The space sector has been undergoing numerous developments since the past years, due to several factors such as cost-effective systems due to technological advances, increasing private investments by emerging players in the industry, increasing need for better communication and connectivity. Deep space exploration includes both planetary explorations as well as human spaceflight and habitation explorations. Both these explorations require extensive support of various systems such as robotic systems to conduct various scientific investigations. The objectives for conducting deep space exploration is to expand human presence into space, increase planetary exploration capabilities, increase the ability to deploy assets and resources, support astronauts during space missions, and enhance effectiveness of human operations.
Leading Space Agencies operating in Deep Space Exploration
- NASA: NASA is one of the major space agencies which is supporting the International Space Station. Currently, the agency is leading the Human Exploration Program, wherein three related programs – Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion crew spacecraft, and the Exploration Ground Equipment (EGS) – are being developed with an objective to achieve human spaceflight beyond low earth orbit.
- European Space Agency: ESA is a regional space agency comprising 22 member states. It is responsible for developing space programs that aim toward exploring the Earth, its surrounding environment, the solar system and the universe. ESA has numerous sites each established for various responsibilities.
- China National Space Administration (CNSA): CNSA is the national space agency of China which is engaged in space-related activities. CNSA is a major player in lunar exploration and is dedicated toward contributing to scientific discovery. For instance, in 2019, CNSA announced that its Chang’e-4 mission which included the lander and Yutu2 rover successfully soft-landed on the far side of the moon. With this mission a success, China aims at launching a probe in 2020 that will orbit, land, and rover on Mars in 2021.
- Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO): ISRO is India’s national space agency which aims to provide the country with space-based services and develop technologies to support its objectives. ISRO is now one of the six largest space agencies in the world. ISRO maintains one of the largest fleets of communication satellites INSAT and remote sensing IRS satellites, that contribute to the growing demand for rapid and secure communication and earth observation, respectively. ISRO is focused on the development of heavy lift launchers, human spaceflight projects, reusable launch vehicles, semi-cryogenic engines, single and two stage to orbit (SSTO and TSTO) vehicles, as well as development and use of composite materials for space applications, among others. With the focus of various space agencies toward deep space exploration, ISRO also has made a progress toward lunar exploration.
- Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA): JAXA was a result of a merger of three entities: the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL), and the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA). In 2015, JAXA became a National Research and Development Agency, which is currently responsible for Japan’s overall aerospace development and utilization. For deep space exploration, JAXA is developing a new parabolic antenna to replace the 30-year-old antenna Usuda Deep Space Center.
- Russia State Space Corporation (ROSCOSMOS): State Space Corporation ROSCOSMOS is Russian space agency, which oversees and implements Russian government’s space programs. ROSCOSMOS is also responsible for sourcing, development, manufacture, and supply of space equipment and space infrastructure objects. Roscosmos has four space centers, which include Baikonur, Plesetsk, Guiana Space Centre, and Vostochny. It is also one of the five space agencies which participated in the International Space Station (ISS) Programme. Roscosmos is also focusing on the exploration for deep space and human spaceflight.
Technology Trends Influencing the Space Exploration Market
- Artificial Intelligence: Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a focus area in all industry verticals such as military, manufacturing, healthcare, and aerospace sectors. In the space sector, the space agencies have started incorporating AI in the equipment used for their space missions. For instance, ESA’s space rovers can self-navigate through obstacles autonomously finding its path across an unknown field. The use of AI for intelligent data transmission on Mars or Lunar rovers eliminates human scheduling errors, hence resulting in collecting valuable data and extracting meaningful information.
- Artificial Intelligence (SEP): NASA’s focus is driven toward sending and expanding human presence across the solar system which includes the Moon and Mars. For this, the space agency is working toward developing and utilizing cutting-edge technologies that can enhance NASA’s capabilities in space, along with supporting future missions and various commercial spaceflight activities.
- Station Explorer for X-Ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT): NASA, in 2018, developed an autonomous space navigation, Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT). This navigation technology helps in navigating spacecrafts heading toward the solar system through the use of pulsars as guide stars. SEXTANT is similar to the GPS receiver and receives signals from at least three GPS satellites which are equipped with atomic clocks. The receiver measures the time delay from each satellite and converts this into spatial coordinates. The electromagnetic radiation beaming from pulsars, which are highly magnetized and fast rotating neutron stars, is highly visible in the X-ray spectrum.