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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Cheaper, smarter space drive
Europe is spending 31m (50 million euros) on a new generation of cheaper, smarter, spacecraft.

The idea is to build components with a common design that can be reused in future missions, instead of building new spacecraft completely from scratch.


Lighter intelligent systems reduce total mission costs so perhaps we can launch more missions

Anton Linssen, European Space Agency
The European Space Agency (Esa) believes the approach will save time and money.

It could also lead to lighter, better performing spacecraft.

Anton Linssen, head of Esa's science support office, said: "With the money we have, we want to fly as many missions as possible and deliver maximum value for money to the scientific community.

"Lighter intelligent systems reduce total mission costs so perhaps we can launch more missions.

"Alternatively, we can add more experiments to space probes. Either way, we get more science."

Destination comet

Esa has asked Europe's leading aerospace companies to come up with some ideas for what to build.

The concept has already been tested in part.

The recently launched Integral gamma-ray observatory reused part of the design for an X-ray satellite, XMM-Newton, launched in December 1999.

Europe's Mars Express spacecraft, set for launch next summer, uses hardware designed for the comet-chasing mission, Rosetta.

Deep space

Colin McInnes, Professor of Space Systems Engineering at Glasgow University, UK, thinks it is a good idea in principle.

"For small satellites, say for Earth observation missions, or for missions close to Earth, plugging together common sub-systems should certainly prove beneficial," he told BBC News Online.

The concept is best suited to a series of spacecraft heading for similar destinations, he says.

It will be trickier in the relatively uncharted territory of deep space, where they will encounter a very varied environment.

See also:

17 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
30 Nov 99 | Science/Nature
03 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
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