ORBITEC Selected for 4 NASA SBIR Awards

ORBITEC Vision rocket engine. (Credit: ORBITEC)
ORBITEC Vision rocket engine. (Credit: ORBITEC)

NASA has selected Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) of Madison, Wisc., for four Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards.

Two of the awards, worth up to $125,000 apiece, focus on technologies designed to improve in-space propulsion. The other two awards, worth up to $200,000 apiece, will help develop technologies for use aboard the International Space Station.

The four proposals selected include:

  • Integrated Composite Nozzle Extension — In-Space Propulsion Systems
  • Acoustic Resonance Reaction Control Thruster (ARCTIC) — In-Space Propulsion Systems
  • Rapid Multiplex Microbial Detector — International Space Station Utilization
  • Zero G Mass Measurement Device (ZGMMD) — International Space Station Utilization.

Last year, ORBITEC successfully tested its new Vortex Liquid Rocket Engine aboard a Garvey Spacecraft Corporation rocket at a test site near Mojave, Calif. The company has been working on the advanced engine technology with ATK, MOOG, NASA and the U.S. Air Force.

Summaries of the four proposals are reproduced after the break.

PROPOSAL SUMMARY
SBIR Phase I
Maximum Potential Value: $125,000

PROPOSAL TITLE: Integrated Composite Rocket Nozzle Extension

SUBTOPIC TITLE: In-Space Propulsion Systems

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN
Orbital Technologies Corporation
Madison, WI

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER
Robert Gustafson

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

ORBITEC proposes to develop and demonstrate an Integrated Composite Rocket Nozzle Extension (ICRNE) for use in rocket thrust chambers. The ICRNE will utilize an innovative bonding approach to join a high-temperature composite nozzle extension to a regeneratively cooled metallic nozzle. The ICRNE technology will allow high-temperature composite materials to be directly integrated into a regeneratively-cooled nozzle section or thrust chamber made out of high-strength metallic alloys, thereby eliminating the heavy bolted flange joint that is currently used to attach high-temperature nozzle extensions. The resulting weight reduction will increase the thrust-to-weight ratio of the rocket engine. The ICRNE will also eliminate the need for multiple seals in the bolted flange joints, thus increasing reliability. The focus of the proposed Phase 1 effort will be to demonstrate the ICRNE technology by manufacturing and evaluating test specimens. A prototype ICRNE will also be designed and analyzed. In Phase 2, a prototype ICRNE unit will be fabricated, installed, and hot fire tested on an existing rocket engine. This proposal responds to Subtopic H2.02 In-Space Propulsion Systems, specifically “high temperature materials, coatings and/or ablatives or injectors, combustion chambers, nozzles, and nozzle extensions” for non-toxic, cryogenic, and nuclear thermal propulsion systems.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The ICRNE technology addresses the needs of Subtopic H2.02 In-Space Propulsion Systems, which requests “high temperature materials, coatings and/or ablatives or injectors, combustion chambers, nozzles, and nozzle extension.” We expect the ICRNE technology to have direct and immediate application for RCS thrusters, OMS engines, upper stage engines, planetary ascent and descent engines, and new booster engines.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Beyond the needs of NASA, the DOD also requires advanced nozzle technology for new upper stage engines and boosters. If successful, the ICRNE technology can be used to join dissimilar materials for a very broad range of applications in many industries, including wing leading edges for high speed transport aircraft, airbreathing engines, turbines, industrial burners, and corrosion-resistant structures for naval vessels.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Atmospheric Propulsion
Joining (Adhesion, Welding)
Processing Methods
Spacecraft Main Engine

PROPOSAL SUMMARY
SBIR Phase I
Maximum Potential Value: $125,000

PROPOSAL TITLE: Acoustic Resonance Reaction Control Thruster (ARCTIC)

SUBTOPIC TITLE: In-Space Propulsion Systems

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN
Orbital Technologies Corporation
Madison, WI

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER
Scott Munson

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

ORBITEC proposes to develop and demonstrate the innovative Acoustic Resonance Reaction Control Thruster (ARCTIC) to provide rapid and reliable in-space impulse without the use of toxic hypergols, delicate catalyst beds, or cumbersome spark systems. The ARCTIC thruster will exceed current reliability standards, reduce RCS complexity, and provide system-level benefits by minimizing weight, decreasing power requirements, and improving serviceability. The Phase I work will focus on the development and testing, both at sea level and vacuum conditions, of a prototype ARCTIC thruster, as well as the design of flight-weight ARCTIC thruster for Phase II implementation.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

ARCTIC addresses the needs in NASA’s technology roadmap, specifically Technology Area 1.4.1, which calls for low-cost, high thrust-to-weight RCS thrusters that use non-toxic propellants. By eliminating cat beds, hypergols, and spark systems, ARCTIC will be developed into a safe, low-cost, long-life RCS thruster to support NASA’s exploration activities. This versatile thruster can be used with a wide range of fluids, including indigenous spacecraft propellants and in situ space resources.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Beyond the needs of NASA, it is expected that ARCTIC-based propulsion systems could be developed for governmental customers such as the USAF’s Reusable Booster System (RBS) program as well as commercial customers such as Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser program and Boeing’s Cryogenic Propellant Storage and Transfer demonstrator. The same acoustic resonance technology could be used in applications including rocket engine igniters, OMS & DAC thrusters, and pre-burners. AFRL is already incorporating ORBITEC’s acoustic resonance igniter technology into the Hydrocarbon Boost program. Furthermore, ORBITEC has incorporating the acoustic resonance igniter into its propulsion systems and demonstrated the concept in a sounding rocket flight. Ground-based commercial applications for this technology may include industrial burners and large-scale, power-generating gas turbines.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Fuels/Propellants
Maneuvering/Stationkeeping/Attitude Control Devices

