LADEE Spacecraft

The modular common spacecraft bus lander configuration in a hover test in 2008.

In the past, spacecraft have been custom designed and built – almost like a unique piece of jewelry. The centerpiece of a spacecraft is its payload – a collection of science instruments or technology demonstrations that will help it fulfill its mission. Just as most jewelry has parts designed to be used together – like clasps, chains, and connectors – spacecraft also have common components.

The Modular Common Spacecraft Bus, or body, is an innovative way of transitioning away from custom designs and toward multi-use designs and assembly line production, which could drastically reduce the cost of spacecraft development, just as the Ford Model T did for automobiles.

The current common bus design has the ability to perform on various kinds of missions - including voyages to the Moon and Near Earth Objects - with different modules, or applicable plug-and-play systems.

The modular common spacecraft bus in orbiter form: the LADEE spacecraft.

For example, a common bus used for a mission to land on a planetary body could add a module for "legs" and other associated components. For an orbiter, engineers could insert a body extension. And for a more compact mission, they could take out the extension to make the spacecraft lighter and decrease launch costs.

NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley designed, developed, built, and tested the spacecraft and managed the 100-day science mission.