Thinking out of the box: How to challenge conventional space systems

Feb 10, 2006

Spacecraft must evolve. Advancing space research is no longer just about swapping old components for new, now it is about entirely rethinking what a space mission can do and how it achieves its goals. World experts are gathering at ESA on 21 February to exchange new ideas and stimulate unconventional thinking about space systems.

"We think that the future of spaceflight is in using new systems, new architectures and exploring technologies to reinvent the design of space missions," says Dario Izzo of ESA's Advanced Concepts Team (ACT).

With that sentiment in mind, experts will come to ESTEC, ESA's research and technology establishment, for a day of intense brainstorming. They will discuss new ways of: using spindly tethers that pull electrical power out of space to explore the fascinating moons and planets of the outer Solar System, using advanced propulsion to send spacecraft to deflect dangerous asteroids or go beyond the solar system, using a swarm of tiny satellites in formation to synthesise large structures such as telescopes and sails, and designing constellations of satellites that behave like rigid objects in space mocking Kepler's Laws.

"This workshop will discuss some of the missions and enabling architectures that could fly in space in 20–30 years' time. We will explore new approaches as to how space missions can be built, controlled or executed", says Roger Walker, one of the co-organisers of the event.

One focus of the workshop will be the coordinated motion of satellite swarms. Primitive goal-oriented instincts will be coded into the control system of each satellite, guiding it to complete a small task, whilst remaining unaware that a more complex undertaking is being achieved collectively. This is how ants and termites behave in nature. In this way, a satellite swarm may be given a collective intelligence, allowing it to achieve useful tasks in space.

Large structures could be built, or many satellites could fly in formation to simulate the performance of much larger apertures than can be launched, whole, into space. Or the satellites might work in a coordinated way to explore many asteroids, providing a large cross section of comparable information rather than a snapshot of just one asteroid as happens with current missions.

Izzo hopes that some of the ideas discussed will lead to future studies for the agency. "Other talks will simply open people's minds to the many possibilities on offer for future missions," he says.

Source: ESA

Explore further: We're not alone—but the universe may be less crowded than we think

Related Stories

Image: Modeling Gaia's avionics on the ground

18 hours ago

A full-size working model of Gaia's internal systems arrived in Germany this week. The Avionics Model is mounted in a circular set-up representing the systems on the actual satellite, now orbiting the Sun–Earth ...

NASA missions monitor a waking black hole

Jun 30, 2015

NASA's Swift satellite detected a rising tide of high-energy X-rays from the constellation Cygnus on June 15, just before 2:32 p.m. EDT. About 10 minutes later, the Japanese experiment on the International ...

Sentinel-2A completes critical first days in space

Jun 29, 2015

June 26 marked the end of Sentinel-2A's first three days in space, which saw teams on the ground working around the clock to ensure the spacecraft is ready for its 'colour vision' mission.

Recommended for you

Rosetta spacecraft sees sinkholes on comet

11 hours ago

The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft first began orbiting comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August 2014. Almost immediately, scientists began to wonder about several surprisingly deep, almost perfectly ...

Observing the birth of a planet

12 hours ago

Astronomers at ETH Zurich have confirmed the existence of a young giant gas planet still embedded in the midst of the disk of gas and dust surrounding its parent star. For the first time, scientists are able ...

Me and my world: The human factor in space

13 hours ago

The world around us is defined by how we interact with it. But what if our world was out of this world? As part of NASA's One-Year Mission, researchers are studying how astronauts interact with the "world" ...

Radar guards against space debris

15 hours ago

Space debris poses a growing threat to satellites and other spacecraft, which could be damaged in the event of a collision. A new German space surveillance system, schedu- led to go into operation in 2018, will help to prevent ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

nilbud
not rated yet Nov 30, 2007
Set off a massive bomb on the moon and blow house sized chunks of moonrock into orbit. Hollow them out, paint the interior with sealant and slap a rocket on the back.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.