Will spacecraft travelling through interplanetary space be able to determine their positions by using signals from dead stars as astronomical clocks?
What is the likelihood of artificial muscles made from electro-active polymers replacing mechanical parts in spacecraft?
Will it ever be possible to conceive an interstellar highway in which spacecraft journey across the galaxy using the delicate gravitational balance between neighbouring stars?
These are just some of the imaginative, futuristic concepts that will be studied in the first call for proposals issued under a new European Space Agency (ESA) initiative named Ariadna.
Managed by the Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) on behalf of the Agency’s Advanced Concepts and Studies Office, Ariadna will further strengthen the existing links between ESA and the European academic community.
Not only will Ariadna enhance opportunities for cooperation and exchange of information between ESA, universities and research institutes, but it will also enable ESA to become even more involved in ground-breaking research than in the past, becoming an equal partner as much as possible, rather than a mere supervisor.
“In the Advanced Concepts Team we want to devote our time to what we like best: finding out about research being carried out in universities, and carrying out research ourselves,” said Andrés Gálvez, head of the Advanced Concepts Team at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands.
“The easiest way of doing so is by working together in areas of common interest,” he added. “Ariadna will help us to achieve these goals, by fostering the free flow of innovative ideas and information between ESA and the academic community.”
Ariadna will be devoted to short, inexpensive studies involving research into radical new space technologies. The main areas of interest will be:
– Fundamental Physics: Theoretical research into fundamental physical phenomena and exploration of their technological implications in subjects such as gravitational physics and quantum mechanics.
– Advanced power systems: Research looking beyond photovoltaic systems (solar cells) into power systems for future space missions. This includes investigation of in-space power production systems for transmission to Earth, such as Solar Power Satellites.
– Advanced propulsion: Research into advanced in-space propulsion systems and non-conventional systems for access to orbit.
– Mission analysis and design: Development of trajectory design strategies and tools, novel mission and system concepts that could revolutionise the trajectories of spacecraft travelling around the Solar System.
– Mathematics and Informatics: Research into advanced computing systems and mathematical tools, with special emphasis on improved mission design, performance and return, and more efficient working methodologies.
– Biomimicry: Development of methodologies and solutions to space-related engineering problems through the imitation of plants and animals. This biologically inspired research includes behavioural models, structures and materials, mechanisms and processes, sensors and communications, survivability and adaptability.
To simplify procedures, there will be only three types of study:
a) Fast – lasting up to 2 months, maximum expenditure of EUR 15 000,
b) Medium – lasting up to 4 months, maximum of EUR 25 000,
c) Extended – duration up to 6 months, maximum of EUR 35 000.
A new call for proposals is anticipated about once every six months, after which contracts will be awarded to research institutes and academic departments to perform work directly related to the objectives of the ACT.
The future of solar system exploration and the utilisation of space require the development of radical new technologies and concepts. One way in which these advances can be achieved is through ESA’s Advanced Concepts and Studies Office.
The Advanced Concepts Team, which was established at ESTEC in December 2001, comprises a group of post-doctoral scientific and engineering research fellows who perform cutting-edge research on futuristic concepts which are beyond the purview of mainstream ESA/industry technology research and development.
The team supports numerous preliminary studies by space industry and academia in order to facilitate research and decision-making in a fast-changing world.
Ariadna is named after the daughter of King Minos, Ariadne, who according to Greek mythology gave Theseus a ball of yarn that enabled him to find his way back out of the labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur.
More information on Ariadna and the first Call for Proposals can be found at: