It’s been kind of interesting to watch the ebb and flow of space business over the past decade or so since I started following things closely. One of the companies I had been particularly interested in the past was Microcosm of El Segundo, CA. I became interested in them due to my former fetish for “Minimum Cost Design” ELVs like the Scorpius that they were (and still are) developing. They also had some interesting papers back in 98 or 99 about low cost lunar settlements that inspired some of the thought that went into my old “Prometheus Downport Project” idea for a commercial lunar settlement. I noticed a link to their site from another space related news site (Lunar Enterprise Daily) today and stumbled across some interesting research they’re doing.
Advanced warning, these are SBIRs, and Phase I’s at that, which means that it’ll be a while before they’ve even proven these will work at all, but they had two interesting projects that I figured were worth bringing more attention to.
The first was for their Micromak miniature (100 gram) star tracker that might be of use for nano and pico sats, the general idea I get is that by using mirrors and avoiding direct lines of sight to space, they are able to get away with a simpler sensor, and to make it more rad hard at the same time. Or so they claim. I personally wouldn’t mind seeing something like that on the shelf eventually. Star Trackers are an excellent way to get orientation information in space.
The other one that appeared even more interesting to me was the idea (which I’ll dub X-ray Pulsar Positioning System or XPPS for short) of using naturally occuring signals from X-ray Pulsars to provide positioning and attitude data anywhere in the solar system, not just inside the orbit of existing GPS satellites. If something like that works, it could make interplanetary navigation substantially easier, much as GPS has made terrestrial navigation so much easier. GPS is really convenient, and it would be nice to get even some of the benefits of it without having to pay the huge infrastructure costs of setting up systems like that around every interesting planet or moon that we want to settle in the future. All that said, this is just a Phase I SBIR, and it would be interesting to know more about how they were actually planning on doing this. Anyone have any thoughts?