NewSpace Start-Up Aims To Send First Brazilian Probe To Moon

Publicado em 08/02/2018
Forbes em janeiro 2018

NewSpace start-up ‘Airvantis’ is aiming for a 2021 launch of Brazil’s first lunar probe that would circle the Moon in a highly- elliptical orbit. The hope is that the nominal six month cubesat mission’s 7-kilogram payload — dubbed ‘Garatea L’ — will both further astrobiology and reveal new deep space radiation insights that one day might help astronauts on a mission to Mars.

Lucas Fonseca, a space systems engineer and the Sao Paulo and New York-based company’s founder, told me that he remains hopeful that this Garatea L mission will achieve its full $10 million funding. That would ensure that it will be launched as planned as part of a multi-national payload atop a PSVL-XL rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in India.

The launch is headed up by U.K.-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) and Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd. as a lunar pathfinder mission that will include both transport and communications links for the payloads.

The priority is to understand how both biomolecules and so-called ‘extremophile’ bacteria are affected by extraordinarily harsh deep space environments. That is, when they are exposed to high-energy galactic cosmic rays and solar protons. The team also wants to determine how bacteria known to survive under Earth’s toughest conditions — in a real-time unprotected lunar environment.

As a result, the team will be able to identify genetic adaptation that could be applied for future crewed missions, or even on Earth.

The probe’s six low-cost, standardized cubesats will not detach from each other. Rather, once the “mother ship” arrives on the moon, it will enter orbit and release its payload of small satellites, including the Brazilians’ Garatea L. The Garatea L mission will be released by the SSTL mothership into a polar lunar orbit, ranging from 300 to 3000 kilometers above the lunar surface.

“Our probe will be put into a highly eccentric orbit so that it crosses earth’s magneto-tail and is directly exposed to the deep space conditions,” Douglas Galante an astrobiologist at the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory and a Garatea L science team member, told me.

The cubesat will have two primary experiments. A dry experiment will be designed to last the length of the mission and is simpler since it doesn’t depend on any sort of micro-fluids.

Its aim is to expose a carousel (rotary plate) of different biomolecules to the space environment and the effects and alterations to their molecular structure will then be measured with a multi-wavelength band spectrometer.

And a month-long wet experiment will use microfluidics to sustain growth, which has already been shown to be possible in low earth orbit, says Galante.

By growing extremophile bacteria under such wet conditions, the team can measure their metabolism with fluorescent dyes that use a miniaturized photometer. If the experiment works, Galante says it will be the farthest cell culture from Earth ever made . And it will serve to better constrain the habitability of our solar system.

Even so, throughout the mission’s duration, the cubesat will continually measure space radiation with the idea of also determining whether microorganisms could eventually be used to recycle a mars or lunar mission spacecraft’s or habitat’s atmosphere. Galante says such extremophiles might one day be used to recycle waste as well as for in-situ manufacturing of mission-critical products.