Friday, October 05, 2007

SpaceDev anad SEI Apophis Mission Design Contest Entry

RLV News has an article on the Planetary Society's Apophis Mission Design Contest to come up with a plan to tag asteroid Apophis to be able to better track it as its orbit crosses uncomfortably close to Earth's path.

According to the Planetary Society, there have been over 100 people and teams signing up for the contest. What we don't know if what kinds of people and teams are working on the problem? It would be great to hear more about some of the teams' designs. I'm sure there are some engineering school teams, for example, but really that's just a guess. The RLV News article lets us know that there is commercial interest in the competition - SpaceDev and SEI. From the beginning SpaceDev has had an interest in asteroid missions.

Hree's a link to their announcement, and here are some details about their proposed mission:

The 220 kg Foresight spacecraft is attached to 1400 kg chemical propulsion, in-space transfer stage, which is envisioned to be launched on an Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur IV launch vehicle. Foresight main instruments, a multi-spectral imager and laser altimeter, are utilized in combination with NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) to increase the accuracy of the orbit of Apophis. Multiple launch windows from the Earth have been identified, spanning from 2012 to 2014. For the nominal mission, the spacecraft is launched on May 2012 and arrives at Apophis on March 2013, operating for one year. The all encompassing total cost (including launch) for the mission is US$137 M.

That sounds like it offers even more than the basic "transponder" capability of the contest - but in just the areas the Planetary Society likes. I can't really judge the engineering with my limited background in spacecraft mechanisms, but it seems like with those instruments it offers potential for science return that something like the NASA Discovery program would want. If so, that goes back to something I say a lot about prize competitions - often the big reward isn't the prize itself, it's the other business that's enabled by the capabilities grown while competing for a prize.

There are more details about their proposed mission here in a nice slick presentation. The details include the mission concept, the expect results in the accuracy of the asteroid orbit determination, design of the spacecraft with pictures and mass tables, orbits, launch vehicle, cost analysis, and reliability simulation results.

Let's see more of these Apophis mission design contest entries!