NASA Funds Research into Using Fungi to Grow Off-planet Structures

Credit: Lynn Rothschild

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts 2021 Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Lynn Rothschild
NASA Ames Research Center
Moffett Field, Calif.

A turtle carries its own habitat. While reliable, it costs energy in transporting mass. NASA makes the same trade-off when it transports habitats and other structures needed for human and other applications on lunar and planetary surfaces “on the back” of its missions. During Phase 1, we identified a novel biology-based solution to in situ production of usable components for space exploration: using fungal mycelial composites to grow structures off-planet, from habitats to furniture.


NASA Announces 12th Round of Candidates for CubeSat Space Missions

ELaNa 31 CubeSats, SPOC and Bobcat-1, deploy from the International Space Station on Nov. 5, 2020. (Credits: NASA)

NASA has selected 14 small research satellites from nine states – including a first-time selected state, Nebraska – to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets launching between 2022 and 2025. The selected CubeSats were proposed by educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and NASA centers in response to NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) call for proposals issued in October 2020.

“CSLI enables incredible opportunities for CubeSat developers from diverse institutions including universities, high schools, and non-profit organizations,” said Sam Fonder, program executive, Launch Services Office. “These innovative partnerships benefit both NASA and the greater science community by helping to bridge gaps in knowledge and, ultimately, accelerate technology.”

NASA has selected 14 small research satellites from nine states to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets launching in 2022, 2023, 2024, and 2025. (Credits: NASA)

CubeSats are a type of small spacecraft. In their smallest form, they measure about four inches on each side, weigh less than three pounds, and have an approximate volume of one quart. CubeSats are built using these standard dimensions or units (U) and are typically classified as 1U, 2U, 3U, 6U, or 12U in total size. Each selected CubeSat proposal was required to address aspects of the agency’s science, technology development, or education goals.

Launch opportunities for the selectees are provided through the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) missions facilitated by NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP). Selected CubeSats will launch aboard planned spaceflight missions led by NASA, other U.S. government agencies, or commercial organizations with coordination from LSP. After launch, the CubeSats will deploy into orbit from either the launch vehicle or the International Space Station. 

CSLI 12th Round CubeSat Selections

The organizations and the CubeSats chosen during this selection round are:

