SSTL is looking to the future with communications, navigation and science missions which fly beyond Earth's orbit.
Studies for ESA, NASA and our own technology demonstration programmes, have shown that many of the cost-effective engineering solutions that we have employed successfully in LEO and MEO can be translated effectively to these more demanding environments. SSTL has already developed a number of early-phase mission concepts which tackle the challenges of radiation, navigation, propulsion and telecommunications.
SSTL aims to lower the cost of entry for exploratory, scientific and technology demonstration missions, previously the preserve of expensive and time consuming missions. Reduced costs bring more frequent opportunities and enable bolder plans, such as the routine monitoring from space of NEOs that may threaten to collide with Earth.
European Student Moon Orbiter (ESMO)
SSTL managed ESA's European Student Moon Orbiter (ESMO) programme, a mission study looking at placing a spacecraft into a lunar orbit to map the lunar surface, acquiring images and other scientific data.
The project kicked-off in October 2009 with each spacecraft subsystem, payload and ground segment being designed by groups of students from 19 universities based in ESA member states and co-operating states. The students benefited from “hands on” learning in space science and engineering by collaborating on the design and building of lunar systems.
Architecture Study on Deep Space Navigation and Communication
Subcontracted to Thales Alenia Space for a role in one of the ESA 'In-Space Architecture' studies, SSTL's role was to define in-space and surface navigation and communications data relay requirements as well as suggesting preliminary systems for addressing such requirements using small, low cost missions. Work has explored lunar and Mars architectures and options for small satellites supporting NEO Low Cost Lunar Mission Feasibility Study.
SSTL conducted an in-house funded lunar mission feasibility study in 2002 to assess the performance and cost of an 'entry level' mission. This work followed on from the ESA funded Phase A and Phase B study on LUNARSAT. The study concluded that the mission was technically feasible with a low target cost including platform, operations, launch and minimal new technology. A 10-50 kg scientific payload could be supported in lunar orbit for 6-24 months.
Lunar Mission Options Study
The UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) funded a pre-phase A study on options for a low cost UK-led lunar mission. The study investigated various mission options, their feasibilities and identified a number of suitable mission concepts, as well as producing a preliminary cost estimate. Mission concepts generated included orbiter/penetrator (MoonLITE) and soft lander (MoonRaker). Subsequent work has assembled a UK industry team in preparation for a full Phase A and produced inputs for a joint UK-NASA working group exploring collaborative lunar missions.
Venus Technology Reference Studies
Detailed system study into low cost methods of Venus exploration, funded by ESA Science Payloads and Advanced Concepts Office (value €350k, prime contractor). Mission consisted of a science orbiter, relay satellite and atmospheric entry probe delivering a long lifetime aerobot for in-situ exploration of the Venus atmosphere.
Earth Re-Entry Vehicle (EVD) Study
Pre-Phase A study to design technology demonstration mission to simulate entry conditions for a sample return mission to Mars.