Project Tin Tin

PROJECT TIN TIN – INTERSTELLAR NANO MISSION TO ALPHA CENTAURI

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Project Tin Tin is an effort to lay the foundations for cost-effective technology and engineering validation Cubesat missions, leading up to the first interstellar precursor mission to Alpha Centauri. The objective of Project Tin Tin is to motivate interstellar exploration by pushing the envelope of what is currently possible for deep space exploration.

The Project Tin Tin research team aims to design, model and pursue the launch of a set of nanosat-sized spacecraft, or “Tins”, with technical and scientifically relevant objectives starting as early as 2015

The mission objectives include:

  • [1] Assessing current capabilities for near future interstellar precursor nanosat missions, 
  • [2] The incremental space validation of enabling technologies in propulsion, power, communications, structures, fabrication, telemetry and sensors and 
  • [3] To launch the first interstellar spacecraft on route to Alpha Centauri, by the end of the decade, beating Voyager’s ascribed 75,000 year time to arrival.

Our first “position paper” announcing the initiative during the 63 International Astronomical Congress in Naples, Italy [1].

Background to the Project

Fundamental to a scientifically meaningful and technically redeeming interstellar exploration program however, is a series of incremental interstellar pathfinder missions. History shows how such roadmaps can easily become derailed by the lack of nationally sponsored funding, policies and the requirements to validate advanced technologies by progressing them through Technology Readiness Levels (TRL), which often require many years of modelling and laboratory prototyping.

Proposals such as the NASA/NIAC Realistic/ Innovative Interstellar Explorer [ 2] and several other technically feasible mission concepts proposed in the last decade, offer tangible scientific benefits using heritage technologies. In 2015, after its brief but meaningful encounter with Pluto, New Horizons will join the short list of interstellar probes alongside the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft. There are no additional interstellar missions planned, and even Voyager-2, the fastest moving spacecraft, will not pass close to a neighboring solar system for hundreds of thousands of years. 

Cubesats have been used in a wide number of reduced scope missions in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) utilizing miniaturized space technologies and affordable, commercial off the shelf (COTS) equipment. Offering an attractive mass budget, efforts are underway to design lunar, asteroid and planetary exploration missions [3], using currently available launcher and propulsion technologies.

 On February 26th, 2013 NASA announced, a series of new Cubesat Space mission candidates [4] to explore the cubesat technology roadmap.

References

[1] A. Tziolas, A. Crowl, K. Konstantinidis, “Project Tin Tin – Interstellar Nano Mission To Alpha Centauri“, IAC-12-D1.1.1, 2012.

[2] R. McNutt, “A Realistic Interstellar Explorer,” Advances in Space Research, vol. 34, no. 1, p. 192–197, 2004

[3] “Interplanetary CubeSat Workshop,” Cambride, MA, May, 2012. [ http://icubesat.org/].

[4] http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-073

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