The coming revolution in spacecraft development has just about arrived at JPL.
Called the New Millennium, the proposed program of increased missions and launches - at reduced costs - was allocated $30 million for fiscal 1996 as part of NASA's proposed budget.
The concept was detailed by Kane Casani, manager of the New Millennium study; Dr. Ellen Stofan, study scientist; and Dr. Barbara Wilson, study deputy manager, in a late-December discussion in von Karman Auditorium.
"In the next century, we want to create a virtual presence in space by sending out a fleet or armada of spacecraft to collect and return data," Casani explained. "This will enable us to recreate the universe here on Earth."
The realization of this vision is based on significantly increasing the rate at which spacecraft are launched. "Today, we launch about once a decade," Casani noted. The goal is at least one flight each month.
Current mission costs total $300 million to $500 million for the launch vehicle alone, he pointed out. "So, we'll need to use smaller vehicles that run $20 million to $30 million. We'll also need to decrease the number of people needed to fly the spacecraft."
Mission operations staff grabs some 30 percent of each mission's budget. "We must automate the machine so it requires less human attention," Casani maintained. A "bold and challenging" program that will enable this vision, New Millennium is based on taking "quantum steps and not just improvements in technology. We're talking about a technological revolution."
The program calls for utilizing microspacecraft and micro instruments in order to use smaller launch vehicles. To cut operations staff, New Millennium will develop more intelligent spacecraft, onboard autonomy, robotic spacecraft and shorter flight time. "This will enable us to accomplish our vision for the 21st century," he said. In creating the program, the New Millennium science working group - comprising astrophysicists, space physicists, planetary scientists and terrestrial scientists - was established to define the driving missions for the next century. The group identified the primary science questions and high-priority science missions.
The scientists also offered a series of basic questions they hoped these missions would address: What is the origin and evolution of the universe? How do young stars and planetary systems form and evolve? How does the Earth's dynamic system change? How did life on Earth form, and can it be sustained over long periods? How did the solar system form? It is these questions, Stofan noted, that "drive us to go out and explore the universe." That calls for new ways of doing business.
"We have to move from the old method of sending a single spacecraft out as observers, to having a virtual presence with multiple spacecraft operating solar system wide. "New Millennium thinking leads us from the notion of reconnaissance to a detailed exploration of planetary bodies," she said. "We must use technology to enhance our capabilities and enable affordable missions."
New ways of doing business also mean that instead of conventional contracting with industry, JPL would actually form partnerships, she noted. Instead of multiple-objective spacecraft, future exploration calls for focused objective science craft. "That may mean that the entire spacecraft would be designed around a single experiment or science objective." Instead of large ground operations staff, the spacecraft would have more onboard autonomy.
"We would move from risk avoidance to risk management, from creating data that are used only by researchers to having information widely available to the public," Stofan explained. Missions of the future that drive the New Millennium program include a Mars network of spacecraft, outer planet orbiters, landers on satellites, solar probes or orbiters, Earth- observing network missions, networks of magnetosphere and ionospheric mapping satellites, multiple spacecraft interferometer constellations to detect and image extra solar planets, and extreme outer solar system reconnaissance missions, according to Stofan.
"Our vision for the 21st century is to establish a virtual presence in space, as well as access new frontiers to expand our scientific understanding of the universe. The exploration that has occurred during the past 20 to 30 years has accelerated our desire and our need. We must continue to move forward," she maintained.
This vision will enable JPL to access a wide range of targets. "The idea of using networks and constellations of spacecraft allows us to address dynamic and complex systems in ways we thought unachievable due to cost. "The capability to launch one spacecraft each month allows rapid implementation of any new capability you come up with, as well as rapid response to targets of interest." She conceded that this vision is ambitious. "We're talking about multiple spacecraft operating simultaneously, as well as spacecraft being sent across the solar system in the 21st century.
