In a step towards developing smarter spacecraft, NASA has selected three advanced technologies and providers for its next New Millennium Program test flight project.
The technologies will fly on three different spacecraft in 2004. They make up the Space Technology 6 project, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The technologies promise to enable future spacecraft to have greater control over onboard decision making, allow two spacecraft to get close and personal, and give a spacecraft improved ability to autonomously detect its location and maintain its attitude.
"We are pushing the envelope and pursuing technologies that have the potential to significantly benefit future space science missions by providing new capabilities or significantly reducing the cost of current capabilities," said Dr. Christopher Stevens, program manager of the New Millennium Program at JPL. "We are taking controlled risks now so that the future first-time users won't have to."
The total NASA funding for the Space Technology 6 flight-validation opportunity is $24.8 million. This includes the cost for all three technologies and all phases of the project. The selected technologies and providers are:
-- Scientific Systems Company, Inc., Woburn, Mass. - (Autonomous Rendezvous in Low-Earth Orbit) This high-precision autonomous rendezvous system will allow two spacecraft to approach and meet each other in close proximity. This technology could significantly enhance in-space rendezvous for future sample return missions. Scientific Systems Company's contributing partners include the NASA Mars Program at JPL and the Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. The technology will be tested on the Air Force's XSS-11 Microsat, scheduled for launch in 2004.
-- Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. - (Autonomous Sciencecraft Constellation) This software will give a future spacecraft unprecedented decision-making capabilities, allowing it to process data onboard, make intelligent decisions to downlink data that it deems scientifically important, and choose science observations that appear interesting. The software will fly on the Air Force's TechSat-21 constellation planned for launch in 2004. The Air Force Research Laboratory will manage TechSat-21.
-- The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc., Cambridge, Mass. - (Low Power Avionics Sensor Suite) A miniature star camera and microscopic gyro will enable a spacecraft to determine its orientation whether it is spinning or stable. It will also enable a spacecraft to sense its position and recover its orientation after a power loss. This ultra-low power and low weight technology will enable new concepts in development of nanosatellites and free up room for science instrument payloads on large or medium class spacecraft. The "Hitchhiker Canister" payload was selected to carry the technology experiment aboard a Space Shuttle mission in 2004. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., manages the Hitchhiker program.
The New Millennium Program was created in 1994 to identify, develop and flight-validate advanced technologies that can lower costs and enable critical performance of science missions in the 21st century.
A recent success for the program was the Deep Space 1 spacecraft, which snapped the best close-up pictures ever of a comet as it flew by comet Borrelly last month. Launched in October 1998, Deep Space 1 completed its New Millennium Program flight-validation objectives that successfully demonstrated the capabilities of ion propulsion and 11 other technologies, including autonomous navigation. The spacecraft has lived three times its expected lifespan.
Further information on the New Millennium Program is available at http://nmp.jpl.nasa.gov .
The New Millennium Program is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Earth Science and Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.