NASA Selects Ventions LLC for SBIR Phase I Awards

NASA LOGONASA has selected Ventions, LLC of San Francisco, Calif., for two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards, with both projects involving advanced propulsion systems for spacecraft.

Under one contract, Ventions would develop a low-cost, high-performance propulsion system for use on CubeSats. The other project involves the development of on-board pressurization systems for Mars sample return missions.

“Ventions proposes…developing a compact, light-weight and low-cost 3U cubesat propulsion system that uses non-toxic propellants to provide approximately 125m/sec of delta-V within a 1kg and 100mm x 100mm x 100mm mass and size budget,” the proposal summary reads.

At present, CubeSats are typically launched as secondary payloads to much larger spacecraft, limiting the ability to reach locations where they can obtain high-value science. “Availability of the proposed on-board propulsion system is expected to enable significant post-deployment maneuverability, thereby allowing for much-needed orbit phasing and drag makeup capability to achieve several application-specific goals (e.g. science return),” the summary states.

The other proposal is focused on solving a problem that has hindered development of ascent vehicles for sample return missions to Mars, the moon and asteroids.

“To date, the realization of high-performance liquid bipropellant rocket engines for ascent vehicle and sample return applications has largely been hindered by the inability to obtain ‘on-board’ pressurization through a light-weight and low-complexity pump,” the project summary states. “Ventions seeks to fulfill this critical need by designing, fabricating and testing an electric pump for a Mars Ascent Vehicle compatible with LOX / propane produced via in-situ resource utilization to achieve significant performance improvements over the current baseline.”

The grant are for six months and up to $125,000 apiece. Edited versions of the proposal summaries are below.

Ventions, LLC
San Francisco, CA

Low-Cost and High-Performance Propulsion for Small Satellite Applications

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

While small satellites continue to show immense promise for high-capability and low-cost missions, they remain limited by post-deployment propulsion for a variety of activities like precision maneuvering, orbit change and controlled re-entry / recovery. Furthermore, any on-board propulsion system capable of providing sufficiently high delta-V is likely to impose constraints on handling, storage, operations and safety that may limit consideration as a secondary payload. Ventions proposes to overcome these limitations by developing a compact, light-weight and low-cost 3U cubesat propulsion system that uses non-toxic propellants to provide approximately 125m/sec of delta-V within a 1kg and 100mm x 100mm x 100mm mass and size budget.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Currently, since all NASA cubesats are manifested as secondary payloads on launch vehicles carrying a large satellite, their deployment location is limited by the orbit characteristics of the primary payload. This greatly constrains the ability to deploy a highly-functional cubesat in a desired location to obtain “high-value science” from low-cost small spacecraft. Availability of the proposed on-board propulsion system is expected to enable significant post-deployment maneuverability, thereby allowing for much-needed orbit phasing and drag makeup capability to achieve several application-specific goals (e.g. science return).

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The proposed on-board propulsion capability is also expected to allow for controlled re-entry and recovery for cubesats from orbits as high as 450km, and to enable orbit changing maneuvers in very small NRO-class missions (e.g., rapidly distributing a constellation around an orbital plane, changing overpass time of a given location in a sun-synchronous orbit, or lowering the perigee of an orbit over a particular latitude “on-demand” to enable improved resolution for reconnaissance missions).

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

Maneuvering/Stationkeeping/Attitude Control Devices

Ventions, LLC
San Francisco, CA

On-Board Pressurization Systems for Sample Return Missions

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

To-date, the realization of high-performance liquid bipropellant rocket engines for ascent vehicle and sample return applications has largely been hindered by the inability to obtain “on-board” pressurization through a light-weight and low-complexity pump. Ventions seeks to fulfill this critical need by designing, fabricating and testing an electric pump for a Mars Ascent Vehicle compatible with LOX / propane produced via in-situ resource utilization to achieve significant performance improvements over the current baseline.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

While the proposed pump-fed propulsion system has direct applications for Mars Ascent Vehicles and sample return missions, the enabling technology proposed herein overcomes a key challenge of providing on-board pressurization at the small-scale, thereby enabling a new generation liquid bipropellant rocket engines in the 100-5,000lbf thrust class, with a T/W ratio in excess of 100, and a vacuum Isp >300sec. Other NASA applications for such high-performance propulsion systems are therefore also likely to include lunar ascent / descent missions (precursor rovers, cargo, etc.), Near-Earth-Object (NEO) missions and outer planet orbit capture and insertion.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Beyond NASA applications, the proposed high-performance pumps are expected to have wide relevance to upper stage propulsion technology for small commercial launch vehicles, advanced Department of Defense vehicles such as XS-1, commercial lander missions, orbit insertion engines for commercial satellites, and apogee kick motors for orbit circularization of commercial satellites.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Pressure & Vacuum Systems
  • Spacecraft Main Engine
  • Surface Propulsion