The 2011 Desert RATS crew and support team pose in front of the Deep Space Habitat and two Multi-mission Space Exploration Vehicles. › Click for full resolution
NASA’s 2011 Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) concluded with success on Sept. 12 after two weeks in the Arizona desert. The annual field test provides quantitative and qualitative data that helps NASA answer key architectural questions and informs the development of the agency's Capability-Driven Framework for human spaceflight exploration. During this 14th Desert RATS mission, NASA’s key objectives were to determine:
How communications latency and bandwidth affect productivity during human exploration of a near-Earth asteroid (NEA);
What combination of systems (extravehicular activity [EVA] crew, Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicles [MMSEVs], Deep Space Habitat [DSH]) is most effective for human exploration of a NEA;
How crew size affects productivity during human exploration of a NEA; and
How the productivity of robotic systems vary as a function of controller location during human exploration of a NEA.
Seven different combinations of exploration systems and crew sizes were systematically tested for applicable scenarios; the activities were designed to provide data that may be generalized to a range of exploration missions and destinations.
The mission compared conditions with a single DSH; zero, one, or two MMSEVs; and three or four crew members. The two crews — Alpha and Bravo — each had the opportunity to spend several days and nights in the DSH to assess how well it could support science, maintenance, and medical operations, as well as the daily activities of a crew member, such as sleeping, eating, and interacting with other crew members.
To simulate communications latency scenarios, the crew operated under two different communications bandwidths, and over a 50 second one-way time delay between the field site and Houston.
The Desert RATS crews and Education and Public Outreach teams completed several education and outreach events during the mission. The crew members interacted with high school and elementary school students, NASA Visitor Center patrons, and local tours groups. Outreach events provide opportunities for the public to engage with the mission, interacting with engineers, technicians, managers, and crew.
Analog missions help NASA to answer key architectural questions to fulfill its objective of developing safe, effective and affordable exploration architectures, systems, and operations concepts.