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NSF Workshop. Thoughts on Revitalizing Small Science & Technology Space Missions Jim Watzin Associate Director Planetary Science Projects Division – GSFC/430 Associate Director Explorers Division – GSFC/410 May 15, 2007. Observation.

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nsf workshop
NSF Workshop

Thoughts on Revitalizing Small Science & Technology Space Missions

Jim Watzin

Associate Director Planetary Science Projects Division – GSFC/430

Associate Director Explorers Division – GSFC/410

May 15, 2007

observation
Observation

Frequent, low cost, and broad based national small science spaceflight opportunities are limited not by technology, nor by engineering capability, but rather by the unique characteristics and behavior of the sponsoring government institutions

nasa small sat experiences
NASA Small Sat Experiences
  • NASA’s experience with Small Sats has left it uncertain as to their role
    • Perception of inconsistent results
      • Most were successful, some were not
      • “Faster-Better-Cheaper” residuals
    • Wide experimentation in programmatic basis
      • Sounding rocket derived construct (SPARTAN, GAS, Hitch Hiker)
      • HQ executed construct (LEWIS, CLARK)
      • Focused program construct (early SMEX, early MIDEX)
      • Loose program construct (ESSP, ST)
      • University Explorers (UNEX)
    • PI mode dynamics
      • Wide range of styles, capabilities, and approaches
nasa smallsat quandary
NASA SmallSat Quandary
  • Low Cost Missions were once a vibrant and enabling element of NASA programs
    • Multi-discipline scientific investigations
    • Frequent SmallSat flight opportunities
    • Diverse and broad constituency
  • NASA Explorer Smallsats demonstrated that they can do most anything “Largesats” can except be big
    • Technology exists to provide substantial performance in small systems (onboard computation, autonomy precision, pointing, high data rates)
    • High performance elements often common with Largesat elements
  • However, risk aversion has raised mission costs such that Smallsat missions have been virtually eliminated from NASA’s plans
    • NASA projects are a focus of national pride
    • All spaceflight missions are considered to be developmental
    • Conservatism does reduce risk
    • Institutional risk avoidance is expensive
    • Smallsats are not practical when the cost of implementation is high
the perception that low cost missions are inherently risky is false
The Perception that Low Cost Missions are Inherently Risky is False
  • Low cost mission implementation requires a small team
    • Reduced institutional involvement is perceived as a greater risk
  • Single payload missions are only one fault tolerant to mission failure, whereas multi-payload missions are inherently more robust
    • This creates the perception that small missions are more prone to mission failure
  • But the spacecraft technology used need not be size dependant.
    • Many of the same components are utilized by both small and large spacecraft.
    • However, cost limitations typically reduce redundancy
    • Often higher risk technology is validated on low cost missions thereby creating the perception that small satellites are unreliable
  • Many small missions are still operational a decade after design life

In actuality, the failure rate of NASA small missions is no worse than the failure rate of larger missions, while placing significantly less $ at risk, e.g.,HST optics, MCO nav, MPO nav, CONTOUR explosion, GALILEO HGA, ICESat laser, AURA HRDIS, TERRA Modis A, etc.

low cost space missions are possible
Low Cost Space Missions are Possible
  • A small, capable, and relatively healthy spacefaring underclass exists today
    • Commercial smallsats, including GEO
    • Service Academy (Navy, USAF) student satellites
    • University satellite operations centers (UCB, LASP, etc)
    • Third world space programs
    • Entrepreneurial launch vehicles
  • The spacefaring underclass is, by necessity, quite efficient
    • Short development lifecycles
    • Demonstrated performance at modest risk
    • Economical implementation
  • While these low cost space endeavors are not unusual, they are still far too expensive to be commonplace
low cost missions can be effective
Low Cost Missions Can be Effective
  • Have accomplished significant scientific objectives in the past
  • Are technically possible today
  • Can be an effective way to cope with limited budgets and diverse user community interests
  • Can serve a useful role as precursors for bolder scientific investigations
  • Provide the flexibility to react to changing needs and priorities
  • Are an effective tool for workforce development
  • Low Cost launch vehicles can now place 100-450 kg into TLI, enabling small lunar orbiters and landers as candidate mission platforms for lunar exploration
  • Current International and DOD, as well as past NASA, smallsat efforts have shown that significant scientific and technology risk mitigation missions can be conducted in the 100-450kg mass range for $75-125M
so why is low cost spaceflight so elusive
So Why is Low Cost Spaceflight So Elusive?
  • Limited opportunity, public visibility, and the magnitude of investment conspire against low cost
    • Government sponsored missions draw sufficient attention that risk taking is difficult
      • Americans expect winners
    • Risk mitigation efforts can significantly increase mission cost
    • Launch opportunities are limited and expensive
  • As the sunk cost in the mission rises, the typical reaction is to place greater value on each undertaking, thereby increasing the worry over failure
  • Spaceflight is still a business of details, despite the readiness of the intrinsic technologies
what s needed
What’s Needed
  • The Space Community Must be Proactive in Advising Policy Makers and Educating the Public
    • Articulate the need for low cost, frequent, and innovative spaceflight mission opportunities
      • National preeminence in R&D
      • Training the next generation
      • Responsiveness to new challenges & discoveries
    • Heighten awareness of the ready capabilities that exist for low cost spaceflight
      • Convey that not all spaceflight activities are developmental, that much about spaceflight is well known and understood
      • Implementation guidelines and approaches can be tailored
    • Educate on the long term futility of excessive conservatism in R&D
      • Technical leadership belongs to the bold, not the timid
affecting government policy
Affecting Government Policy
  • Incorporating the greater risk that low cost missions bring, perceived or real, into NASA’s portfolio, will not occur until Congress and the public’s views on failure change
    • An effective argument conveying the role and necessity for risk taking in scientific research, technology maturation, and workforce development has not been adequately articulated by the stakeholders – that case must be made!
    • The case for more risk taking is difficult to make when all NASA projects are considered to be objects of national pride
    • Direct & specific policy may be needed to enable aspacemission portfolio that contains the low end scale, cost, and risk activities
a potential approach for ultra low cost missions do it differently
A Potential Approach for Ultra Low Cost Missions – Do It Differently
  • Reduced investment lowers the perception of waste given a failure
    • Keep the costs down
  • Reliance on speculative, private sector approaches shifts the tenor of risk from a negative to a more positive one of embracing free market entrepreneurship
    • Embrace the unproven
    • Try many different approaches
  • Multiple, nontraditional sponsors eliminate the preset base assumption that the practitioner should know about spaceflight, thereby leaving more grace for failures and shortcomings
    • Perhaps this isn’t NASA domain?
  • Couching investigations as learning experiences allows for some mistakes
    • Training the next generation
    • Bold R&D
  • But don’t be too cavalier, many failures will bring down even the boldest of programs