NASA SBIR Program Funds Mars Sample Return Technologies

NASA faces a number of technical challenges to overcome for is Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. One can get a good sense of what those obstacles are by looking at the Small Business Innovative Research projects that the agency selected to fund earlier this month.

Below are summaries of the projects that were selected. They are broken down into key phases of the mission: aerocapture, entry, descent and landing; sample collection and surface operations; planetary ascent; and orbital rendezvous with the return vehicle.

MARS AEROCAPTURE, ENTRY, DESCENT AND LANDING TECHNOLOGIES

COMPANY:Aspen Aerogels, Inc.
LOCATION:Northborough, MA
PROPOSAL TITLE:Ablative Flexible Aerogel TPS Materials for Mars Aerocapture and Entry
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Ablative Thermal Protection Systems

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

Renewed interest in missions to explore other planets has created a need for new advanced heat shield systems that will protect spacecraft from the severe heating encountered during hypersonic flight through planetary atmospheres. Both reusable and ablative TPS have been developed to protect spacecraft. Typically, reusable TPS have been used for the Shuttle where the reentry conditions are relatively mild while ablative TPS materials have been used on planetary entry probes where high heating rates are generated. Additional advances in TPS design are needed to deliver large payloads to the moon and Mars, and to explore the outer planets. Flexible or deployable aeroshells offer an approach for achieving larger aeroshell surface areas for entry vehicles than otherwise attainable without deployment. Larger surface area aeroshells offer the ability to decelerate high-mass entry vehicles at relatively low ballistic coefficients. However, for an aeroshell to perform even at the low ballistic coefficients attainable with deployable aeroshells, a flexible thermal protection system (TPS) is required that is capable of surviving reasonably high heat flux and durable enough to survive the rigors of construction, handling, and deployment. Aspen Aerogels proposes to develop ablative flexible reinforced aerogels to meet this challenge.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The multifunctional aerogel-based materials developed during this project will have applications as ablative TPS for use on many NASA spacecraft.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The aerogels developed in this project would find applications for military hypersonic vehicles.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Aerogels
Ceramics
Composites
Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)
Isolation/Protection/Shielding (Acoustic, Ballistic, Dust, Radiation, Thermal)
Nanomaterials
Polymers

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin:
2
End: 3

COMPANY:Andrews Space, Inc.
LOCATIONTukwila, WA
PROPOSAL TITLE:Petal Brake Hypersonic Entry System
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Advanced Integrated Hypersonic Entry Systems

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

Future NASA exploration plans will realize significant performance advantages with aerocapture and aerobraking of large, heavy payloads for Mars, Titan, and the gas giant planets. During a previous NASA LaRC funded High Mass Mars Entry System study, Andrews Space found that while inflatable aerobrake designs potentially offer the lowest-mass solution, they are challenged from the uncertainties of dynamic response of large soft structures at the sizes required, and from the risks associated with cleanly separating the lander/payload from the decelerator. A “Petal Brake” concept was introduced as an integrated hypersonic entry system design that addresses these issues. The design performs hypersonic aerocapture and entry maneuvers as a biconic aeroshell, then deploys to provide higher drag just prior to terminal descent and landing. It covers a wide range of EDL environments, is structurally determinate, with minimal aero-elastic issues, and with positive separation characteristics during jettison. During Phase I of this project, Andrews proposes to further advance the operational Petal Brake concept by designing and evaluating a point-of-departure petal-brake design for Mars entry, defining a potential test program, then generating a detailed subscale petal-brake design suitable for manufacture, wind tunnel testing, and high altitude deployment testing in Phase II.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The petal brake decelerator has primary application to the aerocapture and aerobraking of large payloads into Mars or other planetary atmospheres. This has direct benefit to future planetary exploration missions. A smaller deployable petal brake could be used for recovery of payloads from Earth orbit as well. A petal brake could be used for controlled de-orbit and disposal, recovery of materials testing cargo, to recover biological and high value cargo from low earth orbit free flyers or from the International Space Station. Larger deployable petal brake configurations could also be used to retrofit existing cargo vehicles, such as the Orbital Cygnus, ATV or HTV and enable a recovery capability.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The petal brake decelerator has commercial applicability to the recovery of large and small payloads from suborbital conditions or from Earth orbit to support low cost launch or cargo recovery. One application of this innovation may include recovery of launch stage hardware for reuse. SpaceX is planning on recovering their Falcon 1E and Falcon 9 second stage, and the deployable petal brake could be an enabler given their physical size and configuration. Booster recovery could also be enhanced by deployable interstage drag devices. A small deployable petal brake could be used to recover biological samples, high value cargo, instrumentation, or defense-related payloads from low earth orbit free flyers.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Aerobraking/Aerocapture
Deployment
Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Astronautics)
Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 2
End: 3

