Feeds

Surrey satellite firm to design NASA lunar mission

From Guildford to the Moon

Build a business case: developing custom apps

NASA has asked Surrey University spin-out firm Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) to develop a low cost lunar orbiter for a joint US-UK mission called Magnolia. The project will see the firm develop the primary mission design for NASA.

As part of a multi-million pound package the firm will also train engineers from Mississippi State University (MSU) and NASA Stennis Space Centre in the fundamentals of small satellite technology, SSTL's area of expertise.

The mission, if approved, is likely to explore the Moon's south pole, where there are good indications that a build up of water ice exists there, possibly from cometary impacts.

SSTL systems analyst Andy Phipps told us he was very confident the project would result in a mission, explaining that this is only the first phase: "The UK government announced recently that it is planning to collaborate with the US on space exploration. We're hoping that this project will merge into a joint NASA, UK government funded mission."

Phase one will culminate in a preliminary mission design, and SSTL says it will draw on its 27 years of experience in designing satellite technology to make it work.

"There are some differences designing for a lunar orbiter, but there are also plenty of commonalities. We'll start with a heritage baseline, something we know works, and tweak it to suit the lunar environment," says Phipps.

This means changes to the propulsion system (the Moon is further away than low earth orbit), changes to the avionics, a serious upgrade for the communications package, and a redesign to take into account the much more extreme thermal environment. Interestingly, the radiation a lunar probe will be exposed to is very similar to that of a low earth orbit satellite.

"Low earth orbit is a pretty benign place. The temperature really only varies between minus and plus ten degrees. But the moon is very cold, especially around the poles, where we are interested in going," Phipps notes.

SSTL's involvement stops at mission design, though. The scientific instruments the lunar satellite is likely to carry with it will be designed elsewhere.

Although all its existing kit is whizzing around our own planet, the company has a good track record in working further afield, conceptually, at least: it completed a lunar exploration design study for the UK's now disbanded Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, back in 2006, and was involved in developing the comet chaser mission, Rosetta.

It also carried out a feasibility study for ESA about the prospect of a trip to Venus, and has worked on plans for missions to the asteroid belt, and for a sample-return mission to Mars. ®

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.