Altius Space Machines Displays MIDAS Touch with Deep Space CubeSats

altiusBy Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected Jon Goff’s Altius Space Machines for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)  grant to develop an aerobraking and aerocapture system using an electromagnetic coil that would allow CubeSats to explore other planets and their moons.

The project, which is being done in cooperation with MSNW LLC of Redmond, Wash., involves technology that can be scaled up for larger robotic and human missions to Mars and other worlds. The electromagnetic systems would allow for significant mass savings in the size of the spacecraft.

Altius’ work focuses on the Multi-Purpose Interplanetary Deployable Aerocapture System (MIDAS), which could be packaged into 6U CubeSats sent to Mars, Venus, or Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“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 proposal summary says. “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.”

The six-month award, worth up to $125,000, was among nine projects selected by NASA that are focused on technologies to allow CubeSats to function in deep space.

“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,” the summary states.

“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,” according to the summary.

Altius, which is based on Colorado, is developing MIDAS with MSNW LLC. NASA also selected MSNW for a SBIR Phase I award for an ISS-launched CubeSat mission that would demonstrate Magnetoshell Aerocapture (MAC) electromagnet coil that forms the heart of MIDAS.

“In the following proposal a three year ISS-launched CubeSat demonstration mission paves the way for full scale operation missions,” MSNW’s proposal summary states. “In Phase I a complete system design will be completed and several of the primary technology risks will be mitigated. When demonstrated, Magnetoshell Aerocapture will dramatically reduce cost and risk for applications ranging from nanosatellites, deep space Flagship science missions, and commercial applications such as reusable tankers.

MSNW says that simulations it has conducted show MAC would provide huge mass savings for future robotic and human missions to other worlds.

“Magnetoshell Aerocatpure increased payload delivered to Neptune by 75% and most importantly, allows for the dynamic capture as a function of the Neptune atmosphere,” the summary states. “For Mars insertion, the primary benefit is mass savings. A 20 MT aeroshell could be replaced with a 2.5 meter Magnetoshell system mass of less than one metric ton. This would save over 20 MT of launched propellant per launch. The Martian insertion was capable of supporting a 60 metric ton payload with the Magnetoshell fitting into a standard faring size. For an L2 to Earth return mission, a 2000 kg payload was decelerated and placed into a LEO orbit.”

Edited versions of the Altius and MSNW proposal summaries are below.

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

MSNW LLC
Redmond, WA

ISS Launched Cubesat Demonstration of Variable-Drag Magnetoshell Aerocapture

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

Aerobraking and aerocapture have been shown to be mission enabling for deep space orbiters and manned missions, and yield dramatic cost and mass savings for near earth missions. However, high dynamic pressure aerocapture is high risk and requires large, complex, and heavy deflector shells. Magnetoshell Aerocapture (MAC) is a revolutionary technology that has been developed by NASA and MSNW that can enable low-cost, low-risk aerocapture for a range of Earth and deep space missions.

The Magnetoshell deploys a simple dipole magnetic field containing a magnetized plasma. Interaction of neutral particles in the atmosphere with this magnetized plasma produces the desired drag for braking, acting in effect like a plasma parachute. With the aeroshell now being composed of a massless magnetic field, the scale of the shell can be as large as 100 meters with only a gram of plasma and a simple copper magnet. Drag can be dynamically controlled in response to atmospheric conditions, enabling very aggressive aerocapture maneuvers. By providing pulsed power, the thermal and power processing requirements can be kept within the scope of conventional technologies.

In a Phase I NIAC program a 1.6 meter diameter Magnetoshell was demonstrated and increased the drag force of a supersonic flowing neutral jet by 1000X. A wide range of mission studies showed that MAC can enable a Neptune orbiter mission, reduce the cost of a manned Martian mission by $2B, and provide the low-cost drag system for Earth return missions.

In the following proposal a three year ISS-launched CubeSat demonstration mission paves the way for full scale operation missions. In Phase I a complete system design will be completed and several of the primary technology risks will be mitigated. When demonstrated, Magnetoshell Aerocapture will dramatically reduce cost and risk for applications ranging from nanosatellites, deep space Flagship science missions, and commercial applications such as reusable tankers.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Three missions have been fully designed and simulated: a Cassini-class Neptune orbiter, an HEOMD-scale Mars orbital insertion, and an L2 Earth return and insertion. Magnetoshell Aerocatpure increased payload delivered to Neptune by 75% and most importantly, allows for the dynamic capture as a function of the Neptune atmosphere. For Mars insertion, the primary benefit is mass savings. A 20 MT aeroshell could be replaced with a 2.5 meter Magnetoshell system mass of less than one metric ton. This would save over 20 MT of launched propellant per launch. The Martian insertion was capable of supporting a 60 metric ton payload with the Magnetoshell fitting into a standard faring size. For an L2 to Earth return mission, a 2000 kg payload was decelerated and placed into a LEO orbit.

These examples show how a lightweight, high performance, and low risk aerocapture system can yield dramatic improvement for any mission in which requires near-planetary operations and large delta-V maneuvers. Finally, the mission of interest, namely an earth return from an ISS orbit was enabling fast reentry with only a few grams of fuel. In addition to the simple de-orbit mission, phase changes, debris avoidance, and controlled re-entry can all be attained.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The technology to be explored under this program would have a wide ranging impact in many fields of scientific research and industry, both in space and on earth. In space, a lightweight aerocapture and aerobraking system would be beneficial for space debris mitigation, ISS crew return, moon return, space station construction, and numerous DOD applications. Further, the study and understanding of the generation of reactive gas magnetized plasmas and their interaction with neutral background gases have practical application for controlled doping for the creation of novel semi-conductor materials, chemical vapor deposition, catalyzed plasma chemistry for biomedical applications, and energy generation and storage technologies. During this mission, the scientific goals will contribute to both active plasma-neutral interaction physics as well as greater magnetospheric planetary dynamics physics.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Aerobraking/Aerocapture
  • Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)
  • Maneuvering/Stationkeeping/Attitude Control Devices
  • Spacecraft Design, Construction, Testing, & Performance (see also Engineering; Testing & Evaluation)
  • Spacecraft Main Engine

  • Jonathan A. Goff

    Doug,

    Thanks for the writeup of our SBIR award! I’ve been too heads-down in another proposal to write a blog post discussing this yet, but will do so once I come up for air tomorrow. And yes, as you guessed, the Altius and MSNW awards are related.

    ~Jon