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NASA Space Technology

NASA Builds a Cheap Standardized Space Probe 123

Posted by samzenpus
from the now-featuring-walls dept.
TangAddict writes "Dr. Alan Weston, who previously invented bungee jumping, led a team of scientists at NASA Ames Research Center to build a $4 million spacecraft in less than two years. The Modular Common Spacecraft Bus is designed to accept payloads of up to 50kg. and can be used for a variety of missions including a rendezvous with asteroids, orbiting Earth or Mars, and landing on the moon. When NASA officials saw the first flight test, they offered Weston and his team $80 million to use their design for the LADEE mission, which will gather dust and atmosphere samples from the moon in 2011."
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NASA Builds a Cheap Standardized Space Probe

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  • by infonography (566403) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @12:35AM (#23333758) Homepage
    I was just asking.
  • by The Late BP Helium (997125) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @12:41AM (#23333800)
    This is the first time I've heard of technology that's DESIGNED to gather dust. Usually that just happens by accident.
    • by turing_m (1030530) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @12:49AM (#23333868)
      All technology is designed to gather dust... eventually. It's called 'functional obsolescence'. The breakthrough development that separates this technology from previous technologies (such as the C64 in your attic and the 64MB thumb drive lodged somewhere behind your monitor) is that this gathers dust right away. Since this gathers dust virtually immediately, you can theoretically sell dust gatherers to consumers at a vastly increased rate.
      • All technology is designed to gather dust... eventually. It's called 'functional obsolescence'. The breakthrough development that separates this technology from previous technologies (such as the C64 in your attic and the 64MB thumb drive lodged somewhere behind your monitor) is that this gathers dust right away. Since this gathers dust virtually immediately, you can theoretically sell dust gatherers to consumers at a vastly increased rate.

        So what you're saying is that we gather huge clouds of solar dust and create Earth 2, then use E2 to manufacture more dust gathering devices (infinite creation loop). In all reality, if the probes were used for this, would they one day be worshiped as providers, or feared as they gather the planets much to close, and start another star right next to Wallstreet? I guess this depends on how much time the coder took writing the AI. Are we thinking Skynet, or Rosie from the Jetsons'?

    • $4million$ (Score:5, Insightful)

      by quenda (644621) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @01:11AM (#23334014)
      > a $4 million dollar spacecraft

      So what's a square dollar worth these days?

      (this _is_ news for nerds)
    • by Tablizer (95088)
      This is the first time I've heard of technology that's DESIGNED to gather dust. Usually that just happens by accident.

      There's a difference between becoming dust and gathering dust.
           
    • Re:Pandaemonium (Score:5, Informative)

      by Zoxed (676559) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @03:22AM (#23334596) Homepage
      OK, you were probably going for Funny mods, but the Stardust Spacecraft [wikipedia.org] was also designed to gather dust (I am not sure if it was the first ).
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Never heard about vacuum cleaners? Your mum would be delighted to let you both meet...
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      $4 million for a vacuum cleaner?
    • I guess you've never heard of a something called a vacuum cleaner? I hear they're really useful for collecting dust, food crumbs, paperclips, rubberbands and lot's of interesting things.
  • LADEE (Score:3, Funny)

    by vought (160908) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @12:43AM (#23333818)
    From the summary:

    .... they offered Weston and his team $80 million to use their design for the LADEE mission, which will gather dust....
    Well, if they're just going to let it sit around, I'll take it.
    • Re:LADEE (Score:4, Informative)

      by jkua (1159581) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @01:09AM (#23334002)

      The summary is incorrect - Weston was not offered $80 million for the design, NASA simply wanted to use their design for an $80 million dollar mission.

      From TFA:

      When high-ranking NASA officials saw a flight test, they were impressed enough to include the team in an $80 million dollar mission to the moon.
      Which makes far more sense - why would NASA pay money for a design that was developed with its own money?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Half-pint HAL (718102)

        I thought there was something funny there. $4 million spacecraft. $80 million. =>20 spacecraft? Unlikely.

        But what you said makes more sense.

        Of course, I could have read TFA myself, but why bother duplicate effort when someone else has already read it?

        I call this philosophy Slashdot OpenRTFA.

        HAL.

      • by AlHunt (982887)

        The summary is incorrect - Weston was not offered $80 million for the design, NASA simply wanted to use their design for an $80 million dollar mission. From TFA:

        When high-ranking NASA officials saw a flight test, they were impressed enough to include the team in an $80 million dollar mission to the moon.

