program, under the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
, in charge of validating new technology for future use in other portions of the space program. Because many ideas cannot be fully tested in labs, the NMP was set up to launch probes, approximately once a year, as projects to test such ideas as Xenon Ion Engine
s, solar sail
s, Autonomous remote control systems, and other technologies, as well as miniature versions of proven technology. This is so that other projects can use newer technologies without having multi-billion dollar projects rely on untested technology.
The stated goals of the program include finding technologies that: Make spacecraft lighter, and therefore cheaper to launch. Help spacecraft become more autonomous, so that they do not require as many people for mission control, and allow a significant increase in technology for future missions.
Most of the projects tested are from outside labratories that want to be able to test their technology. The probes are smaller than a normal probe, and contain from 4-10 new projects each. Probes already launched include:
- Earth Observing 1 - A sucessful project, with several important technologies, including several new land imagers, and spectral imagers. It is flying in formation with Landsat 7 to verify data.
- Deep Space 1 - This probe was very sucessful, fulfilled all it's extended mission parameters and had a 3+ year tour before being decomissioned. The chief technologies tested were the Ion Drive, Miniature Spectrometer, and a remote agent (AI controller.) Total cost, $150 Million.
- Deep space 2 was expected to be a Mars lander. It was a part of the Mars Polar Lander project, which (presumably) crashed.
Several new probes are planned in the Space Technology series, including ST5, ST6, ST7, ST8, and ST9, each about a year apart. (ST4 was cancelled due to budgetary considerations)
- ST5 will test a Nano-Satellite configuration, 3 satalites flying in formation. The 3-part probe will be launched into the magnetosphere, for research about it. New technologies to be tested include Nanosatelite control mechanisms, Autonomous control mechanisms, and several science packages for research. It is now planned for 2004.
ST6 will test 3 new technologies, including an Inertial Stellar compass, Autonomous Rendezvous Expirement, and an Autonomous Sciencecraft Expirement. It's planned launch is Early 2004.
ST7 is going to test a Disturbance reduction system, as well as other technologies that have not yet been picked. It will be launched in 2006.
ST8 and ST9 are both planned, and have requests for technology outstanding. Their launch dates are 2007 and 2008. Technology types that are being requested include Solar sails, and a more powerful Ion propulsion drive.