Space architecture design for commercial suitability: A case study in in-situ resource utilization systems

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Sarton Du Jonchay, Tristan
Chen, Hao
Wieger, Anna
Szajnfarber, Zoe
Ho, Koki
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Space Agencies are increasingly interested in stimulating non-traditional players to participate more broadly in the space enterprise. Historically, high barriers to entry in the space market have included challenges of working with the government customer and high technical and financial risks associated with the complexity of space exploration. More recently, agencies have used inducements (e.g., new contracting mechanisms, access to testing facilities) to mitigate these barriers. While these efforts mainly focused on reducing barriers to participation in existing exploration architectures, this paper explores the viability of an alternative strategy. Instead of providing inducements, which essentially subsidize participation, we propose a new strategy for space agencies to treat “commercial suitability” as another “-ility” and make it an explicit criterion of the initial architecture selection. This can be an effective option when multiple equivalent architectures (as evaluated against traditional cost, schedule, and performance measures) differ on their “commercial suitability.” As a proof-of-concept for this strategy, we develop a case study with lunar in-situ resource utilization plant systems as a basis for comparing the architectures with dedicated mass-wise optimal design (selected using traditional architecting strategies) vs. standardized mass-produced modular ISRU (selected using commercially-suitable strategies). The results show that architecture selection that considers commercial suitability upfront can achieve increased commercial participation without compromising cost performance compared with the baseline architecture. This serves as an existence proof for the potential value of this new strategy.
This material is partially based upon work supported by the funding from NASA (80NSSC17K0329) awarded to the University of Illinois and George Washington University, where this work was initiated.
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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International