COMPANY:Fiber Materials, Inc.
LOCATION:Biddeford, ME
PROPOSAL TITLE:Integrated Composite Structure for EDL Application
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Advanced Integrated Hypersonic Entry Systems

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

NASA has defined a need for higher performance ablative Thermal Protection System (TPS) materials for future exploration of our solar system’s inner and outer planets than is currently available. Of particular interest are:

1) Materials with performance analogous to fully dense, heritage rayon-based carbon phenolic ;

2) Mid-density ablative systems ; and

3) Highly insulative, low-density materials.

New Frontiers, Mars Sample Return (MSR), and Mars Entry, Descent & Landing (Mars EDL) are all potential missions for these new and/or enhanced TPS materials, but the general desire is that these TPS be tunable for cross-cutting mission applications. In addition to improved TPS performance, NASA would benefit from a TPS integrated with the sub-structure thereby improving thermal efficiency, insulation performance, system thermal-structural performance, and system integrity with the goal of achieving increased system reliability, reduced areal mass, and/or decreased costs over the current state-of-the-art (SOTA). FMI proposes developing its multi-layered, graded, hybrid ICS system for application to NASA missions. The system is comprised of distinct material layers encompassing different fillers or reinforcements, but maintaining the same resin so the materials are compatible for co-curing to yield a continuous rigid heatshield and sub-structure (ICS).

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

NASA has defined a need for higher performance ablative Thermal Protection System (TPS) materials for future exploration of our solar system’s inner and outer planets than is currently available. New Frontiers, Mars Sample Return (MSR), and Mars Entry, Descent & Landing (Mars EDL) are all potential missions for these new and/or enhanced TPS materials, but the general desire is that these TPS be tunable for cross-cutting mission applications.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The proposed multi-layered Integrated Composite Structure airframe technologies will be advantageous for DoD applications, including Missile Defense interceptor airframes, and aeroshell/insulation systems for Air Force and AMRDEC extended-flight vehicles.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Composites
Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)
In Situ Manufacturing
Isolation/Protection/Shielding (Acoustic, Ballistic, Dust, Radiation, Thermal)
Joining (Adhesion, Welding)
Passive Systems
Processing Methods

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin:
3
End: 5

COMPANY:Fiber Materials, Inc.
LOCATION:Biddeford, ME
PROPOSAL TITLE:Graded Density Carbon Bonded Carbon Fiber (CBCF) Preforms for Lightweight Ablative Thermal Protection Systems (TPS)
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Ablative Thermal Protection Systems

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

FMI currently manufactures Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) material for Thermal Protection Systems (TPS) systems, such as the Stardust Sample Return Capsule and the Mars Science Laboratory Aeroshell. FMI plans to further develop TPS in support of future sample return missions such as MoonRise and OSIRIS-REx. Development of a PICA TPS with reduced mass, thermal performance enhancements, and optimized single-section near net-shape preforms are enabling technologies for these applications. It is the objective of the proposed program to develop a graded density preform to achieve a reduction in PICA TPS areal mass, to assess the performance of such a TPS, and to develop a plan for manufacturing scale-up.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The Stardust Sample Return Capsule completed its objective with earth re-entry in January of 2006. The Mars Science Laboratory Aeroshell heat shield has been completed, and delivery of the Curiosity rover to Mars is scheduled for 2015. With the successful fabrication of these PICA TPS heat shields in support of NASA flight missions, FMI has quoted and is prepared to continue supporting PICA heat shield missions. The advancements in the development of the preform material proposed in this program will support future NASA missions, including New Frontiers Sample Return Capsules, which are proposed to utilize a Stardust-like heat shield.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The proposed advanced ablative TPS preform material would support commercial space applications including Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS). During 2008, NASA entered into contracts with Orbital Sciences and SpaceX to utilize their COTS cargo vehicles, Cygnus and Dragon, respectively, for cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS). In addition, FMI small return vehicles such as the Re-Entry Break-Up Recorder would benefit from improvements in preform material.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Composites
Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)
Passive Systems
Processing Methods