"The reality is that missions must not exceed $250 million. That means spacecraft mass must be significantly decreased. "We think the answer is miniaturization - which must be done without losing capability - and infusing technology such that we have autonomy and intelligent flight systems that enable cheaper operation of the spacecraft," Stofan offered. Wilson defined the required capabilities that will make the new vision work. Should missions call for planetary or comet and asteroid exploration, capabilities include aero-capture, networks of small spacecraft, landers, sample acquisition and analysis, she explained.
The New Millennium approach cites the need to work toward affordable micro instruments for doing in situ analysis "so that one isn't always required to bring samples back," Wilson added. In the general area of flight systems, Wilson noted that the highest priority seems to be emerging in terms of onboard autonomy; new, more affordable approaches to operating the spacecraft; station keeping and precision control of clusters and networks; more efficient, non-nuclear energy collection and storage and high-energy density storage onboard the spacecraft.
"Providing these necessary capabilities will only be possible through an accelerated infusion of new technologies," Wilson noted. "We need a focused development of these key technologies and flight validation of their performance. This provides the motivation for the program." New Millennium adopts a unique approach that incorporates the final stages of technology development and flight validation in a single program. Furthermore, the technologies will be validated in a science-return mode in order to confirm definitively their readiness to be baselined for future science-demonstration missions.
While many technologies can enhance mission capabilities, the focus of the New Millennium Program will be on revolutionary breakthroughs that offer significant mission cost reductions, enable frequent missions, and address the "tall poles" for space exploration in the 21st century. A preliminary list of such critical technologies includes:
o Advanced flight computers utilizing 3D packaging and
other approaches that reduce the size and power requirements for
high-speed data processing on board.
o Onboard autonomy or new ways to operate multiple spacecraft, including autonomous navigation and closed-loop feature tracking; also, self commanding and health monitoring must be done on board, instead of requiring ground in the loop; information system architecture that can be migrated back and forth between the ground and the spacecraft.
o Compact battery technologies.
o Emerging micro electrical mechanical systems whereby electronics and other types of functionality, such as the sensors, as well as mechanical and optical devices are integrated on a chip.
o Instruments that can be used in situ.
o A planetary integrated camera spectrometer that multiplexes part of the system, enabling a range of measurements in a small package.
o A next-generation charge coupled deviceÑthe active pixel sensor that drastically reduces power, size and complexity for imaging.
o Concepts in reducing X-ray spectrometers, and for interferometry, a large baseline optical gyro, precision metrology and autonomous station keeping.
Casani finished the presentation by explaining how the concept will be implemented. "We'll embark on a series of demonstration flights between 1995 and 2000, carried out through partnerships with industry, whereby industry will even own part of the product itself.
"We're forming industry/government working groups, with a planned session in early February - all aimed at involving industry more closely in a cooperative way. We're looking to Small Disadvantaged Businesses, and annual New Millennium workshops that will solicit the best new technology concepts, as well as stimulate and encourage participation from all sectors of the science and technology community."
Casani and his staff are forming integrated product- development teams in microelectronics, autonomy, instruments and microelectromechanical systems. Members will come from NASA, industry, other government agencies, and universities. "Laid across those teams is the program design itself, which will be done in a concurrent engineering environment in JPL's Project Design Center," Casani said. "We'll design each flight here, for the first three to four demonstration flights. "We'll look at different mission sets, including small body, interferometer and microlanders, and evaluate their technology richness and commercialization value. How much money is spent in operations? What is the science value, and how does it contribute to qualifying the hardware at hand?
Casani explained that the program will produce 12 or more sample mission sets that are compatible with schedule and budget. "These will be reviewed with NASA Headquarters, and we're planning to have them complete by the end of February. By early April, we'll do a more refined pass, with Headquarters selecting the final mission set.
In summary, Casani said: "The vision for 21st century is come into focus and the technologies needed to realize that vision are on the horizon and through a series of technology validation flights we can make the vision a reality. Now is the time for this learning organization to move into the new millennium."