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Fast Response Keeps Champollion On Track

By JOHN G. WATSON JPL Universe April 30, 1999

Engineering ingenuity and dawn-to-dusk efforts over the past few weeks have resulted in a successful and lifesaving redesign of Space Technology 4/Champollion, a proposed mission to land on a comet nucleus.

The mission will feature a single spacecraft instead of a mother ship and lander as part of newly announced, reconfigured mission architecture. Some of JPL's most creative solutions come out of the crucible of rigid budget and engineering constraints, and Space Technology 4/Champollion has emerged from the fire a leaner and meaner mission.

Changes in the mission plan will allow Space Technology 4/Champollion to accomplish all of its technology validation and science goals while working within budget limits of approximately $158 million, excluding launch costs and operations.

Earlier plans had assumed that industry and/or government agencies would partner with the project in some key areas of technology. When such partners failed to materialize, the mission was faced with a significant funding shortfall.

On March 19, NASA headquarters formally requested a plan on how the ambitious comet rendezvous mission could be kept at its roughly $158 million cap.

Project Manager Brian Muirhead and his team rolled up their sleeves and got to work. "Within one week, the team had brainstormed, developed 18 pages of options, narrowed them down, arrived at what we thought was the most likely option to succeed and fleshed that option out," Muirhead said. "We then took two more weeks to detail the concept, estimate its mass and cost it."

A successful pair of presentations to NASA's Office of Space Science on April 8 and 14 led to reauthorization for JPL to proceed with formulating the mission based on the concept as presented.

"The ST4/Champollion team developed a revised mission plan that was capable of meeting the budget constraints," Muirhead said. "We went from a two-spacecraft paradigm to a single spacecraft, which gives us a simpler set of hardware that's easier to test on the ground. The new design is more robust, and our chances of a successful landing are as good or better than they were before.

"We received offers of support from all over the Lab, especially the technical divisions," he added. "JPL is really at its best when it's focused on supporting a project during a crisis."

The lifesaving transformation of the mission recalls similar resurrections of past JPL missions that had been threatened with cancellation. The Galileo mission, for example, was completely replanned several times due to changes made in launch configurations and upper stages, most dramatically after the Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986. The Cassini mission, too, was completely restructured in 1992 in response to a new budget squeeze and the cancellation of its sister mission, Comet Rendezvous Asteroid Flyby.

Attempting a feat never done before, Space Technology 4/Champollion will land on a comet's nucleus after surveying and mapping it for several months. The key to the success of this mission is a suite of 10 technologies that must work together as a system to deliver a payload safely to the surface of an active comet. These technologies-including multi-engine ion propulsion (building from Deep Space 1), a large, 10-kilowatt, high-efficiency solar array using inflatables and precision guidance and landing using a miniature scanning laser altimeter-have wide application to other future space science missions.

Once on the surface, the spacecraft will take images of its surroundings, drill for material below the surface of the nucleus and perform scientific experiments to determine the composition of this untouched material from the original solar nebula.

For further details about Space Technology 4/Champollion, visit

http://nmp.jpl.nasa.gov/st4

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