ISS Utilization SBIRs Include Fiber Optic Manufacturing, Plastics Recycler & Printer

NASA has selected a fiber optics manufacturing unit , a 3D metal printer, and a plastics recycling and printing system for negotiations on SBIR Phase II contracts. All three projects are designed to enhance utilization of the International Space Station.

The three selected projects, which are eligible for contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece over two years, include:

  • Space Facility for Orbital Remote Manufacturing (SPACEFORM) — FOMS, Inc., San Diego, Calif.;
  • Sintered Inductive Metal Printer with Laser Exposure — Techshot, Greenville, Ind.; and,
  • ERASMUS: Food Contact Safe Plastics Recycler
    and 3D Printer System — Tethers Unlimited, Bothell, Wash.

FOMS is working on a system that could produce ultra-pure fiber optic cables capable of transmitting data much more efficiently than similar cables made on Earth.

The promise to decrease the insertion loss by an order of magnitude compared to currently installed optical fibers will have revolutionary impact on internet expansion, optical communications and data storage,” the company said in its application. “The defense and security industry will benefit from improved detection of harmful substances and airplane protection from proliferating heat seeking missiles.”

Techshot’s project is designed to expand options available for astronauts to 3D print metal objects in space.

“Most beneficial for Exploration is the ability to print spare parts, logistics support and adaptive repair,” the company said in its application. “Through its Space Act Agreement, its IDIQ contract and its role as a CASIS implementation partner, Techshot will offer both the SIMPLE equipment and the associated services required to conduct materials research and processing in microgravity aboard any NASA vehicles.”

Tethers Unlimited’s technology would allow astronauts to recycle plastic waste and parts and then use the resulting filament to 3D print food and medical safe items.

“The ERASMUS technology integrates a plastics recycler, dry heat sterilizer, and 3D printer to create a system that accepts previously-used plastic waste and parts, sterilizes these pre-used materials, recycles them into food-grade and medical-grade 3D printer filament, and 3D prints new utensils and implements,” the company said in its application. “This effort intends to minimize the requirements for initial supply as well as providing a method to make new parts on-demand as-needed.”

Summaries of the three proposals follow.

ISS Demonstration & Development of Improved Exploration Technologies and Increased ISS Utilization


Proposal Title:

Space Facility for Orbital Remote Manufacturing (SPACEFORM)

Small Business Concern
FOMS, Inc.
San Diego, CA

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Dmitry Starodubov

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 6
End: 8

Technical Abstract

The sustainable orbital manufacturing with commercially viable and profitable operation has tremendous potential for driving the space exploration industry and human expansion into outer space. This highly challenging task has never been accomplished before. The current relatively high delivery cost of materials represents the business challenge of value proposition for making products on orbit.

FOMS Inc. team identified an opportunity of revolutionary optical fiber manufacturing in space that can lead to the first commercial production on orbit. To address NASA mission of expansion humanity across solar system while providing continued cost-effective ISS operations FOMS Inc. proposes to develop Space Facility for Orbital Remote Manufacturing (SpaceFORM) with strong commercial potential for manufacturing operations on board the ISS.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The key value of the volume manufacturing capability on the orbital platform of ISS through the proposed effort is the unique opportunity to kick start the commercially driven expansion of the humanity in space through the profit based utilization of the abundant resource of microgravity for material processing. The developed logistics, infrastructure, and operational experience of remote orbital manufacturing will be critically important for sustainable orbital presence and further expansion of in-space science and technology. The approach will leverage existing ISS facilities to extend NASA leadership in facilitating commercial space exploration.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

The promise to decrease the insertion loss by an order of magnitude compared to currently installed optical fibers will have revolutionary impact on internet expansion, optical communications and data storage. The defense and security industry will benefit from improved detection of harmful substances and airplane protection from proliferating heat seeking missiles. The new applications that utilize the “fingerprint” spectral range would allow to specifically target the desired chemical compositions in both surveillance and chemical processing.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Active Systems
  • Fiber (see also Communications, Networking & Signal Transport; Photonics)
  • Image Capture (Stills/Motion)
  • Materials & Structures (including Optoelectronics)
  • Processing Methods
  • Smart/Multifunctional Materials

Proposal Title:
Sintered Inductive Metal Printer with Laser Exposure

Small Business Concern
Techshot
Greenville, IN

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Eugene Boland

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 4
End: 6

Technical Abstract

Techshot’s innovative 3D metal printer offers the unique ability to fabricate metal components and tools in space which can be utilized for sustainability, maintenance and research. The proposed system will accomplish this task through the utilization of a two-stage filament melting process whereby a metallic filament is first heated to Curie temperature through induction and then deposited on a build platform where it is fused to the previous layer by exposure to a low energy laser.

