Atlanta, September 28, 2007 Engineering services and concept development firm SpaceWorks Engineering, Inc. (SEI) and small satellite developer SpaceDev, Inc. announce the submission of a joint proposal, the Foresight spacecraft, to the Planetary Society's Apophis mission design competition. Foresight is a low-cost, low-risk, minimal science approach to achieve the specific goal of obtaining accurate tracking to reduce the uncertainty in the orbit of potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) Apophis.
Apophis, a 260 meter near-Earth asteroid, will pass within the range of geostationary satellites during its close approach to the Earth in April 2029. The 2029 close approach will significantly alter Apophis' orbit. There is a small possibility that the asteroid will pass through an area of space called a "keyhole", which would cause Apophis to impact the Earth in 2036. More precise measurements of the orbit of Apophis can confirm or deny this possibility.
SEI and SpaceDev have developed the design for the Foresight radio beacon spacecraft as one approach to obtaining such precise measurements. The spacecraft leverages commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies where possible, incorporating leaner approaches to spacecraft design. This concept was designed in response the 2007 Planetary Society Apophis Mission Design Competition. The competition was a worldwide design contest to design such an asteroid "tagging" mission. The objective of this mission is to improve the knowledge of Apophis' orbit sufficiently by 2017 to know with a certain level of confidence whether or not Apophis will pass through the keyhole during its 2029 close approach.
The 220 kg Foresight spacecraft is attached to a 1,400 kg chemical propulsion, in-space transfer stage, which is envisioned to be launched on an Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur IV launch vehicle. Foresight main instruments, a multi-spectral imager and laser altimeter, are utilized in combination with NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) to increase the accuracy of the orbit of Apophis. Multiple launch windows from the Earth have been identified, spanning from 2012 to 2014. For the nominal mission, the spacecraft is launched on May 2012 and arrives at Apophis on March 2013, operating for one year. The all encompassing total cost (including launch) for the mission is US$137 M.
"We have leveraged the relative strengths of our two companies in the development of this mission concept. SEI's expertise in mission modeling and conceptual level design fits well with SpaceDev's experience in developing small spacecraft," said Mark Schaffer, Project Engineer of SEI and team leader for the proposal. "The result is a realistic, near-term solution to the problem of determining the orbit of a near-Earth asteroid to high level of fidelity. In the process, our two organizations have developed a mutually-beneficial working relationship that we hope to strengthen through future engagements."
"Humans are now at a point in our history where we can do something about the threat of an asteroid impact, so that we don't go the way of the dinosaurs," said mission co-developer Jesse Koenig of SpaceDev. "Apophis presents a great opportunity to build skills and knowledge that may save lives one day and also will benefit science and space exploration. We applaud the Planetary Society for taking the initiative with this competition to raise public awareness of PHAs and to stimulate serious study of the matter among experts in academia, government, and industry."
A summary of the design proposal can be found here: Foresight Mission Design Summary (September 28, 2007).
More information can be found at the Planetary Society 2007 Apophis mission design competition website.