Commercial Interests In Space

NASA Awards $106 Million to US Small Businesses for Technology Development

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Clare Skelly
Headquarters, Washington
clare.a.skelly@nasa.gov

 

This illustration depicts how important precision landing is to a successful lunar mission. The identification of level ground near scientifically important and hazardous sites is essential for the success of long-term missions. Credits: NASA


Managing pilotless aircraft and solar panels that could help humans live on the Moon and Mars are among the technologies NASA is looking to develop with small business awards totaling $106 million. In all, NASA has selected 142 proposals from 129 U.S. small businesses from 28 states and the District of Columbia to receive Phase II contracts as part the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. 

“Small businesses play an important role in our science and exploration endeavors,” said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. 

 

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NASA Engineers Dream Big With Small Spacecraft

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MarCO CubeSat
An artist’s rendering of the twin Mars Cube One (MarCO) spacecraft as they fly through deep space. The MarCOs will be the first CubeSats — a kind of modular, mini-satellite — attempting to fly to another planet. They’re designed to fly along behind NASA’s InSight lander on its cruise to Mars. If they make the journey, they will test a relay of data about InSight’s entry, descent and landing back to Earth. Though InSight’s mission will not depend on the success of the MarCOs, they will be a test of how CubeSats can be used in deep space. Credit: NASA/JPL

 

Many of NASA’s most iconic spacecraft towered over the engineers who built them: think Voyagers 1 and 2, Cassini or Galileo — all large machines that could measure up to a school bus.

But in the past two decades, mini-satellites called CubeSats have made space accessible to a new generation. These briefcase-sized boxes are more focused in their abilities and have a fraction of the mass — and cost — of some past titans of space.

In May, engineers will be watching closely as NASA launches its first pair of CubeSats designed for deep space. The twin spacecraft are called Mars Cube One, or MarCO, and were built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

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NASA Research Could Save Commercial Airlines Billions in New Era of Aviation

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Researchers with NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation project coordinated wind-tunnel tests of an Active Flow Control system — tiny jets installed on a full-size aircraft vertical tail that blow air — to prove they would provide enough side force and stability that it might someday be possible to design smaller vertical tails that would reduce drag and save fuel. Credits: NASA/Dominic Hart

 

The nation’s airlines could realize more than $250 billion dollars in savings in the near future thanks to green-related technologies developed and refined by NASA’s aeronautics researchers during the past six years.

These new technologies, developed under the purview of NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) project, could cut airline fuel use in half, pollution by 75 percent and noise to nearly one-eighth of today’s levels. 

“If these technologies start finding their way into the airline fleet, our computer models show the economic impact could amount to $255 billion in operational savings between 2025 and 2050,” said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics research.

Created in 2009 and completed in 2015, ERA’s mission was to explore and document the feasibility, benefits and technical risk of inventive vehicle concepts and enabling technologies that would reduce aviation’s impact on the environment. Project researchers focused on eight major integrated technology demonstrations falling into three categories – airframe technology, propulsion technology and vehicle systems integration.

By the time ERA officially concluded its six-year run, NASA had invested more than $400 million, with another $250 million in-kind resources invested by industry partners who were involved in ERA from the start. 

“It was challenging because we had a fixed window, a fixed budget, and all eight demonstrations needed to finish at the same time,” said Fayette Collier, ERA project manager. “We then had to synthesize all the results and complete our analysis so we could tell the world what the impact would be. We really did quite well.”

Here is a brief summary of each of the eight integrated technology demonstrations completed by the ERA researchers:


  • Tiny embedded nozzles blowing air over the surface of an airplane’s vertical tail fin showed that future aircraft could safely be designed with smaller tails, reducing weight and drag. This technology was tested using Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator 757 flying laboratory. Also flown was a test of surface coatings designed to minimize drag caused by bug residue building up on the wing’s leading edge.
     
