Catalyst: An Orbit Platform for Accelerating the Advancement of the Cislunar Economy

Athip Thirupathi Raj, Alvaro Diaz-Flores, Jekan Thangavelautham

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

1 Scopus citations


The next major milestone in space development will be kickstarting the Cislunar space economy. This new economy will require resources and infrastructure to start. Bringing resources from Earth's surface still remains prohibitively expensive. The Moon is a short distance away and is similar to Earth, except for water. Substantial water reserves are thought to be locked in the Permanently Shadowed Crater regions of the Moon, but these are also some of the most challenging places to access in the solar system. Alternate sources of water are needed to turn the Moon into an export economy. There are nearly 20,000 Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) diverse in composition and are thought to hold substantial water reserves. Water from these NEOs will require much less effort to extract, and process and could be used to facilitate the development of lunar mining facilities, communication relay stations, and human and robotic bases. The key to the development of this Cislunar space economy is small, agile teams of robotic spacecraft, surface rovers/transport vehicles, and infrastructure robots. This is being made possible with the miniaturization of robotic hardware, particularly sensors, actuators, and computers. This has spawned lightweight, highly dexterous robots that have the potential to match and exceed human physical capabilities in space and planetary environments. There is substantial investment and success in early-stage technology development for space. However, many technologies face the TRL "valley of death," TRLs from 5-8, where there have been significant roadblocks both in terms of cost, complexity, and limited access that prevent further advancement. These technologies require the development of substantial supporting resources such as demonstration spacecraft and, coupled with limited launch opportunities, limit new technology advancement. All of these factors can benefit from utilizing an on-orbit demonstration platform that can accelerate the development and testing of robotic hardware. The platform would provide critical resources, including power, lighting, localization equipment, data acquisition, observational cameras, hard surfaces, and observational access to the Earth below. This platform can be used as a sandbox to advance new spacecraft instruments, spacecraft to spacecraft coordination/servicing/docking, and recreate low-gravity environments of asteroids and the Moon to advance next-generation robotics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAIAA SciTech Forum 2022
PublisherAmerican Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Inc, AIAA
ISBN (Print)9781624106316
StatePublished - 2022
EventAIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition, AIAA SciTech Forum 2022 - San Diego, United States
Duration: Jan 3 2022Jan 7 2022

Publication series

NameAIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition, AIAA SciTech Forum 2022


ConferenceAIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition, AIAA SciTech Forum 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering


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