On April 6, 2016 ExoTerra won NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Contest! ExoTerra was 1 of 13 other proposals that were awarded for this Phase I opportunity. According to NASA, NIAC projects study innovative, technically credible, advanced concepts that could one day “Change the Possible” in aerospace. As Principal Investigator on the proposal, Mike VanWoerkom became a NASA NIAC Fellow!
During the award period, ExoTerra will investigate the possibility of using a Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester (NIMPH) to discover if there really is life on Europa!!
Using a CubeSat as the ride to Jupiter’s moon, the NIMPH will be deployed to the surface. While there, the lander will utilize an In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) unit to gather enough “green” propellant from the surface to lift off. The power for NIMPH to operate on the moon will be provided by the CubeSat’s Solar Electric Propulsion System (SEP), and the thrust to takeoff from the moon will be provided by a micro LOx/LH2 engine. The lander will then dock with the CubeSat to return back to earth with samples of Europa.
Why use a CubeSat and NIMPH for this mission? Cost and Mass are the largest biggest reasons for this scenario. According to the National Research Council, the estimated cost of just landing on Europa approaches $5B! This scenario drastically reduces the cost to make not only landing on Jupiter’s moon feasible, but also returning to earth with samples that will likely show us if there is life on Europa!
NIMPH: Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester
* CubeSat In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) for generating Lift-Off propellant from any icy surface.
* Micro LOx/LH₂ thruster for high eff., high thrust micro landers.
* Leverages 55 kW Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) module being developed for Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) to perform high ∆V transfer & transmit power to the surface using a laser telescope.
* Optimize SEP Module orbit to minimize lander mass.
* Perform conceptual design of CubeSat Lander including: avionics, propulsion, guidance, thermal, radiation protection & power generation, storage and distribution.
* Conceptual design of micro LOx/LH₂ engine.
* Perform design of NIMPH by adapting medical and fuel cell pumps, valves and compressors for space application & evaluating 3D printing options.
* 1.7 kf ISRU unit reduces mass by 98% compared to NASA’s RESOLVE.
* .85 kg LOx/LH₂ engine reduces mass by 55% vs Airbus 300N.
* Using ice from moon enables sample return by reducing propellants carried from Earth.
* Micro-Lander reduces landed mass to <20 kg. * 55 kW BOL arrays and laser telescope enables over 700W of electrical power to be delivered to landers as far away as Jovian moons, eliminating need for RTG. * Reduces initial mass for a Europa sample return to within capabilities of an existing Atlas 551. * Reduces cost of a Europa sample return by up to an order of magnitude