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NASA Funds Six Small Spacecraft Technologies for Development

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 20, 2020
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NASA has selected six small satellite technology projects for continued development under phase II of its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

The selected proposals included: two projects focused on in-space propulsion; two systems for de-orbiting satellites; one project focused on radiation shielding for small spacecraft; and an improved turbo-pump for small satellite launch vehicles.

Phase II awards are worth a maximum of $750,000 for up to two years. NASA previously supported the six projects with smaller phase I awards.

Summaries of the projects with links to their abstracts follow.

Warm Gas Generator Resistojet
Micropropulsion System
Subtopic: Chemical Propulsion Systems for Small Satellite Missions

Benchmark Space Systems, Inc.
South Burlington, VT

Principal Investigator: Michael McDevitt

Benchmark Space Systems proposes to build a resistojet micropropulsion system based on proprietary warm gas generator technology. Results from Phase I of this project indicate that a system built around a resistojet thruster could increase specific impulse by up to 110% while remaining within the power budget of a typical CubeSat/SmallSat mission. That level of specific impulse would make the proposed propulsion system useful for Lunar and deep space missions, as well as enhancing the capabilities of low Earth orbit missions.

Full Abstract:

Low Flame Temperature Monopropellant Propulsion Unit for Cubesats
Subtopic: Chemical Propulsion Systems for Small Satellite Missions (MPUC)

CU Aerospace, LLC
Champaign, IL

Principal Investigator: Darren King

CU Aerospace (CUA) proposes the further development of an alternative very low-toxicity Monopropellant Propulsion Unit for Cubesats (MPUC) and delivery of a brassboard MPUC system which comprises a 150 mN main thruster subsystem and its feed system at the end of Phase II. 

Full Abstract:

Compact, Lightweight Bolt-on Deorbit Device for Spacecraft
Subtopic: DragSails for Spacecraft Deorbit

L’Garde, Inc.
Tustin, CA

Principal Investigator: Arthur Palisoc

Two simple bolt-on de-orbit device configurations developed during Phase I will be carried to the CDR level for Phase II culminating in a ready-to-fly de-orbiter at the end of the project. 

The first is a passive de-orbiter suitable for use at altitudes up to 1200 km where no vane sail articulation is needed. For altitudes above 1200 km our analysis showed that in order to decay within the 25-year “requirement” an articulating vane sail type de-orbiter is needed for rough-pointing against solar pressure. 

Even if the vane sail of the de-orbiter is mis-pointed by 45 degrees, it will still see about 70 percent solar pressure drag. For these higher altitudes a passively articulating bolt-on de-orbit device based on two-way shape memory alloy is used.

Full Abstract:

Aerodynamically Stable DragSails for Spacecraft Deorbit
Subtopic: DragSails for Spacecraft Deorbit

Vestigo Aerospace, LLC
West Lafayette, IN

Principal Investigator: Eileen Dukes

The Phase II investigation will develop dragsail system prototypes and perform environmental testing. These  prototypes, along with high-fidelity modeling and definition of Level 3 and Level 4 requirements, will establish TRL 6 for the dragsail designs. Completion of the Phase II investigation will position Vestigo Aerospace for commercialization of the Spinnaker dragsail product line.

Full Abstract:

Lightweight Radiation Shielding Composites for Small Spacecraft
Subtopic: Low Cost Radiation Hardened Integrated Circuit Technology

Nanosonic, Inc.
Pembroke, VA

Principal Investigator: Keith Hill

This Phase II program would develop a lightweight radiation shielding composite. We foresee integration with future spacecraft as a path to market materials on a much larger scale. These radiation shielding composites offer enhanced safety and reliability for space structures as they include components for moderate protection against galactic cosmic radiation, solar energetic particles, and secondary neutrons. This radiation shielding methodology could represent a large market to improve virtually any existing NASA spacecraft shielding needs.

Full Abstract:

Innovative Hydrogen Peroxide Turbopump Design for Affordable Small Launch Vehicles
Subtopic: Small Launch Vehicle Technologies and Demonstrations

Frontier Astronautics
Chugwater, WY

Principal Investigator: Timothy Bendel

The concept proposed is that of an innovative turbopump for a staged combustion bi-propellant rocket engine using monopropellant to drive the turbine. The turbopump has a unique feature in that it has an electric generator used to generate electricity and power an external fuel pump.

Full Abstract:

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