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Spacecraft and Platform Subsystems


Led by the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), NASA will carry out the scientific exploration of our Earth, the planets, moons, comets, and asteroids of our solar system, and the universe beyond. SMD’s future direction will be moving away from exploratory missions (orbiters and flybys) into more detailed/specific exploration missions that are at or near the surface (landers, rovers, and sample returns) or at more optimal observation points in space. These future destinations will require new vantage points or would need to integrate or distribute capabilities across multiple assets. Future destinations will also be more challenging to get to, have more extreme environmental conditions and challenges once the spacecraft gets there, and maybe a challenge to get a spacecraft or data back from. A major objective of the NASA science spacecraft and platform subsystems development efforts is to enable science measurement capabilities using smaller and lower-cost spacecraft to meet multiple mission requirements, thus making the best use of our limited resources. To accomplish this objective, NASA is seeking innovations to significantly improve spacecraft and platform subsystem capabilities while reducing the mass and cost that would in turn enable increased scientific return for future NASA missions. A spacecraft bus is made up of many subsystems such as propulsion; thermal control; power and power distribution; attitude control; telemetry command and control; transmitters/antenna; computers/on-board processing/software; and structural elements. High-performance space computing technologies are also included in this focus area. Science platforms of interest could range from unpiloted aerial vehicles, sounding rockets, or balloons that carry scientific instruments/payloads, to planetary ascent vehicles or Earth return vehicles that bring samples back to Earth for analysis. This topic area addresses the future needs in many of these sub-system areas, as well as their application to specific spacecraft and platform needs. For planetary missions, planetary protection requirements vary by planetary destination, and additional backward contamination requirements apply to hardware with the potential to return to Earth (e.g., as part of a sample return mission). Technologies intended for use at/around Mars, Europa (Jupiter), and Enceladus (Saturn) must be developed so as to ensure compliance with relevant planetary protection requirements. Constraints could include surface cleaning with alcohol or water, and/or sterilization treatments such as dry heat (approved specification in NPR 8020.12; exposure of hours at 115° C or higher, non-functioning); penetrating radiation (requirements not yet established), or vapor-phase hydrogen peroxide (specification pending). The National Academies’ Decadal Surveys for Astrophysics, Earth Science, Heliophysics, and Planetary Science discuss some of NASA’s science mission and technology needs and are available at  

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