Inside Unmanned Systems

APR-MAY 2018

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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28 April/May 2018 unmanned systems inside SPECIAL REPORT NASA TECHNOLOGY Small, autonomous spacecraft could one day self-assemble in orbit into giant satellites capable of observing distant stars, monitoring the Earth, mining asteroids or beaming energy homeward. by Charles Q. Choi B igger is often better, not just on Earth, but in space. The larger an orbital observatory, the more light it can gather, helping it capture higher-resolution images and see fainter details. The giant mirrors of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, for example, have helped it analyze the skies of planets around distant stars. The bigger a satellite is, however, the more expensive it is to build and launch. Now scientists are taking the first steps toward creating fleets comprising thou- sands of autonomous, bread loaf-sized robots capable of assembling themselves into giant spacecraft. This strategy could not only enable the construction of space telescopes bigger than any previously launched into orbit, but a wide range of other structures as well, such as asteroid miners able to extract precious metals or solar power stations that could beam energy down to Earth's surface. Satellites are typically limited in size by the rockets and other launch vehi- cles used to lug them or their compo- nents into space. Space observatories that focus on radio waves have less of an issue because they can use antennas that unfold in orbit. However, space observatories that capture visible and infrared light typically require mirrors to do so, and developing foldable mir- rors for those wavelengths is compli- cated when it is even feasible. Stargazers: Giant Telescopes that Build Themselves NASA IS NOW EXAMINING "THE POTENTIAL OF IN-SPACE ASSEMBLY AND MANUFACTURING FOR FUTURE NASA MISSIONS." Sergio Pellegrino, senior research scientist, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Photo courtesy of Space Structures Laboratory/Caltech.

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