NASA Selects 25 Promising Space Tecnologies for Commercial Flight Tests

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Flight Opportunities program within the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate has selected 25 promising space technologies for testing aboard aircraft, high-altitude balloons and suborbital rockets. These flights will expose the payloads to the rigors and characteristics of spaceflight at lower cost and risk than orbital missions. They also give researchers the data they need to refine and mature their innovations for possible infusion into NASA missions to the Moon and beyond.

“With vibrant and growing interest in exploration and commercial space across the country, our goal with these selections is to support innovators from industry and academia who are using rapid and affordable commercial opportunities to test their technologies in space,” said Christopher Baker, program executive for Flight Opportunities at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These suborbital flights enable researchers to quickly and iteratively test technologies with the opportunity to make adjustments between flights. The ultimate goal is to change the pace of technology development and drastically shorten the time it takes to bring an idea from the lab to orbit or to the Moon.”

The selected technologies address two topics that reflect current NASA priorities. The topics helped NASA identify technologies that could further the agency’s lunar exploration goals under the Artemis program as well as utilization of commercial flight platforms for research applications. The selections and a short description of each technology, by topic area, are:

Topic 1: Supporting Sustainable Lunar Exploration and the Expansion of Economic Activity into Cislunar Space

Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin

  • Advancements that address the need for accurately measuring propellant levels of spacecraft during dynamic events in zero gravity, such as engine burns. This technology is planned to fly on both the Zero Gravity Corporation (Zero-G) aircraft and the Blue Origin New Shepard suborbital rocket.

Draper in Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • A navigation system designed to give crewed missions precise location and navigation data needed for safe and accurate lunar and planetary landings. This technology is planned to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Honeybee Robotics Ltd. in Pasadena, California

  • A planetary sample capture device featuring a footpad-integrated sampling tube and sample sorting station. The device is designed to collect surface soil, or regolith, on another world that could be returned to Earth for analysis. This technology is planned to fly on the Masten Space Systems rocket powered lander vehicle.

IMEC USA Nanoelectronics Design Center Inc. in Houston

  • A diagnostic and bioanalytical monitoring solution for astronauts aboard deep space exploration missions. This technology testing is planned to fly on the Zero-G aircraft.

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore

  • A complete lunar radiation hazard characterization and monitoring system. This technology is planned to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California

  • A commercialized terrestrial version of a NASA navigation system that has been adapted for space with lower size, mass and power consumption than the previous versions.
  • A laser instrument that measures density and particle size of lunar lander plume ejecta.
  • A high-fidelity landing simulator combined with a regolith sample collection device. These three technologies are planned to fly on the Masten Space Systems rocket powered lander vehicle.

Montana State University in Bozeman

  • A computer technology based on cost-effective, off-the-shelf parts that is designed to recover in the event of a system failure caused by radiation. This technology is planned to fly on the Raven Aerostar high-altitude balloon.

North Carolina State University in Raleigh

  • Large-scale deployable solar arrays constructed with a hinge mechanism that allows folding into origami-like shapes for improved packing. This technology is planned to fly on the Zero-G aircraft.

Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas

  • A device to improve the transfer and delivery of cryogenic fluids by reliably removing vapor bubbles. This technology is planned to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard.

University of Central Florida in Orlando

  • An experiment to characterize the charging behavior of dust in lunar-like environments to understand how dust interacts with other particles and surfaces. This technology is planned to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard.

University of Colorado in Boulder

  • Testing of a 3D printer to determine the effect of reduced gravity on the fabrication of components, including elements of life support systems that could be required to remove carbon dioxide from a crew-occupied cabin. This technology is planned to fly on the Zero-G aircraft.

University of Florida in Gainesville

  • Enhancement of a flight-proven imaging concept and hardware system to characterize biological responses to changes in gravity levels during spaceflight. This technology is planned to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
  • A cryogenic boil-off experiment to collect information and advance the long-term storage of propellant in space. This technology is planned to fly on the Zero-G aircraft.

Topic 2: Fostering the Commercialization of Low Earth Orbit and Utilization of Suborbital Space

GSSL Inc. in Tillamook, Oregon

  • A modified drone shuttle system designed to return large amounts of data from high-altitude balloons, allowing unprocessed science data to be retrieved before the end of a balloon flight. This technology is planned to fly on a Near Space Corporation high-altitude balloon.

Johns Hopkins University

  • An ultraviolet remote imaging system that can fly externally on suborbital rockets, enabling new science measurements at altitudes of up to 62 miles in the absence of ozone.
  • Deployment and re-entry of miniaturized satellites, known as ChipSats, to evaluate the capability of the technology to enable inexpensive study of difficult-to-explore regions of Earth’s upper atmosphere as well as the atmospheres and surfaces of other planets or moons. These two technologies are planned to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida

  • Real-time testing of biological changes during suborbital launch and landing conditions and hyper/microgravity. This technology is planned to fly on the Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Night Crew Labs LLC in Woodside, California

  • Adaptation of a satellite remote sensing technique that detects changes in Global Navigation Satellite System radio signals as they pass through Earth’s atmosphere to a balloon-based system that provides on-demand and persistent coverage over regions of strong interest during high-impact weather events. This technology is planned to fly on a World View Enterprises high-altitude balloon.

Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana

  • A payload designed to observe fuel behavior and its effect on spacecraft pointing. This technology is planned to fly the Virgin Galactic suborbital spacecraft.

Southwest Research Institute

  • A novel anchoring and sampling architecture for the surfaces of small asteroids, enabling regolith collection from multiple sites. This technology is planned to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Space Environment Technologies in Pacific Palisades, California

  • Long-duration regional monitoring and identification of harmful radiation sources. This technology is planned to fly on a World View high-altitude balloon.

University of Kentucky in Lexington

  • Lightweight, compact and low-cost instrumentation designed to examine potential long-range gust and turbulence detection at high altitudes, with benefits for suborbital and low-Earth orbit vehicles as well as general aviation. This technology is planned to fly on a high-altitude balloon and glider combination from Stratodynamics Aviation Inc.

Vanderbilt University in Nashville

  • Testing of a small system designed to enable complex biological and chemical experiments as well as new capabilities for synthesizing chemicals, including pharmaceuticals. This technology is planned to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

The technologies were selected as part of NASA’s Tech Flights solicitation. This year’s awards total nearly $10 million. Awardees will receive a grant or enter into a cost-share agreement, through which they can select a commercial flight provider that meets the testing or demonstration needs of their specific payload.

The Flight Opportunities program is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the solicitation and evaluation of technologies to be tested and demonstrated on commercial flight vehicles.

NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program includes sending a suite of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024, and establishing a sustained presence by 2028. The agency will leverage its Artemis experience and technologies to prepare for the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.