Office of the Dean
Phone: (208) 885-6470
Fax: (208) 885-6645
Janssen Engineering (JEB)
875 Perimeter Drive MS 1011
Moscow, ID 83844-1011
Contact Denise Engebrecht
Phone: (208) 364-6123
Fax: (208) 364-3160
Idaho Water Center
322 E. Front Street
Boise, ID 83702
Contact Debbie Caudle
Phone: (208) 282-7983
Fax: (208) 282-7929
1776 Science Center Drive, Suite 306
Idaho Falls, Idaho 83402
From the Mar's Hopper to Small Satellites, the NASA ISGC Helps Propel Research to New Heights
As the voice of NASA in the state of Idaho, the Idaho Space Grant Consortium (ISGC) provides and supports numerous unique and exciting opportunities for the general public, K-12 students, educators, undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and industry in areas related to NASA’s initiatives.
Researchers working through the NASA ISGC are provided with competitive opportunities to secure grant-based funding to initiate and support cutting edge research and to secure and maintain partnerships with NASA centers. Ultimately, ISGC-supported research generates multiple benefits that residents of Idaho, the region, and the nation enjoy every day.
Two interesting research projects taking place right now through the ISGC include work led by Dr. David Atkinson and Dr. John Crepeau. Small Satellites for Solar System Exploration, a research endeavor lead by Atkinson includes studies and student involvement in the area of technology development and mission studies in the area of small satellites for outer solar system exploration. Atkinson, who is on a research sabbatical at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as a Senior Research Fellow, is currently working as a science team member for a future Saturn entry probe mission. The mission, let by Jonathan Lunine at Cornell University and with partners at NASA Ames, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, University of Michigan, and Observatoire de Paris-Meudon, and Observatoire de la Cote d'Azur in France, will be proposed in 2014 as a $1 billion dollar class New Frontiers Mission. If selected for flight, the Saturn probe mission would be launched between 2021 - 2025 and, with a 6-8 year cruise, will arrive at Saturn in 2027-2033.
As part of the research, the Idaho Space Grant Consortium Near Space Engineering Program is working with research collaborators at NASA Ames. Partially funded by Atkinson’s NASA ISGC Research Initiation Grant and as part of the Idaho scientific balloon program RISE, NASA Ames is developing and flying an autonomous parafoil system. The NASA parafoil is carried to altitudes of greater than 50,000 feet and released, and will autonomously guide itself to a predetermined landing location using GPS guidance systems. Idaho RISE is also providing support to NASA Ames to develop a new satellite communication system that can be used for balloon tracking. To support the research with NASA Ames and JPL, Kevin Ramus (ECE), Walter Taresh (ME), Kim Baird (ECE), and Carlos Gonzalez (ECE) had summer internships with NASA last summer.
Thermal and Propulsion Subsystems Analysis of the Mars Hopper, the research being led by Dr. John Crepeau involves the development of a new Mars surface exploration vehicle. Exploration of the planet Mars has a long and distinguished history. The place-bound Viking vehicles landed on the surface on Mars in 1976 and transmitted pictures and scientific data back to earth. In 2004, the rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars, and were able to travel a few kilometers over the Martian surface, gathering important scientific information. In order to expand the reach of our understanding of Mars, Crepeau and his team are developing a new exploration vehicle called the Mars Hopper, which will literally hop distances of up to 5km every week, enabling them to map and obtain information about the red planet.
The premise of the technology behind the Hopper is simple and elegant. Carrying rocket fuel to Mars is weighty and expensive. The Mars Hopper uses a radioisotope heat source to provide electric power to the spacecraft. That power runs a device which liquefies Martian atmospheric gas, which primarily consists of carbon dioxide, and stores it in a pressure tank. When the vehicle is ready to hop, the carbon dioxide is heated up, then expanded through a converging-diverging nozzle, providing the thrust necessary to move from one location to another. When the Hopper lands and the scientific information is gathered, the cycle begins again, liquefying the Martian atmospheric gas, storing, heating and expanding it so that it hops to another location.
By using this design, no chemical fuel is needed to provide the thrust of the rocket, no combustion occurs, and in situ resources on Mars are used to provide the impulse to move the Hopper. Robotic exploration of Mars is relatively inexpensive, and a large number of Hoppers can be used to map the surface of Mars. Eventually, Hoppers could be used as part of a Mars sample return mission, enabling scientists on Earth to study Martian geology and determine if life existed on Mars.