Today I thought I would pop up from more technical subjects for some broad thoughts about massless space exploration and the role of EC actuators in that paradigm.
Professor Peck, in his capacity as NASA’s Chief Technologist, did a Reddit AMA (question and answer session) earlier this summer. One of the topics he touched on was massless space exploration. Obviously, we already do truly massless space exploration – it’s called astronomy. I find the idea of massless space exploration elegant because it provides a way to look at the hard requirement wall of 11.7 m/s necessary for escape velocity, turn left, walk for a bit, and then come to a little door labeled ‘well why not just use the stuff that’s already up there?’
What does contact-less spacecraft interaction have to do with any of that? I see EC actuators being part of massless exploration in two ways:
EC actuators should make it easier to upkeep and repair still-working assets, extending the usefulness of mass we’ve already put in space; they will also decrease the cost and risk necessary to grab less useful mass in orbit (defunct satellites, debris) and repurpose it. A near term application could be attaching new electronics to an old antenna, but farther down the road some kind of solar powered forge/3D printer spacecraft could capture and break down man-made space debris and make it into something entirely new. (That’s a little out there, I realize.)
The other projects at SSDS can also be viewed through the lens of massless exploration.
One of the first resources we’re going to extract will be water (because we kind of need it to live) so an electrolysis-propelled spacecraft will be fuelled by a resource explorers are already collecting.
ChipSats are basically the simplest spacecraft you can make. Future space 3-D printers or other manufacturing methods could spit them out to look for more resources to keep the whole venture going.
Next Week: eddy currents in your own backyard!