This new unique process is known as Sintered Metal Printing with Laser Exposure (SIMPLE). Induction heating is not entirely new to Fused Deposition Manufacturing (FDM). There has been recent research into the integration of an induction coil into the “hot end” of a plastic filament FDM printer. The induction coil surrounds the metal nozzle, known as the “hot end” and inductively heats the nozzle when an AC current is applied. The nozzle then heats and melts the plastic filament allowing it to be extruded onto a platform where a part is formed.

The use of induction heating, when printing with a metal filament, is similar but the induction coil heats the wire filament directly as it passes through its center. This system offers faster melt times resulting in faster feed rates, lower mass resulting in quicker more accurate printer head movements and lower overall power consumption. Conceptually, the wire filament will not be heated to melting but heated to the Curie temperature and laid as a hot filament on the build platform. To gain adherence between deposited layers, a low energy laser is used simultaneous to the layering process to heat and fuse adjacent filament layers.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

Government customers will initially be from NASA, where it should be of keen interest to the Advanced Exploration Systems division and to scientists seeking to take advantage of Techshot’s metal printer through NASA Research Announcements. Most beneficial for Exploration is the ability to print spare parts, logistics support and adaptive repair. Through its Space Act Agreement, its IDIQ contract and its role as a CASIS implementation partner, Techshot will offer both the SIMPLE equipment and the associated services required to conduct materials research and processing in microgravity aboard any NASA vehicles.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

Currently there is a high cost barrier to entry for 3D metal printing with no low cost options available. Techshot’s SIMPLE metal printer will fill that void and be marketed as a low-end metal printer. Techshot has successfully commercialized technology derived from SBIR contracts. For example, spinoff company Techshot Lighting, LLC successfully manufactures an LED tent lighting system to military customers.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • In Situ Manufacturing
  • Lasers (Machining/Materials Processing)
  • Metallics
  • Processing Methods
  • Structures

Proposal Title:
ERASMUS: Food Contact Safe Plastics Recycler
and 3D Printer System

Small Business Concern
Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Rachel Muhlbauer

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 5

Technical Abstract

A key goal of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) from 2012 is to utilize the ISS for developing the systems and protocols necessary to humans to venture beyond low Earth orbit for extended durations, and with the push from Congress in 2015 to build a deep space habitat for a Mars mission by 2018, the goals of HEOMD are increasingly important to meet.

The ERASMUS technology integrates a plastics recycler, dry heat sterilizer, and 3D printer to create a system that accepts previously-used plastic waste and parts, sterilizes these pre-used materials, recycles them into food-grade and medical-grade 3D printer filament, and 3D prints new utensils and implements. This effort intends to minimize the requirements for initial supply as well as providing a method to make new parts on-demand as-needed.

The ERASMUS Phase II effort focuses on the research and development of the ERASMUS process, sterilizing, recycling, and printing, as well as on a design and print effort, developing medical and food-contact devices.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The ERASMUS process has multiple NASA applications that will enhance capabilities on the ISS and other long duration missions. The ability to sterilize plastic materials will enable the re-use of plastic materials without worry of bacterial contamination. Sterilization will also allow for the development 3D printer feedstock that can be made from packaging waste and can be used to 3D print new food-contact, skin-contact, and medical devices.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

TUI expects that the ability to create food contract safe sterilized materials will be ideal for the DoD to support soldiers in remote locations where resupply is limited. We also anticipate this technology to be a game-changer for medical service providers with limited access to water. In the Phase II, we plan to explore the possibility to extend the technology to medical grade 3D printing which will have an even more widespread impact across the globe and in space. Medical facilities using the ERASMUS technology will be able to print sterile implants and surgical tools on demand, rather than requiring storage or waiting for the delivery of these devices.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Food (Preservation, Packaging, Preparation)
  • In Situ Manufacturing
  • Medical
  • Organics/Biomaterials/Hybrids
  • Polymers
  • Processing Methods
  • Waste Storage/Treatment

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