  • University of Colorado, Boulder – Supernova Remnants and Proxies for ReIonization Testbed Experiment (SPRITE) is a scientific investigation mission designed to observe ionizing radiation escape from low redshift star-forming galaxies, and the internal processes that shape galaxy evolution. SPRITE will carry out two scientific surveys over a one-year mission. The first is a mapping survey of star-forming regions and supernova remnants in the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds to assess the impact of massive stars on galaxy evolution. The second survey will observe the ionizing radiation spectrum of 100 galaxies in the 0.16-0.5 redshift range as proxies for galaxies at the Epoch of Reionization.
  • Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island – Perovskite Visuals and Degradation eXperiment (PVDX) is a technology demonstration mission to test and characterize a novel photovoltaic technology in space: perovskite solar cells (PSCs). PSCs are an emerging photovoltaic (PV) technology that has the potential to revolutionize aerospace PVs. They are particularly well-suited for aerospace applications because of their chemical tunability, high specific power, low cost, resistance to radiation, low-light capabilities, self-healing properties, and potential to be manufactured in space. The secondary focus of PVDX’s mission is education and engagement, particularly with those from historically underrepresented groups.
  • SilverSat Limited, Silver Spring, Maryland – SilverSat has a primary mission to provide science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for secondary and elementary school students in the greater Silver Spring, Maryland, area by providing innovative hands-on and collaborative opportunities to teach and inspire. SilverSat’s secondary mission is a technology demonstration using social media to send information directly from a satellite to its users and the interested public. SilverSat’s mission engages students in STEM topics by directly sending mission data and photos of the Earth through Twitter.
An ELaNa 30 CubeSat, TechEdSat-10, deploys from the International Space Station on July 13, 2020. (Credits: NASA)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge – Staged Electrospray Pathfinder 1 (STEP-1) is a technology demonstration mission for the staged electrospray propulsion system developed as part of the High Specific Impulse Electrospray Explorer for Deep Space (HiSPEED) project in NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program. The primary goals of the mission are to demonstrate the use of a staged configuration in order to increase the total impulse delivered by state-of-the-art propulsion systems based on microfabricated electrospray thrusters and to use these thrusters for orbital control maneuvers in CubeSats.
  • University of Colorado, Boulder – Atmospheric Effects of Precipitation through Energetic X-rays (AEPEX) is a scientific investigation mission that aims to better understand the influence of the magnetosphere on the Earth’s upper atmosphere through energetic particle precipitation (EPP). One of the key uncertainties in reaching closure on how EPP impacts the atmosphere is the lack of knowledge regarding how much energy is put into the atmosphere via EPP. To address this uncertainty, the primary objective of AEPEX is to quantify the energy deposition to the atmosphere from energetic particles that precipitate from the radiation belts and other sources.
  • University of Nebraska, Lincoln – “Big Red Sat-1” is an education mission with a primary goal of engaging and developing future aerospace engineers by contributing to the development of critical technologies to improve solar power generation. The technology demonstration secondary focus is to take proven perovskite panel technology at technical readiness level (TRL)-5 to TRL-6 by testing the panels in space using flight heritage information and systems to maximize potential success. Testing should provide answers on handling and the life of perovskites, as well as comparative day/night performance with silicon in a space environment.
  • Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee – RHodes-OKlahoma Collaboration (RHOK-SAT) is an education mission conceived by a team of undergraduate students at Rhodes College with a secondary science investigation focus to test the space hardiness of novel photovoltaic devices for lunar and planetary missions. These devices are under active development and investigation by The University of Oklahoma.
  • Arizona State University, Tempe – LightCube is an education mission to allow a CubeSat in low-Earth orbit (LEO) to be easily operable by members of the general public. The LightCube CubeSat will provide a platform that increases the number of individuals who can participate in space activities. Specifically, anyone with appropriate amateur radio licensing within their jurisdiction and commercial radio equipment available for purchase for less than fifty dollars will be able to telecommand LightCube. The LightCube CubeSat will respond with a flash visible to the naked eye of the commander. In the process of operating LightCube, the user will inevitably learn important science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts in areas such as telecommunications, spacecraft design, atmospheric and climate science, and orbital mechanics.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology Haystack Observatory, Westford
    • Auroral Emission Radio Observer (AERO) is a scientific investigation mission in polar orbit that will qualify and validate a novel electromagnetic Vector Sensor while answering key scientific questions about the nature and sources of auroral radio emissions. These questions cannot be addressed from the ground due to shielding by the ionosphere. Earth’s aurora has a complexity and richness in both energetics and spatial/temporal structure that is of intense interest for our understanding of space physics.
    • Vector Interferometry Space Technology using AERO (VISTA) is a technology demonstration mission in a polar orbit that will advance our ability to perform radio interferometry using CubeSats in space. This mission is a technical pathfinder that leverages the Auroral Emission Radio Observer (AERO) CubeSat project by duplicating that satellite in a build-to-print manner. VISTA will launch at the same time as AERO. The experiment will use the two CubeSats in orbit and combine them with ground-based beacons and receivers to demonstrate the performance advantages of Vector Sensor Interferometry relative to conventional approaches.
  • University of Colorado, Boulder – Climatology of Anthropogenic and Natural VLF wave Activity in Space (CANVAS) is a scientific investigation mission to measure very low frequency (VLF) wave energy in low-Earth orbit (LEO) originating from lightning and ground-based transmitters. VLF waves play an important role in controlling the evolution of energetic electron distributions in near-Earth space. Whistler-mode waves propagating in the magnetospheric plasma can induce pitch angle scattering and precipitation of trapped energetic particles, and research has shown that both VLF waves radiated from lightning and ground-based VLF transmitters play a significant role in radiation belt dynamics. However, an accurate quantification of the amount of VLF energy that penetrates from the ground, through the ionosphere, and into the magnetosphere is critical to our understanding of the effects of ground-based electromagnetic sources in the space environment.
  • Perkins Local School District, Sandusky, Ohio – “Foras Promineo” (Latin for “outreach,” or pushing oneself beyond the previous limits) is an education mission where the payload is a dynamic game that will inspire, engage, and educate the public. The gameplay is in the style of a robotics competition game, with a robotic arm that must capture and place balls into targets as quickly and accurately as possible. The arm acts autonomously based on programs that can be submitted by the public for upload to the payload computer.
  • NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland – Dione is a scientific investigation heliophysics mission that will study the responses of the ionosphere-thermosphere (IT) system to magnetospheric energy input and, in turn, enable their better forecast and prediction. Magnetospheric energy input deposited to the upper atmosphere affects human assets in low-Earth orbit and on the ground. Understanding the fundamental processes of the energy deposition and IT responses is the path for developing better specification and forecast models for space weather.
  • California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo – PowerSat is a technology demonstration mission on the use of a new generation of deployable solar arrays in low-Earth orbit, which would be the first step in developing space-based solar power systems using small satellites. Having a secondary focus of education, the project will create hands-on, project-based learning opportunities and science, technology, education, and math, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusivity values awareness for more than fifty students at the undergraduate and graduate level.

