Friday, May 24, 2013
Is the Sky Falling?
James Cutler, Assistant Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
We have heard it said, "the sky is falling," as many lament the death of innovation and the loss of an aging workforce in the aerospace field. The retirement of the shuttle and the NPOES cancellation are sobering examples. However, the recent successes of missions like the Mars Science Laboratory, the launch of commercial ISS resupply vehicles, and the rise of nanosatellite successes indicate the opposite may be true: there is a new space generation that is attempting and succeeding at novel missions never before tried. In this renewed effort, universities are a leading force. At the University of Michigan, we have developed both NSF and JPL's first nanosatellite missions for space weather research and technology demonstrations, respectively. We have harnessed a global ground station network with sites owned by independent operators. We have also performed novel research on attitude estimation and global ground station scheduling. And yet even with these successes, the sky is still falling, literally. The recent spectacular meteor over the Russian sky and Meteor Crater in Arizona are testaments that our planet has very little protection from near Earth objects. We hypothesize that the innovation we see in nanosatellites can be extended to enable planetary-scale protection. We are working with JPL to develop the first interplanetary nanosatellite mission and have been selected by NASA for launch. Community advancements in survivability, communication, navigation and propulsion are enabling solar system-scale mobility and we are opening doors for advance missions in heliophysics, planetary science, and potentially planetary protection.