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 4

COMPANY:Fiber Materials, Inc.
LOCATION:Biddeford, ME
PROPOSAL TITLE:Flexible Phenolic Impregnated Felt
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Ablative Thermal Protection Systems

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

During this program Fiber Materials, Inc. (FMI) will develop innovative yet practical methods for preparing Phenolic Impregnated Felt (PIF) materials for thermal protection system (TPS) segments and heat shield assemblies. Future mission flight environments and designs, such as those anticipated for Mars EDL missions, will require a variety TPS options to accommodate entry system designs. The capability of the developed PIF solutions will address various vehicle shapes, integration methods and the ability to deploy a flexible TPS. Testing of mechanical and thermal robustness, heat exposure and surface recession under representative mission conditions will be conducted in a two phase program approach. The Phase I program will assess materials, designs and processing options that can be cost effectively manufactured and assembled. The material approaches, design options, fabrication/assembly methods, Phase II work plan, Phase II proposal and final report are delivered at the conclusion of the Phase I program. During the Phase II program, a mission-applicable PIF TPS utilizing the developed material system will be demonstrated and tested under representative flight conditions. The proposed materials, designs and methods are currently TRL 3. It is anticipated that TRL 5 will be achieved at the conclusion of a successful Phase I and Phase II program.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The Stardust Sample Return Capsule completed its objective with earth reentry in January 2006. Mars Science Laboratory Aeroshell heat shield has been completed and delivery of the Curiosity rover to Mars is scheduled for 2015. FMI’s successful fabrication of carbon preform phenolic matrix composite TPS heat shields in support NASA flight missions demonstrates the capability and basis of the proposed material system. FMI is prepared to continue supporting NASA mission thermal protection by providing additional enabling material options for a variety of thermal exposures. The program proposed will assist FMI in long term support of future NASA missions including Mars EDL development.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

PIF solutions developed under this program coupled with PICA would support commercial space operations including Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS). During 2008, NASA entered into contracts with Orbital Sciences and SpaceX to utilize their COTS cargo vehicles, Cygnus and Dragon respectively, for cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS). PIF can be enabling technology for all commercial space return or planetary missions requiring TPS.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Aerobraking/Aerocapture Composites
Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)
Isolation/Protection/Shielding (Acoustic, Ballistic, Dust, Radiation, Thermal)
Passive Systems
Processing Methods

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin:
2
End: 5

SAMPLE COLLECTION AND SURFACE OPERATIONS

COMPANY:Honeybee Robotics Ltd.
LOCATION:New York, NY
PROPOSAL TITLE:5 in 1 Drill For Mars Sample Return Mission
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Sample Collection, Processing, and Handling

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

NASA is investigating a Mars Sample Return Mission, consisting of at least three separate missions:

1) Mars Astrobiology Explorer-Cacher, MAX-C (sample acquisition and caching),
2) A fetch rover and the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV),
3) Earth Return Vehicle (ERV).

The primary goal of the MAX-C mission is to acquire ~20 cores, 1cm diameter by 5cm long, and place them in a cache for return back to Earth. Before deciding which cores to return, scientists would also need to analyze rocks in-situ. The tasks required for the MAX-C mission therefore would include:

1. Acquisition of 1cm x 5 cm core for Earth return
2. Acquisition of a core for in-situ analysis
3. Acquisition of rock powder for in situ analysis
4. Brushing of rocks for in situ analysis (as done on MER)
5. Abrading of rocks for in situ analysis (as done on MER)

In this proposal we are advocating an approach used every day in terrestrial applications; that is having a single appliance (drill) with many attachments (various bit types for coring, caching, abrading, brushing and powder acquisition) for different applications. This approach offers mass, cost and volume savings and thus will be particularly attractive to the MAX-C mission.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Future robotic astrobiology and geology missions such as Mars Sample Return, Astrobiology Field Laboratory and other Mid-Range Rover missions will benefit greatly from the ability to produce and capture rock and regolith cores, abrade and brush rock surfaces using an arm-deployed, compact, low mass, low power device.

