Unmanned Solar Electric Resource Prospector

Period of Performance: 06/17/2015 - 06/17/2016


Phase 1 STTR

Recipient Firm

Busek Co., Inc.
11 Tech Circle
Natick, MA 01760
Firm POC
Principal Investigator

Research Institution

University of Alabama, Huntsville
301 Sparkman Drive
Huntsville, AL 35899
Institution POC


The proposed innovation is a spacecraft that could be used for lunar or asteroid prospecting missions. The mission plan would involve sending the spacecraft to an asteroid or other target, and analyzing the regolith for traces of water and other elements to be mined later for in-situ resource utilization. The system features multiple innovations. One is game-changing high delta V solar electric propulsion (SEP) system featuring a hall thruster flowing iodine propellant. Another is a small tethered satellite with an on-board propulsion system that can be used as a modular working arm for the main spacecraft. The proposed Phase I program includes mission analysis, spacecraft, bus, and propellant module design, and identification of sensors and tools to be used for prospecting and plume analysis. Phase I also includes development of an iodine plasma spacecraft interactions model, which is a necessary precursor to any deep space mission with iodine propellant. In Phase II, the entire system including the spacecraft interactions model will be brought to a higher technology readiness level. Both Phase I and Phase II will include plasma plume measurements to support model development and analysis.