The Next Steps In Exploring Deep Space

The International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) announces the release of its cosmic study: The Next Steps In Exploring Deep Space, a vision for the scientific exploration of space in the first half of the 21st Century. The study results will be presented at a press conference at the Headquarters of the European Space Agency (ESA) in Paris, France on Monday, 19 July 2004 at 09:00 a.m. Daniel Sacotte, ESA Director of Exploration, will host this event and introduce IAA President Edward Stone, Next Steps study leader Wesley Huntress and several of the study team members who will present the results of this three year project.

ESA and other space agency employees participated in and contributed to the Next Steps study project. ESA also arranged and hosted an international conference, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands in September 2003, to discuss space exploration science objectives, potential architectures and cooperation scenarios. More than 100 scientists, space program officials and industry representatives from Europe, Asia and the Americas participated in this meeting which was organized in connection with the Next Steps study.

The IAA study outlines compelling scientific and cultural imperatives that provide the context for a vigorous program of robotic science missions and for a systematic and evolutionary architecture for human expansion into the solar system. The resulting architecture represents a new approach towards establishing a permanent human presence in the solar system beyond low Earth orbit.

The Next Steps report defines scientific objectives for deep space exploration that are in turn used to determine the destinations for human explorers. Robotic missions continue to play a key role in achieving the science objectives and preparing for and assisting human exploration. Such an integrated robotic-human exploration program can be safe, cost-effective, exciting, and scientifically rewarding, and thus would have the elements necessary for public and political support and sustainability that are prerequisites for long-term human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

Four key destinations emerge as the most important targets: the Moon, Libration Points (gravitationally balanced locations that are ideal for maintaining spacecraft, telescopes, etc.) such as the one located away from the sun and behind the Earth that is called “SEL2”, Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) and the planet Mars. The ultimate goal over the next 50 years is to establish a human presence on Mars for science and exploration. Intermediate activities are designed to make progress toward that goal; in the process, they provide important opportunities for scientific discovery while stimulating the development and validation of the infrastructure to support permanent human presence beyond Earth orbit with periodic missions to key destinations.

By spreading the major new developments among four major architectural steps, a set of logical, affordable steps is described; first in near-Earth space to the Moon and SE-L2, second into deep space to NEO’s, third to Mars orbit and its moons Deimos and Phobos, and finally to the surface of Mars itself. This stepping-stone approach allows for flexibility: destinations and missions can be inserted, removed, or modified as needed to adjust annual investments, manage mission risk, and respond to discoveries and technological progress.

The guiding principles of this architecture are:

Goal-driven: Include only those destinations that are scientifically and culturally compelling and for which human capabilities are both suitable and beneficial.

Separate cargo and crew: Maximize efficiency and crew safety by focusing transportation tasks. Minimize crew flight time by off-loading heavy cargo and scientific equipment onto dedicated cargo vehicles, sent in advance of the crew for rendezvous at the destination.

One major new development per destination: Establish a flexible sequence of destinations and missions such that only one major new capability is required for each step; coupled with evolutionary progress in existing capabilities.

Emphasize use of existing transportation tools: Require no fundamentally new and expensive propulsion systems or launch vehicles. Rely instead on proven technologies and on a combination of astronaut and robotic capabilities for in-space assembly and fueling of reusable systems.

The IAA Next Steps study considers human exploration of deep space to be an intrinsically global enterprise. The study team recognizes that several space-faring countries are developing in parallel space exploration “visions” as well as “roadmaps” to achieve their goals. While the visions and roadmaps may differ and while some countries may prefer not to depend on others for success, the study assumes that there will be numerous opportunities to coordinate activities and to cooperate in the achievement of long term exploration goals.

The study considers the reasons countries have cooperated on space projects, identifies the coordination and cooperation approaches used over the past forty years and reviews some of the lessons learned from past international projects. The study also recommends several steps that countries interested in space exploration could take to facilitate prospects for international collaboration.

The Next Steps study was conducted by a team of international specialists working on a volunteer basis under the auspices of the IAA, an international scholarly academy with 1162 members from 68 countries. This study is not a strategic implementation plan for any national space program; rather, it represents a vision that can be considered by interested space agencies, hopefully in the context of an international cooperative endeavor.

Copies of the Next Steps in Exploring Deep Space study executive summary will be available at the press conference at ESA Headquarters. The complete final report will be available on the IAA website following the press conference on 19 July 2004.