        Which makes far more sense - why would NASA pay money for a design that was developed with its own money?

        In government-ese it just makes more sense to pay $80M for something you already bought once fo

  • How about, lets say, $20M?
  • Bullshit! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Vectronic (1221470)
    "Dr. Alan Weston, who previously invented bungee jumping"

    Yeah, and I invented bicycle jumping... and I was a mere 7 years old...

    He may have helped (along with some others) re-invent it, or modernize it... but he did not invent it...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MidnightBrewer (97195)
      Yes, ignoring the entire country of New Zealand and its native Maori, who have been using vines to bungee jump from wooden towers for hundreds of years, it's possible that he invented it.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Oldav (533444)
        I think they only count when it is humans, rather than Kiwi's.......(:
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by edcheevy (1160545)
        Everyone knows Kiwis don't bungee jump, they bungee fall (very different, of course) because gravity is opposite down there. Or something like that... ;)
      • Re:Bullshit! (Score:5, Informative)

        by yuda (704374) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @02:07AM (#23334304)
        It wasn't the Maori that pioneered bungy jumping, it was the 'land divers' of Pentecost Island in Vanuatu that pioneered it. It was first filmed in the '50s by David Attenborough and the first credited bungee jump using modern materials was done by the 'Dangerous Sports Club' which included Dr. Alan Weston in 1979. Later A.J Hackett of New Zealand pioneered the commercial bungee jump operation

        So the article is slightly inaccurate and perhaps should have said: "Dr. Alan Weston, who previously help pioneer modern bungee jumping".

        And yes wikipedia is my firend
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Walt Dismal (534799)
      The article misquotes. You see Dr. Weston was the first to invent bungee LAUNCHING of spacecraft. On the first low-cost launch, Mission Control was heard to say "WHEEEOOOO!!!!!! What a rush!!!". On the other hand, the astronauts inside the vehicle had other words to describe the experience. As this is a family newspaper, we cannot quote them here in full. However. Dr. Weston's mother was mentioned.
      • Re:Bullshit! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 08, 2008 @06:59AM (#23335464)
        About misquotes...

        Article:
        When high-ranking NASA officials saw a flight test, they were impressed enough to include the team in an $80 million dollar mission to the moon.

        Slashdot story:
        When NASA officials saw the first flight test, they offered Weston and his team $80 million to use their design

        Ask Weston if he can tell the difference ;)
  • by Dannkape (1195229) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @12:50AM (#23333870)
    Seriously, why didn't they start with this like 20 years ago? Basic platform with propulsion, power and communication, with a few slots for special equipment, like cameras, radars, sample collection, or whatever is needed for that probe?
    • Two words: (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 08, 2008 @12:52AM (#23333884)

      Seriously, why didn't they start with this like 20 years ago? Basic platform with propulsion, power and communication, with a few slots for special equipment, like cameras, radars, sample collection, or whatever is needed for that probe?
      Gentoo users.
    • Try 30 years ago (Score:5, Informative)

      by GileadGreene (539584) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @02:38AM (#23334428) Homepage
      Around 30 years ago NASA was messing with the Multimission Modular Spacecraft (MMS) [nasa.gov], which was in use for 10+ years [nasa.gov]. Some 10 years ago there was a lot of activity around the highly modular SMEX-Lite [nasa.gov] bus for smaller missions. On the other side of the pond, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. [sstl.co.uk] has been doing cheap, highly modular spacecraft buses since the early 1980s. The US DoD and its various contractors have played with the idea at various times in the last couple of decades as well, most recently in the guise of "operationally responsive space" and "plug-and-play spacecraft". Needless to say, the concept is not particularly new. It just waxes and wanes in popularity depending on what kind of tradeoffs between mission cost and mission performance are acceptable.
    • by John Meacham (1112) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @02:51AM (#23334480) Homepage
      We did start with this 20 years ago. We had 5 pioneers, a handful of rangers, a pair of voyagers and so forth. Every one of those was a learning experience getting us to the point we are today. We are now at a point that we are relatively confident enough in our abilities and have enough knowledge about what will and won't work to go forward with a generic platform. This _is_ the cumulation of 20 years of working on the problem of space exploration.
    • by DerekLyons (302214) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .retawriaf.> on Thursday May 08, 2008 @03:44AM (#23334700) Homepage

      Seriously, why didn't they start with this like 20 years ago? Basic platform with propulsion, power and communication, with a few slots for special equipment, like cameras, radars, sample collection, or whatever is needed for that probe?

