Blog: New Space/Big Space

Today, private and government entities are able to leverage seventy years (starting in the 1950’s) of  rocket, spacecraft, computing, communications, and astrodynamics development.  Beyond the sheer romance of sailing the seas of space, what are the objectives?

Exploration certainly is uppermost in the mix, return to the moon, first manned missions to Mars, robotic missions to asteroids and the outer planets.  These are certainly worthy objectives, but lack the necessary sustainability and return on investment to attract commercial enterprise. Still there is much value a company such as FRS might provide in support of these grand plans.

Much more exciting is the “New Space” commercial movement using reduced cost and reduced size platforms, modern manufacturing, modeling and simulation to field what once were ambitious missions in Earth Observations and Communications.  Traditional satellite mission areas are being radicalized by the economic efficiency and mass savings in the explosion of small, standardized platforms that have become available.  One thing that never changes is the sensitivity of spacecraft design to mission objectives and payloads.  These requirements are ever variable, and slight changes, e.g. slew rates of sensors to scan different targets, may have a large impact on spacecraft performance.  This is the type of mission analysis that FRS provides.

Both New Space and the exploration oriented government space agencies are poised to build infrastructure to enable regular lunar visitation, e.g. the Lunar Outpost/Gateway.  Oddly, the pathways trod by Apollo era missions, using chemical rockets and impulse burns, are still the only proven trajectory approaches for Lunar transfer. Chemical rockets provide minimal time of flight, but the propellant mass cost is huge.  It is desirable to utilize more propellant efficient approaches such as low-thrust, high efficiency electric propulsion for regular logistics flights in cis-lunar space.  Much of the navigation design for low-thrust cis-lunar transit still lies in the realm of academic research and involves patching together multiple segments of pseudo-stable, non-linear orbits to achieve a transfer.  FRS has thoroughly researched this field, is leveraging the sophisticated tools provided by both academia and commercial modeling and simulation with the objective of developing a comprehensive, flight tested catalog of useful trajectory solutions for low-thrust transfers to and from well-identified stable orbits such as the lunar Distant Retrograde Orbit (DRO).

Beyond the Lunar Mission domain, the ability to prospect and exploit the resources of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) is tantalizing.  This ability lies just one step beyond and is complementary to development of infrastructure targeted at Lunar exploration/exploitation, and one step beyond the trajectory solutions for cis-lunar space.  The unknowns are manifold, unsymmetrical weak gravity fields, surface out-gassing and particle ejection.  Significant autonomy is required.  FRS is actively researching missions requirements and architectures for transit to and rendezvous with various NEOs and the necessary proximity operations about them.

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