NASA review teams have begun to winnow more than 230 proposals from industry, universities and other organizations seeking to take part in the New Millennium program, an ambitious new effort by the U.S. space agency to develop and demonstrate revolutionary technologies needed for low-cost space science missions of the 21st century.
The process to select members for the program's Integrated Product Development Teams, which will oversee the development and delivery of selected advanced technologies for space flight testing, will be completed in early July.
The New Millennium program is a bold new NASA effort focused on development and validation in space of advanced technologies needed for a fleet of small spacecraft that will explore the solar system, monitor Earth and observe the cosmos. Constellations or networks of spacecraft, carrying instruments sometimes as small as a dime, will be designed to study phenomena occurring in Earth's atmosphere, oceans and land masses, as well as astronomical events in the solar system and beyond.
"Revolutionary technologies, spacecraft designs and operations concepts now undergoing review, will lead to a reduction of total mission costs and enhance the capabilities of Earth and space science missions in the next century," said Kane Casani, manager of the program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which was designated by NASA to manage the program.
The proposals now under review cover a wide range of imaginative technologies that will enable NASA to launch focused space and Earth science missions as often as once a month by early in the next century, Casani said.
The New Millennium program is structured around a series of space missions designed to validate new technologies and operations techniques through actual flight testing, much like a test track is used in the automobile industry. Mission concepts now being considered include flybys of asteroids and comets, Earth-observing networks and constellations, as well as a microlander destined for Mars, the moon or near-Earth asteroids.
One of the potential missions would use a solar electric propulsion system, responding to widespread interest in demonstrating this technology, given its small size and weight compared to traditional chemical propulsion systems.
These missions would demonstrate prototypes of highly sophisticated instruments designed to achieve specific scientific goals. One concept in review, for instance, is a free-flying interferometer, an optical science instrument that combines light from several telescopes that would be flying in formation with each other into one unified image. The mission would demonstrate the technologies and operating techniques for subsequent missions that should be able to detect and characterize planets in other solar systems.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory solicited proposals in April from industry, academia and nonprofit research organizations for membership on the Integrated Product Development Teams. That solicitation included four of the five New Millennium program primary areas of research and development: autonomy, microelectronics, communications, and modular architectures and multifunctional systems. Solicitation for the fifth area -instruments and micro, electro and mechanical systems -- was issued in mid-May.
The solicitation for proposals was mailed to 300 organizations and announced in Commerce Business Daily to ensure wide dissemination. The review teams received their copies of the proposals during the first week in May and gathered again in midMay to choose the candidates for review team site visits at the proposers' institutions. The site visits will be completed by the end of May. Selection of non-government team members will follow the site visits and final approval of the team members will be announced in June.
The New Millennium program is the core of the "better, faster, cheaper" philosophy of the Clinton Administration and NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin, who has stated that the program should precipitate a revolution in space science and exploration.
NASA will pick three demonstration missions developed by New Millennium program teams and announce those mission selections by the end of the summer. The first experimental mission will fly in late 1997 or early 1998 and the two remaining missions will follow at approximately one-year intervals.
"An important element of the program is the creation of partnerships with industry," Casani said. "These partnerships will be set up to identify and develop innovative technology solutions to NASA's needs. The approach is a departure from our traditional style in the past of subcontracting system and subsystem fabrication to private industry, based on designs developed by NASA."
The program will also draw on the involvement of small and disadvantaged businesses, academia and other government agencies, Casani added.
Working on the New Millennium program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with Kane Casani is Dr. Barbara Wilson, deputy manager of the program, and Dr. Ellen Stofan, program scientist.
The New Millennium program is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Office of Space Science, Office of Space Access and Technology, and Office of Mission to Planet Earth, Washington, D.C.
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