NASA Eyes Sending CubeSats into Deep Space

CubeSat
CubeSat

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

So far, CubeSats have been used exclusively in Earth orbit. But, imagine a fleet of these tiny spacecraft fanning out to the moon and other deep-space destinations.

That’s what NASA has in mind. The space agency has just committed about $1.1 million to fund nine research projects that address different deep-space cubesat technologies. The funding is part of the NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Select Phase 1 grants announced earlier this week.

The technologies include ambipolar thrusters, an deployable aerocapture system, gamma-ray navigation, solar electric propulsion, laser communications, betavoltaic power, solar energy generators and ranging transponders.

The nine research projects made up more than a quarter of the 36 SBIR Select Phase I awards, which focus on a small group of topics of particular interest to NASA. The awards are for six months for a maximum of $125,000 apiece.

NASA 2014 SBIR Select Deep Space CubeSat Technology Projects
CompanyLocationResearch Project
Aether Industries LLCAnn Arbor, MICubeSat Ambipolar Thruster for LEO and Deep Space Missions
Altius Space Machines, Inc.Louisville, COMulti-Purpose Interplanetary Deployable Aerocapture System (MIDAS)
ASTER Labs, Inc.Shoreview, MNDeep Space CubeSat Gamma-ray Navigation Technology Demonstration
Busek Company, Inc.Natick, MALunarCube for Deep Space Missions
ExoTerra Resource, LLCLone Tree, COSolar Electric Propulsion CubeSat Bus for Deep Space Missions
Fibertek, Inc.Herndon, VA1U CubeSat Lasercom Terminal for Deep Space Communication
Innoflight, Inc.San Diego, CADeep Space Cubesat Regenerative Ranging Transponder (DeSCReeT)
MicroLink Devices, Inc.Niles, ILHigh Power Betavoltaic Technology
Nanohmics, Inc.Austin, TXDeployable Solar Energy Generators for Deep Space Cubesats

The links above go to full proposal summaries. Extracted versions of the nine summaries follow.