To date, 202 CubeSat missions from 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have been selected, and 118 CubeSat missions have launched into space through ELaNa rideshare opportunities.

For additional information on how to apply for a launch opportunity through CSLI, visit

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter First Flight Delayed 3 Days

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter can be seen on Mars as viewed by the Perseverance rover’s rear Hazard Camera on April 4, 2021, the 44th Martian day, or sol of the mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Based on data from the Ingenuity Mars helicopter that arrived late Friday night, NASA has chosen to reschedule the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s first experimental flight to no earlier than April 14.

During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a “watchdog” timer expiration. This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight’ to ‘Flight’ mode. The helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth.

The watchdog timer oversees the command sequence and alerts the system to any potential issues. It helps the system stay safe by not proceeding if an issue is observed and worked as planned.

The helicopter team is reviewing telemetry to diagnose and understand the issue. Following that, they will reschedule the full-speed test.

China to Spend Billions on New Commercial Spaceports

Long March 5 launches the Chang’e-5 mission to the moon. (Credit: CNSA)

SpaceNews reports that the cities of Ningbo and Wenchang are committing billions of dollars to build commercial coastal spaceports for China’s burgeoning space industry.

The eastern port city of Ningbo in eastern Zhejiang province has committed a total investment of 20 billion yuan ($3 billion) to establish a spaceport at Xiangshan, according to reports Wednesday. It is to be capable of launching up to 100 missions per year.

The spaceport will cover 67 square kilometers, consisting 35 square kilometers for launch sites and 32 square kilometers for support facilities. The site will be situated on the eastern coast and at a similar latitude to China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center and Cape Canaveral in Florida….

Wenchang, on the island province of Hainan and site of China’s coastal launch center developed for large, new-generation Long March 5 and Long March 7 rockets, is also backing the construction of an “integrated and open” launch center to meet commercial launch demand.

China News Service (Chinese) reported April 8 that Hainan Province will, with the support and guidance of the National Development and Reform Commission and relevant ministries, increase its support for development of the Wenchang International Space City concept and promote the development of a commercial space center to meets the needs of the commercial space industry.

China Launches Test Satellite

A Chinese Long March 4B rocket launched the Shiyan-6 03 experimental satellite from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Friday, April 9.

Shiyan-6 was developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Microsatellite Innovation. The spacecraft was described in official press reports as being used for space environment detection and related technology experiments.

It was the 365th launch of the Long March series of carrier rockets.

UAE Picks First Female Astronaut

Credit: UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has selected its first female astronaut as emirates doubles its astronaut corps to four.

Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla were selected to begin training. They join Hazza Al Mansouri, who became the first Emirati to journey into space during a trip to the International Space Station in 2019, and Sultan Al Neyadi, who was the backup astronaut for that mission.

Al Matrooshi is a 27-year old mechanical engineer who is employed by the National Petroleum Construction Company. She is a native of Abu Dhabi.

Born in 1988, Al Mulla is a pilot and head of the training department at Air Wing Centre. He became the youngest pilot in the Dubai Police at the age of 19, and received a bravery medal from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, vice president and ruler of Dubai.

Al Matrooshi and Al Mulla were selected from among 4,305 applicants, including 1,400 women. The will begin training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston at the end of this year.

Coverage Set for NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 Briefings, Events, Broadcasts

Crew-2 members Megan McArthur, Thomas Pesquet, Akihiko Hoshide and Shane Kimbrough. (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA will provide coverage of the upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for the agency’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission with astronauts to the International Space Station. This is the second crew rotation flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and the first with two international partners. The flight follows certification by NASA for regular flights to the space station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.


NASA’s Webb Telescope Packs Its Sunshield for a Million Mile Trip

Both sides of the James Webb Space Telescope’s sunshield were lifted vertically in preparation for the folding of the sunshield layers. (Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn)

By Isabelle Yan
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

REDONDO BEACH. Calif. — Engineers working on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have successfully folded and packed its sunshield for its upcoming million-mile (roughly 1.5 million kilometer) journey, which begins later this year.


