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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SwRI Planetary Scientist Alan Stern to Fly With Experiments on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern celebrates a Guinness World Record certificate on July 19 at U.S. Postal Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Dan Afzal, U.S. Postal Service)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, October 14, 2020 (SwRI PR) — A Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) planetary scientist has been chosen to be among the first group to conduct NASA-funded science experiments while flying aboard a commercial spacecraft, the space agency announced today.

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Testing Super Foods for Space and More on Blue Origin Suborbital Flight

The microgravity LilyPond growth chamber uses capillary action to provide a stable water surface on which duckweed (and potentially other veggies, like microgreens) can grow. LED panels provide an efficient light source, and a salad spinner-like sieve helps separate the water from the plants when ready to harvest. (Credits: Space Lab Technologies)

Duckweed: it’s what’s for dinner

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

EDWARDS, Calif. — It’s no surprise to most of us that regularly eating fresh produce is a great way to support a healthy diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables benefit astronauts on the International Space Station, too – and soon the Moon and beyond. Scientists are investigating sustainable ways to grow highly nutritious foods in microgravity, to give space explorers a readily available supply of daily greens.

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Blue Origin Schedules Next New Shepard Launch for Thursday

The New Shepard (NS) booster lands after this vehicle’s fifth flight during NS-11 on May 2, 2019. (Credits: Blue Origin)

Next New Shepard Launch Will Test Key Technologies with NASA for Returning to the Moon 

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin’s next New Shepard mission (NS-13) is currently targeting liftoff for Thursday, September 24, at 10:00 am CDT / 15:00 UTC. Current weather conditions are favorable. This will be the 13th New Shepard mission and the 7th consecutive flight for this particular vehicle (a record), demonstrating its operational reusability. 

You can watch the launch live at BlueOrigin.com. The pre-show begins at T-30 minutes and will provide mission details, including a special update from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

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NOAA Readies for Addition to its Space Weather Toolkit

An artist’s rendering of the SWFO-L1 satellite. (Credit: NOAA)

SILVER SPRING, Md. (NOAA PR) — NOAA is planning an advanced satellite that will improve forecasts and warnings for potentially damaging solar activity while perched in a Sun-facing orbit a million miles from Earth.

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NASA Selects SwRI to Participate in $6 Billion Rapid Spacecraft Acquisition IV Contract

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (SwRI PR) — NASA has selected Southwest Research Institute to take part in the $6 billion indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity Rapid Spacecraft Acquisition IV contract. SwRI will be listed in the NASA spacecraft catalog used by the U.S. government to easily contract for proven spacecraft.

The Rapid IV contracts serve as a fast and flexible means for the government to acquire spacecraft and related components, equipment and services in support of NASA missions and/or other federal government agencies. The spacecraft designs, related items and services may be tailored, as needed, to meet the unique needs of each mission.

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SwRI-led Lucy Mission One Step Closer to Trojan Asteroids

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (SwRI PR) — NASA’s Lucy mission, led by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), has achieved an important milestone by passing its System Integration Review and clearing the way for spacecraft assembly.

This NASA Discovery Program class mission will be the first to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, ancient small bodies that share an orbit with Jupiter and hold important insights to understanding the early solar system.

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NASA Awards Rapid Spacecraft Acquisition IV Contracts

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has awarded contracts to five aerospace firms for the Rapid Spacecraft Acquisition IV spacecraft and related services. Each contractor has one or more core spacecraft offerings available under their contract.

Under these multiple-award, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts, spacecraft and related services will be purchased via government placed firm-fixed price delivery orders. These multi-agency contracts may support any NASA center and other federal agencies.

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SwRI Scientist Modeled Mars Climate to Understand Habitability

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its panoramic camera to record this eastward horizon view on the 2,407th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (Oct. 31, 2010). (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, May 11, 2020 (SwRI PR) — A Southwest Research Institute scientist modeled the atmosphere of Mars to help determine that salty pockets of water present on the Red Planet are likely not habitable by life as we know it on Earth. A team that also included scientists from Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the University of Arkansas helped allay planetary protection concerns about contaminating potential Martian ecosystems. These results were published this month in Nature Astronomy.

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The PI’s Perspective: Probing Farther in the Kuiper Belt with New Horizons

This composite image of the primordial contact binary Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) – featured on the cover of the May 17 issue of the journal Science – was compiled from data obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by the object on Jan. 1, 2019. The image combines enhanced color data (close to what the human eye would see) with detailed high-resolution panchromatic pictures. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko)

New Horizons Mission Update
by Alan Stern
Principal Investigator

New Horizons is healthy and performing perfectly as it flies deeper and deeper into the Kuiper Belt! Recently we conducted an engineering review of the spacecraft to “trend” how it was working compared to when it was launched. The result was amazing: Every system and science instrument aboard New Horizons is working as well as it did when we lifted off, more than 14 years and almost 5 billion miles ago. As mission principal investigator I could not be prouder — the men and women who designed, built and tested New Horizons literally created a masterpiece of American workmanship that will likely be able to perform and explore for many more years and many more miles!

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NOAA Awards Space Weather Follow-On Lagrange 1 Magnetometer to Southwest Research Institute

SILVER SPRING, Md. (NOAA PR) — NOAA has awarded the Space Weather Follow-On Lagrange 1 (SWFO-L1) Magnetometer contract to Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) based in San Antonio.

NOAA has awarded the Space Weather Follow-On Lagrange 1 (SWFO-L1) Magnetometer contract to Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) based in San Antonio, Texas through its procurement agent and acquisition partner, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

This is a cost-plus, fixed-fee contract with a total value of $12,862,664. The period of performance is 75 months.

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SWRI-Led PUNCH Mission Achieves Milestone

SwRI developed and prototyped the Wide Field Imager for the PUNCH mission. The dark baffles in the top recess allow the instrument to image objects over a thousand times fainter than the Milky Way. (Credit: SwRI)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (SwRI PR) — On April 8, 2020, the Polarimeter to UNify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH) mission achieved an important milestone, passing NASA’s critical System Requirements Review/Mission Definition Review (SRR/MDR). Southwest Research Institute is leading PUNCH, a NASA Small Explorer (SMEX) mission that will integrate understanding of the Sun’s corona, the outer atmosphere visible during eclipses, with the tenuous “solar wind” filling the solar system.

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