Aether Industries, LLC
Ann Arbor, MI

CubeSat Ambipolar Thruster for LEO and Deep Space Missions

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

Aether Industries proposes the development of a novel, primary plasma propulsion system that is well suited for small spacecraft. This technology, called the CubeSat Ambipolar Thruster (CAT), would provide CubeSats and other micro- and nano-satellites with the propulsive capability to make meaningful orbital plane and altitude changes — capability that does not currently exist with state-of-the-art micropropulsion technologies. As such, the CAT engine is an enabling technology that supports NASA, commercial, university, and military CubeSat needs from constellation deployment to lunar orbit insertion and beyond. In the CAT engine, a high-power RF plasma discharge is expanded adiabatically along a magnetic nozzle topology established by permanent magnets. A resultant ambipolar electric field accelerates the ions to high energies to generate thrust while retaining high propellant utilization. The CAT engine offers a means of providing efficient and high thrust-to-power primary propulsion for CubeSats and microsatellites. The CAT engine promises to change the CubeSat paradigm from passive sensor carriers to fully capable mission-completing spacecraft. Successful implementation by our team will result in the transition of technology developed into the commercial sector by a small business, the engagement of the next generation of the space sector workforce, and the infusion of an advanced in-space propulsion technology for future NASA, commercial, and government missions.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The CAT engine can achieve specific impulses (Isp) readily in excess of 1000 s. A CAT primary propulsion module can thus provide CubeSats with up to 10 km/s of delta-v, and hence major changes in orbital parameters in LEO can be achieved, as well as deploying CubeSats into Deep Space. With performance capability that is one to two orders of magnitude greater than the <100 m/s of delta-v that can be obtained from state-of-the-art micropropulsion systems , the CAT engine will enable mission planners to use CubeSats for many innovative mission concepts, including but not limited to the following scenarios of interest to NASA and other potential customers: (1) LEO to GEO and Lagrange point (Earth-Moon and Earth- Sun) orbital insertion and station-keeping, (2) Trans-lunar insertion and lunar orbit capture, (3) Earth’s escape velocity generation for interplanetary CubeSat missions, (4) Final orbit acquisition at target destination following CubeSat deployment from carrier spacecraft, (5) Polar orbit insertion from mid-latitude initial orbits, (6) Mid-mission orbital adjustments for scientific sampling of a larger volume of the ionosphere and magnetosphere, (7) Long-duration cluster formation flying with the ability to reconfigure the constellation’s orbital parameters, (8) Rendezvous and close-proximity operations.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The development of the CubeSat Ambipolar Thruster (CAT) as a self-contained, CubeSat-compatible micropropulsion module takes advantage of the commercial opportunities in a rapidly growing nanosatellite market. Since 2000, academic, military, governmental, and commercial nanosatellite launch demand has grown by an average of 4% per year; this demand is projected to have a 20% growth per year over the next three years with over a hundred nanosatellites expected to be launched each year by 2020. These nanosatellites will be tasked with increasingly demanding missions (i.e., >100 m/s delta-v) with the corresponding need for high-performance micropropulsion systems to enable these missions. Unfortunately, current state-of-the-art cold-gas micropropulsion systems, with specific impulses <100 s, do not provide the requisite performance. In the development of the CAT engine, Aether is joined with several commercial partners in an effort to rapidly develop the necessary subsystems to a point where a large number of commercial units can be used for LEO constellation deployment, and prospecting and radio beacon deployment on many near-Earth asteroids. A phase 1 SBIR would allow Aether to more aggressively pursue the rapid testing necessary to bring the CAT engine to commercial fruition.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Circuits (including ICs; for specific applications, see e.g., Communications, Networking & Signal Transport; Control & Monitoring, Sensors)
  • Hardware-in-the-Loop Testing
  • Heat Exchange
  • Lifetime Testing
  • Maneuvering/Stationkeeping/Attitude Control Devices
  • Passive Systems
  • Pressure & Vacuum Systems
  • Prototyping
  • Simulation & Modeling
  • Spacecraft Main Engine

Altius Space Machines, Inc.
Louisville, CO

Multi-Purpose Interplanetary Deployable Aerocapture System (MIDAS)

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

Altius Space Machines and MSNW LLC propose the development of a cubesat-scale Multipurpose Interplanetary Deployable Aerocapture System (MIDAS), to provide cubesats with the capability to perform reliable aerocapture and aerobraking missions. The MIDAS system consists of a thin, deployable, Magnetoshell Aerocapture (MAC) electromagnet coil that is deployed outward from the cubesat body using multiple elastically deployed composite STEM booms. The MIDAS system also incorporates into its structure a high-power cubesat-scale roll-out solar array (capable of >5W orbit averaged power even at Jupiter distances), and a high-power burst-mode Loop Yagi antenna for potential deep-space spacecraft-to-Earth ground link communications. While it will not be investigated in the proposed Phase I workplan, previous research at MSNW indicates that the MIDAS technology may also be able to provide shielding against solar flares and planetary radiation belts. The goal is to package this system into 2-3U of a 6U cubesat for missions to Mars, Venus, or Europa.

