Usually space missions require unique spacecraft that are custom built for hundreds of millions of dollars, but an innovative Modular Common Spacecraft Bus will allow NASA to launch more missions for less money. By using a modular platform NASA will no longer need to “reinvent the wheel” for each mission and leveraging previous R&D further reduces design cost. The spacecraft is roughly one tenth the price of a conventional unmanned mission and could be used to land on the moon, orbit Earth, or rendezvous with asteroids. It was not easy to get NASA headquarters to believe in the project, but when high-ranking NASA officials saw a flight test, they were impressed enough to include the team in an $80 million dollar mission to the moon, called the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE).

Right now, researchers are testing a prototype propelled by compressed air cylinders instead of a classic fuel and oxygen rocket, saving several weeks or months of testing. The video below shows the compressed air propulsion system in a hover test. “In the 1960′s landing on the Moon took a team of thousands of people. Today that same task can be done with 30,” said team lead Will Marshall. According to Ames Research Center Director Pete Worden, “The progress that the NASA team is making on fast-development, low-cost planetary spacecraft shows we still have the right stuff.”

Credit: William Marshall / NASA

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Water ice and other frozen volatiles are to be found in many shadowed craters near the lunar poles.

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