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: A solar eclipse sheds light on physics

Related Stories

Research could lead to biodegradable computer chips

45 minutes ago

Portable electronics - typically made of non-renewable, non-biodegradable and potentially toxic materials - are discarded at an alarming rate in consumers' pursuit of the next best electronic gadget.

Researchers find 'decoder ring' powers in micro RNA

47 minutes ago

MicroRNA can serve as a "decoder ring" for understanding complex biological processes, a team of New York University chemists has found. Their study, which appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, points ...

Squeezed quantum cats

54 minutes ago

ETH professor Jonathan Home and his colleagues reach deep into their bag of tricks to create so-called 'squeezed Schrödinger cats.' These quantum systems could be extremely useful for future technologies.

Recommended for you

Image: Europa's Jupiter-facing hemisphere

5 hours ago

This 12-frame mosaic provides the highest resolution view ever obtained of the side of Jupiter's moon Europa that faces the giant planet. It was obtained on Nov. 25, 1999 by the camera onboard the Galileo ...

A bubbly cosmic celebration

5 hours ago

In the brightest region of the nebula RCW 34, gas is heated and expands through the surrounding cooler gas. Once the heated hydrogen reaches the borders of the gas cloud, it bursts outwards into the vacuum ...

Image: XMM-Newton self-portraits with planet Earth

5 hours ago

This series of images was taken 15 years ago, a couple of months after the launch of ESA's XMM-Newton space observatory. These unique views, showing parts of the spacecraft main body and solar wings, feature ...

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.