«To what extent can we navigate the solar system free of human supervision?»
The Engineering Extremely Rare Events in Astrodynamics for Deep-Space Missions in Autonomy (EXTREMA) project wants to challenge and revolutionise the current paradigm under which spacecraft are piloted in the interplanetary space.
A multitude of miniaturised probes will soon permeate the inner solar system, aiming at the exploration of rocky planets and minor bodies. Nowadays, deep-space probes are piloted from ground. Although this is reliable, ground control slots will saturate soon, thus hampering the current momentum in space exploration.
EXTREMA’s goal is to enable self-driving miniatuarised spacecraft, which are machines that can perform Guidance, Navigation, and Control operations in a totally autonomous fashion.
«Which sensor is required to enable autonomous optical navigation in deep space?»
The escalation of deep-space miniaturized satellites will soon lead to saturation of ground-based facilities. Deep-space missions will soon become unsustainable with current human-controlled flight-related operations.
SENSE challenges the current paradigm under which spacecraft are navigated in the interplanetary space putting forward nanoSENSE, an autonomous navigation sensor that triangulates the spacecraft position observing planets and asteroids.
The impact of nanoSENSE is tremendous: spacecraft will be detached from ground control, solar system science will no longer be limited by our capability to operate satellites, deep-space missions will autonomously travel in the solar system, and space mission costs will drop significantly. All in all, nanoSENSE has the potential to enable low-cost and autonomous deep-space missions.
«What are the spatial and temporal characteristics of meteoroids impacting the lunar surface?»
The Lunar Meteoroid Impact Observer (LUMIO) mission’s goal is to observe, quantify, andcharacterize the meteoroid impacts by detecting their flashes on the lunar farside.
Earth-based lunar observations are restricted by weather, geometric, and illumination conditions, while a lunar orbiter can improve the detection rate of lunar meteoroid impact flashes,as it would allow for longer monitoring periods.
LUMIO is a CubeSat mission to a quasi-halo orbit at Earth–Moon system L2 Lagrangian point,that complements Earth based observations on the lunar nearside, to provide global informationon the lunar meteoroid environment and contribute to Lunar Situational Awareness (LSA).
«The first mission in spaceflight history to explore a binary system»
The Milani CubeSat is part of ESA's Hera mission, the European contribution to the ESA-NASA collaboration AIDA (Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment) around the binary asteroid 65803 Didymos. In proximity of its target, Hera will release two 6U CubeSat: Milani and Juventas.
The two nanosatellites will be the first to orbit in the close proximity of a small body and the first to perform scientific and technological operations around a binary asteroid. Among other objectives, Milani will perform global coverage of Didymos and its moon, Dimorphos, and it will validate new technologies like the Inter Satellite Link (ISL) network with its mother spacecraft Hera.
«The first stand-alone CubeSat in deep-space cruise»
The Miniaturised Asteroid Remote Geophysical Observer (M-ARGO) is the first miniaturised spacecraft designed by ESA for asteroid mining purposes.
M-ARGO would exploit a piggyback launch opportunity which would take it toward the Sun-Earth Lagrange point. At this point, the 12U CubeSat would use its own on board propulsion to reach the target destination in completely autonomy. Here, the CubeSat would survey the asteroid employing a multispectral camera and a laser altimeter to look for resources such as hydrated minerals that could be extracted in future.