Tethers Unlimited Selected for 3 SBIR Phase I Awards

Tethers_Unlimited_LogoNASA has selected Tethers Unlimited, Inc., (TUI) for three Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards for materials that can be recycled on the International Space Station (ISS), an anchoring system that would allow rovers to explore rough terrain on other worlds, and a gimbal that would assist balloons in exploring the atmospheres of Venus and Titan.

Now that there is a 3D printer on the station, TUI is interested in developing cargo ship packing materials that can be easily recycled into feed stock for the printer.

“TUI proposes to develop Customizable Recyclable International Space Station Packaging (CRISSP), which is a set of materials, formats, and design methodologies optimized both for (1) the economic and mechanical requirements for ISS supplies packaging and (2) being efficiently recyclable onboard the ISS into high performance 3D printer feedstock,” the proposal states. “A range of packaging formats will be evaluated for use, including common bubble-wrap, foams, folded and thermoformed shells, and parametric cellular additively-manufactured boxes that can be readily optimized for specific payloads and launch environments.”

The company’s Advanced Regolith Anchoring for Cable-assisted Mobility (ARACMO) Anchor is designed to allow rovers to explore difficult terrain on the the moon and other worlds.

“This device can launch hundreds of meters from a rover vehicle, self-right, autonomously anchor, and support high loads through the attached tether,” according to the proposal abstract. “This will enable the rover to rappel, climb, or maneuver over otherwise insurmountable terrain utilizing the stability that a strong anchoring point affords. The proposed technology is part of the ARACMO System (developed in future efforts) which in addition to the aforementioned ARACMO Anchor, may include a launcher, winch, and gimbal.”

The third development project is the Venus or Titan Exploratory (VORTEX) Gimbal that would be used to point communication antennas used aboard balloons exploring the atmospheres of those worlds.

“The VORTEX Gimbal will provide a reliable, lightweight, autonomous mechanism for pointing high gain antennas used in telecommunications,” the proposal states. “The VORTEX Gimbal mechanism will not be limited to this use case, however. This mechanism will be useful for any mission with instruments that require precision pointing and data throughput, such as sensors, imagers, solar arrays, and thrusters.”

Phase I feasibility studies are for six months and a maximum of $125,000. Firms that successfully complete this phase are eligible to submit a proposal for Phase II proposal, during which selectees will expand on the results of the developments in Phase I. Phase III awards examine the commercialization of Phase II results and requires the use of private sector, non-SBIR, funding.

Descriptions of the three proposals follow.

CRISSP – Customizable Recyclable International Space Station Packaging
Subtopic: Recycling/Reclamation of 3-D Printer Plastic Including Transformation of Launch Package Solutions into 3-D Printed Parts

Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Dr. Rachel Muhlbauer

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 4

Technical Abstract

While additive manufacturing is a game changing technology for in-space repairs and part formation, it still requires a plastic feedstock material to fabricate the printed parts. For longer duration or long distance missions, a large supply of feedstock will need to either be stored on-board, taking up both mass and cargo space, or flown up in expensive resupply missions to enable the continued usage of the 3D printer. TUI proposes to develop Customizable Recyclable International Space Station Packaging (CRISSP), which is a set of materials, formats, and design methodologies optimized both for (1) the economic and mechanical requirements for ISS supplies packaging and (2) being efficiently recyclable onboard the ISS into high performance 3D printer feedstock. A range of packaging formats will be evaluated for use, including common bubble-wrap, foams, folded and thermoformed shells, and parametric cellular additively-manufactured boxes that can be readily optimized for specific payloads and launch environments. The work proposed for this effort will establish a TRL-4+ capability for material re-use over the course of a mission, providing reductions in launch mass and life-cycle cost for missions employing in-situ 3d printing.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The proposed CRISSP effort directly supports the “In-Space Assembly, Fabrication and Repair” technical need identified in NASA Technology Roadmap 2012 TA12; WBS 2.4.1.d. The CRISSP technology will enable on-orbit production of 3D printer filament from recyclable packaging for a range of NASA missions. It will also lower costs for a range of ambitious missions, including manned exploration missions to Mars, commercial asteroid resource utilization missions, and large manned habitats in Earth orbit and beyond by enabling sustainable, closed-cycle manufacturing in space. TUI anticipates that this technology will be of interest to other parties who are printing on the ISS, and these parties may be willing to subsidize or even pay other parties to use CRISSP packaging so that they can use that material on the station.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

