ORBITEC Selected for 3 SBIR and 1 STTR Phase I Awards

ORBITEC vortex propulsion technology. (Credit: ORBITEC)
ORBITEC vortex propulsion technology. (Credit: ORBITEC)

NASA has selected Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) for three Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and one Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I awards for a high performance nano-launcher, miniature CubeSat propulsion, vortex propulsion technology, and a waste compactor.

The OBITEC proposals that NASA selected for negotiations include:

  • High Performance Nanolauncher (STTR with Penn State University)
  • Miniature Nontoxic Nitrous Oxide-Propane (MINNOP) Propulsion
  • VTX HyHeat — vortex propulsion technology
  • Plastic Melt Waste Compactor Flight Demonstrator Payload (PFDP)

“The proposed Low Cost Nanolauncher (LCN) is an upper stage using a new, inexpensive propulsion system,” according to the proposal summary. “The Phase I program will combine several technologies with a simple design strategy to produce a flight-weight propulsion system that is easy to fabricate and operate. Self pressurizing propellants will minimize complexity of the propulsion system and vortex cold-wall technology will be used to simplify the combustion chamber. An inexpensive, light weight nozzle is being developed by Pennsylvania State University using carbon phenolics.”

The Miniature Nontoxic Nitrous-Oxide Propane (MINNOP) propulsion system is designed for use on 3U-size CubeSats.

“In Phase I, we will focus on demonstrating the operation of the bipropellant thrust chamber, and ignition of that chamber within appropriate weight constraints. Our preliminary propulsion system design is intended to occupy 1U of a 3U-size CubeSat,” the proposal summary states.

A second propulsion project called VTX HyHeat ” will utilize its unique vortex propulsion technology to develop a high-capacity heating system to heat hydrogen to extremely high temperature levels. The heated hydrogen is to be used for test purposes for nuclear rocket propulsion simulations and total exhaust recovery applications. Our vortex rocket propulsion system is able to reliably and repeatedly operate at very high levels of reliability and operating temperature.”

Orbitec’s fourth selected proposal involves a plastic melt trash compactor the company wants to test aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The PMWC Flight Demonstrator Payload is a trash de-watering and volume reduction system that uses heat melt compaction to remove nearly 100% of water from trash while significantly reducing the volume,” the proposal summary states. “Recent advances have proven that ORBITEC’s HEHO-PMWC is a viable technology for producing 16″ square tiles for radiation protection. ORBITEC proposes to enhance the current SOA by repackaging all the components developed under prior SBIR efforts for ISS utilization and to create a test protocol for testing of the system on orbit for radiation effectiveness.”

The four awards are for six months and up to $125,000 apiece. Edited proposal summaries for the projects follow.

Orbital Technologies Corporation
Madison, WI

Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA

High Performance Nanolauncher

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 5
End: 7

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

The proposed Low Cost Nanolauncher (LCN) is an upper stage using a new, inexpensive propulsion system. The Phase I program will combine several technologies with a simple design strategy to produce a flight-weight propulsion system that is easy to fabricate and operate. Self pressurizing propellants will minimize complexity of the propulsion system and vortex cold-wall technology will be used to simplify the combustion chamber. An inexpensive, light weight nozzle is being developed by Pennsylvania State University using carbon phenolics. Commercially available components will be use where possible to further minimize costs.

The Phase I LNC will demonstrate these technologies through ground testing of a flight-like propulsion system. A small launch vehicle second stage will be designed based on the experimental performance characteristics. This work will form the basis for a family of vehicle stages from smaller upper stages to a main booster stage. The low cost technologies and design methods employed in the LNC will reduce the cost of launching nanosatellites into orbit.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The Low Cost Nanolauncher will have a variety of applications within NASA. The direct result of Phase I will be a design for an upper stage propulsion system that has been validated by subscale testing. It will be inexpensive to fabricate and operate, costing an estimated $70,000 per launch. This upper stage will compliment the Nano Launch 1200 project at NASA, Marshall. This vehicle is destined to allow NASA to deploy small payloads to orbit without the restrictions and delays associated with piggybacking on larger vehicles.

The Low Cost Nanolauncher propulsion system is applicable to many vehicle sizes both smaller and larger than the proposed stage. The simplicity and low cost of the vortex engine, ablative nozzle, and self pressurizing propellants make it ideal for small rockets with small budgets. The propellants are also storable and relatively benign, which gives the system a huge advantage over some of the higher performance alternatives. These qualities may be useful in other NASA programs such as the NASA Launch Services Enabling eXploration & Technology (NEXT) program.

The propulsion system developed in Phase I is sized appropriately for a sounding rocket. With the addition of an airframe and parachutes the Low Cost Nanolauncher will become an inexpensive sounding rocket for use in atmospheric and near space research. It will also provide a means of flight testing thrusters, nano-satellites, and small components to increase their TRL level.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The propulsion system developed in Phase I will easily be transitioned to a sounding rocket. This sounding rocket would be low cost, reusable, and available on a flexible schedule. It will allow commercial customers fly payloads (5-10kg) on sub-orbital launches to 120km. This vehicle is expected to provide sub-orbital trips to space for $5,000/kg. Small businesses and research institutions would use this service to fly high altitude research equipment and test experimental hardware on sub-orbital launches to increase the TRL of their products. The educational system would be a new market made possible by low costs. From elementary school to college, educators and student groups could afford to make small payloads and have them launched. Such an experience would be an unparalleled tool for inspiring interest in applied math and science. All of these markets will benefit from flexible schedules and lower launch costs.