The Phase I workplan will focus on sizing the MAC coil, creating an Active Aerogravity Tour (AATOUR) design tool for sizing MAC hardware for aerocapture missions, designing and sizing the MIDAS structure, analyzing the burst-mode Loop Yagi system to verify it can close a useful data link with Earth (and vice versa), and then designing and prototyping the MIDAS system for packaging and deployment. The Phase I efforts will culminate in the deployment testing of a full-scale MIDAS system. If completed successfully, the Phase I effort will raise the system from a TRL of 2 to 3. Follow-on Phase II efforts will develop and perform development tests on a full Brassboard MIDAS demonstration system, raising the system to a TRL of 4 or 5.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The primary NASA applications include developing MIDAS systems for interplanetary cubesat missions to planets with atmospheres, and larger-scale MIDAS systems for traditional-sized robotic and manned spacecraft enhancing or enabling missions to Mars, Venus, and the Outer gas giants and their moons. Altius and MSNW will work with the NASA COTR to identify members of the interplanetary cubesat community to market this technology to. Altius and MSNW will also work with NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist and the to find opportunities for cubesat flight demonstration of the MIDAS system post Phase II, and also for research and flight demonstration of MIDAS variants optimized for radiation shielding. Altius and MSNW will reach out to NASA and aerospace contractors involved in traditional deep-space missions to find opportunities to partner on future space science missions. Lastly, Altius and MSNW will work with the NASA Advanced Exploration System Division to brief them on the technology, and investigate ways to infuse scaled-up versions of MIDAS technology into future manned exploration missions.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The primary Commercial applications Altius has identified include radiation shielding for all-electric DoD and Commercial GEO spacecraft that have to transit the Van Allen belts en route to GEO, systems for aerobraking GTO stages to LEO prior to LEO recovery, and reusable space tugs/propellant tankers. In order to address the first market, which has real near-term demand, Altius and MSNW will identify ways to fund the radiation shielding work needed to use MIDAS for that application, and will coordinate with DoD and commercial comsat companies to identify ways to adapt this technology to their specific mission needs. For the second market, Altius will communicate with commercial launch companies such as SpaceX and ULA to market the technology, and seek opportunities for experimental flight demonstration on one of their upper stages.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Aerobraking/Aerocapture
  • Antennas
  • Composites
  • Deployment
  • Models & Simulations (see also Testing & Evaluation)
  • Prototyping
  • Spacecraft Design, Construction, Testing, & Performance (see also Engineering; Testing & Evaluation)
  • Structures
  • Telemetry (see also Control & Monitoring)
  • Transmitters/Receivers

ASTER Labs, Inc.
Shoreview, MN

Deep Space CubeSat Gamma-ray Navigation Technology Demonstration

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 4
End: 6

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

The proposed novel program will use measurements of high-energy photon output from celestial gamma-ray sources to design a new, unique navigation system for a deep space CubeSat demonstration. An integrated CubeSat design will be developed to demonstrate the performance and feasibility of the Gamma-ray source Localization-Induced Navigation and Timing, or “GLINT”, technology and software developed under a previous NASA Phase I SBIR. In this past research, our team established the feasibility of using photons from gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) to provide deep-space vehicles the capability for self-navigation, showing that with key improvements to detector and timing instrumentation, the technique could achieve three-dimensional position accuracies of less than one kilometer. In this proposed research, recent developments in these hardware components will facilitate the design of a high resolution GRB monitor and precise timing circuit board, which, due to their size, weight, and power requirements, are prime candidates for integration into a 6U or smaller CubeSat. The mission proposed will fly two 3U-sized CubeSats equipped with this system, which will use time differenced of arrival measurements from the same observed GRB to determine a relative position solution. The GLINTSAT demonstration mission will measure the performance capabilities of this system. The team will design the mission architecture, including system requirements and components. An advanced photon timing instrument board will be designed, along with an accompanying high-resolution gamma-ray detector. Integration into the 3U CubeSat design will be detailed. Navigation performance will be evaluated using the designs and a prototype laboratory relative timing experiment. An integrated system error budget will be produced and the mission performance will be assessed to establish the feasibility and detail the path to environmental testing and full CubeSat system development for a 2017-timeframe launch.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