  • NASA developed a new process for stitching together large sections of lightweight composite materials to create damage-tolerant structures that could be used in building uniquely shaped future aircraft that weighed as much as 20 percent less than a similar all-metal aircraft.
     
  • Teaming with the Air Force Research Laboratory and FlexSys Inc. of Ann Arbor, Michigan, NASA successfully tested a radical new morphing wing technology that allows an aircraft to seamlessly extend its flaps, leaving no drag-inducing, noise-enhancing gaps for air to flow through. FlexSys and Aviation Partners of Seattle already have announced plans to commercialize this technology.
     
  • NASA worked with General Electric to refine the design of the compressor stage of a turbine engine to improve its aerodynamic efficiency and, after testing, realized that future engines employing this technology could save 2.5 percent in fuel burn.
     
  • The agency worked with Pratt & Whitney on the company’s geared turbofan jet engine to mature an advanced fan design to improve propulsion efficiency and reduce noise. If introduced on the next-generation engine, the technology could reduce fuel burn by 15 percent and significantly reduce noise.
     
  • NASA also worked with Pratt & Whitney on an improved design for a jet engine combustor, the chamber in which fuel is burned, in an attempt to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides produced. While the goal was to reduce generated pollution by 75 percent, tests of the new design showed reductions closer to 80 percent.
     
  • New design tools were developed to aid engineers in reducing noise from deployed wing flaps and landing gear during takeoffs and landings. Information from a successful wind-tunnel campaign, combined with baseline flight tests, were joined together for the first time to create computer-based simulations that could help mature future designs.
     
  • Significant studies were performed on a hybrid wing body concept in which the wings join the fuselage in a continuous, seamless line and the jet engines are mounted on top of the airplane in the rear. Research included wind-tunnel runs to test how well the aircraft would operate at low speeds and to find the optimal engine placement, while also minimizing fuel burn and reducing noise.

 

As part of the closeout work for the ERA project, information and results regarding each of these technology demonstrations were categorized and stored for future access and use by the aerospace industry, and will be discussed at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Sci-Tech Conference in San Diego this week.

For more information about NASA aeronautics research, go to:http://www.nasa.gov/aeronautics

 

 

The Climate Cube on the Champs-Elysees In Paris (Eurpean Space Agency)

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Many locals and visitors to Paris are discovering a strange, large cube sitting on the Champs-Elysées.

Put in place by ESA and France’s CNES space agency, the Climate Cube is displaying the essential contribution of space and its applications on studying climate change, ahead of the COP21 climate change conference to be held in Paris from 30 November to 11 December.

With a huge screen on one of its 7 m sides, the Climate Cube focuses on how vital satellites are for understanding climate change, and how space is playing a major role in climate research and climate change mitigation.

While a series of videos on space and climate runs continuously on the screen, the other three sides offer an overview of European satellite missions measuring the ‘essential climate variables’ – 26 out of 50 are measurable only from space.

The Cube also features a high-resolution satellite image of Paris and surroundings, captured by ESA’s Sentinel-2A satellite.

The Climate Cube is standing on the Champs-Élysées, in front of the Grand Palais, 17—27 October. The nearest metro station is Place Clemenceau metro Champs-Elysées – Clemenceau.

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 21 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, of whom 19 are Member States of the EU.

One other Member State of the EU, Hungary, has signed the Accession Agreement to the ESA Convention and, upon ratification, will soon become the 22nd ESA Member State.

ESA has established formal cooperation with seven other Member States of the EU.

Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

ESA is also working with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.

Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.


When NASA launches its next mission on the journey to Mars – a stationary lander in 2016 – the flight will include two CubeSats. This will be the first time CubeSats have flown in deep space.  If this flyby demonstration is successful, the technology will provide NASA the ability to quickly transmit status information about the main spacecraft after it lands on Mars.

The twin communications-relay CubeSats, being built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California, constitute a technology demonstration called Mars Cube One (MarCO).  CubeSats are a class of spacecraft based on a standardized small size and modular use of off-the-shelf technologies. Many have been made by university students, and dozens have been launched into Earth orbit using extra payload mass available on launches of larger spacecraft.

