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Faster, better, cheaper-NASA visualizes the solar system

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1 Author(s)
Delaney, B. ; CyberEdge Inf. Services, Sausalito, CA

Pathfinder is the first of many planned “Discovery Program” missions by NASA. The Discovery program is based on the concept of using “industry spacecraft” comprised of near commodity components built from generic parts that cost orders of magnitude less than the custom built equipment of earlier phases of space exploration. Daniel Goldin, administrator of NASA, has given his agency a mandate to explore the solar system faster, better, and cheaper than in the past. How do you build an “industry spacecraft”? First, use as much COTS (commercial off the shelf) hardware and software as possible. That eliminates the need for NASA to build every part and write all the software. Instead of building a custom computer, at a cost of millions, now NASA finds a commercial system (on Pathfinder, an IBM RS6000) and modifies it as needed. And the computer will probably run some version of a commercial operating system, saving thousands or millions more dollars in development costs. Other COTS components include the Motorola modem used to communicate between the rover and lander, and the real time operating system used in the lander. Second, make everything as small and light as possible. Launch costs-the cost of a rocket and fuel-still account for 30 to 40 percent of the total cost of a mission. Every gram of weight shaved off a payload reduces the cost of launch or adds to the number of scientific instruments that can go on board. Image processing equipment and methods used in Pathfinder are discussed

Published in:

Computer Graphics and Applications, IEEE  (Volume:17 ,  Issue: 6 )