A system utilizing a surface drill and a suite of bits for different applications could be deployed during lunar sortie missions by astronauts (i.e., hand held coring drill) since it is desirable to bring small cores back as opposed to large rocks, and/or abrade rocks in situ.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Scientists often use small drills to acquire core samples for the study of everything from geological classification to ocean drilling and surveying. Traditionally, petroleum engineers will use large cores to extract information about boundaries between sandstone, limestone, and shale. This process is time consuming so smaller cores are sometimes taken. This method of sampling is called sidewall coring and provides more information to the petroleum engineer than simply logged data. Scientists studying earthquake mechanics could also benefit in a similar fashion. Automation of this process would save time and money; enabling the science goals of the research with reduced schedule and budget risk/impact.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Robotics (see also Control & Monitoring; Sensors)
Teleoperation

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin:
2
End: 3

COMPANY:Cadtrak Engineering, LLC
LOCATION:San Anselmo, CA
PROPOSAL TITLE:Sample Encapsulation Device
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Sample Collection, Processing, and Handling

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate is currently considering various sample cache and return missions to the Moon, Mars and asteroids. These missions involve the use of a coring tool to produce rock and soil cores. The MEPAG committee recommends that core acquisition take place directly into an individual encapsulation sleeve with a pressed-in cap. The improved sample encapsulation technology of this proposal can be activated while the drill bit is still in the drill hole, thus preserving sample integrity before the core is even extracted. It also insures the sample does not fall out during bit extraction. The sleeves can handle cores of rock, soil or regolith; and are translucent or transparent enabling inspection of the core after extraction. They preserve stratigraphy, volatiles, voids and gaps, and incomplete cores. A unique aspect of the sleeves instills the ability to preserve core integrity even in the vibration and shock environment of a sample return mission. This proposed Phase 1 effort involves a design trade study, analysis and a proof-of-concept test. At the end of Phase 1, the innovations will be at TRL 4. A proposed Phase 2 effort would involve integration into a core drill design, environmental testing, and shock and vibration testing to advance the technology to TRL 6.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The Sample Encapsulation Technology of this proposal could be used for any sample collection or return mission to the Moon, Mars or Asteroids. There are two of three Phase A projects competing for NASA’s 2018 New Frontiers Mission which could utilize the technology of this application. OSIRIS-REX is an asteroid sample return mission and MoonRise is a Lunar South Pole sample return mission. Additionally there will be a Mars 2018 sample collection mission to support a sample return mission in the 2020’s. The potential Mars MAX-C mission has been proposed by the MEPAG’s MMR-SAG committee for this purpose.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

There are a number of potential non-NASA applications for this Sample Encapsulation Technology including earth sciences research and the oil and gas industry. Down-hole core encapsulation is an important technique for the oil and gas industry during exploratory drilling.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Deployment
Machines/Mechanical Subsystems
Resource Extraction
Robotics (see also Control & Monitoring; Sensors)

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin:
2
End: 4

COMPANY:Pioneer Astronautics
LOCATION:Lakewood, CO
PROPOSAL TITLE:Mars Regolith Water Extractor
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Regolith/Soil Transfer, Handling, & Processing of Extraterrestrial Material