 

The full-scale mock-up of NASA’s MarCO CubeSat held by Farah Alibay, a systems engineer for the technology demonstration, is dwarfed by the one-half-scale model of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter behind her.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The basic CubeSat unit is a box roughly 4 inches (10 centimeters) square. Larger CubeSats are multiples of that unit. MarCO’s design is a six-unit CubeSat – about the size of a briefcase — with a stowed size of about 14.4 inches (36.6 centimeters) by 9.5 inches (24.3 centimeters) by 4.6 inches (11.8 centimeters).

MarCO will launch in March 2016 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California on the same United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket as NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander. Insight is NASA’s first mission to understand the interior structure of the Red Planet. MarCO will fly by Mars while InSight is landing, in September 2016.

“MarCO is an experimental capability that has been added to the InSight mission, but is not needed for mission success,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “MarCO will fly independently to Mars.”

During InSight’s entry, descent and landing (EDL) operations on Sept. 28, 2016, the lander will transmit information in the UHF radio band to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) flying overhead. MRO will forward EDL information to Earth using a radio frequency in the X band, but cannot simultaneously receive information over one band while transmitting on another. Confirmation of a successful landing could be received by the orbiter more than an hour before it’s relayed to Earth.

MarCO’s radio is about softball-size and provides both UHF (receive only) and X-band (receive and transmit) functions capable of immediately relaying information received over UHF.

The two CubeSats will separate from the Atlas V booster after launch and travel along their own trajectories to the Red Planet. After release from the launch vehicle, MarCO’s first challenges are to deploy two radio antennas and two solar panels. The high-gain, X-band antenna is a flat panel engineered to direct radio waves the way a parabolic dish antenna does. MarCO will be navigated to Mars independently of the InSight spacecraft, with its own course adjustments on the way.

Ultimately, if the MarCO demonstration mission succeeds, it could allow for a “bring-your-own” communications relay option for use by future Mars missions in the critical few minutes between Martian atmospheric entry and touchdown.

By verifying CubeSats are a viable technology for interplanetary missions, and feasible on a short development timeline, this technology demonstration could lead to many other applications to explore and study our solar system.

JPL manages MarCO, InSight and MRO for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Technology suppliers for MarCO include: Blue Canyon Technologies of Boulder, Colorado, for the attitude-control system; VACCO Industries of South El Monte, California, for the propulsion system; AstroDev of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for electronics; MMA Design LLC, also of Boulder, for solar arrays; and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc., a Terran Orbital Company in San Luis Obispo, California, for the CubeSat dispenser system. 

For information about MarCO, visit: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/cubesat/missions/marco

For information about InSight, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/insight

Learn more about NASA’s journey to Mars at: http://www.nasa.gov/content/journey-to-mars-overview

Critical NASA Research Returns to Earth Aboard U.S. SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft

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SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was released from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 7:04 a.m. EDT The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was released from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 7:04 a.m. EDT Thursday. The capsule then performed a series of departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the 656-foot (200-meter) “keep out sphere” around the station and begin its return trip to Earth. Credits: NASA TV
 
SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:42 p.m. EDT Thursday with almost 3,100 pounds of NASA cargo from the International Space Station, including research on how spaceflight and microgravity affect the aging process and bone health.

Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth. It is the U.S. company’s sixth NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission to the station and carried more than two tons of supplies and scientific cargo when it lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14. NASA also has contracted with American companies SpaceX and Boeing to develop their Crew Dragon and CST-100, respectively, to once again transport astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory from the United States in 2017.

The returning Space Aging study, for example, examines the effects of spaceflight on the aging of roundworms, widely used as a model for larger organisms. By growing millimeter-long roundworms on the space station, researchers can observe physiological changes that may affect the rate at which organisms age. This can be applied to changes observed in astronauts, as well, particularly in developing countermeasures before long-duration missions.

