Getting to the moon was once a major competition among global powers. Though decades have passed since international focus left the Space Race, there are still advancements to be made in achieving lunar orbit.
NASA has patented a new trajectory for such missions, born out of the necessity for a more streamlined path. This fresh architecture for reaching the moon is a reminder that your improved processes, systems and ideas can find as much purchase in patent law as your products.
The team behind the Dark Ages Polarimeter Pathfinder, known as Dapper, designed their unmanned craft to travel to the moon and beyond to collect data on dark matter. The problem was that the program had an operating budget of $150 million, which falls far short of the funds necessary for a dedicated launch.
The team decided the first place to cut costs was by climbing onto the back of a commercial launch. Private companies now make up a large part of aerospace traffic, launching thousands of their own satellites every year for uses like telecommunications and weather tracking.
The next step was to determine a less expensive way for the vessel to proceed when it reaches Earth’s orbit. Once it splits from the rented rocket, the patented approach defines how the craft can use our planet’s gravity to gain the velocity necessary to reach the moon.
These assists will allow the Dapper team to save on fuel and operation costs. While the approach may be novel, securing patents in this regard is not.
Profits and protections
NASA has long been a pioneer in astronautics with a history of seeking patents for their discoveries. Many of the agency’s innovations have licensing fees between $5,000 and $10,000, but access to their developments can sometimes cost as much as $50,000 and include royalties.
While these fees are meant to recoup some of the costs of development, this habit of patenting can also keep technologies and processes available for use so people can benefit from the advancements.