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

The Mars Regolith Water Extractor (MRWE) is a system for acquiring water from the Martian soil. In the MRWE, a stream of CO2 is heated by solar energy or waste heat from a nuclear reactor and then passed through a vessel containing Martian soil freshly removed from the ground. The hot CO2 will cause water absorbed in the Martian soil to outgas, whereupon it will be swept along by the CO2 to a condenser chamber where ambient Martian cold temperatures will be used to condense the water from the CO2. The CO2 is then pumped back to the heater where it is reheated and recirculated back to the soil vessel to remove more water. Measurements taken by the Viking mission showed that randomly gathered Martian soil contains at least 1% water by weight, and probably more than 3%. This being the case, the MWRE should prove to be a highly effective way of acquiring water on Mars. By doing so, it will eliminate the requirement to transport hydrogen to Mars in order to make methane fuel, and allow all the propellant needed for a Mars to Earth return flight to be manufactured on Mars using a Sabatier/electrolysis (S/E) cycle, without any need for auxiliary oxygen production through zirconia cells, reverse water gas shift cycles, or other systems. This is highly advantageous since the S/E cycle is the simplest and easiest to implement of all Mars in-situ propellant production methods. The ability to extract water from Mars will also serve to supply the crew of a Mars missions with copious supplies of water itself, which after propellant, is the most massive logistic component of a Mars mission. By eliminating the need to transport fuel, oxygen, and water to Mars, the MWRE will have a major effect in reducing the mass, cost, and risk or human Mars exploration.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The primary initial application of the MRWE is to provide a reliable, low cost, low mass technology to produce water, hydrogen, and liquid oxygen on the surface of Mars out of indigenous materials at low power. By doing so, it will eliminate the requirement to transport hydrogen to Mars in order to make methane fuel, and allow all the propellant needed for a Mars to Earth return flight to be manufactured on Mars using a Sabatier/electrolysis (S/E) cycle, without any need for auxiliary oxygen production through zirconia cells, reverse water gas shift cycles, or other systems. This is highly advantageous since the S/E cycle is the simplest and easiest to implement of all Mars in-situ propellant production methods. The ability to extract water from Mars will also serve to supply the crew of a Mars missions with copious supplies of water itself, which after propellant, is the most massive logistic component of a Mars mission. By eliminating the need to transport fuel, oxygen, and water to Mars, the MWRE will have a major effect in reducing the mass, cost, and risk or human Mars exploration. In addition, small versions of the MWRE could be used to help make the return propellant for a Mars sample return (MSR) mission on the Martian surface, thereby making such a mission both cheaper to launch and much easier to land, as the landing mass limits of current aeroshells will not be exceeded. This could be an enabling development for the MSR mission.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The MRWE could be useful in arid terrestrial climates. Nations in arid areas, particularly the Middle East and North Africa, have spent billions of dollars on construction of evaporative and reverse osmosis desalination plants for irrigation and use for the populace. Yet water is still routinely rationed in many of these countries. Even in the driest regions of the Earth, the soil is several times wetter than on Mars, and the MRWE will operate an order of magnitude more efficiently. Even if desalination technology remains more economical in coastal areas, MWRE units using solar concentrators to provide heat offer many advantages for millions of potentials users in landlocked nations such as Mali, Niger, or Chad. Regions that are too far from the coastline to economically pipe water in, such as the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia, or the Western Desert in the United States, may also be potential markets. It should be noted that in contrast to water obtained from natural liquid sources, the condensate obtained from water vaporized out of the ground will be pure, and much safer to drink than other supplies that may be available in underdeveloped areas. MRWE units sized for vehicles traveling in desert regions are also an attractive option. Such units could reduce logistical requirements for the military and could also supply civilians operating in remote areas. The MRWE concept would be ideal for these applications since it is very lightweight, cheap, and portable.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Conversion
Essential Life Resources (Oxygen, Water, Nutrients)
Fuels/Propellants
Generation
Heat Exchange
In Situ Manufacturing
Pressure & Vacuum Systems
Processing Methods
Resource Extraction
Robotics (see also Control & Monitoring; Sensors)
Surface Propulsion

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 5

MARS ASCENT TECHNOLOGIES


COMPANY:Analytical Services, Inc.
LOCATION:Huntsville, Ala.
PROPOSAL TITLE:Low Power, Low Cost Igniter for Nonhypergolic Mars Ascent Vehicle
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Planetary Ascent Vehicles

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

Decomposing monopropellant hydrazine across a spontaneous catalyst bed is the gold standard for small propulsion systems responsible for attitude control on satellites and spacecraft. Such a propulsion system is both simple and reliable, and offers reasonable performance. However, the simplicity and reliability enjoyed today is the result of a nearly two-decade effort designed to identify and perfect a spontaneous catalyst. Modern hydrazine replacements generally do not work well with hydrazine catalysts, so the enormous costs associated with a new catalyst development effort have stalled the widespread acceptance of potential hydrazine replacements.