“Spaceflight-induced health changes, such as decreases in muscle and bone mass, are a major challenge facing our astronauts,” said Julie Robinson, NASA’s chief scientist for the International Space Station Program Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We investigate solutions on the station not only to keep astronauts healthy as the agency considers longer space exploration missions but also to help those on Earth who have limited activity as a result of aging or illness.”

Also returned on Dragon were samples for the Osteocytes and Mechanomechano-transduction (Osteo-4) investigation. Researchers with Osteo-4 will observe the effects of microgravity on the function of osteocytes, the most common cells in bone. Understanding the effects of microgravity on osteocytes will be critical as astronauts plan for future missions that require longer exposure to microgravity, including the NASA’s journey to Mars. The results derived from this study also could have implications on Earth for patients suffering bone disorders related to disuse or immobilization, as well as metabolic diseases such as osteoporosis.

Equipment and data from the Special Purpose Inexpensive Satellite (SpinSat) investigation also made the trip back to Earth. The SpinSat study tested how a spherical satellite, measuring 22 inches in diameter, moves and positions itself in space using new thruster technology. Researchers can use high-resolution atmospheric data captured by SpinSat to determine the density of the thermosphere, one of the uppermost layers of the atmosphere. With better knowledge of the thermosphere, engineers and scientists can refine satellite and telecommunications technology.  

The Dragon will be transported by ship approximately 155 miles northeast of its splashdown location to Long Beach, California where NASA cargo will be removed and returned to the agency. The spacecraft then will be prepared for its trip to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that enables us to demonstrate new technologies and make research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. It has been continuously occupied since November 2000 and, since then, has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The ISS remains the springboard to NASA’s next giant leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

For more information about the International Space Station, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/station.

For more information about SpaceX’s mission to the International Space Station, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacex.

NASA Announces Next SpaceX Station Resupply Launch

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida carrying the Dragon resupply spacecraft on the sixth commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett.


 
 
NASA’s next commercial cargo resupply mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida to the International Space Station will be on June 26 at approximately 11:09 a.m. local time aboard the SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.

This will be SpaceX’s seventh NASA-contracted cargo mission and its eighth visit to the station. The flight will deliver several tons of supplies, such as new science experiments and technology research, as well as the first of two International Docking Adapters. These adapters will be installed on the station to facilitate docking of commercial crew spacecraft, including the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon.

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is the first reusable spacecraft, a pivotal breakthrough according to the company. SpaceX believes that reusable rockets are needed to substantially reduce costs. SpaceX uses the commercial airliners as a model of reusability that reduces costs.

SpaceX rockets are designed to withstand reentry into Earth’s atmosphere instead of burning up like the majority of launches today and in the past. And not only does their spacecraft survive reentry, it also returns to the launch pad for vertical landing.

For more information about the SpaceX resupply mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacex.

For information about the International Space Station, its crew and research, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/station.

NASA’s CubeSat Initiative Aids in Testing of Technology for Solar Sails in Space

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May 20, 2015 
RELEASE 15-101

With help from NASA, a small research satellite to test technology for in-space solar propulsion launched into space Wednesday aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, as part of the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative.

The Atlas V sent the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane on its fourth mission, which also is carrying NASA’s Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS) investigation that will expose about 100 different materials samples to the space environment for more than 200 days.

 

LightSail team members Alex Diaz and Riki Munakata prepare the spacecraft for a sail deployment test.

Credits: The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society’s LightSail satellite is a technology demonstration for using solar propulsion on CubeSats, a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites. Using the momentum transferred from solar photons as they strike a large, thin, reflective sail would allow a spacecraft to accelerate continuously using only the sun’s energy. NASA is considering the use of solar sails on future exploration mission secondary payloads, and data from this mission will advance understanding of this form of propulsion.

This first LightSail mission specifically is designed to test the spacecraft’s critical systems, including the deployment sequence for the Mylar solar sail, which measures 32 square meters (344 square feet). The Planetary Society is planning a second, full solar sailing demonstration flight for 2016.

