroshi Yamakawa
President, JAXA

Jean-Yves Le Gall
President, CNES

Pascale Ehrenfreund
Chair of the Executive Board, DLR

Hansjörg Dittus
Member of the Executive Board, DLR

NIAC Phase I Awards Focused on Moons & Asteroids

Graphic depiction of MIDEA: Meteoroid Impact Detection for Exploration of Asteroids (Credit: Sigrid Close)

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded 25 grants for the development of visionary new technologies. Here we’re going to take a closer look at three Phase I awards focused on the exploration of moons and asteroids.

Shapeshifters from Science Fiction to Science Fact: Globetrotting from Titan’s Rugged Cliffs to its Deep Seafloors
Aliakbar Aghamohammadi
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

SPARROW: Steam Propelled Autonomous Retrieval Robot for Ocean Worlds
Gareth Meirion-Griffith
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Meteoroid Impact Detection for Exploration of Asteroids (MIDEA)
Sigrid Close
Stanford University

Each award is worth up to $125,000 for a nine-month study. Descriptions of the awards are below.
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A Closer Look at NIAC Phase II Awards for Asteroids & Moons

Graphic depiction of Triton Hopper: Exploring Neptune’s Captured Kuiper Belt Object (Credits: Steven Oleson)

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded 25 grants for the development of visionary new technologies. Here we’re going to take a closer look at the following three Phase II awards focused on new ways of exploring asteroids and moons.

Dismantling Rubble Pile Asteroids with AoES (Area-of-Effect Soft-bots)
Jay McMahon
University of Colorado, Boulder

Triton Hopper: Exploring Neptune’s Captured Kuiper Belt Object
Steven Oleson
NASA Glenn Research Center

NIMPH: Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester
Michael VanWoerkom
ExoTerra Resource

Each award is worth up to $500,000 for a two-year study. Descriptions of the awards are below.
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NASA Receives 12 Proposals for Solar System Exploration Missions


WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has received and is reviewing 12 proposals for future unmanned solar system exploration. The proposed missions of discovery – submitted under NASA’s New Frontiers program – will undergo scientific and technical review over the next seven months. The goal is to select a mission for flight in about two years, with launch in the mid-2020s.

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NIAC Projects Target Mars, Venus & Pluto

Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump mission. (Credit: Benjamin Goldman)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An airship for Mars, two spacecraft capable of exploring the hellish environment of Venus, and a fusion-powered orbiter and lander for Pluto are three of the planetary-related research projects recently funded by theNASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

In all, NIAC funded eight advanced projects focused on Mars, Venus and Pluto in its latest annual funding round. The space agency also funded two proposals aimed at identifying and extracting resources on planets, moons and asteroids.
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Japan Plans Sample Return from Martian Moons

MMX on-orbit configuration (Credit: JAXA)

Japan is planning a complex mission that will study the moons of Mars and return soil samples to Earth.

Set for launch in September 2024, the Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) mission would spend three years exploring Phobos and Deimos before departing in August 2028 for a return to Earth 11 months later.

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NIAC Phase II Award: Laser Spectroscopy System for Probing Asteroids, Comets

Remote Laser Evaporative Molecular Absorption Spectroscopy Sensor System. (Credit: Gary Hughes)

Remote Laser Evaporative Molecular Absorption Spectroscopy Sensor System

Gary Hughes
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Amount: up to $500,000
Length of Study: 2 years

Description

We propose a sensor system capable of remotely probing the molecular composition of cold solar system targets (asteroids, comets, planets, moons), such as from a spacecraft orbiting the target.

The spacecraft would be equipped with a high-power laser and an infrared spectrometer, both powered by photovoltaics. The laser is directed at a spot on the target, with central flux in the 10 MW/ m2 range.

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NIAC Phase II Award: Optical Mining of Asteroids, Moons, and Planets

Optical Mining of Asteroids, Moons, and Planets to Enable Sustainable Human Exploration and Space Industrialization (Credits: Joel Sercel)

Optical Mining of Asteroids, Moons, and Planets to Enable Sustainable Human Exploration and Space Industrialization

Joel Sercel
TransAstra Corp.
Lake View Terrace, CA

Amount: up to $500,000
Length of Study: 2 years

Description

Problem — Deep Space Human Exploration is Unaffordable:

In 2014 the NASA Advisory Council issued a finding that “The mismatch between NASA’s aspirations for human spaceflight and its budget for human spaceflight is the most serious problem facing the Agency.”