      They've started with it, and subsequently dropped it, multiple times. Mostly because this is one of those ideas that seems great on paper, but doesn't actually work out too well in real life.
       
      Some probes need 3 axis stabilization, others can simply spin, yet others can use gravity gradient. Some probes need to dissipate a lot of heat from their instruments, others much less. One probe has a handful of instruments each the size of your PC desktop, another probe has a single instrument the size of a small car. Etc... Etc...
       
      The number of possible permutations is simply too large to be accommodated by any single standard bus, or even a reasonable number of standardized buses. To get an idea of the scale of the problem - imagine trying to base every wheeled vehicle on the road from an 18-wheeler down to a motor scooter off of a single standard bus
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      If your launch cost is huge, then the (relatively) small cost of customising your craft to get a slight optimisation in usage is irrelevant.

      It is only when launching a sattelite becomes more affordable that it starts to make sense and accept some compromises with a generic platform.
    • As a matter of fact it's not so new an idea. The same basic Mariner probe was used for missions to Mars, Venus and Mercury in the seventies. Similarly, ESA recently followed up Mars Express with Venus Express, a suspiciously similar spaceprobe.
    • by Detritus (11846) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @07:07AM (#23335490) Homepage
      They've tried, but it has never been popular with the people who build new satellites. They're not adverse to stealing good designs from existing satellites. The problem with "one size fits all" is that it's often a poor fit. They would rather tailor the satellite to the mission.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by CraftyJack (1031736)
      Because there was never enough volume (numerical) to justify a modular approach. Modularity carries a weight penalty in the form of interfaces, unused slots, underutilized features, etc. A modular platform will generally be heavier and bulkier than a custom-built system. That can be unattractive when you're dealing with the mass, volume, and cost constraints of a launch vehicle.
  • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @12:51AM (#23333876)
    It's been so long since these guys used common sense in looking at budgets and what they could do with them, it's a damned fine refreshing change.

    If only this "lets make the best with what we have while someone else tries to get us more" approach would filter through to more government bodies/groups.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by QuantumG (50515) *
      Watch as this project never sees use.

      Pork belly politics doesn't work this way.

      • The simple fact is that many of the previous NASA projects build upon common arch.:
        1. The 2 Mars rovers.
        2. The Mars Vikings.
        3. The pioneer series.
        4. The Voyager series.

        Etc, etc, etc.
        The simple fact is, that NASA does tend to use common arch. but it also has it downfall. THe original Mars Polar Lander and the aborted Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander had common arch. Of course the 2001 lander became the new Pheonix, that is inbound to mars as we write.

        Even this probe will only be used for a few missions, to as many as

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday May 08, 2008 @12:55AM (#23333906) Homepage Journal
    Suppose you were to ask NASA why they don't provide the complete blueprints for their spacecraft to the general public.. not the launch vehicles mind you, the actual spacecraft - there's no national security concerns here. They'll tell you that they don't *own* the blueprints.. the companies they contract to do. So if you ask them why they don't demand the blueprints when they contract for the spacecraft, they'll tell you that this would cost more. So they're saving money by not demanding the blueprints.

    This, of course, is crazy. If they were to demand blueprints from the contractor for the first model of a particular spacecraft and then make those blueprints available to the general public then, the next time they want to contract for a similar spacecraft, they'll find there are a whole mess of companies lining up to bid.. and to bid very low indeed - as they don't have to spend all that money designing a basic spacecraft - they don't have to re-invent the wheel.

    As the bids are so much lower, NASA could then start asking for more capable spacecraft.. and quickly a publicly owned repository of blueprints would be built up that all the various contractors could work with.

    But instead, we get million dollar spacecraft from the same 3 contractors, over and over again. No standardization, no spin-offs for other purposes.

    • by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @01:46AM (#23334190) Homepage Journal
      I'm not sure about the veracity of your statements, but I would conjecture that the blueprints would be nothing more than very cool wallpaper as most craft built to date have been ad hoc creations to house specific instruments with specific needs. The new design will no doubt save money but the instruments will now have to be shoe-horned into that architecture. And that may very well work for the most part.

      In addition, here is a site that people should be aware of. It is a database of all the NASA tech that has been spun off into private industry [nasa.gov]. For instance, JPL developed shake testers to test spacecraft and instruments for their ability to withstand launch stress. Now JPL buys their shake testers from a an outside company.
      • by coldmist (154493)
        Shake tester?

