The 2,398th Meeting of the Society

October 19, 2018 at 8:00 PM

Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club


A Giant Revolution in Space

Charles Norton

Special Advisor, Small Spacecraft Missions
Science Mission Directorate, NASA

About the Lecture

Large strategic (Flagship) missions, like the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, are a cornerstone of NASA’s strategy for exploring the deepest questions of Earth and Planetary Science, Heliophysics, Astrophysics and Cosmology.  These missions have fundamentally advanced human knowledge about the earth and its surroundings in the solar system, the galaxy and the universe, and much of our current scientific understanding of the universe is a result of these missions. 

Every Flagship mission requires the dedicated efforts of thousands of highly skilled and creative people and the coordination of a very large number of institutions across government, academia, and the private sector.  They are expensive and require long periods of time to formulate, develop, build and launch.  And, because of their expense in time, effort and money, they often have to forego new advancements that are technically superior in favor of tried-and-true solutions that maximize the probability of mission success and minimize the possibility of catastrophic failure.  Although the Flagship missions arguably are among the most successful human exploration undertakings in history, we are limited in how many such missions can be mounted by their expense, complexity and very long development timelines, and the need to limit risk to ensure success.

Fortunately, a new platform is emerging:  dramatically smaller satellites – referred to as CubeSats – that can be developed rapidly at dramatically lower cost and can use the most advanced technology. CubeSats enable new architectures to carry out uniquely focused science missions employing highly innovative approaches. These platforms are challenging what can be achieved scientifically with limited resources and small spacecraft.  This lecture will examine what CubeSats are, their current capabilities, and their potential to revolutionize scientific exploration of space.

About the Speaker

Charles D. Norton is the Special Advisor for Small Spacecraft Missions at NASA.  He is responsible for advising NASA on cross-agency strategies for small satellite science, exploration, and technology missions. Previously, he was Program Manager Associate at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology where he developed and led multiple technology flight validation missions for NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office.

Charles’ research has focused on high performance computational science in the Earth and space sciences, particularly for flight validation of new instruments and information systems technologies on small spacecraft.  He is an author of numerous technical journal articles and book chapters.

Among other awards, Charles received the JPL Lew Allen Award, the Voyager Award, and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.

Charles earned an BSE in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Princeton University and an MS and PhD in Computer Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.