Sancho Study in the CDF
Engineering and operation specialists working in ESA’s Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) recently completed a study (named the “Sancho” mission study) targeted to a Near-Earth Object (NEO). The study, under ESA’s General Studies Programme, builds on previous CDF studies as well as other ESA internal activities and the Industrial Phase-A Study, Don Quijote.
The “Sancho” mission has been conceived as a technology demonstration mission focusing on autonomous navigation (detection, rendezvous, and close proximity operations around an asteroid) and precise orbit determination of small objects. The mission would also serve as a precursor mission for the more ambitious “Don Quijote” mission, demonstrating the technologies required for the orbiter as well as validating novel ground support and operations concepts moving towards enhanced spacecraft autonomy.
The study imposed several constraints on the specialists including use of European low cost launchers and limiting the mission life. Various trade-offs were carried out and-among others- two interesting options were identified and designed; targeting different asteroids and making use of electric and chemical propulsion respectively to reach the asteroids.
Both options were designed to be launched with the European Launcher VEGA supplemented by a solid rocket motor to escape from Earth. The launch was assumed to take place between 2013 and 2015, with a total mission duration in the order of 4 years. After making an autonomous rendezvous with the target asteroid, the spacecraft will start close operations orbiting the asteroid. During this period it will make a detailed map of the asteroid surface and will carry out a radio tracking experiment to allow the calculation of the orbit of the asteroid from Earth.
The conclusion of the CDF study was that the objectives of the mission can be fulfilled at a low cost, using ESA’s “Lightsat” approach to in-orbit demonstration. ESA is also considering a NEO micro explorer (NEOMEx) that would make massive use of micro-systems spun-in from non-space applications.