        Can I have that job? I like chocolate, strawberry, and marshmallow. I will even eat shakes made with oreos or candy bar chunks.

        I think I qualify as an "outside company" ;)
      • by khallow (566160)
        And of course that site doesn't list the technologies that would have been developed anyway and the technologies that weren't developed because of how NASA expended its resources. The fallacy here is that the benefits are easy to point out (even if it turns out to be hard to put a value on them), the costs, particularly opportunity costs, are not.
    • by Detritus (11846)
      Reality called, she wanted to know why you no longer visit her.

      Not everything in this world is the result of a conspiracy. There are national security concerns for anything involving space flight. Any release of technology has to be approved by an export control officer.

      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by QuantumG (50515) *

        Not everything in this world is the result of a conspiracy.
        I never said or implied it was.

        There are national security concerns for anything involving space flight. Any release of technology has to be approved by an export control officer.
        Wow, kinda sounds like people are conspiring to keep that information secret.

        • by Detritus (11846)
          It's the result of bureaucracy. After several incidents where militarily useful technology was improperly transferred to the wrong people, and heads rolled, they decided to require the approval of an export control officer for all transfers of technology. It's more paperwork, but it's supposed to prevent a repetition of earlier mistakes.
    • It doesn't work that way. They don't build NASA spacecraft from blue prints because NASA does not launch enough of the same kind. Every mission is different. Also NASA simmple does not launch many spacecraft. If you look at numbers launched the DoD is a much larger user of space. The Military has missions queued up and lauches at a rather high rate. And they are able to take advantage of this. For example GPS spacecraft are built in "blocks" of identical units. It is not quite an automotice style as
  • NASA is buying a $4 million satellite from itself for $80 million? That is going to be one awesome $76 million dollar launch party, except for all the rocket scientist dweebs hanging around at it.
  • It will get hacked, and grow into a race of transformers that come back to earth to take over. I've seen it in the movies. Be very scared!
           
  • Scan to the bottom of this link, and you'll see the budget:
    http://armadilloaerospace.com/n.x/Armadillo/Home/News?news_id=357 [armadilloaerospace.com]

    $4M for some scuba gear with ambition or $3.5M for the real thing? Hmm...

  • Have they cleared these for use on ice planets like Hoth? The previous model defended itself valiantly against a group of insurgents before finally succumbing to the ol' "you draw it out and I'll sneak around and nail it from the side" tactic. Lord Vader will not be pleased if the upgrade does not solve this problem.
  • I guess it will be running Linux, of course.
  • "The Modular Common Spacecraft Bus is designed to accept payloads of up to 50kg.

    I've taken dumps bigger than that.

  • I suppose he will have a bungee cord attached to make the probe automatically return to earth?
  • When I was younger I expected rockets, as a way of launching objects to space, would be quickly replaced by other means.

    Maybe a combination of balloons for the first Kms and some kind of land based laser for the rest?

    I don't know, but rockets seem kind of old technology. Like finding musketeers in Civ when you already have tanks.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by maxume (22995)
      Look up the launch mass of small satellite. Bringing it up 1 mile with a balloon would be a non trivial endeavor, and then you are a whole 0.0045% closer to geosynchronous orbit.
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @06:29AM (#23335350)
    Otherwise they wouldn't be able to manufacture highly complex microchips, lasers etc simply because western companies were too mean to build the stuff in the west. Naturally all the knowledge the chinese gain from making this stuff will reach the chinese military so who frankly is surprised they're building a GPS rival? And if they're anything like the japanese it'll probably be *better* than the orginal.
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @06:51AM (#23335432)
    This idea of doing spacecraft on the cheap comes up every few years.

    In general, it's poor economy.

    You see you have the fixed cost of the rocket, launchpad, and launch team. Many tens of millions of dollars. Even if you drove the spacecraft cost down to zero, it won't affect the total very much.

    Meanwhile all the cost is at risk if the spacecraft fails.

    In general it's penny wise and pound foolish to economize on the spacecraft.

    • by khallow (566160)

      You see you have the fixed cost of the rocket, launchpad, and launch team. Many tens of millions of dollars. Even if you drove the spacecraft cost down to zero, it won't affect the total very much.

