The Interplanetary NanoSpacecraft Pathfinder In Relevant Environment (INSPIRE) project will demonstrate the revolutionary capability of deep space CubeSats by placing a nanospacecraft in Earth-escape orbit. Prior to any inclusion on larger planetary missions, CubeSats must demonstrate that they can operate, communicate, and be navigated far from Earth – these are the primary objectives of INSPIRE. Spacecraft components, such as the Iris X-band radio, and the robust watchdog system will provide the basis for future high-capability, lower-cost-risk missions beyond Earth. These components will enable Explorer, Discovery, and New Frontiers supplemental science and educational opportunities at destinations like Earth's Moon, asteroids, comets, Venus, Phobos or even Europa.
INSPIRE is funded by NASA's Planetary Science Division (PSD) as a collaboration between the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Polytechnic-San Luis Obispo (CalPoly), Goldstone-Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA), University of Michigan (UMich), and University of Texas-Austin (UTexas).
INSPIRE has hierarchical objectives, yielding flexibility for project development, and yielding mission success criteria with a gentle slope. In priority order:
- Open deep space to CubeSats
- Demonstrate fundamental CubeSat functionality in deep space: command & data handling telecommunication, and navigation
- Characterize CubeSat system performance (e.g., electronics, thermal) in the deep space environment
- Demonstrate mother-daughter mission architectures by relaying communications from one spacecraft, through the other, and on to Earth
- Open deep space to the broad CubeSat community
- Demonstrate the capability to support COTS/university processor subsystems in functioning despite upsets, by monitoring and power-cycling them
- Demonstrate the capability to reprogram such subsystems in flight
- Directly demonstrate the science utility of CubeSats in deep space through magnetometer measurements that are broadly recognized for potential use for both heliophysics and planetary science investigations.
Once proven, interplanetary CubeSats can provide multiple adjunct roles in support of deep-space human missions, e.g., external inspection of flight systems, "third viewpoint" observation of operations, advance reconnoitering of exploration sites, and continuous monitoring observations after humans depart a site. While CubeSats are widely recognized as a disruptive technology, programmatic missions on which their deep space development could piggyback are increasingly rare; and competitively selected PI-led missions are unlikely to incorporate CubeSat-platform based operations concepts until such platforms are demonstrated, yielding quantified heritage performance. INSPIRE will demonstrate several of the needed components for interplanetary NanoSpacecraft.
INSPIRE will carry two payloads to demonstrate the science utility of the platform: a helium-vector magnetometer, and an imager with payload processor running agile science algorithms. The potential exists for the INSPIRE spacecraft to supplement the 2014 Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) objectives of large-scale 3D-structure solar wind measurements with fine-scale observations obtained from the two slowly separating INSPIRE spacecraft.
Compact Vector-Helium Magnetometer
INSPIRE is a technology demonstration mission. Components and lessons-learned from the project will enable NanoSpacecraft exploration of the solar system.
The operations mission concept is shown below. Ground station dish antennas will be used at U. Michigan and Goldstone with DSN compatibility.