The spacecraft of the future will need new technologies.
We are working on systems to detect gravitational waves, access the subsurface of other planets, and even grow the complex substances, such as antibiotics, that we will need as we spend more time in space.
Our researchers have developed precision optics, to detect minute changes in position, and new folding techniques to fit large solar sails into tiny packages. We have even used the geomagnetic field to direct the behaviour of nanosatellites.
Today, we are examining how rockets will interact with planetary surfaces, and how launch vehicles can be scaled down such that the nanosatellites of the future might have access to their own, individualised nanolaunchers.
- For every action they take, rovers have to report their situation to Earth and then wait for instructions on how to proceed. This time delay in communications greatly hampers progress. What if rovers had the capability to make basic decisions about path planning themselves?
- The ionosphere is an ionised region of the upper atmosphere ranging in altitude from approximately 90 to 1600 km. Variations in the density of the electrons in the ionosphere can disturb the passage of radio signals, creating difficulties for some communications and imaging applications.
- Spaceborne experiments that probe subtle gravitational effects often involve picometre-scale measurements over timescales of minutes to hours and over long baselines.
- To venture into space - via humans or robots - access to the universal chemistry-set available on earth is going to be essential to conduct new science, to perform repairs, and to produce drugs, sensors, fuel and feedstock.
- Solutions that provide lightweight and autonomous power for launchers and satellites are essential to further technological development.
- Old spacecraft pose a collision risk to active and manned vehicles. Fortunately, the upper atmosphere is still thick enough to exert a drag force which eventually causes them to re-enter and burn up. An aerobrake deployed at the end of their mission could reduce the duration of this dangerous period.
- To deliver the next generation of satellite-based communications and to address operational requirements within the harsh environmental conditions of space, research into a solid-state based electronics solution continues to gain momentum.
- The expense and hazards of space travel and sheer distances involved (with associated communications lags to Earth) have driven the need for launching wholly autonomous robot controlled missions.
- Drilling on the surface of extraterrestrial planets such as Mars is difficult. The low gravity means that the rover on which the drill could be mounted will appear to have very little weight, which makes it difficult to press the drill firmly against the rock. The next generation of Mars landers will therefore require a new system for drilling into the surface soil, rock and ice.
- With gravity a third of the Earth's, the effectiveness of conventional drilling techniques can be severely reduced on Mars. Ultrasonic, high-frequency vibration appears to be able to affect the soil in such a way as to reduce the forces we need to apply.
- In the last 50 years astronomers have discovered a vast number of small asteroids orbiting the Sun. A tiny fraction of these objects follow trajectories which bring them near to the Earth. Near Earth Objects represent a huge risk to human kind, but no near-term means to mitigate the consequences of such impacts currently exists.
The current rapid growth in commercial downstream satellite applications is a result of long-term investments in upstream technologies for satellite platforms across sectors such as telecommunications, Earth observation and navigation.
- Nanosatellites have the ability to open up access to space for new researchers. So why do we not have nanolaunchers to place them there?