      I don't see why you make that claim. According to Wikipedia, the cost of developing, building, and launching the Mars Exploration Rover and running it for the first 90 days was $820 million. They got a deal on two Delta II launches for $50 million each [www.mars.tv] and missions operations and scientific processing was $75 million. The cost of the launchpad is bundled into that of the rocket. So we have $175 million (including missions ops) instead of $820 million, if the rovers were provided free. I've looked at other

      • You're right if you pick very expensive projects like Hubble, the launch costs are not a large part of the total, so cutting the project cost would be a big win.

        That is, if you get the same reliability with going the cheaper route. Which if you remember, circumstantially, did not work out so well for Hubble.

        Another point I forgot to mention is the opportunity cost-- if you can only launch every 18 months to hit Mars, there's a disproportionate cost to launching something that may take 18 months to fail

  • The moon's _atmosphere_?
    Boy, those Apollo astronauts might actually have been up there, what with the waving flag and all!

    [Readers are strongly advised to turn their irony detectors on]
  • Take this statement...

    Dr. Alan Weston...led a team of scientists at NASA Ames Research Center to build a $4 million dollar spacecraft

    and this one...

    [NASA] offered Weston and his team $80 million to use their design

    and put them together.

    Sounds to me like NASA bought a design created by NASA researchers for a mere 20x the cost to make it in the first place?

    What the hell?

  • by FurtiveGlancer (1274746) <.AdHocTechGuy. .at. .aol.com.> on Thursday May 08, 2008 @08:23AM (#23335856) Journal

    A common satellite bus is a good thing, but it does not constitute a viable spacecraft. Like a transit bus that never carries passengers, it serves no useful purpose. The payload has always been the driving element in any satellite or probe, in schedule, budget and trade-offs. And rightfully so IMHO. I believe that's why a common bus hasn't been succesful in the past. Both NASA and the DoD have tried, but the needs of the payload outweigh the needs of the bus.

    The Space Ground Link System, SGLS (note to self: submit wikipedia page in copious spare time) is analagous to a common satellite bus protocol at the physical to network layers and provides some commonality of bus structure for DoD satellites. The upper protocol layers vary but the foundation is the same.

    Ask anyone who's worked in the essential, but unglamorous world of satellite control. Their biggest problem is upgrading the control network quickly enough to satisfy all the new requirements of the next big launch. New datalink frequencies, stronger encryption, faster throughput rates, etc. All the while, they have to maintain the capability to control and pamper the oldest bird flying and monitor everything in between.

    It's not a bad thing that satellites outlive their design life, but it has to be considered when operating and budgeting for the control network.

    • by khallow (566160)

      The payload has always been the driving element in any satellite or probe, in schedule, budget and trade-offs. And rightfully so IMHO. I believe that's why a common bus hasn't been succesful in the past. Both NASA and the DoD have tried, but the needs of the payload outweigh the needs of the bus.

      Mission is the driving element. Payload is dictated by what you're trying to do. As I see it, with the traditional one-off designs, the primary mission is to sink or invest (depending on your point of view) a bunch of money into R&D groups rather than deploy payload. There isn't a mission that couldn't benefit from economies of scale, namely, making multiple copies (in excess of the usual one or two) of the probe and using all of them.

  • by Comboman (895500) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @08:30AM (#23335896)
    I hope the probe is spherical, because a globe-shaped space device designed to suck up dust would logically be called ... a Dyson Sphere.
  • I hope NASA is making money off the piss-me-off Accord ads at the beginning of the videos. If not, NASA needs to release their videos under a creative commons license.

    It bothers me that a tax supported institution is giving "exclusive" video to Wired so it can run ads in front of it. Ads in the story is OK because Wired wrote the story. I didn't bother reading the story so I didn't bother reading their print ads. The vids were all I wanted to see and I didn't watch any after the first because of the ad

  • by Big Smirk (692056) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @08:34AM (#23335930)

    At least by 1990, NASA, DOD and Fairchild/Orbital used to run a system called "Multi Mission Modular Satellite".

    So what have they done? For 4 million they built a prototype that will never work in space? Notice that when they were added to some other project the total real project price was $80M - and I'm not so sure that includes launch vehicle (ie the rocket).

    Back in the day, the radio receiver (arguably the most critical part of a satellite) was $2 million all by itself. It had to be radiation hardened (cosmic rays) and work flawlessly for 5+ years. If something really went wrong, the receiver would send the pulses that actually re-booted or reset the other on board computers.