Our proposed effort will explore the use of an alternative ignition source that eliminates the need for a catalyst bed entirely. It achieves the same simplicity enjoyed by traditional monopropellant propulsion systems, but dramatically increases thruster response time on both startup and especially shutdown. It requires low power because it exploits a unique property of most of the propellants often cited as the future replacement for hydrazine. It is also low cost because it requires a very low part count and development issues will be trivial.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Hydrazine monopropellant systems have been used on a number of satellites and spacecraft, including the Deep Space Climate Observatory, the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, the New Horizons satellite, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Phoenix Lander, and the Advanced Composition Explorer. Adopting a green, safe monopropellant that does not require a catalyst bed will find use throughout the Agency’s inventory of future spacecraft and satellites that otherwise would have used hydrazine. As a non-catalyst based ignition system is developed and flown, acceptance of a safe, green monopropellant will be rapid across the civil space community.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

As with NASA applications, the primary non-NASA applications must necessarily include commercial satellites, a huge commercial market. In addition, future missile defense kill vehicles will use divert and attitude control systems that operate with green propellants to eliminate hazards of shipping, using, and de-militarizing systems. They also must comply with strict insensitive munitions requirements, which hydrazine cannot meet. Auxiliary power units on ships and aircraft are an additional commercial use for a safe, green hydrazine replacement.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Fuels/Propellants
Launch Engine/Booster
Maneuvering/Stationkeeping/Attitude Control Devices
Spacecraft Main Engine
Surface Propulsion

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 2
End: 6

COMPANY:Physical Sciences, Inc.
LOCATION:Andover, MA
PROPOSAL TITLE:High Performance Monopropellants for Future Planetary Ascent Vehicles
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Planetary Ascent Vehicles

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

Physical Sciences Inc. proposes to design, develop, and demonstrate, a novel high performance monopropellant for application in future planetary ascent vehicles. Our non-carcinogenic, non-cryogenic, monopropellants will significantly augment specific impulse and density specific impulse over conventional monopropellant and bi-propellant systems. In Phase I, the proposed investigation will focus upon characterizing critical thermal and chemical behavior of our monopropellants to ensure realistic system level design and maximum performance of future planetary ascent vehicles.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Successful demonstration of our high performance monopropellants will have applications in multiple NASA’s planetary exploration missions. Our monopropellant provides a propulsion system that will maximize engine performance, minimize logistical operational expenses associated with most high performing liquid systems, and provide a more compact propulsion system. It also provides a low cost technology solution to achieve high thrust profiles expected from future planetary ascent vehicles.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Successful demonstration of our liquid monopropellant will have applications in both commercial and military technology ranging from expendable and reusable launch vehicles to small tactical missiles. Development of a low cost monopropellant solution capable of producing high thrust profiles will allow for critical technology development in strategic and space defense.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Propulsion
Fuels/Propellants
Launch Engine/Booster
Maneuvering/Stationkeeping/Attitude Control Devices
Spacecraft Main Engine
Surface Propulsion

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin:
1
End: 2

MARS ORBITAL RENDEZVOUS


COMPANY:Altius Space Machines, Inc.
LOCATION:Louisville, CO
PROPOSAL TITLE:An ElectroAdhesive “Stick Boom” for Mars Sample Return Orbiting Sample Capture
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Rendezvous and Docking Technologies for Orbiting Sample Capture

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

The Electroadhesive “Sticky Boom”, an innovative method for rendezvous and docking, is proposed for the Orbiting Sample Capture (OSC) portion of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. This technology carries the advantages of greatly reducing the probability of accidental collisions, high inherent reliability from mechanical and guidance simplicity, lower propellant consumption, avoidance of plume impingement, high tolerance for relative spacecraft misalignment, very low mass and volume requirements, and reliable non-mechanical contact and proximity detection. The system consists of an electrically activated electro-adhesive pad used for spacecraft capture, mounted flexibly on the end of a low volume/weight retractable boom. The research proposed in phase 1 aims to design a system optimized for MSR mission and demonstrate the reliable functionality of the system in simulated space environments raising the TRL from a 2 to a 3. This effort ends with a system design for a flight testbed for testing during Phase 2, thus further elevating the TRL to 5-6. Also covered are numerous other applications of the technology, which allows for docking with spacecraft not design for docking as well as capture of uncooperative targets and debris. Interest in application of this technology has been show by industry entities such as ULA.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