Test Pilot School Graduates First Space Test Fundamentals Class

By 1st Lt. Christine Saunders
U.S. Air Force Test Center Public Affairs

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School graduated the first-ever Space Test Fundamentals class April 6, 2021, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Fifteen enlisted, officer, civilian Airmen and Guardians represent the first class dedicated to testing within the newly contested domain of Space.

Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, the U.S. Space Force chief of space operations, was on-hand to give the graduation address.

“You were handpicked from a pool of over 160 applicants, not only to attend this inaugural Space Test course, but also to help us build this course and define its future as the initial Space Test cadre,” said Raymond. “You were the “Beta testers” of the course itself, simultaneously studying hard and developing the future of our space test education and training program.”


NASA Selects Geostationary and Extended Orbits Imager Phase A Contracts

Hurricane Humberto (Credit: NOAA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected L3Harris Technologies Inc. of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Raytheon Company of El Segundo, California, for the Geostationary and Extended Orbits (GEO-XO) Imager (GXI) Phase A Study contracts. The GXI Phase A Study requirement will provide services to help meet the objectives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) GEO-XO program.

The total value of each of these one-year firm-fixed price contracts is approximately $6M. The work will be performed at the contractors’ facilities in Indiana and California.


NASA’s Mars Helicopter to Make First Flight Attempt Sunday

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter can be seen on Mars as viewed by the Perseverance rover’s rear Hazard Camera on April 4, 2021, the 44th Martian day, or sol of the mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is two days away from making humanity’s first attempt at powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet. If all proceeds as planned, the 4-pound (1.8-kg) rotorcraft is expected to take off from Mars’ Jezero Crater Sunday, April 11, at 12:30 p.m. local Mars solar time (10:54 p.m. EDT, 7:54 p.m. PDT), hovering 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface for up to 30 seconds.

Mission control specialists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California expect to receive the first data from the first flight attempt the following morning at around 4:15 a.m. EDT (1:15 a.m. PDT). NASA TV will air live coverage of the team as they receive the data, with commentary beginning at 3:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 a.m. PDT).


Acting NASA Administrator Statement on Biden Administration’s $24.7 Billion FY 2022 Budget Request

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The Biden-Harris Administration submitted to Congress Friday the president’s priorities for fiscal year 2022 discretionary spending. The following is a statement from acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk on the funding request:

“This $24.7 billion funding request demonstrates the Biden Administration’s commitment to NASA and its partners who have worked so hard this past year under difficult circumstances and achieved unprecedented success.


Bringing a Rocket Back from Space: Rocket Lab to Recover Electron Booster on Next Mission

A crew recovers the first stage of an Electron rocket from the ocean. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab will attempt to bring an intact rocket back from space in another major step toward making Electron the first reusable orbital small launch vehicle 

Long Beach, California. April 8, 2021 (Rocket Lab PR) – Rocket Lab, the leading launch and space systems company, today announced that on its next mission the company will attempt to bring a rocket back from space, slowing the Electron launch vehicle down from speeds of >Mach 8 as it re-enter’s Earth’s atmosphere before splashing the rocket down in the ocean. The complex mission is the next major step toward making Electron the first orbital-class reusable small launch vehicle, enabling rapid-turnaround launches for small satellites.


Space Systems Command to be Located in Los Angeles

ARLINGTON, Va. (U.S. Space Force PR — The Space Force released the organizational structure for its new Space Systems Command April 8. The Command is set to officially stand up in summer 2021 once all required conditions are met to re-designate the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, as SSC headquarters.

SSC will rapidly identify, prototype, and field innovative, space-based solutions to deliver swift and responsive space capabilities to meet the demands of the National Defense Strategy.

“Space Systems Command’s organizational structure was purpose-built to anticipate and be responsive to the challenges presented by a contested space domain,” said Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, USSF chief of space operations. “We took the SMC 2.0 transformation of 2019 to the next level, aligning missions and organizations, and pushing authorities down from the three-star level to lower echelons in order to reduce cost and go fast. This will allow us to move at speed in delivering the resilient space capabilities necessary to stay ahead of a growing threat.”


NASA Conducts 2nd RS-25 Test in Latest Series for Artemis Moon Missions

RS-25 engine test. (Credit; NASA)

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (NASA PR) — NASA conducted a second RS-25 single engine hot fire test April 6 as part of a new series to support the development and production of engines for the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on future missions to the Moon.

The full-duration hot fire of more than eight minutes (500 seconds) was conducted on the A-1 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis. It is part of a scheduled seven-test series designed to provide valuable data for Aerojet Rocketdyne, lead contractor for the SLS engines, as it begins production of new RS-25 engines for use after the first four SLS flights.