    Also satellites that have instruments, like the hubble, need to point very precisely at stars - the instruments to do this are very expensive, the controls that orient the satellites are relatively cheap - but you have to buy extra (redundancy).

    Imagine this, the Hubble Space Telescope has to point at a spot in space for long time - once for 1 million seconds ( Hubble Site [hubblesite.org]) During that period of time, the solar arrays, antennas etc. couldn't move because even the ultra smooth stepper motors they use would have shaken the spacecraft enough to blur the image.

    That being said, there are 100s, if not 1000s of neat little projects that potentially save NASA money - like using standard Internet protocols to talk to spacecraft (tweak the timeouts a bit) - which would mean ground stations would use pretty much standard router hardware vs. custom stuff. It good to see some of these ideas get the exposure they deserve.

    However, most satellites are designed with requirements for the instrumentation. The rest of the satellite is designed around those requirements. Unless you have a very flexible design in your spacecraft bus, the scientific part of the mission might be compromised.

    So this lander might work - how many g's on impact? (err... landing). What is the success chance? Do I take my $50million instrument and put it on a $10 million lander that has a 30% chance of success? Or do I build a $20 million lander that has an 80% chance? or a $30 Million that has 95% chance? If I pick wrong, I'm sure that I will not get another $100 million to fly the mission again. Perhaps a lifetime of research goes down the toilet...

  • Leave it to NASA to pay $80Mil for a $4Mil product.
  • by slapout (93640)
    Wow. $80 million to "gather dust." That's not bad for a government project.
  • I believe the correct tearm would be improved vine jumping.

    He used modern materials to improve what is called vine jumping.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bungee_jumping [wikipedia.org]

    "In the 1950s David Attenborough and a BBC film crew brought back footage of the "land divers" of Pentecost Island in Vanuatu, young men who jumped from tall wooden platforms with vines tied to their ankles as a test of courage."
  • This is not disimilar to the ESA's approach. Their Rosetta probe is a development of [fas.org] a Matra Marconi (now part of Astrium) geostationary communications satellite bus. In turn, the Mars and Venus Express probes both used a design derived from Rosetta [66.102.9.104], with many subsystems (e.g. power [inist.fr]) also shared.
  • Um, wow. So NASA has finally caught up to nineteenth-century industrial design techniques.

  • Both the hardware and software of course. Because they will just fly one or two of these and self the design.

    But if it is released under a copylefted open licence then private companies can modify and use a proven design for all sorts of projects, and they would have to release their designs as well.

    If the basic design is good this could well snowball to real (and open) advances in the space industry.

  • This looks and sounds a lot like what John Carmack is doing at Armadillo [armadilloaerospace.com]. Except Carmack's development has focused a lot on engines and these guys seem to be skipping that step.

    I have to wonder how flight software developed around a mock-up using pressurized air is going to fair when migrated to a live system with a conventional rocket engine. Especially the fact that they're developing the software indoors. How will they test/account for wind shear and other weather effects?

    In 18 months they've created a f
  • by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Thursday May 08, 2008 @12:48PM (#23339372)
    The problem if modular spacecraft has aways been the same: If you build a general purpose bus then almaost alwas you find that it is over-built for any one specific mission. If you build a bus the is mission specifi it will always be lighter and cheaper. The modular bus has to support all kinds of payloads and hande the worst case of power and mass. It is kind of like saying the "Standard car" will now by a full size pickup truck with an extended cab. It will seat six people and haul 1,000 pounds of cargo. But what if the mission is to drive one person to work? OK so you change the standard an make it a mini-copper. Put now what if you really do need to deliver some lumber to a construction site.

    Now imagine that gas cost not $4 per galon but $100,000 per galon. At that price it would be worth building a special car for every trip and then throwing the car away after just one trip. This is what NASA does because the operational and luach cost is so much higher than any other cost

    NASA also works off a fix mass budget. If the bus is 1 pound to heavy that means one pound less fuel can be loaded which translates into reduced lifetime in space or maybe the one pound saved could be used in improve an instrument.

    In effect NASA is payinf more then $100K per galon for gas. I think it costs about a million dollors a mile to get to space, at those prices it pays to custom design each spacecraft to it s optimized for each mission
    • by Criton (605617)
      This is why a lot needs to be done to reduce the cost of getting into space. Also why the next generation space vehicle is not a next generation vehicle.
  • Is the lead scientist on this project named Zefram Cochrane?

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