NASA applications consist primarily of support for the autonomy of low-cost CubeSats into deep space, the offset of Deep Space Network workload, dual-use gamma-ray detector technology for both science and navigation use, improved high-energy celestial source analytics and detector technologies, formation flying and asteroid rendezvous, and space weather research and warnings. The GLINTSAT demonstration mission would allow direct feasibility and performance assessments of this technology in enabling self-navigating deep space CubeSats. This will provide NASA load shedding for potentially oversubscribed DSN operations. The advanced detectors and sub-microsecond timing capabilities will also serve to enhance the science capabilities of high-energy photon experiments onboard these vehicles, and eventually extend to the Inter-Planetary Network and Gamma-ray Burst Coordinate Network for burst detection and localization. Additionally, this relative navigation technique could support formation flying spacecraft missions, as well as precise navigation to planetary objects like asteroids. The integration of these systems onboard future CubeSat missions will also provide space weather researchers with a solar system-wide early warning system for solar storms and intense celestial gamma-ray outbursts, allowing notifications for safe harboring of personnel and hardware, monitoring EVA high-energy radiation dosages, or post-burn analysis of data from sensitive instruments.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Non-NASA applications include lower operations cost for DoD and military deep space ventures, backup relative navigation capabilities for commercial crewed transport, low-cost space-based terrestrial nuclear detonation detection, and terrestrial detectors and dosimeters. The integrated design of the GLINTSAT system could easily support any commercial or military venture far from Earth, without requiring costly communication and telemetry for navigation, and instead would allow these vehicles to navigate, coordinating with measurements from other deep space vehicles both collecting their own measurements, or already in communication with the GCN or IPN. These new cost-efficient sensors would include missions in geosynchronous or supersynchronous orbits, and ventures to the Moon or asteroids. The precision timing of the detector and timing circuit could also greatly enhance the capabilities of ground-based nuclear detonation detection and dosimeters, without the need for site inspections or frequent site monitoring.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Autonomous Control (see also Control & Monitoring)
  • Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Astronautics)
  • Navigation & Guidance
  • Ranging/Tracking
  • Relative Navigation (Interception, Docking, Formation Flying; see also Control & Monitoring; Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)
  • Software Tools (Analysis, Design)
  • Space Transportation & Safety
  • Spacecraft Instrumentation & Astrionics (see also Communications; Control & Monitoring; Information Systems)
  • Telemetry/Tracking (Cooperative/Noncooperative; see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)
  • X-rays/Gamma Rays

Busek Company, Inc.
Natick, MA

LunarCube for Deep Space Missions

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

Busek Co., Inc. and Morehead State University propose to develop a 6U CubeSat capable of reaching a lunar orbit from GEO. The primary objective is to demonstrate heretofore unavailable high Isp(~3000s) with a small and very efficient ion thruster. A mission to the moon will demonstrate a propulsion technology that enables a variety of other deep space missions. Unlike the well-known and much larger DC ion thrusters flown on missions such as Deep Space 1 and Dawn, the proposed thruster is powered by an inductively coupled RF discharge with condensable propellant. The chosen propellant is stored as a high-density solid at room temperature with minimal vapor pressure. Such property enables the storage tank to be small, lightweight and moldable for maximizing propellant volume. These benefits are further realized by the use of Busek’s miniature RF ion thruster (RFIT) system.

Busek’s ion thrusters were developed to answer the need for a small yet high-performance EP device, as their DC counterparts are difficult to scale down and achieve long life due to the internal cathode. The BRFIT-3 thruster proposed for the LunarCube has a 3cm grid diameter, is close to 50% efficient and delivers variable Isp and thrust of ~3000s and ~2mN, respectively. With this performance, 3km/s. The thruster’s life by estimation is in excess of 20,000 hours. An additional objective is to demonstrate that much of the spacecraft electronics, primarily the C&DH portion, can be based on low-cost components and survive the deep space environment. The mission will also require pioneering approaches to ADCS and power generation. Initial design of the solar arrays includes two winged panels mounted on Honeybee Robotics’ gimbals, and together they will deliver peak power of ~96W. One option for the payload will be a miniature long wavelength IR camera made by Malin Space Science Systems that could be used for geological studies.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Both the high-Isp ion propulsion and the low-cost radiation tolerant electronics needed for the lunar mission are crucial for future deep space missions. Exploring our solar system with low-cost robotic/scout vehicles as precursors for human missions or science missions will benefit from these technologies. Busek’s RF ion thruster (BRFIT) enables small satellites to fly beyond earth orbit and can be used in close proximity operations applications. Missions for the moon, inner planets and asteroids are therefore made possible. Additionally the BRFIT is ideal for drag make up applications for earth observation (EO) missions from low flying platforms, down to altitudes of ~200km. Altitude reduction is essential for high resolution EO from small, low-cost satellites that are by definition unsuitable for large optical or RF apertures and thus lower altitude is the only option for higher image resolution.

