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ACT-ISAS Team Wins the “America’s CupEof Rocket Science

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced the winner of the 8th edition of the Global Trajectory Optimization Competition (GTOC), and ACT-ISAS team won this year's first place. The ACT-ISAS team was born as collaboration between ESA (European Space Agency) and ISAS (Institute of Space and Astronautical Science of Japan), including former ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) members now working at ISAS.

The competition is also known as the America's Cup of rocket science for its prestige and its rules on the organization. The Global Trajectory Optimization Competition is an event taking place every one-two years over roughly one month during which the best aerospace engineers and mathematicians world wide challenge themselves to solve a “nearly-impossibleEproblem of interplanetary trajectory design.

The problem needs to be related to interplanetary trajectory design and its complexity high enough to ensure a clear competition winner.

The problem is released by the winning team of the previous edition which this time was JPL.

The challenge for this time is to observe objects from the given 420 of radio sources as many as possible in the best condition: Each observation is carried out when the normal direction of a virtual surface created by the three spacecraft directs towards the specific target and the surface area at the observation is used as an index of the observation condition. The spacecraft would observe the sources using an astronomical technique called ‘very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI)EEby precisely combining their separate observations through long-distance formation-flying they can acquire an equivalent imaging resolution to a single giant radio telescope.

In order to achieve this they have to be lined up along a plane and pointed at the radio source, and to save scarce propellant, lunar gravity assists and low-thrust propulsion had to be used to perform each manoeuvre.

Thirty-six teams registered for this edition of the competition, including teams from the United States, China, Europe, Brazil and India (team list). Seventeen teams returned a solution which had to be validated and ranked during the summer. Full rankings can be downloaded here (http://sophia.estec.esa.int/gtoc_portal/?page_id=560).

"It is an outstanding team achievement", remarked Dario Izzo leading the team and ACT scientific coordinator. "Within one month of intense computation, we had to develop and test several new mission analysis techniques in order to propose our best design. It is remarkable that our team was composed of experts not only of mission analysis but also artificial intelligence, applied mathematics and fundamental physics. This eclectic mix was crucial in obtaining our result."

"The GTOC is not just a competition, it's a commitment to dedicate your time and effort with your teammates to tackle a new problem.", Chit Hong Yam, one of the ACT-ISAS team members described.EIt's not just about winning or losing, it's a challenge to push yourself to the limit to reinvent the wheel. "

Stefano Campagnola (International Top Young Fellow, ISAS) says, "The growing number of space exploration missions are enabled by advanced techniques in astrodynamics. GTOC is pushing the boundaries of this field, and we are honored to be in the frontline of this international community."

Details on the techniques developed by all participating teams will be presented in February during a JPL-organized workshop in the United States. It will then be up to the ACT-ISAS team to organize the next edition of the Global Trajectory Optimization Competition.




Two of the ACT-ISAS team members, Stefano Campagnola (right) and Chit Hong Yam (left)

Two of the ACT-ISAS team members, Stefano Campagnola (right) and Chit Hong Yam (left). Other team members in Japan are Yoshihide Sugimoto and Naoya Ozaki. ESA team members can be found here:
http://www.esa.int/gsp/ACT/news/archive/79_sep_2015_GTOC8.html

October 28, 2015