PROPOSAL SUMMARY
SBIR Select Phase I
Maximum Potential Value: $200,000

PROPOSAL TITLE: Rapid Multiplex Microbial Detector

SUBTOPIC TITLE: International Space Station Utilization

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN
Orbital Technologies Corporation
Madison, WI

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER
Ross W. Remiker

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

ORBITEC, in collaboration with Lucigen, proposes a rapid nucleic acid-based detector for spaceflight water systems to enable simultaneous quantification of multiple waterborne pathogens with minimal consumables and crew time. The Rapid Multiplex Microbial Detector (RMMD) amplifies the genetic material in a liquid sample to allow near real-time identification of specific genetic sequences of predetermined bacteria and fungi. This easy-to-use device incorporates a patented polymerase enzyme that enables rapid RNA amplification by reagents with superior long-term shelf life and thermal stability. To operate, a water sample is injected into the RMMD, where it is concentrated and mixed with the reagent. The RMMD is rapidly heated and maintained at an elevated temperature for approximately 15 minutes, then quickly cooled back to room temperature to amplify the genetic material in the sample, which is detected in real time by changes in fluorescence due to dye binding, thus providing quantification. pathogenic cells in the water sample can be rapidly detected quantitatively based on the time of development of fluorescence. Phase 1 activity will result in prototype hardware and software genetic amplification and detection of several pathogenic bacteria and fungi that will bring the technology to TRL 5. The anticipated results of the Phase 2 are an engineering development unit that consists of an amplification/detection process controller, sample cartridges, and reagents, that can be tested in space.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The RMMD provides quantitative indication of the presence of multiple waterborne pathogenic bacteria and fungi simultaneously within 60 minutes of sampling, with minimal consumable hardware. The RMMD reduces crew time by eliminating the need to unstow, check, and restow a test kit after 2 days, and again after 5 days. Unlike the Water Microbiology Kit (WMK), there is no need for a syringe of growth media, and the RMMD microbial capture device is smaller and lighter than that of the WMK. Another advantage of the rapid test is that if an infection is suspected in space, potential sources can be tested, and results determined quickly, so additional infections can be avoided. This technology can be used on the ISS and on future long-duration spaceflight missions.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The combined goals of this proposal will have a significant impact on terrestrial water quality management and on current diagnostic capability for detection of waterborne disease, especially in areas that are currently not well served. Enhanced access to in-the-field diagnosis of locally relevant diseases will improve sanitation among populations in resource-limited settings. The technology will also promote better understanding of the epidemiology of emerging zoonotic and pandemic pathogens in real-time, will significantly reduce the response time to serious outbreaks, and could help combat any potential future biological threats. The military can use the product for water testing in remote or resource limited environments. RMMD technology can be used for surface water quality testing for research and surveillance. In the area of potable water monitoring for pathogenic bacteria and fungi, the rapid turn-around time offered by the RMMD approach provides a benefit to the consumers wishing to quickly test samples for real estate, new well, and new construction applications. In addition, RMMD technology can be used for water quality assessment for aquaculture, an industry that provides the primary protein source for approximately one billion people. Production and food safety of all species are dramatically impacted by water quality.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Analytical Instruments (Solid, Liquid, Gas, Plasma, Energy; see also Sensors)
Biological (see also Biological Health/Life Support)
Essential Life Resources (Oxygen, Water, Nutrients)
Medical

PROPOSAL SUMMARY
SBIR Select Phase I
Maximum Potential Value: $200,000

PROPOSAL TITLE: Zero G Mass Measurement Device (ZGMMD)

SUBTOPIC TITLE: International Space Station Utilization

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN
Orbital Technologies Corporation
Madison, WI

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

The Zero G Mass Measurement Device (ZGMMD) will provide the ability to quantify the mass of objects up to 2,000 grams, including live animal specimens in a zero G environment, an innovative because there currently are no such devices available to perform mass measurement of smaller masses (< 2000 grams) in space. At present there are no tools on board the International Space Station (ISS) to measure low mass objects, which is a capability that is extremely important for biological research. The ZGMMD would provide the capability to quantify the mass of an object, while limiting the acceleration applied to the object. The ZGMMD would be capable of being used in the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox (MSG) or could someday be integrated with payloads such as the Plant Habitat (PH). The ZGMMD innovation provides a fundamental capability (measuring mass of an object) that would increase the capabilities of NASA’s fundamental space biology program. A significant amount of fundamental biology has occurred on the ground that has utilized mass measurements; therefore to compare zero G results with previously conducted ground experiments, mass measurement capabilities should be provided. Successful completion of Phase I and II efforts would provide these previously mentioned capabilities.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The primary application for NASA would be to use the ZGMMD within the LSG on board the ISS. However this device could be integrated with future payloads to provide the ability to autonomously measure the mass of objects. Integrating a device such as the ZGMMD, would increase scientific significance and data collection, while reducing necessary crew intervention for measuring mass of low mass objects.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Potential non-NASA applications are limited because the proposed device is most useful in zero G environments; however there is some potential for use with commercial zero G flights. Should commercial spaceflight ever become common, private researchers may desire mass measurements during a time of no gravity. The measurement of the mass of an object is one of the most common measurements taken in scientific fields. ZGMMD would be available for future research needs.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Actuators & Motors
Analytical Instruments (Solid, Liquid, Gas, Plasma, Energy; see also Sensors)
Biological (see also Biological Health/Life Support)
Biophysical Utilization
Electromagnetic
Inertial
Man-Machine Interaction
Robotics (see also Control & Monitoring; Sensors)