Potential post applications of the Morehead State University multi-band communications systems include productization and marketing this system to the small satellite community for a variety of applications in LEO and beyond. The capabilities and flexibility of this system (software controlled frequency agility and controllable, variable power output combined with a variety of modulation schemes) combined with an extremely low price point will make the system attractive to small satellite developers.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Non-NASA customers include commercial human exploration and presence in space, commercial asteroid missions and DOD and commercial EO missions. For example, in communication with Planetary Resources, they are interested in the propulsion system in their Arkyd Series 200 – Interceptor for asteroid mining. NRO has indicated interest in this propulsion technology for low earth orbit spacecraft to make up for atmospheric drag. We have letters of support from both of these two entities based on a full Lunar Cube proposal to an earlier Edison BAA.

The Morehead State University C&DH system will also be ultimately produced for both the small satellite and UAV and UAS markets. The small size, low power consumption and significant processing capabilities combined with low cost and expandability will make this C&DH system competitive in these markets.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Navigation & Guidance
  • Spacecraft Design, Construction, Testing, & Performance (see also Engineering; Testing & Evaluation)
  • Spacecraft Instrumentation & Astrionics (see also Communications; Control & Monitoring; Information Systems)

ExoTerra Resource, LLC
Lone Tree, CO

Solar Electric Propulsion CubeSat Bus for Deep Space Missions

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

As electronics continue to shrink in size, the capabilities of CubeSats continues to expand. CubeSats can now perform a wide range of sensing and telecommunications applications. However, CubeSats have been limited in their ability to conduct propulsive maneuvers and to withstand deep space environments. This limits them to the orbits they are deposited in from their rideshare flight. ExoTerra’s Solar Electric Propulsion CubeSat Bus opens a whole new set of mission opportunities to CubeSats by providing over 1 km/s of dV for CubeSats through its 6U bus. The bus expands the CubeSat state of the art by implementing 3x higher power solar arrays, high efficiency power distribution and a low power, high efficiency Hall Thruster. To meet deep space mission requirements, we add guidance and navigation systems, incorporate radiation tolerant electronics and integrate thermal control systems into the bus. The SEP CubeSat project demonstrates a first of its kind propulsive capability by building, qualifying and flying the SEP CubeSat. The mission launches from the SLS opportunity in 2017. After Translunar Injection, the Cubesat uses its SEP system to perform lunar orbit insertion and spiral in, becoming the first Cubesat to successfully perform a capture maneuver at another celestial body.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The low launch cost of CubeSats makes them a highly attractive option for a number of remote sensing missions. By adding the ability to provide >1 km/s dV to a CubeSat we open a wide range of additional missions for NASA. The system can provide sufficient dV to perform lunar orbit insertion, allowing a constellation of low-cost CubeSats to be sent to the Moon to provide global coverage at a fraction of current costs. Similarly, NASA can affordably send a number of CubeSats to rendezvous with multiple asteroids to perform precursor missions leading to an eventual asteroid capture or manned landing mission. Finally, the dV capability allows NASA to disperse a series of CubeSats launched on a single flight to form constellations that work together to provide global sensing around Earth.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The dV capability has potential commercial applications as well. By enabling dispersion of a constellation of satellites, commercial operators can provide global coverage with Cubesats for telecommunications or remote sensing applications at a cost below today’s monolithic systems. In addition, the system allows for orbit adjustment from the rideshare drop-off orbit. This allows operators to move into inclinations or altitudes that are more advantageous for their mission and eliminating the reliance on finding a rideshare going to their preferred orbit. At the extreme, scaling the system to 12U can result in sufficient dV to transfer Cubesats to Geosynchronous Orbit, opening up Geosynchronous mission opportunities. As CubeSat capabilities continue to expand, the mission opportunities afforded by a 1 km/s propulsion system expand as well.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Conversion
  • Deployment
  • Distribution/Management
  • Navigation & Guidance
  • Spacecraft Main Engine
  • Vehicles (see also Autonomous Systems)

