Air Force assigns Rhea space activity to build rapid-response lunar communications spacecraft
Phase I winners will have the opportunity to present their solutions at the Space Force Pitch Day virtual event on August 19e, 2021.
The proposed craft, nicknamed SCORPIUS, will use an origami-inspired foldable solar reflector to heat a block of tungsten that will vaporize the thruster to generate its main propulsion. This multirole solar reflector will also act as a large area communication antenna which can also redirect sunlight to generate power for all subsystems of the spacecraft. This architecture will allow the USSF to quickly reposition SCORPIUS in deep space to conduct offensive and defensive communications operations.
SCORPIUS is intended to provide a radical and cost-effective solution to a series of problems currently facing USAF planners as they consider the challenges of deep space travel. As U.S. and international spacecraft operations gradually expand beyond traditional geosynchronous orbits, spacecraft will need increased propulsion capabilities.
At present, to reach destinations beyond geosynchronous orbit, chemical propulsion is only able to deliver small amounts of “payload” over a short distance in a short period of time, while electric propulsion is capable of delivering a much larger payload, but much slower, months or even years to reach its destination.
To solve the problem of payload and deployment time, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program known as “Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations” (DRACO), aims to develop a propulsion system nuclear-thermal, which in theory would provide a high-thrust, high-efficiency spacecraft capable of rapidly moving large amounts of payload. DRACO, however, is hampered by the security and policy challenges associated with working with nuclear reactors. (The term “cislunar” refers to the vast area of space between the Earth and the Moon).
SCORPIUS addresses some of these conventional challenges by offering capabilities similar to DRACO, but without using radioactive materials to achieve its high performance propulsion level.
Thus, SCORPIUS is intended to release a significant mass for larger payloads of spacecraft, allowing the USSF to move assets in cislunar space in a much more responsive timeframe. SCORPIUS could potentially enable missions such as patrolling Earth-Moon “Lagrange points” (defined as areas of open space in which objects remain stationary), transporting satellites between low earth orbit and the geosynchronous belt. , or the removal of space debris from strategic earth orbits. During the Phase I effort, RSA and her team worked with USSF to identify missions of interest and ways to refine the SCORPIUS concept to improve storage capacity and propellant life. .
The innovative design of SCORPIUS is based on origami solar concentrators and a thermal solar propulsion system “ThermaSat +” currently under development by Howe Industries, a partner of the SCORPIUS project with RSA. SCORPIUS uses large solar concentrators to heat the tungsten block of the ThermaSat + system, melting the boron encapsulated in the tungsten and storing significant amounts of energy during the phase change from solid to liquid. When fully charged, the tungsten block vaporizes the propellant at temperatures high enough to melt steel and generates enough thrust to effect impulsive combustion.
SCORPIUS will also recover electrical energy from solar concentrators to power an electric ion motor. This bimodal capability allows SCORPIUS to retain more propellant during non-emergency maneuvers and easily perform small hold-in-position maneuvers without heating the tungsten block.
For an animated rendering of the craft, see the following YouTube link. (Please Note to Media – Rhea Space Activity has licensed this video for public distribution):
Beautiful Rideout, an aerospace engineer at RSA, commented on the importance of using a bimodal propulsion system in deep space: “Develop a high performance propulsion system that can operate at high thrust / low impulse and low thrust / high impulse. modes allows a wide variety of flight envelopes in cislunar space. In addition, the multiple uses of the deployable origami-type solar reflector make it possible to completely rethink satellite communication and power systems. In many ways, this system promises to offer multiple applications and breakthroughs for satellites and spacecraft far into the future. “
Troy howe, president of Howe Industries, described SCORPIUS as a new take on an old concept. “Solar thermal propulsion has been widely studied since the 1990s, but was considered too weak to be of much use at the time. With SCORPIUS, we can use high thrust maneuvers instead of the old concept of low thrust continuous combustion, and take advantage of the Earth-Moon gravitational environment. By building on well-established techniques, we can provide an innovative new way of approaching spaceflight.
David J. Strobel, Executive Chairman of Space Micro, another RSA partner on the project, said: “Space Micro is very pleased to be part of the RSA team, to which we bring our expertise in space communications and avionics for the spacecraft. SCORPIUS, including propulsion controller electronics, space processing and command and data processing, software-defined radios and star tracking / cameras required for space operations. “
RSA now has the opportunity to participate in Customer Discovery with key USSF stakeholders to compete for a Space Force Pitch Day Phase II award. RSA plans to develop a design baseline mission for SCORPIUS to inform further development of the spacecraft and to continue the momentum of the project in the Phase II proposal, which will likely develop a new high-performance propulsion system for knowledge. of the space domain of the USSF. RSA also plans to advance “constellation architecture” recommendations to demonstrate how such a new capability will fit into current US defense practices and the broader US space environment.
About the Rhéa space activity
Rhea Space Activity (RSA) is an astrophysics start-up that imagines and creates high-risk / high-return research and development concepts to support US national security objectives. RSA has developed technologies in fields as diverse as infrared satellites, directed energy, artificial intelligence, light detection and telemetry (LIDAR), astro-particle physics, small satellites, operations cislunars, intelligence gathering, autonomous underwater vehicles and for the F35 Lightening II. .
For more information, please visit www.rheaspaceactivity.com
About Howe Industries
Dr. Troy howe, PhD (CEO) launched Howe Industries in 2015 to introduce technologies, with space and ground applications, derived from his team’s expertise in nuclear technology, thermal systems and space propulsion. Reflecting the company’s culture of innovation and excellence, Howe Industries has received numerous grants from federal agencies such as NASA, NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), DARPA, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) . Howe projects currently under development include the ThermaSat CubeSat propulsion system, the advanced thermoelectric generator (ATEG) solid-state, new fuel for thermal nuclear propulsion and the innovative pulsed plasma nuclear rocket.
For more information, please visit www.howeindustries.net
About Space Micro Inc.
Space Micro Inc., based in San diego, california, is an engineering-focused supplier of affordable, high-performance, radiation-resistant communications, electro-optical and digital systems for use in commercial, civil and military space applications around the world. Space Micro solutions include telemetry, tracking and command (TT&C) transmitters, mission data transmitters, space cameras, star trackers, image processors, command and processing systems. data (C&DH) and laser communication systems.
For more information, please visit www.spacemicro.com
SOURCE Rhéa Activity area