NASA Armstrong Collaborates with Rocket Lab, Sensuron to Mature Fiber Optic Technology

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — A system originally developed to collect distributed strain and temperature measurements on aircraft has been enhanced to support future NASA space missions. Two companies were selected by NASA through the 2020 Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity to further develop and commercialize the technology. 

The Fiber Optic Sensing System (FOSS) developed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, uses sensors that are the size of a human hair to monitor vehicle structural and thermal response. Much of the technology effort to advance FOSS for use on airplanes and rockets was funded by the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Center Innovation Fund.

“Transferring the FOSS technology into the commercial sector gets the technology into the hands of the engineers designing the next generation vehicles,” said Eric Miller, FOSS project manager at Armstrong. “The technology allows companies to gain greater insight into the vehicle response that in turn leads to greater commercial capabilities and advancements.

Armstrong will work with Rocket Lab USA in Long Beach, California, and Sensuron LLC in Austin, Texas to provide engineering expertise and access to NASA’s unique testing facilities and engineering expertise.

Sending larger payloads to the Martian surface will require innovations in entry, descent, and landing (EDL) technologies. The microFOSS technology will be incorporated by Rocket Lab into their Electron rocket to measure thermal response during entry, descent, and landing.

The microFOSS system has the capability of producing the same amount and quality of data as previous versions of the technology but the architecture enables dynamic flight research capabilities previously not available. 

EDL technology maturation and eventual certification will rely on a combination of simulation, ground testing, and flight testing. Obtaining flight vehicle performance data on EDL vehicles is critical for validating models to develop next generation vehicles. Along with Armstrong, Rocket Lab is also partnering with NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, on this project. 

Safe and efficient liquefaction (the process of liquefying gases) of cryogenic propellants is essential for enabling deep space exploration. A version of the fiber optic system called temperature tuned FOSS is being further developed with Sensuron to bridge the gap to safe and efficient liquefaction of cryogenic propellants.

Under the new partnership, Sensuron will work with Armstrong, Langley, and NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland to develop a miniature and rugged temperature monitoring solution using a fiber optic sensing system. The technology is designed to monitor cryogenic temperatures and structural integrity throughout an extended mission on the order of days, months, or years.  

“Sensuron is delighted to bring its expertise and to help enable new space missions,” said Justin Braun, Sensuron president. “The fiber optic sensing technology we have been developing alongside NASA for the past 10 years has now reached a level of maturity that makes it viable to facilitate temperature monitoring and liquid level sensing for critical applications. As it is being miniaturized and ruggedized, we anticipate that it will serve many more applications over the next few years.”

Through its Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity, NASA helps reduce the development cost of technologies and accelerate the infusion of emerging commercial capabilities into space missions. These partnerships complement NASA’s Artemis program and help prepare the agency for its future exploration endeavors. With these agreements and NASA’s 2020 Tipping Point partnerships, STMD supports technology development needed to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon and for future crewed missions to Mars.

For more information about NASA’s 2020 Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity selections, visit:

https://go.nasa.gov/2IfMFU6