In addition to the Mars Sample Return OSC retrieval mission, technology based on the Sticky Boom concept has applications in:

  • Any of the Flagship Technology Demonstrator missions which focus on autonomous rendezvous and docking
  • Propellant depots, as reliable docking will be key to mission success
  • Capture devices for active removal of orbital debris

The electrostatic adhesion pad itself, once proven for use in the space environment also has other applications separate from boom rendezvous:

  • Robotic systems such as Robonaut which could benefit from more flexible means of movement on space stations rather than current rail bases systems
  • Gripping surfaces for boots and gloves to improve EVA safety and flexibility.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Outside NASA, there is significant interest in rendezvous and docking systems that do not require the target vehicle to be predesigned for the mission, cooperative, or even controlled at all. Applications of this sort include:

  • Space tugs for refueling or servicing existing space craft
  • “Uncooperative” rendezvous and docking efforts, which DoD is interested in
  • Debris capture for paid orbital debris removal services.
  • “Life-extension” services or “orbital rescue” services, where a satellite that has either lost control, or is near the end of its propellant reserves can have its life extended by a servicing satellite.
  • Other orbital servicing missions including ORU replacement
  • A docking system enabling high-tempo delivery of propellants to propellant depots using “dumb” propellant tankers
  • Simplification of the rendezvous/docking process for crew/cargo deliveries to orbital facilities.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Contact/Mechanical
Deployment
Fasteners/Decouplers
Robotics (see also Control & Monitoring; Sensors)

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 2
End: 3

COMPANY:Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation
LOCATION:Manassas, VA
PROPOSAL TITLE:SPHERES Mars Orbiting Sample Return External Orbiting Capture
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Rendezvous and Docking Technologies for Orbiting Sample Capture

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

NASA’s Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission scenario utilizes a small Orbiting Sample (OS) satellite, launched from the surface of Mars, which will rendezvous with an Orbiter/Earth Return Vehicle (ERV). When the radio beacon-equipped OS is within range of the ERV’s optical sensors, the ERV will optically track and approach the OS, maneuvering itself to place the OS within its capture device.

One of the key technologies required to accomplish this mission involves a low-mass, highly reliable mechanism that detects contact with and captures the OS, and, once the OS is captured, moves the OS to a containment area for the return trip to Earth. There is an on-going body of research into such capture mechanism designs and the various advantages and challenges of these technologies. Aurora Flight Sciences and its research partner, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Space Systems Laboratory (SSL), propose to develop a flight-quality OS-detection and capture mechanism design based on research data and experience with the Mars Orbiting Sample Retrieval test bed and develop a risk-mitigation strategy that utilizes the International Space Station as a system checkout and launch platform for system testing in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This proposal leverages the state-of-the-art research into sample capture mechanisms, contact dynamics and capture mechanism detection methods and builds on the team’s experience with the Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) system to develop a low cost, LEO test strategy that minimizes the risk for later Mars deployment.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The primary application for the Capture Mechanism and SPHERES/ISS test strategy is in support of the NASA Mars Sample Return mission. A successful Phase1/Phase 2 project would result in a system design ready for implementation, integration, test and deployment with the MSR mission. While designed for MSR, the capture mechanism design and risk-mitigation test approach has applications for additional NASA sample-return missions, such icy-moons. Additionally, a successful demonstration of the cost-effective use of the ISS as a system checkout and launch platform has significant benefits to NASA in reducing the cost and risk of testing small systems in LEO.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

We anticipate that there are also applications beyond NASA, particularly in the military and commercial sectors. For example, the capture mechanism design may have applications such as the capture and control of space debris in Earth Orbit threatening strategic and/or commercial assets within similar orbits. Such a mechanism, when used in conjunction with a debris tracking and control system, could approach and capture such debris and then maneuver the captured material either to a different orbit, or, if in LEO, to a reentry trajectory to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Actuators & Motors
Autonomous Control (see also Control & Monitoring)
Deployment
Relative Navigation (Interception, Docking, Formation Flying; see also Control & Monitoring; Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin:
6
End: 6