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Space NASA The Almighty Buck Technology

Draper Labs Develops Low Cost Probe To Orbit, Land On Europa For NASA 79

MarkWhittington writes Ever since the House passed a NASA spending bill that allocated $100 million for a probe to Jupiter's moon Europa, the space agency has been attempting to find a way to do such a mission on the cheap. The trick is that the mission has to cost less than $1 billion, a tall order for anything headed to the Outer Planets. According to a Wednesday story in the Atlantic, some researchers at Draper Labs have come up with a cheap way to do a Europa orbiter and land instruments on its icy surface.

The first stage is to orbit a cubesat, a tiny, coffee can sized satellite that would contain two highly accurate accelerometers that would go into orbit around Europa and measure its gravity field. In this way the location of Europa's subsurface oceans would be mapped. Indeed it is possible that the probe might find an opening through the ice crust to the ocean, warmed it is thought by tidal forces.

The second stage is to deploy even smaller probes called chipsats, tiny devices that contain sensors, a microchip, and an antenna. Hundreds of these probes, the size of human fingernails, would float down on Europa's atmosphere to be scattered about its surface. While some might be lost, enough will land over a wide enough area to do an extensive chemical analysis of the surface of Europa, which would then be transmitted to the cubesat mothership and then beamed to Earth.
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Draper Labs Develops Low Cost Probe To Orbit, Land On Europa For NASA

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  • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Friday June 20, 2014 @01:59AM (#47279315)

    This is a waste of money, regardless, but considering the economy, it isn't a responsible use of taxpayer dollars, either.

    Right. Because science is always a bad investment.

    We should spend taxpayer money in military so we can steal from the countries that do advance technologically? Or what's your master plan on how to stay among the first instead of plummeting to the group of those countries that mostly serve as factories for the more advanced.

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday June 20, 2014 @09:23AM (#47280729)

    Cubesat-sized stuff is so small mostly because it tosses overboard redundancy and rad-hardened components.

    You can significantly rad-harden a device without adding weight. First, make sure the semiconductors use depleted boron []. Many off-the-shelf semiconductors already use Boron-11. Second, use any spare CPU cycles to run checksums on memory and FPGA bitstreams, to detect and restore flipped bits. Third, use a few cheap rad-harded 8-bit microcontrollers, such as 8051, for the most critical functions, such as the watchdog timer, and controlling the fallback RX/TX to Earth, including the ability to receive and install software patches. These 8-bit MCUs can be OTP with blown fuses, so there are no bits to flip.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"