Tartu Observatory’s researcher developing future space exploration missions at NASA
Tartu Observatory researcher and former ESTCube Program leader Andris Slavinskis is participating in NASA’s Exchange Visitor Program for one-year period at NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. Slavinskis is working in the Mission Design Division at Ames to study advanced concepts for future NASA missions that could use small satellites for interplanetary exploration.
NASA is interested in developing swarm and deep space small spacecraft missions and will benefit from the mission concept studies. One of the concepts is to tour hundreds of asteroids with tens of nanospacecraft which are equipped with long single-tether electric solar wind sails (E-sails). The work at Ames is to elaborate the concept’s science case by analyzing and setting scientific objectives, instrument requirements and expected outcomes of the mission.
“For example, how such a mission could help to understand the early evolution of the solar system, as well as which asteroids contain water and how to mitigate potentially hazardous asteroids,” says Slavinskis.
“In its simplest form, the concept is that nanospacecraft will perform flybys, spending only a few of minutes in an asteroid’s proximity. Follow-up mission concepts include detailed studies of selected asteroids with advanced instruments, such as hyperspectral, x-ray, gamma, neutron, radar and thermal infrared, performing of rendezvous, taking in situ measurements and even sample return,” explains Slavinskis. In addition to the groundbreaking scientific potential, prospecting of asteroids is crucial for planetary defense against asteroid impacts and the key for the emerging field of asteroid mining.
This visit opens the door for potential cooperation between Estonia and NASA in the future. The study at NASA is funded by Tartu Observatory’s project KOMEET (Benefits for Estonian Society from Space Research and Application). For Slavinskis, it is an excellent opportunity to work with leading mission designers and to establish personal contacts with the US planetary science community who can provide measurement requirements as potential data users.
Andris Slavinskis, PhD
andris.slavinskis [ät] nasa.gov