The six proposals submitted by the Atmospheric Science Group to the ESA’s call for ideas for research opportunities to be developed within the Deep Space Gateway programme, were included for their presentation during a workshop held at the agency’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), Noordwijk, the Netherlands, on December 5th-6th.
Deep Space Gateway is a joint initiative promoted by the space agencies involved in the International Space Station (ISS), namely, NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, JAXA (Japanese space agency), and CSA (Canadian Space Agency), which is meant to be a milestone in the way to schedule manned missions further into space, with a clear first target in the preparation of manned missions to Mars. The immediate goal of the project consists of the eventual establishment of a crewed station near the moon, where the needed new technologies for the advance into deep space can be developed and tested.
At this point, it is necessary to fix a preliminary idea of which those technologies will be, and that has been the basic intention of the ESA's call, in which Atmospheric Science Group has contributed six proposals, both technological and scientific, which were selected and presented for its further discussion.
They are included in the categories of Physical Science and Astronomy, Solar System and Earth Sciences, Life Sciences, and Technology.
It is a multipurpose experiment which takes advantage of the improved methods to measure accurately the propellant content in the tanks of spacecrafts, contributing the optimization of their lifetime and the widening of their orbital manoeuvring possibilities.
The station will serve as an ideal platform to validate these gauging methods under microgravity conditions by using the ultimate Technical Readiness Level 9 sensing technology, so that the obtained results will provide more accurate retrievals of the propellant upon which planning the operation schedules.
The DSG will be an immediate beneficiary of this experiment, given its long term utilization and its desired orbital versatility.
The amount of space debris in orbit around the Earth means a constant risk for satellites and instruments, and the number of objects forming it is increasing at an accelerate pace as the frequency of launches does. Radar stations on ground can track debris of size up to 10 cm in Low Earth Orbits (LEO) and the efficiency decreases to 0.3m in Geostationary Earth orbits (GEO). For the tracking of debris in GEO, they are used ground based telescopes, which are only capable of detecting objects over 10 cm and face the challenge of atmospheric distortion. Installing a radar based sensor on DSG platform will decrease the detection resolution limit up to milimetres, at the same time that the atmospheric distortion is avoided.
Therefore, the proposed active-phased array radar will allow to detect and to catalogue, from the unique field of view which DSG station offers, debris at high altitudes corresponding to the GEO.
It is conceived to study the suitability of different materials, components, paints, coatings etc. for their use in spacecrafts, in response to the increasing demand of appropriate technology able to endure deep space conditions for long term operations (space radiations, wide temperature ranges, meteorite impacts etc). In particular, the new platforms such as DSG, which have to be capable of sustaining human activity for long periods, require a reliable qualification of all the materials used in their construction.
The presented system provides a simple, reliable, and adaptable facility to perform tests of a variety of different technologies.
This project is about the implementation in the DSG station of an Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM) system to perform biological analysis of extraterrestrial samples and to sterilize them when convenient, before returning them to Earth avoiding any risk of contamination for the biosphere.
There are already several ongoing sample return missions, so counting on a checkpoint to assure their bio-safety is a basic requirement, and DSG station means an optimal platform to accomplish it.
The system relies on several analytical procedures to distinguish, in the first term, biological activity from any other kind of chemical reactions which could take place in the correspondent sample, and then to analyse the kind of biological activity, if ever, within it.
In addition, it will be equipped with the means to perform sterilization and cleaning of the samples according to the current Planetary Protection protocols.
DSG offers a unique platform to demonstrate and to develop a long-time functional self-sustained greenhouse. The station is conceived to be a step forward in the human advance into deep space, a venture which will require solutions for the problem of providing basic resources such as water, oxygen and food. Hence, this is a technology whose development is primordial for its success.
This project is aimed to demonstrate the technologies which could be applied to self-sustained greenhouses in a representative space environment, paying special attention to investigating the performance of soils and the bacteria that live within, which are critical for the growth of more complex healthy plants.
Despite the fact that approximately half of the Earth's outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) to space is located at wavelengths greater than 15 mm, within the so-called far infrared (FIR), it has never been measured spectrally, in its entirety, from space, due primarily to the technical difficulties associated with achieving the necessary instrument signal to noise across the region. Moreover, this wavelength region is highly sensitive to upper tropospheric water vapour and to cirrus cloud, both of which critically influence the ERB and climate sensitivity, and it has a more important role than previously recognised in determining the pace of change in our fragile polar regions. Now, the recent advances in both detector and optical technology, it is possible to measure this spectral region.
On the other hand, with the recent announcement of widespread abundance of water in the lunar surface using observations in the near-infrared spectrum, it will be a wise thing to employ radar capabilities for mapping the possibilities of subsurface lunar water using microwave wavelengths. From astrobiological and mineralogical perspectives, such onboard instruments and following experiments can provide exceptional data about the lunar regolith and substratum.