Fibertek, Inc.
Herndon, VA

1U CubeSat Lasercom Terminal for Deep Space Communication

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 4
End: 5

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

In this NASA SBIR-select Phase 1 program Fibertek, Inc., proposes the design, optimization, and analysis of a 1U CubeSat Lasercom Optical Terminal, optimized for deep-space colmmunication links, and targeting the following characteristics – (i) Low Size/Weight/Power (SWaP) 1U Lasercom Terminal for deep-space mission (total power budget P

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

(1) 1U CubeSat lasercom optical terminal for deep-space and inter-planetary missions
(2) Compact, efficient space lasercom optical terminal for LEO/GEO platforms
(3) Optical terminal design can be adapted for active remote-sensing of planetary atmospheres.
(4) Optical terminal can be used for lidar based entry-descent & landing, as all needed functionalities – laser transmit/receive, processing, and optical telescope are already available
(5) Compact and cost-effective optical terminal for potential imaging applications from CubeSat or SmallSat platforms

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

(1) Compact, efficient LEO-GEO space lasercom optical terminal for DoD applications, e.g. AF, NRO
(2) Compact, efficient lasercom optical terminal for UAV ?{ satellite applications
(3) Can be adapted for any optical terminal needs for SmallSat platform on hosted payloads.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Astronautics)
  • Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)
  • Fiber (see also Communications, Networking & Signal Transport; Photonics)
  • Lasers (Communication)
  • Lasers (Ladar/Lidar)
  • Optical
  • Spacecraft Instrumentation & Astrionics (see also Communications; Control & Monitoring; Information Systems)
  • Transmitters/Receivers
  • Waveguides/Optical Fiber (see also Optics)

Innoflight, Inc.
San Diego, CA

Deep Space Cubesat Regenerative Ranging Transponder (DeSCReeT)

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

Innoflight proposes developing a 0.5U Deep Space Cubesat Regenerative-ranging Transponder (DeSCReeT) compatible with NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) and similarly capable ground assets and with flight-ready units available for CubeSats deployed in cis-lunar space via the Exploratory Mission 1 (EM1) program. The transponder will leverage Innoflight’s flight-heritage Software-defined Compact Radio (SCR) family of radios.

Phase 1 design efforts include requirements gathering from Pre-Phase A and Phase A CubeSat missions, Forward Error Correction trades, X-Band versus S-Band trades, and radiation-tolerant component trades. Given the EM-1 timeline, the Phase 1 effort will successfully complete a CDR-level design by the end of the period of performance.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

DeSCReeT will have significant opportunities across a number of different applications because of the breadth of its capabilities beyond the state of the art. We have captured just a few of its personalities and associated applications below:

  • Low-Power Deep Space Ranging Transponder. The application is not limited to CubeSats and it could become the de facto transponder for deep space missions.
  • X-Band Transmitter. With the trend to increasing payload data in more capable CubeSats and SmallSats, an X-Band Transmitter is increasing in demand.
  • Higher-orbit CubeSat Transponder. Mission designers are looking at workhorse-applications for CubeSat and SmallSat at orbits beyond LEO.

Innoflight’s strategy is to work directly with AES on existing, planned and potential SmallSat deep space mission requirements to produce an affordable CubeSat form factor Deep Space Transponder.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Ever since our 2012 success of qualifying a s/w-defined CubeSat S-Band radio, spacecraft and payload system primes have contacted Innoflight about a similar SWaP ranging transponder and/or X-Band transmitter capability for payloads generating higher data rates. Besides NASA, the interested customers have been both DoD and commercial, e.g., looking into early surveying /seismology for asteroid mining. Based on its SWaP and a corresponding much lower price point, DeSCReeT will offer something not currently available in the market for Deep Space and more severe earth orbit applications.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Antennas
  • Coding & Compression
  • Ranging/Tracking
  • Telemetry (see also Control & Monitoring)
  • Telemetry/Tracking (Cooperative/Noncooperative; see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)
  • Transmitters/Receivers

