NASA Selects 31 Promising Space Technologies for Commercial Flight Tests

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program

NASA has selected 31 promising space technologies for testing aboard parabolic aircraft, high-altitude balloons, and suborbital rocket-powered systems. By exposing the innovations to many of the rigors and characteristics of spaceflight – without the expense of an orbital flight – NASA can help ensure these technologies work correctly when they are deployed on future missions.

“By supporting suborbital flight testing, our Flight Opportunities  program aims to help ensure that these innovations are well-positioned to address challenges and enable NASA to achieve its lunar ambitions, while also contributing to a growing and vibrant commercial space industry,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). The Flight Opportunities program is part of STMD.

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Aerospace Prairie: A Platform for Next-Gen Space Operators

With Prairie, Aerospace is pioneering the use of Agile and DevSecOps methods for satellite development. (Credit: The Aerospace Corporation)

Prairie combines Aerospace’s unrivaled technical and historical space operation data with the most innovative gaming engines available in the commercial market, and is presented to the user with stunning visual graphics.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — The rapid growth of the space enterprise, from commercial interests in space exploration to a potentially adversarial domain, has created a demand for faster, more agile tools for space operations. The ability to simulate multiple scenarios and test models with pinpoint accuracy and rich interactive data visualization can serve as an invaluable advantage for operators to maintain space domain awareness.

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CubeSats Get Close: Proximity Operation with Interesting Implications

AeroCube-10A (which is only 10 x 10 x 15 cm itself) photographed from 26 meters away. (Credit: Aerospace Corporation)

One of Aerospace’s CubeSats photographed its twin satellite from 22 meters away in a demonstration of the type of technology that could enable inspection and servicing missions.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — With some technical panache, one of The Aerospace Corporation’s CubeSats maneuvered itself within 22 meters of its sibling CubeSat and snapped a series of photos while orbiting at 17,000 miles per hour. 

This incredibly difficult technology demonstration, performed by a satellite the size of a tissue box, paves the way for future inspection or servicing missions. 

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Aerospace Corporation to Build a Second Facility in Colorado Springs

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — The Aerospace Corporation (Aerospace) announced today it is investing nearly $100 million in a second state-of-the-art research and development facility in Colorado Springs, Colo.

This facility, recently approved by the Aerospace Board of Trustees, is planned to be 70 percent classified space and includes a multi-purpose high-technology center to meet the growing requirements of the U.S. Space Command, the U.S. Space Force, and a variety of other customers.

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This Week on The Space Show

This week on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston:

1. Monday, July 6, 2020; 7 PM PDT (9 PM CDT; 10 PM EDT) No special programming for this date.

2. Tuesday, July 7, 2020, 7 PM PDT (9 PM CDT; 10 PM EDT) We welcome back ROBERT (BOB) ZIMMERMAN for space news and policy updates plus more.

3. Wednesday, July 8, 2020; Hotel Mars TBA pre-recorded. See upcoming show menu on the home page for program details.

4. Thursday, July 9, 2020: 7-8:30 PM PDT (9-10:30 pm CDT; 10-11:30 PM EDT): No special program today.

5. Friday, July 10, 2020; 9:30-11 AM PDT; 11:30 AM-1 PM CDT; 12:30-2 PM EDT. We welcome back DR. JIM VEDDA with DR. GEORGE POLLOCK of The Aerospace Corporation re their Center For Space Policy And Strategy paper, “Cislunar Stewardship: Planning For Sustainability And International Cooperation.”

6. Sunday, July 12, 2020 12-1:30 PM PDT, (3-4:30 PM EDT, 2-3:30 PM CDT): DR. ALAN STERN returns for news regarding Pluto, New Horizons and more.

NASA $2M Grant Advances Study to Directly Image Exoplanets Light Years Away

Xplore’s Advanced Solar Sail for NASA’s Solar Gravity Lens Focus Mission. (Visualization by Bryan Versteeg, SpaceHabs.com)

Xplore’s advanced solar sail design will be the fastest spacecraft ever made

SEATTLE (Xplore PR) — Xplore Inc., a commercial space exploration company providing Space as a ServiceTM today announced they and their teammates won a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase III award for a two-year, $2M NASA grant to further mature the Solar Gravity Lens Focus (SGLF) architecture to image planets in orbit around distant stars starting with a Technology Demonstration Mission (TDM).

Dr. Slava G. Turyshev, a NIAC Fellow and Senior Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is the Principal Investigator leading the SGLF mission which includes Xplore, JPL and The Aerospace Corporation. The SGLF mission study is only the third Phase III award granted in the NIAC program ever.

