Cost-saving decisions like this are shaping up to make ISS-RapidScat an exceptional bargain of a space mission. "We're doing things differently, and we're trying to do them quickly and cheaply," said Eisen. Considering that the typical launch alone can cost $200 million, ISS-RapidScat's estimated $26 million price tag seems like a bargain. Last year, NASA estimated the cost of a new, free-flying scatterometer satellite mission at approximately $400 million.
The real challenges of getting ISS-RapidScat into space lie in the details. One of the major headaches of such a hurried schedule has been getting the special connectors that will allow ISS-RapidScat to physically attach to the International Space Station. "They're special robotically-mated connectors that haven't been made in years," Eisen said. "We're having to convince the company that produces these connectors to make us a small run in time for the mission, and it hasn't been easy."
The logistics of operating an instrument on the space station are also tricky. "Typically, spacecraft are designed for the instruments they carry," said Collins. "In this case, it's the other way around." For example, ISS-RapidScat's docking point on the space station faces outward toward space - not down toward Earth and the ocean that the instrument is looking at. The space station's flying angle will also change as new pieces are added to it, in response to changes in the station's drag profile. ISS-RapidScat's mount can compensate for both of these challenges.
Another concern the ISS-RapidScat team confronted early on was that one of the space station's docking ports lies squarely within the field of view of the scatterometer. "Bombarding astronauts and visiting supply v
|Contact: Alan Buis|
NASA/Johnson Space Center