citybiz+ Rhea Space, Founded by Johns Hopkins Alumni, Receives $750,000 NASA Grant

Washington, D.C.-based Rhea Space Activity, which develops space navigation and communications technologies, said it recently received a $750,000 grant from NASA to test its Jervis Autonomous Module, or JAM, in cislunar space, the area influenced by the Earth and Moon.

The grant is part of NASA’s TechFlights solicitation and will be used to fly Rhea’s two JAM units for testing aboard Draper-led Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, which is due to carry Nasa’s science payloads to the far side of the Moon. Ispace Technologies will separately carry the JAM units, which enable onboard autonomous navigation of spacecraft of any size, on two separate communications satellites in lunar orbit designed to communicate with its APEX 1.0 lunar lander, Rhea Space said in a release.

Autonomous Space Navigation

“JAM allows deep space and lunar missions to autonomously maintain a desired trajectory by celestial navigation, which is 100% independent of the Nasa Deep Space Network,” said astrophysicist Shawn Usman, a co-founder and CEO of Rhea Space. “The Deep Space Network is a huge financial barrier-to-entry for deep space missions. JAM democratizes access to deep space by significantly reducing mission costs and increasing reliability.”

JAM determines a spacecraft’s location by taking a few pictures of the Moon, planets, comets, asteroids, or other satellites. This allows a spacecraft to determine its orbit and location, thereby enabling autonomous guidance and navigation. JAM obviates the need for other satellites or ground stations on Earth, or Nasa’s expensive Deep Space Network.

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Rhea Space was co-founded by Johns Hopkins alumni — Usman, who spent over a decade as a scientist serving the U.S. intelligence community, and Cameo Lance, an expert in experimental dark matter physics. Usman received his M.S. degree in applied physics from the Baltimore school, while Lance enrolled in Johns Hopkins’ M.S. program in Intelligence Analysis. Lance serves as physicist and chief operating officer of Rhea Space. Rhea says its scientists have received a combined 69 years of higher education.

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Addressing Hypersonic Threat
Currently, Rhea Space is developing a custom camera for JAM that can take high-resolution images of the lunar surface to be used for lunar intelligence and other purposes. The images could be used to create lunar mapping products. Rhea has multiple other programs, including one to detect threats from hypersonic missiles and another to rescue the Spitzer Space Telescope from the other side of the solar system.

To find Spitzer, the company is working on a high-delta-V Resurrector spacecraft, which will cut inside Earth’s orbit to reach Spitzer. If successful, Resurrector will reconnoiter Spitzer up-close at 300 meters and then act as a communications relay and expert operations node. Spitzer and Resurrector together can detect and characterize Near Earth Objects, with an opportunity for deep space imaging, Rhea Space said.