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SMC, Mission Partners Successfully Deploy Aerospace Rogue CubeSats from ISS

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (USAF PR) — The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and its mission partners successfully deployed Aerospace’s Rogue Alpha and Rogue Beta CubeSats from the Northrop Grumman Cygnus capsule at 1 p.m. and 4:10 p.m. respectively, Jan. 31, 2020.

This marks the beginning of the program’s mission experiment plan, where the two satellites will use their short-wave infrared sensors to create a baseline for processing cloud backgrounds and inform future low Earth orbit satellites. The Air Force will also utilize this program’s unclassified data to investigate potential uses of the capability.

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International Space Station Adds a Powerful New Camera

Orange County, Calif. (Credit: The Aerospace Corporation)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — Aerospace’s new infrared camera is now obtaining unique high-contrast, nighttime images from its home on the International Space Station (ISS). The 45-kilogram instrument, known as the Near Infrared Airglow Camera (NIRAC), will provide detailed observations of clouds at night for weather prediction, among other applications.  

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The NFL Inspires New Satellite Docking Tool

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — How do you teach a satellite to park? As spacecraft transition from standalone vehicles to swarms of “self-driving” robots that interact and dock on their own in space, engineers need a way to test those maneuvers here on Earth. An Aerospace team found a possible solution on Sunday Night Football ™.

For this team, the action was not on the field, but in the sky, where a camera sailed through the air on a system of cables and pulleys, capturing the game from above. Such cable systems allow cameras to move between any two locations in a three-dimensional space – exactly the kind of maneuvers needed to test and train the next generation of satellites.

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A Roller Coaster Approach to Satellite Re-positioning

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — When a natural disaster strikes or a national security emergency breaks out, every minute counts.

But it can take a satellite in low earth orbit 100 minutes to make one of the many passes needed to provide global coverage. Larger satellites can provide continuous coverage of greater areas but require higher altitudes and still only cover roughly one-third of the Earth.

In critical, fast-moving situations, space operators can find themselves challenged by the stubborn inflexibility of satellite positioning, which, despite numerous technological advances, still requires satellites to rotate or orbit into viewing range to image a target.

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Aerospace CubeSats Blaze a Faster Trail to Space

Aerospace CubeSat (Credit: Aerospace Corporation)

The challenge: Build and launch a pair of cube satellites on a tight budget and even tighter timeline. 

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — In mid-2018, The Aerospace Corporation engineers and scientists received a unique mission from the United States Air Force. Their challenge: Build and launch a pair of cube satellites on a tight budget and even tighter timeline of just 18 months.

In a world where the threats facing orbiting satellites proliferate with each passing year, the ability to field an agile response and quickly restore lost functionality is a critical, but still developing, capability.

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AeroCube-14 Takes Nanotech Experiments to Space

The AeroCube-14 CubeSats in the lab prior to launch integration. Once deployed, they’ll carry a number of nanotechnology experiments in low-Earth orbit. (Credit: Aerospace Corporation)

AeroCube 14’s experiments include nanotechnology payloads that will test new and emerging materials, including structural materials and thermal straps

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — The Aerospace Corporation’s AeroCube-14 CubeSats launched on Nov. 2 loaded with nanotechnology payloads to conduct modular experiments and other research.

AeroCube-14 consists of two identical 3-unit CubeSats that launched as part of the Northrop Grumman-12 Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station. 

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USAF Space and Missile Systems Center Payloads Arrive at Space Station

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (SMSC PR) — The U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and its mission partners successfully delivered the Aerospace Rogue Alpha/Beta CubeSats and Space Test Program Satellite-4 (STPSat-4) to the International Space Station.

The mission, designated NG-12, started with the on-time launch of an upgraded Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems Antares 230+ rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A Nov. 2 at 9:59 a.m. EDT from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

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Testing Solar Cells at the Edge of Space

Colin Mann (front) and Don Walker operate the solar simulator in the laboratory. (Credit: Jeff Berting/Aerospace Corporation)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — As the power source for spacecraft, solar cells perform an important function and need to work as expected on orbit.

An Aerospace team patented a minuscule device that helps them accurately assess the performance of various solar cells before sending them into space.

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Aerospace Corporation Receives $1.1 Billion Contract From U.S. Air Force

WASHINGTON (DOD PR) — The U.S. Air Force has awarded The Aerospace Corporation of El Segundo, Calif., a $1,084,529,525 modification to a previously awarded contract for systems engineering and integration support for the national space community.

This contract modification provides for the exercise of option year one for fiscal 2020 services being procured under the multiple year contract. Work will be performed at El Segundo, and it is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, 2020.

The total cumulative face value of the contract is $2,158,348,065. Fiscal 2020 research and development funds are being used and no funds are being obligated at the time of the award. The Space and Missile Systems Center, El Segundo, California, is the contracting activity.