Since the time of that advisory, NASA has conducted many mission and systems analyses, but has yet to publish a sustained mission plan and cost analysis that fits within any budget that Congress will approve. NASA’s vision of human exploration remains unaffordable largely due to the high cost of launching large quantities of drinking water, oxygen, radiation shielding and especially rocket propellant from Earth.
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NIAC Focus: Journey to the Center of Icy Moons

niac_center_icy_moons_ono
Exploration of an icy moon. (Credit: NASA JPL)

NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently selected 13 proposals for Phase I awards. Below is one from Masahiro Ono of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Journey to the Center of Icy Moons

Masahiro Ono
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

In Jules Verne’s classic science fiction, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Professor Otto Lidenbrock and his company descend into an Icelandic volcano to explore it in the name of science, discover a vast subterranean ocean among other unexpected wonders, and must resiliently survive the experience to complete their mission. This is exactly what we want to do in reality on Europa and Enceladus.

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NIAC Focus: Molecular Composition Analysis of Distant Targets

This drawing illustrates a system concept for investigating the molecular composition of a distant target, such as an asteroid or comet. A spacecraft is sent to the asteroid, and enters into orbit. Solar cells generate electricity that is used to power a laser, which is directed at the asteroid's surface. The laser will heat a spot on the surface, and very quickly material will begin to evaporate from the spot. The glow from the heated spot is visible at the spacecraft through the plume of evaporated material. Sensors in the spacecraft measure the intensity of light across a span of wavelengths; analysis of light intensity patterns provides information about materials in the plume of evaporated material. Credits: Mark Pryor (Vorticity, Inc.) , Gary B. Hughes (Cal Poly SLO)
This drawing illustrates a system concept for investigating the molecular composition of a distant target, such as an asteroid or comet. A spacecraft is sent to the asteroid, and enters into orbit. Solar cells generate electricity that is used to power a laser, which is directed at the asteroid’s surface. The laser will heat a spot on the surface, and very quickly material will begin to evaporate from the spot. The glow from the heated spot is visible at the spacecraft through the plume of evaporated material. Sensors in the spacecraft measure the intensity of light across a span of wavelengths; analysis of light intensity patterns provides information about materials in the plume of evaporated material.
Credits: Mark Pryor (Vorticity, Inc.) , Gary B. Hughes (Cal Poly SLO)

NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently selected 13 proposals for Phase I awards. Below is one from Gary Hughes of California Polytechnic State University.

Molecular Composition Analysis of Distant Targets

Gary Hughes
California Polytechnic State University

We propose a system capable of probing the molecular composition of cold solar system targets such as asteroids, comets, planets and moons from a distant vantage. Our concept utilizes a directed energy beam to vaporize or sublimate a spot on a distant target, such as from a spacecraft near the object. With sufficient flux, our published results indicate that the spot temperature rises rapidly, and evaporation of materials on the target surface occurs (Hughes et al., 2015; Lubin and Hughes, 2015; Lubin et al., 2014).

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NIAC Focus: Harvesting Propellant From Icy Moons

niac_icy_moon_propellant_harvester_vanwoerkom
NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently selected 13 proposals for Phase I awards. Below is the description of a propellant harvester submitted by Michael VanWoerkom of Exoterra Resource, LLC.

NIMPH: Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester

Michael VanWoerkom
Exoterra Resource, LLC

The latest Decadal Survey lists multiple sample return missions to the Moon, Mars and Jovian moons as high priority goals. In particular, a mission to Jupiter’s Europa is a top science goal as its liquid oceans holds the potential for discovery of extra-terrestrial life. However, using traditional techniques, these delta-V intensive missions result in large initial masses and have cost estimates in the $1-5B range.

To reduce the cost of these missions, ExoTerra taps into both the rapidly developing CubeSat industry, in-situ resource utilization, and the work being performed with high power solar arrays and electric propulsion under the asteroid redirect program. Combined, these offer the ability to drastically reduce the initial mass and cost of sample return missions.

ExoTerra’s NIMPH project develops a CubeSat scale in-situ resource utilization system that harvests water to enable low-cost sample return missions to icy moons through micro-landers. To exemplify the enabling capabilities of the technology, the project demonstrates the ability to conduct a sample return mission from Europa at an order of magnitude cost reduction.

During the effort, we develop the mission architecture and concept of operations, identifying key risks and mitigations. The project then performs the conceptual design of the key ISRU and micro-thruster technologies. Finally, the results of the design are fed into the conceptual design of the micro-lander used to collect and deliver the sample. Once the micro-lander and ISRU technologies are demonstrated, it offers the potential to perform sample return missions across the solar system at an affordable price.

Proposed Spacecraft Would Hop and Roll Over Asteroids, Moons

Spacecraft/rover hybrids (Credit: Marco Pavone)
Spacecraft/rover hybrids (Credit: Marco Pavone)

The NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NASA) program has awarded Marco Pavone of Stanford University a Phase II grant to continue development of small exploration vehicles that would hop and tumble across the surfaces of asteroids, moons and comets.

The spacecraft/rover hybrids would be deployed from a mother ship orbiting the body to be explored. Their movements would be controlled by three internal flywheels.

The award is worth up to $500,000. The earlier Phase I award was worth up to $100,000.

NASA awarded five NIAC Phase II contracts in this round of funding.

Pavone’s summary of the project follows.

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