NASA Announces New Tipping Point Partnerships for Moon and Mars Technologies

Astrobotic is one of 14 companies selected for NASA’s Tipping Point solicitation. This illustration depicts CubeRover, an ultra-light, modular and scalable commercial rover.(Credit: Astrobotic/Carnegie Mellon University)

Astrobotic, Blue Origin, ExoTerra, Paragon and SpaceX among contract awardees for advanced technologies

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 14 American companies as partners whose technologies will help enable the agency’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

The selections are based on NASA’s fourth competitive Tipping Point solicitation and have a combined total award value of about $43.2 million. This investment in the U.S. space industry, including small businesses across the country, will help bring the technologies to market and ready them for use by NASA.

(more…)

NASA Selects Small Spacecraft Technologies for Funding

New high-impulse thrusters and communications technologies that will facilitate missions by groups of spacecraft beyond Earth orbit are among the small satellite technologies that NASA is funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

The space agency selected six research and development projects for SBIR Phase II funding. The awards are for up to $750,000 over two years.

Three of the proposals focus on small satellite thrusters. Alameda Applied Sciences Corporation (AASC) of Oakland, California will continue to develop its high-impulse metal plasma thrusters for use on CubeSat missions.

(more…)











A Closer Look at NIAC Phase II Awards for Asteroids & Moons

Graphic depiction of Triton Hopper: Exploring Neptune’s Captured Kuiper Belt Object (Credits: Steven Oleson)

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded 25 grants for the development of visionary new technologies. Here we’re going to take a closer look at the following three Phase II awards focused on new ways of exploring asteroids and moons.

Dismantling Rubble Pile Asteroids with AoES (Area-of-Effect Soft-bots)
Jay McMahon
University of Colorado, Boulder

Triton Hopper: Exploring Neptune’s Captured Kuiper Belt Object
Steven Oleson
NASA Glenn Research Center

NIMPH: Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester
Michael VanWoerkom
ExoTerra Resource

Each award is worth up to $500,000 for a two-year study. Descriptions of the awards are below.
(more…)











NASA Invests in Shapeshifters, Biobots & Other Visionary Technology


WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA is investing in technology concepts that include meteoroid impact detection, space telescope swarms, and small orbital debris mapping technologies that may one day be used for future space exploration missions.

The agency selected 25 early-stage technology proposals that have the potential to transform future human and robotic exploration missions, introduce new exploration capabilities, and significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.

(more…)











NASA Partners With 8 Companies in Spacecraft, Launch Technology

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA is partnering with eight U.S. companies to advance small spacecraft and launch vehicle technologies that are on the verge of maturation and are likely to benefit both NASA and the commercial space market.

These partnerships are the result of a solicitation released in August 2016 by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), titled Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies. They mark the second round of public-private opportunities that enable industry to develop promising commercial space technologies that also may benefit future NASA missions.

(more…)











NIAC Focus: Harvesting Propellant From Icy Moons

niac_icy_moon_propellant_harvester_vanwoerkom
NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently selected 13 proposals for Phase I awards. Below is the description of a propellant harvester submitted by Michael VanWoerkom of Exoterra Resource, LLC.

NIMPH: Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester

Michael VanWoerkom
Exoterra Resource, LLC

The latest Decadal Survey lists multiple sample return missions to the Moon, Mars and Jovian moons as high priority goals. In particular, a mission to Jupiter’s Europa is a top science goal as its liquid oceans holds the potential for discovery of extra-terrestrial life. However, using traditional techniques, these delta-V intensive missions result in large initial masses and have cost estimates in the $1-5B range.

To reduce the cost of these missions, ExoTerra taps into both the rapidly developing CubeSat industry, in-situ resource utilization, and the work being performed with high power solar arrays and electric propulsion under the asteroid redirect program. Combined, these offer the ability to drastically reduce the initial mass and cost of sample return missions.

ExoTerra’s NIMPH project develops a CubeSat scale in-situ resource utilization system that harvests water to enable low-cost sample return missions to icy moons through micro-landers. To exemplify the enabling capabilities of the technology, the project demonstrates the ability to conduct a sample return mission from Europa at an order of magnitude cost reduction.