NASA selected LightSail as part of the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which provides opportunities for small satellites to fly as auxiliary payloads on planned missions. It was assigned to a launch as part of as the 11th installment of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) mission.

The upper stage of the Atlas V included the National Reconnaissance Office’s third auxiliary mission to launch CubeSats. The Ultra Lightweight Technology and Research Auxiliary Satellite (ULTRASat) carried 10 CubeSats — including LightSail — from five organizations. It was made possible through agreements between NASA, the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and the National Reconnaissance Office to work together on CubeSat integration and launch opportunities.

The cube-shaped satellites measure about four inches on each side, have a volume of about one quart and weigh less than three pounds each. LightSail consists of three CubeSats bundled together. Individual CubeSat research projects may address science, exploration, technology development or education. During the next month, the LightSail team will receive data from the satellite in space. As part of its agreement with NASA, the Planetary Society will provide the agency a report on outcomes and scientific findings.

Since its inception in 2010, the CubeSat Launch Initiative has selected 110 CubeSats primarily from educational and government institutions around the United States. NASA will announce the next call for proposals in August 2015.

For more information about ELaNa, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/smallsats/elana/

For more information about LightSail and the Planetary Society, visit: http://sail.planetary.org

For additional information about NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/CubeSat_initiative

NASA Hosts Media Call on Draft Solicitation for New Class of Launch Services 

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May 07, 2015
NASA Media Advisory M15-073

 

M-Cubed/COVE-2 is the reflightof a 1U CubeSat developed by U. Michigan to image the Earth at mid-resolution, approximately 200m per pixel, carrying the JPL developed COVE technology validation experiment.

Credits: NASA/JPL

NASA’s Launch Services Program has issued a draft Request for Proposal (RFP) for a new Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS), which would be commercial launch services for small satellites and experiments on science missions using a smaller than currently available class of rockets.

NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT Monday, May 11 to discuss this strategic initiative, the RFP and the expectation for this class of launch services.

At present, launch opportunities for small satellites — often called CubeSats or nanosatellites — and small science missions are mostly limited to ride-share type arrangements, flying only when space is available on NASA and other launches. The Launch Services Program seeks to develop alternatives to this approach and help foster other launch services dedicated to transporting smaller payloads into orbit. The services acquired through such a contract will constitute the smallest class of launch services used by NASA.

Participants in the media briefing are:

  • Mark Wiese, chief, Flight Projects Branch, Launch Services Program Business Office, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center 
  • Garrett Skrobot, mission manager, Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa), Launch Services Program, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

This solicitation, and resulting contract or contracts, is intended to demonstrate a dedicated launch capability for smaller payloads that NASA anticipates it will require on a recurring basis for future science and CubeSat missions. CubeSats already are used in markets, such as imagery collection and analysis. In the future, CubeSat capabilities will include abilities, such as ship and aircraft tracking, improved weather prediction, and broader Internet coverage.

NASA intends to award one or more firm fixed-price VCLS contracts to accommodate 132 pounds (60 kilograms) of CubeSats a single launch or two launches carrying 66 pounds (30 kilograms) each. The launch provider will determine the launch location and date, but the launch must occur by April 15, 2018.

The public may watch or listen to the conference on either the phone or on NASA’s newsaudio website. Members of the media have received other information in order to participate, which has been excluded from this release.

However, the public is allowed to listen to the conference. To listen to teleconference, call 321-867-1220321-867-1240 or 321-867-1260 (usually reserved for members of the media), or the public and media members without proper credentials may listen online at: http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

For businessness interested in bidding process, the draft RFP is open for written questions and comments from industry entities until Wednesday, May 20. The final RFP, if issued, is anticipated to be released in June. The draft RFP may be accessed at: http://go.nasa.gov/1KMTeDR

For more information about NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/directorates/heo/home/CubeSats_initiative.html

NASA’s Launch Services Program is focused on assuring the availability of long-term launch services for NASA while also promoting the continued evolution of the U.S. commercial space launch market. The capability anticipated to meet the requirement for a smaller launch vehicle represents an emerging category of launch services. 

