SwRI-Led Team Focusing On Safety Chosen For NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute

The logo for NASA’s newest virtual institute, Project ESPRESSO, is two coffee rings intended to look like an impact onto a planet and moon. Led by Southwest Research Institute, ESPRESSO is set to develop tools and techniques needed for future solar system explorations. Image Credit: Southwest Research Institute

April 4, 2017 – NASA announced it has selected a new team led by Southwest Research Institute to its Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI).

Project ESPRESSO (Exploration Science Pathfinder Research for Enhancing Solar System Observations) is a consortium of seven research institutions dedicated to developing tools and techniques needed for future human exploration of the solar system. Led by SwRI and funded by NASA under an approximately $5 million contract, ESPRESSO comprises six other partner institutions, two industry partners, and an international group of collaborative institutions.

ESPRESSO will pursue pathfinding research, techniques, and technologies that will enable and enhance both cutting-edge science and safe, effective exploration by a future generation of astronauts on and near the surfaces of airless bodies, such as asteroids and moons. Its guiding themes are operational safety; target selection, sample selection, and in-situ resource utilization potential; and target characterization and analysis capabilities.

“Scientific endeavors have always benefited from the courage of those who risk their safety to provide a glimpse of the unknown,” said ESPRESSO Principal Investigator Dr. Alex H. Parker, of SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division. “It is our responsibility in the scientific community to do everything in our power to support future explorers through dedicated efforts to ensure that any endeavor we ask of them can be conducted as safely as possible.”

In addition to SwRI as the lead institution, the ESPRESSO partner institutions are Johns Hopkins University, SETI Institute, Lowell Observatory, University of Maryland, NASA Johnson Space Center, and the Planetary Science Institute. ESPRESSO’s industry partners are Planetary Resources and Integrated Spaceflight Services, and the collaborative institutions are the University of Colorado, Stony Brook University, Mount Holyoke College, University of Central Florida, JHU Applied Physics Laboratory, the University of Strathclyde (Scotland), and the University of British Columbia (Canada).

SSERVI is a virtual institute headquartered at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Its members are distributed among universities and research institutes across the United States and around the world. SSERVI is working to address fundamental science questions and issues that can help further human exploration of the solar system. In November 2013, another SwRI-led team, known as the Institute for the Science of Exploration Targets, or ISET, was chosen among SSERVI’s founding members. ISET helps build fundamental knowledge of worlds that will be directly accessible by astronauts in the future, such as the Moon, near-Earth asteroids and the satellites of Mars.

ESPRESSO’s progress can be followed at the project’s website: