Aeronautics and Space Report of the President FY 1995 Activities


Space Flight and Space Technology

Other Space Technology

In FY 1995, NASA addressed the challenge of reducing mission costs without reducing performance and payoffs by focusing technology development on the following key objectives: (1) reducing the mass and increasing the efficiency of spacecraft systems to enable the use of smaller launch vehicles; (2) increasing spacecraft and ground system autonomy to reduce overall mission operations cost; and (3) exploiting microfabrication technology to develop miniaturized components and instruments with equal or better performance than current components and instruments. NASA continued to pursue these objectives through specific technology development programs.

In FY 1995, NASA completed the 2-kilowatt (of electric power) solar dynamic ground test demonstration, the first end-to-end demonstration of a complete solar dynamic power system designed for space operations. Engineers completed the program significantly ahead of schedule and under budget. The system performed as designed under conditions simulating the thermal and vacuum environment of low-Earth orbit. In FY 1995, Lockheed Martin adopted for commercial use an advanced arcjet spacecraft propulsion system, developed by NASA, because of its significantly reduced propellant use.

In FY 1995, NASA's instrument and sensing technology program demonstrated large-format infrared arrays, which can be produced for both Earth science and astrophysics mission applications. This included demonstration of a new 256 by 256 element array with the potential for reducing the mass, power requirements, and complexity of Earth-observing instruments in the 15- to 20-micron range, which is critical for studying Earth's environment from space. Progress in the development of microelectromechanical systems components in FY 1995 led to a flight demonstration of a microhygrometer that outperforms current, large instruments. Also in FY 1995, Hughes Danbury Optical Systems delivered the primary mirror for the advanced infrared telescope to JPL's cryogenic optical test facility. NASA's advanced infrared telescope will have twice the collecting area, half the mass, and one-third the diffraction wavelength of the previously flown Infrared Astronomy Satellite.

The instrument and sensing program also supported the development of a viable, commercial remote-sensing industry by supporting the prototyping of specialized packaging of space-based data products into usable, customer-defined information products. Researchers completed eight projects in FY 1995, including projects in agricultural production management, marine vessel surveillance, and gas pipeline monitoring. Scientists also began a variety of new cooperative projects, ranging from sensor development and desktop mapping software design to rangeland management and television weather forecasting.

In FY 1995, NASA's operations and autonomy technology program developed an artificial intelligence application that searches massive image data bases and finds phenomena of interest. This tool, when applied to astrophysics data, discovered 10 quasars in a small fraction of the time and cost it would have taken humans to analyze the data.

As a step toward the Mars Pathfinder mission, a NASA planetary rover conducted a 10-kilometer autonomous traverse across natural terrain, with human control limited to the designation of the vehicle's heading and end goal. The program also continued to develop, in conjunction with industrial partners, the robotically assisted microsurgery system, a robotic system for the precise manipulation of surgical tools for ocular surgery. These manipulations are constrained to a 1-cubic-inch work envelope and must achieve very high levels of precision and repeatability. NASA is developing such robotic surgery tools for potential telemedicine uses on long-duration human missions.

The Advanced Smallsat Technology program progressed towards NASA's first small spacecraft demonstrations, as systems integration work was completed on the "Lewis and Clark" satellites. At the end of FY 1995, each experimental satellite, which is no bigger than a console television set, was scheduled for launch in mid-1996. The Lewis spacecraft is to be the first "hyper-spectral" imaging system, with wide applications in Earth science and commercial remote sensing. NASA engineers have designed the Clark spacecraft to help city planners and developers evaluate sites and construction needs through the use of a very high-resolution optical element with stereo imaging capabilities. Both spacecraft are to carry additional instruments that will provide global atmospheric pollution dynamics information for NASA's MTPE. NASA managers hope to learn from the Lewis and Clark program how to reduce the development and operating costs of scientific spacecraft, while simultaneously increasing the yield of useful scientific data from them.

In FY 1995, NASA's space communications program accomplished an extensive number of experiments using NASA's Advanced Communication Technology Satellite. Researchers performed unique experiments in the areas of telemedicine and tele-education and demonstrated high rates of data transmission via satellite.

In July 1995, the DoD-sponsored Hercules project flew successfully aboard the Space Shuttle on mission STS-70. Jointly funded by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and the Army Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, Hercules investigated the utility of multispectral video imagery to support DoD objectives. Using mostly commercially available instruments, Hercules recorded multispectral, geolocated images of Earth from space. DoD hopes to make further use of this project both from the Space Shuttle and the future ISS.

Mission controllers from the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) reestablished contact with the Clementine spacecraft in February 1995, after a software problem in May 1994 hampered communications with the satellite. Launched in January 1994, the Clementine mission was successful in terms of space-qualifying 23 advanced, lightweight technologies during its 17-month mission. During FY 1995, scientists continued to analyze data obtained from the mission's lunar mapping. They also investigated the exciting possibility that Clementine discovered ice trapped in a dark region of the Moon's south pole. The Clementine mission also provided scientists and the general public with unprecedented access to data by placing most of the information on the Internet. A single site maintained by the NRL, for example, averaged more than 800 accesses per day.

The Space Technology Research Vehicle (STRV)-1b program was nominally completed in June 1995, 1 year after its launch, but mission controllers extended the program to evaluate the Satellite Communications Protocol System, an initiative sponsored by the U.S. Space Command, NASA, and Britain's Ministry of Defence. The successful collaboration on the STRV-1b program resulted in the establishment of a second joint venture, the STRV-2 program, which is to combine a British midwavelength infrared optical system with a U.S. vibration isolation system to demonstrate the ability to detect nonafterburning aircraft from space and to acquire the data needed for the development of missile tracking software.

Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory continued to provide nuclear explosion sensors for integration onto DoD GPS and defense support program spacecraft. These sensors are designed to detect, identify, and locate any atmospheric or near-Earth space nuclear explosions. The sensors are used to verify international compliance with nuclear test-ban treaties, to monitor nuclear proliferation, and to meet military needs in the event of a nuclear attack.

In FY 1995, NASA's Office of Space Access and Technology formed the Advanced Concepts Office (ACO) to identify and develop new, far-reaching concepts that may later be applied in advanced technology programs. The ACO initiated a wide-ranging program of feasibility studies and experiments in FY 1995 in areas such as affordable in-space transportation, space solar power, highly reusable space transportation, very large and lightweight adaptive optics, orbital debris removal, International Space Station downmass disposal using tethers, structureless cooperating space swarms, and very large lightweight structureless antennas. The ACO also formulated a process for advanced concept creation, external to NASA, and issued an initial CAN solicitation for the Advanced Concepts Research Projects program. In addition, the ACO defined a potential process for competitive creation of innovative concepts by NASA's own inventors. Moreover, the ACO supported the NASA Administrator's Seminar Series, which covered a wide range of cutting-edge questions in science and exploration. NASA also created the Virtual Research Center concept, involving a dedicated collaborative computing environment for NASA advanced concepts studies. The ACO began developing this innovative Internet-based tool for geographically distributed team activities.


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Curator: Lillian Gipson
Last Updated: September 5, 1996
For more information contact Steve Garber, NASA History Office,
sgarber@hq.nasa.gov