For more information about NASA’s Launch Services Program, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/launchingrockets/index.html



NASA Selects Advanced Space Technology Concepts for Further Study

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This artist’s rendering depicts 2015 NIAC Phase I Fellow Mason Peck’s soft-robotic rover for planetary environments for missions that cannot be accomplished with conventional power systems. It resembles a squid, with tentacle-like structures that serve as electrodynamic ‘power scavengers’ to harvest power from locally changing magnetic fields. The goal is to enable amphibious exploration of gas-giant moons like Europa. (Credits: NASA/Cornell University/NSF)
 

NASA has selected 15 proposals for study under Phase I of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), a program that aims to turn science fiction into science fact through the development of pioneering technologies.

The chosen proposals cover a wide range of inventive concepts, selected for their potential to transform future aerospace missions.  Such transformational technology holds promise of accelerating NASA’s progress toward its goals of exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, and missions to an asteroid and Mars.

“The latest NIAC selections include a number of exciting concepts,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are working with American innovators to reimagine the future of aerospace and focus our investments on concepts to address challenges of current interests both in space and here on Earth.”

NIAC Phase I awards are valued at approximately $100,000, providing awardees the funding needed to conduct a nine-month initial definition and analysis study of their concepts. If the basic feasibility studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards, valued up to $500,000 for two additional years of concept development.

“Most of the 2015 NIAC Phase I final candidates were outstanding, and choosing only 15 of them proved to be a challenge,” said Jason Derleth, NIAC program executive. “We look forward to seeing how each new study will push boundaries and explore new approaches – that’s what makes NIAC unique.”

One of the selected proposals calls for the use of a soft-robotic rover for missions that can’t be accomplished with conventional power systems. This rover would resemble an eel with a short antenna on its back that harvests power from locally changing magnetic fields. The goal is to enable amphibious exploration of gas-giant moons like Europa.

Another proposal will look at using two glider-like unmanned aerial vehicles connected by an ultra-strong cable at different altitudes that sail without propulsion. The vehicle would use wind shear in the lower stratosphere (approximately 60,000 ft.), similar to a kite surfer, where the upper aircraft provides lift and aerodynamic thrust, and the lower aircraft provides an upwind force to keep it from drifting downwind. If successful, this atmospheric satellite could remain in the stratosphere for years, enabling NASA’s Earth science missions, monitoring capabilities or aircraft navigation at a fraction of the cost of orbital satellite networks.

Employing a novel mobility concept, the Cryogenic Reservoir Inventory by Cost-Effective Kinetically Ehanced Technology (CRICKET) proposal explores volatiles, such as hydrogen, nitrogen and water, stored in permanently shadowed regions on planetary bodies. Inexpensive robotic crawlers, hoppers and soccer-ball style buckey-bots would explore the surface of these dark regions for water and other compounds. Multiple bots could be used to develop a high-resolution map to aid in potentially using these resources.

NASA solicits visionary, long-term concepts for technological development based on their potential value to future and current space missions. The projects are chosen through a peer-review process that evaluates their potential, technical approach and benefits that can be realized in a reasonable timeframe. All concepts are very early in the development cycle and represent multiple technology areas, including aircraft propulsion, human life support, science instruments, unique robotic concepts and exploring other diverse technology paths needed to meet NASA’s strategic goals.

NASA’s early investments and partnerships with forward-thinking scientists, engineers and citizen inventors from across the nation will provide technological dividends and help maintain America’s leadership in the global technology economy.

NIAC is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which innovates, develops, tests and flies hardware for use in NASA’s future missions. During the next 18 months, the directorate will make significant new investments to address several high-priority challenges in achieving safe and affordable deep space exploration.

For a complete list of the selected proposals and more information about NIAC, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/niac

For more information about NASA’s investments in space technology, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech