2014.A.2.3 iCubeSat Based Transient Asteriod and Planetesimals (TAPs) Observatory


Russell Cox (1)
Pamela Clark (2)
Abraham Vasant (1)

  1. Flexure Engineering, USA
  2. Catholic University of America, USA




iCubeSat, LunarCube, Asteriods, NEOs


Resent calculations by Bill Bottke of Solar System Exploration Research Institute (SSRVI) suggest that there may be as many at ten to twenty one to two meter sized asteroids entering the Earth – Moon system each year. Many of these bodies may be temporarily captured for several weeks or months in chaotic trajectories that are likely to be energetically close to the Earth-Moon Lagrange points affording an opportunity for rendezvous and interaction several times each year with a previously unobserved population of Near Earth Objects (NEOs). This presentation will outline an observation program consisting of several generations of increasingly complex ESPA Ring Carrier \ iCubeSat platforms capable of interacting with 50 to 100 NEOs over a ten to fifteen year timeframe.

The proposed architecture would place an ESPA based carrier at an Earth – Moon Lagrange point with ten to twenty iCubeSat based chaser spacecraft. The carrier would provide propulsion, power, communication, navigation and computational support until a reachable NEO is detected and an individual chaser is launched, then the chaser must be able to track and rendezvous with a one meter sized object in a nearby chaotic trajectory. This rendezvous capability will be critical for future crewed and uncrewed missions to NEOs. Each chaser iCubeSat would have its own instrument suite that would include penetrators or robot arm(s) to interact with the object to ascertain its chemical and physical properties. Ideally one would launch 3 to 5 carriers over a ten to fifteen year timeframe to take advantage of improving technology and knowledge of the NEO population to be studied.

The knowledge gained would be very valuable to both the planetary science and asteroid mining communities. One simple and critical observation that can only be made by an architecture like this is to understand the relative abundance of differing asteroid morphologies. It is believed that asteroids have internal structures ranging from solid rocks to rubble piles to “dust bunnies” and very likely the only way to distinguish between these cases and to get good statistics on their relative abundances among NEOs and asteroids would be to directly interact with tens or hundreds of individual bodies. Additionally, “dust bunnies,” if they exist, would very likely be good analogs or examples of the earliest objects that became planetesimals in the early accretion disk and very little is known about the first stages of aggregation in planetary formation.


  • Download slides in PDF format here (6MB)

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