During the effort, we develop the mission architecture and concept of operations, identifying key risks and mitigations. The project then performs the conceptual design of the key ISRU and micro-thruster technologies. Finally, the results of the design are fed into the conceptual design of the micro-lander used to collect and deliver the sample. Once the micro-lander and ISRU technologies are demonstrated, it offers the potential to perform sample return missions across the solar system at an affordable price.











NASA Selects 13 NIAC Phase I Projects

Artists depiction of an asteroid being reconstituted into a mechanical automata. (Credit: Made in Space)
Artists depiction of an asteroid being reconstituted into a mechanical automata. (Credit: Made in Space)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 13 proposals through NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), a program that invests in transformative architectures through the development of pioneering technologies.

Among the selected are: a concept for reprogramming microorganisms that could use the Martian environment to recycle and print electronics; a two-dimensional spacecraft with ultra-thin subsystems that may wrap around space debris to enable de-orbiting; and a method of computational imaging that leverages extrasolar intensity fluctuations to detect “echoes” from planets and other structures orbiting a distant star.

(more…)











NASA Selects CubeSat Projects for SBIR Phase II Funding

NASA’s STMD is spearheading work on small spacecraft such as these two Nodes satellites. The Nodes spacecraft were taken to the International Space Station (ISS) in late 2015 via the fourth Orbital ATK cargo mission. Nodes will be deployed into low-Earth orbit from the ISS in early 2016 and test new network capabilities for operating swarms of spacecraft in the future. (Credit: NASA)
NASA’s STMD is spearheading work on small spacecraft such as these two Nodes satellites. The Nodes spacecraft were taken to the International Space Station (ISS) in late 2015 via the fourth Orbital ATK cargo mission. Nodes will be deployed into low-Earth orbit from the ISS in early 2016 and test new network capabilities for operating swarms of spacecraft in the future. (Credit: NASA)

NASA has selected seven projects focused on CubeSats for continued development under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II program.

The projects are either focused directly on CubeSats or have applications to the small satellites. The list includes:

  • Tendeg, LLC, Louisville, Colo: ROC-Rib Deployable Ka-Band Antenna for Nanosatellites
  • ExoTerra Resource, LLC. Littleton, Colo.: Cubesat SEP Power Module
  • Composite Technology Development, Inc., Lafayette, Colo.: Electric Potential and Field Instrument for CubeSat (EPIC)
  • Spectral Sciences, Inc., Burlington, Mass.: Electrospray Propulsion Engineering Toolkit (ESPET)
  • , LLC, Saline, Mich.:  Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing for Capillary Heat Transfer Devices and Integrated Heat Exchangers
  • Applied Material Systems Engineering, Inc., Schaumburg, Ill.: Innovations for the Affordable Conductive Thermal Control Material Systems for Space Applications
  • Pioneer Astronautics, Lakewood, Colo.: Nitrous Ethane-Ethylene Rocket with Hypergolic Ignition.

Summaries of the projects follow.

(more…)











NASA Selects 18 Proposals for Asteroid Redirect Mission Studies

In this concept image, the robotic vehicle deploys an inflatable bag to envelop a free-flying small asteroid before redirecting it to a distant retrograde lunar orbit. (Credit: NASA)
In this concept image, the robotic vehicle deploys an inflatable bag to envelop a free-flying small asteroid before redirecting it to a distant retrograde lunar orbit. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 18 proposals for studies under the Asteroid Redirect Mission Broad Agency Announcement (BAA).  These six-month studies will mature system concepts and key technologies and assess the feasibility of potential commercial partnerships to support the agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, a key part of the agency’s stepping stone path to send humans to Mars.

The agency is working on two concepts for the mission. The first concept would fully capture a very small asteroid in free space and the other would retrieve a boulder off of a much larger asteroid. Both concepts would redirect an asteroid mass less than 10 meters in size to orbit the moon. Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft launched on the Space Launch System (SLS) would rendezvous with the captured asteroid mass in lunar orbit and collect samples for return to Earth.

(more…)











NASA Eyes Sending CubeSats into Deep Space

CubeSat
CubeSat

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

So far, CubeSats have been used exclusively in Earth orbit. But, imagine a fleet of these tiny spacecraft fanning out to the moon and other deep-space destinations.

That’s what NASA has in mind. The space agency has just committed about $1.1 million to fund nine research projects that address different deep-space cubesat technologies. The funding is part of the NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Select Phase 1 grants announced earlier this week.

(more…)