We expect that the advancements made to packaging materials will be ideal for at-home and profes-sional users of 3D printers. Over 25 billion pounds of thermoplastic are used in packaging every year, and providing a means to recycle this packaging into high quality 3D printer material has the potential for cost-savings both commercially and for the home user while reducing the amount of waste which is sent to landfills.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • In Situ Manufacturing
  • Polymers
  • Processing Methods
  • Resource Extraction
  • Waste Storage/Treatment

ARACMO: Advanced Regolith Anchoring for Cable-assisted Mobility
Subtopic: Robotic Mobility, Manipulation and Sampling

Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Jeffrey T Slostad

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 4

Technical Abstract

To enable future robotic exploration systems to have greater mobility capabilities on difficult terrain such as craters, cliffs, gullies, and skylights, Tethers Unlimited proposes to develop the “Advanced Regolith Anchoring for Cable-assisted Mobility” (ARACMO) Anchor. This device can launch hundreds of meters from a rover vehicle, self-right, autonomously anchor, and support high loads through the attached tether. This will enable the rover to rappel, climb, or maneuver over otherwise insurmountable terrain utilizing the stability that a strong anchoring point affords. The proposed technology is part of the ARACMO System (developed in future efforts) which in addition to the aforementioned ARACMO Anchor, may include a launcher, winch, and gimbal. The unique design of the orbital winch accomplishes cable winding and deployment without rotating the spool, thereby minimizing mass and power consumption, while eliminating the need for electrical and optical slip-rings, which are a major risk in dusty environments. The launcher can be incorporated into the design of the which, keeping mass and volume at a minimum. This technology will enable dozens of new applications for planetary exploration.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The ARACMO Anchor will allow NASA planetary exploration missions to extend scientific investigations in previously inaccessible terrain. It will enable rovers to explore craters, cliffs, caves and gullies that are of significant geological interest. Other applications may include in situ resource acquisition, erecting structures, anchoring aerobots to planetary surfaces, astronaut mobility, and anchoring/sampling operations on microgravity bodies.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

The ARACMO Anchor technology could be very instrumental for search and rescue operations, soil stabilization needs, or response to natural disasters. It could provide greater mobility for military and recreational vehicles. It could also be used in the construction industry to quickly set-up anchors to stabilize structures.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Actuators & Motors
  • Deployment
  • Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Astronautics)
  • Tools/EVA Tools

VORTEX Gimbal
Subtopic: Terrestrial and Planetary Balloons

Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Mr. Jeffrey T Slostad

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 4

Technical Abstract

To overcome the communication gap to Venus, TUI proposes to develop the Venus or Titan Exploratory (VORTEX) Gimbal to point a meter scale diameter, high gain antenna. The VORTEX Gimbal is a highly advanced adaptation of the COBRA gimbal developed by TUI for the nanosatellite market. The VORTEX Gimbal will be capable of providing performance characteristics that are unmatched in the current high-fidelity gimbal market at a SWAP (size, weight and power) that has yet to be developed. Included in these characteristics is the ability to slew and rotate continuously in any direction from any position without the need for failure-prone and costly slip rings. This feature will be highly beneficial for coaxial or other cabling that is needed to pass from the payload to the antenna via the gimbal. Due to the lack of slip rings, this mechanism will be significantly more reliable than traditional gimbal mechanisms. The VORTEX Gimbal also provides 3 degrees of freedom (DOF) by nature of its design. This means that in addition to hemispherical-plus pointing (greater than 2 pi steradians), the VORTEX Gimbal has the ability to stow compactly for launch in a much denser volume than its operational workspace.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The primary application for the Venus or Titan Exploratory (VORTEX) Gimbal will be for aerobot-based exploration missions on Venus and other planetary bodies. The VORTEX Gimbal will provide a reliable, lightweight, autonomous mechanism for pointing high gain antennas used in telecommunications. The VORTEX Gimbal mechanism will not be limited to this use case, however. This mechanism will be useful for any mission with instruments that require precision pointing and data throughput, such as sensors, imagers, solar arrays, and thrusters.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

The proposed VORTEX Gimbal could enable precision pointing in numerous terrestrial applications. The mechanism will be designed for the caustic environment of Venus or Titan and will, therefore, be suitable for many other harsh environments on earth. Any application requiring hemispherical-plus pointing, 30 deg/sec slew and rotate rates, along with long service life will benefit from the VORTEX gimbal without paying the price of increased mass and cost.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Actuators & Motors
  • Airship/Lighter-than-Air Craft
  • Antennas
  • Machines/Mechanical Subsystems