Unmanned Systems Technology 016 | Hydromea Vertex AUV | Power management systems | Unmanned Space Vehicles | Continental CD-155 turbodiesel | Swift 020 UAV | ECUs | DSEI 2017 Show report

42 S pace is the one application where autonomous operation makes the most sense, with missions over multiple years at long distances where even remote operation is unwieldy. And yet the harsh conditions – working in a vacuum, under intense radiation – along with the relatively small size of systems that can be launched and decade-long design cycles, has meant that autonomous operation has been limited so far. Part of this has been a result of the focus on satellites, including the smaller cube-sat format, to provide comms and sensing from low Earth orbits (LEOs), which has perhaps held back interest in fully autonomous systems. But not any longer. Recent high- profile projects to send autonomous rovers to the Moon, coupled with a new generation of autonomous space planes that can orbit and land like the Space Shuttle, mean that the technology has made major inroads in space designs. With exploration projects now extending further into the Solar System, and even beyond it, the limits of the technology are being tested. Closer to home though, a challenge to send a number of autonomous rovers developed by teams of technology enthusiasts to the Moon is in its final stages. Since it was set up, the Google XPrize has been extended many times with additional prizes along the way to get teams to the point of launch. Now, ten years on from the contest’s inception in Nick Flaherty explores the impact of autonomous systems on spacecraft design and development Go for launch October/November 2017 | Unmanned Systems Technology The Dream Chaser reusable autonomous space vehicle developed by Sierra Nevada (Courtesy of NASA)