MILO Institute invites partners to join missions to moon, near-Earth objects

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WASHINGTON – The nonprofit MILO Institute is beginning to reveal some of the universities and government agencies around the world signing onto its plan to share the cost of deep space science missions across multiple organizations.

At an Oct. 22 Milo Institute press conference at the 2019 International Astronautical Congress here, Ian Jones, Goonhilly Earth Station CEO, Gordon Osinski, director of the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration at Western University in Canada, and Richard Ambrosi, University of Leicester professor of space instrumentation and space nuclear power systems, will discuss the importance of international cooperation.

The MILO Institute, a research collaborative led by Arizona State University with support from Lockheed Martin and Lockheed Martin subsidiary GEOShare, was unveiled at the 2018 International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany. The organization’s premise is that many worthwhile space science missions don’t receive the government backing they need to reach orbit.

“There is more compelling space science that should be getting done, that needs to get done but is simply not getting done,” GEOShare CEO Lon Levin said during an Oct. 21 presentation at the 2019 International Astronautical Congress here.

If organizations pool their resources, more missions could fly and more engineers, scientists and students would have opportunities to participate, said David Thomas, MILO Institute executive director and CEO of the ASU Research Enterprise called ASURE. “We believe that the consortium model allows entities from around the world to participate at a fraction of the total mission cost,” he added.

A scientific panel will ensure MILO Institute missions perform “decadal level science,” Levin said. The MILO Institute also is aiming for speed and cost control, seeking to perform missions within five years that cost $200 million or less, Levin said.

Lunar missions would fly either alongside NASA payloads or, if there were enough of them, alone on the McCandless Lunar Lander, said Tim Linn, Lockheed Martin Space Systems senior manager and chief systems engineer.

“This is an opportunity for MILO Institute members to perform compelling science on the surface of the moon at a small fraction of the traditional mission cost,” according to a Milo Institute white paper on mission opportunities.

Lockheed Martin was one of nine companies NASA selected last year in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program to bid on task orders to send payloads to the lunar surface.

Lockheed Martin does not yet have a task order to perform one of those missions but “we feel very good about our prospects,” Linn said.

In addition, the Milo Institute will invite members to perform close flybys of asteroids and comets in a mission called NEOShare, and travel to Apophis, before 2029 when the asteroid will come within 30,000 kilometers of Earth’s surface.

“We would like to send probes to Apophis before it gets here,” Levin said.

NEOShare could involve 20 to 30 organizations to send at least six cubesats and small satellites to different near-Earth objects. Members will have opportunities to participate at various levels, “depending on what each organization wants to achieve, from just access to the science data to full development of one or more of the spacecraft,” according to a MILO Institute white paper. “We intend to have financial commitments for the inaugural mission by the end of 2019, although funds to develop and then operate the mission would be phased over the mission duration.”

Instruments onboard NEOShare satellites could gather data on asteroid and comet surface geology, mineralogy, ice-volatile-organic inventory, density and other properties, according to MILO Institute white papers.

“Using reasonable assumptions about launch and spacecraft delta-V capabilities, we have identified more than 100 currently known asteroids and 20 currently known comets to consider studying up close. Some of the flyby spacecraft could be retargeted to a second flyby object after their first encounter.”

Since the MILO Institute was formed one year ago, its leaders have held discussions with universities, space agencies and other government agencies around the world.

“We’re seeing an enormous amount of interest in joining the MILO Institute as well as people signing up to join us,” Levin said. Eleven organizations have signed memorandums of understanding with the MILO Institute and more memorandums are being drafted, he added.