MicroLink Devices, Inc.
Niles, IL

High Power Betavoltaic Technology

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

The proposed innovation will dramatically improve the performance of tritium-powered betavoltaic batteries through the development of a high-aspect ratio, expanded surface area p/n junction composed of indium gallium phosphide. The enhanced surface area features will be built using reactive ion etch (RIE) modified germanium substrates via metalorganic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD). The proposed 3-dimensional betavoltaic p/n junction will provide a cost saving of up to 90%, while increasing energy density to up to ten times that of lithium batteries. Such an advanced semiconductor device will produce much higher power outputs than are possible with existing state-of-the-art devices. It will provide the battery a life span in excess of 20 years with the broad-range temperature-insensitivity benefits normally associated with betavoltaics. This increased power/energy density for tritium betavoltaics will open up pathways for significant advances in power solutions for diminutive sized, low-power microelectronic devices that may be used in Cubesat and in-space power systems. Example applications include microwatt-to-milliwatt autonomous 20+ year sensors/microelectronics for use in structural monitoring, mesh networks, tagging and tracking wireless sensors, medical device implants, and deep space power where solar is not easily available. Tritium betavoltaics are capable of addressing this power niche for devices requiring reliable, uninterrupted power through extremes of temperature, longevity and diminutive form factors where traditional batteries cannot operate.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

For high value deep space missions, it may be possible for this technology to provide a cost-effective amount of the total power requirements for a 20+ year mission. Betavoltaic cells are capable of producing up to 1 microwatt/cm2 and will power commercial-off-the-shelf microcontrollers such as the Texas Instruments MSP-430 and similar electronics. Furthermore, it would provide a power density of 50-100 microwatts per cubic centimeter and an energy density roughly equivalent to 5-10 watt hours/cm3 integrated over 20 years, which is 5-10 times the energy density of highest energy-density lithium batteries!

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Other government agencies that would benefit from high power betavoltaic batteries are:

– Battery back-up power for FPGA encryption keys used in many defense and security applications
– Domestic anti-tamper for defense applications
– Nuclear storage/ device monitoring for defense applications

Commercial markets that are of interest include:

– Satellite power supplies, including cubesats
– SRAM (static random access memory) volatile memory

It should be noted that City Labs has sold prototype and commercial batteries into select high value markets with premium customers such as Lockheed Martin, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

– Sensors
– Medical bionics/ implants

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Coatings/Surface Treatments
  • Conversion
  • Generation
  • Manufacturing Methods
  • Materials (Insulator, Semiconductor, Substrate)
  • Metallics
  • Microfabrication (and smaller; see also Electronics; Mechanical Systems; Photonics)

Nanohmics, Inc.
Austin, TX

Deployable Solar Energy Generators for Deep Space Cubesats

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

Cubesats require highly compact technologies to maximize their effectiveness. As cubesats are expected to be low-cost and, relative to the space industry, mass produced, their technologies should be simple to manufacture, yet achieve aerospace quality standards. This proposal aims to describe a novel high-efficiency (i.e., comparable to solar panels) fabricated power supply for cubesats and other small satellites that has marked advantages over solar photovoltaic cells.

Nanohmics Inc. proposes to develop and test a compact, high efficiency solar thermoelectric generator. The technology is amenable to mass manufacturing and is based on recent development successes at Nanohmics: thermoelectrics development and coatings to maximize emissivity. On a space vehicle, the energy generator would be deployable in a number of ways including a folding fan-like unpacking or other compact designs.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

A low-cost alternative to solar panels could enable long-term operations for cubesats and cubesat constellations. As a scalable technology, it could be applied to 1U through 6U cubesats for missions in Earth orbit and beyond. Due to the lack of a fragile semiconductor junction, the energy generators would be robust to radiation and increased life. Additionally, the robust architecture would improve ease of handling, packaging, and deployment.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Thermoelectric waste heat recovery is a growing industry. A low-cost manufacturing solution for thermoelectrics, even at moderate efficiency, would allow regeneration of substantial power from parasitic heat losses in industrial and commercial systems.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Sources (Renewable, Nonrenewable)