Small Body Exploration Technologies as Precursors for Interstellar Robotics

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R. J. Noble; M.V. Sykes (2013), JBIS, 66, 15-24

Refcode: 2013.66.15

The scientific activities undertaken to explore our Solar System will be very similar to those required someday at other stars. The systematic exploration of primitive small bodies throughout our Solar System requires new technologies for autonomous robotic spacecraft. These diverse celestial bodies contain clues to the early stages of the Solar System's evolution, as well as information about the origin and transport of water-rich and organic material, the essential building blocks for life. They will be among the first objects studied at distant star systems. The technologies developed to address small body and outer planet exploration will form much of the technical basis for designing interstellar robotic explorers. The Small Bodies Assessment Group, which reports to NASA, initiated a Technology Forum in 2011 that brought together scientists and technologists to discuss the needs and opportunities for small body robotic exploration in the Solar System. Presentations and discussions occurred in the areas of mission and spacecraft design, electric power, propulsion, avionics, communications, autonomous navigation, remote sensing and surface instruments, sampling, intelligent event recognition, and command and sequencing software. In this paper, the major technology themes from the Technology Forum are reviewed, and suggestions are made for developments that will have the largest impact on realizing autonomous robotic vehicles capable of exploring other star systems.

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