ESA's Advanced Concepts Team wins the "America's Cup of Rocket Science".
22 September 2015 After a few months of suspense, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced the winner of the 8th edition of the Global Trajectory Optimization Competition (GTOC). The competition is also known as the America's Cup of rocket science for its prestige and its rules on the organization.
This year's first place was won by team ACT-ISAS, followed by a team from the Chinese Tsinghua University and a team from Polytechnic of Turin, Thales Alenia, and Rome University. The ACT-ISAS team was born as a collaboration between ESA and JAXA, including former ESA's Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) members now working at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Download the full final rankings here.
The Global Trajectory Optimization Competition is an event taking place every one or two years over roughly one month during which the best aerospace engineers and mathematicians world wide challenge themselves to solve a “nearly-impossible” problem of interplanetary trajectory design. The problem is released by the winning team of the previous edition which this time was Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
The challenge? To design a trajectory for a trio of spacecraft tasked with performing combined observations of radio-emitting objects far out in the Universe.
The spacecraft would map the sources using an astronomical technique called ‘very-long-baseline interferometry’ – by precisely combining their separate observations through long-distance formation-flying they can acquire an equivalent imaging resolution to a single giant radio telescope.
But in order to achieve this they have to be lined up along a plane and pointed at the radio source. And to save scarce propellant, lunar gravity assists and low-thrust propulsion had to be used to perform each fresh manoeuvre.
Thirty-six teams registered for this edition of the competition, including teams from the US, China, Europe, Brazil and India (team list). Seventeen teams returned a solution which had to be validated and ranked during the summer.
"It is an outstanding team achievement", remarked Dario Izzo leading the team and ACT scientific coordinator. "Within one month of intense computation, we had to develop and test several new mission analysis techniques in order to propose our best design. It is remarkable that our team was composed of experts not only of mission analysis but also artificial intelligence, applied mathematics and fundamental physics. This eclectic mix was crucial in obtaining our result."
Details on the techniques developed by all participating teams will be presented in February during a JPL-organized workshop in the US. It will then be up to the ACT-ISAS team to organize the next edition of the Global Trajectory Optimization Competition.
People Involved: Advanced Concepts Team: Dario Izzo, Daniel Hennes, Marcus Märtens, Ingmar Getzner, Krzysztof Nowak, Anna Heffernan - ISAS: Chit Hong Yam, Stefano Campagnola, Naoya Ozaki, and Yoshihide Sugimoto