During Phase II and Phase III a family of stages for an orbital vehicle will be developed. Such a vehicle will have a broad application. As a dedicated nanosatellite launch vehicle the Orbital Nanolauncher will be ideally suited to meeting expanding market demands. Without being tied to the launch of larger rockets, as most launches currently are, the Orbital Nanolauncher will provide flexible schedules and on-demand launch. The low vehicle cost and simple fabrication means production will easily scale to meet demand.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Aerodynamics
  • Avionics (see also Control and Monitoring)
  • Spacecraft Design, Construction, Testing, & Performance (see also Engineering; Testing & Evaluation)
  • Spacecraft Main Engine
  • Telemetry/Tracking (Cooperative/Noncooperative; see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry

Orbital Technologies Corporation
Madison, WI

Miniature Nontoxic Nitrous Oxide-Propane (MINNOP) Propulsion

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

ORBITEC proposes to develop the Miniature Nontoxic Nitrous Oxide-Propane (MINNOP) propulsion system, a small bipropellant propulsion system which we offer as an alternative to miniature hydrazine monopropellant thrusters for CubeSat-class spacecraft. As compared to state-of-the-art hydrazine systems, MINNOP propulsion will provide significant increases in specific impulse (in bipropellant mode) and comparable levels of minimum impulse bit (in cold gas mode), and it will do so with a nontoxic, environmentally benign, self-pressurizing set of propellants. In Phase I, we will focus on demonstrating the operation of the bipropellant thrust chamber, and ignition of that chamber within appropriate weight constraints. Our preliminary propulsion system design is intended to occupy 1U of a 3U-size CubeSat.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The MINNOP propulsion system will be an attractive replacement for both hydrazine monopropellant systems and, at larger scales, MMH-NTO bipropellant systems, providing a nontoxic propellant alternative which will simplify development work and ground operations. As compared to hydrazine monopropellant, we anticipate that small MINNOP thrusters will deliver significant gains in specific impulse; we will work to quantify this advantage in Phase I. Potential applications for these systems range widely from CubeSat applications in LEO to larger systems for orbital insertion and planetary maneuvering.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The MINNOP propulsion system will be directly applicable to DoD and commercial spacecraft also; all will benefit from the safety and performance advantages provided by shifting away from hydrazine.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Maneuvering/Stationkeeping/Attitude Control Devices
  • Spacecraft Main Engine

Orbital Technologies Corporation
Madison, WI

VTX HyHeat

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

In this project Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) will utilize its unique vortex propulsion technology to develop a high-capacity heating system to heat hydrogen to extremely high temperature levels. The heated hydrogen is to be used for test purposes for nuclear rocket propulsion simulations and total exhaust recovery applications. Our vortex rocket propulsion system is able to reliably and repeatedly operate at very high levels of reliability and operating temperature. This has been demonstrated through a large number of tests conducted over more than a decade using many different propellant combinations and engine sizes. The ORBITEC Vortex is an ideal thermal energy source for the needed hydrogen heating application. In phase 1, two hydrogen heating system concepts (based on the vortex approach) will be analyzed. Basic breadboard systems will be constructed and tested.and evaluated. The feasibility of extended duration hot hydrogen production will be demonstrated. In phase 2/3, a larger operational system will be developed, tested, delivered, and installed at the NASA Stennis Space Center.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

NASA has identified solid core nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) as an advanced propulsion concept which could provide the fastest trip times with fewer SLS launches than any other propulsion concept for human missions to Mars over variety of missions in years. The current NASA strategic space technology investment plan states NTP is a high-priority technology needed for future human exploration of Mars. The success of NTP development is dependent upon the establishment of safe environmentally acceptable test facilities and operations. The test infrastructure must include the capability to produce extended duration flows of non-nuclear hot hydrogen. Our proposed project addresses this need.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The NASA development of safe NTP space transportation systems could lead to a variety of applications. Included may be commercial ventures to Mars and other extraterrestrial bodies for resource recovery and other opportunities. In addition, the military may very well be interested in the robust performance capabilities of NTP. Also, the ability to produce extended duration hot gas flows will provide a very valuable test capability for a wide variety of industrial applications such as testing of high temperature materials/components for gas turbines and even for nuclear power generation plants.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Coatings/Surface Treatments
  • Cryogenic/Fluid Systems
  • Fluids
  • Heat Exchange
  • Launch Engine/Booster
  • Metallics
  • Pressure & Vacuum Systems
  • Prototyping
  • Quality/Reliability
  • Spacecraft Main Engine

Orbital Technologies Corporation
Madison, WI

Plastic Melt Waste Compactor Flight Demonstrator Payload (PFDP)

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

The PMWC Flight Demonstrator Payload is a trash de-watering and volume reduction system that uses heat melt compaction to remove nearly 100% of water from trash while significantly reducing the volume. Recent advances have proven that ORBITEC’s HEHO-PMWC is a viable technology for producing 16″ square tiles for radiation protection. ORBITEC proposes to enhance the current SOA by repackaging all the components developed under prior SBIR efforts for ISS utilization and to create a test protocol for testing of the system on orbit for radiation effectiveness. The HEHO-PMWC and other Heat Melt Compactor technology has often been tested piecemeal. The proposed system will contain all systems including the primary processing chamber where the tiles are produced, any necessary avionics, and any necessary support equipment, which includes devices for air removal, contaminant and odor scrubbers, water degassers, and water handling. Plastic tiles output can be placed within the ISS or within the BEAM (ORBITEC has an excellent working relationship with Bigelow Aerospace). Any and all data gathered during on-orbit testing can be used by NASA to create the next generation of heat melt compaction technology for future manned spaceflight.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The primary NASA application of this technology is for any long-duration human spaceflight mission, including microgravity and planetary surface operations. Besides the primary benefits of the PFDP, which include waste volume reduction and water recovery, secondary benefits include additional health benefits by completely encapsulating the final compacted waste product, ultimately deterring microbial elements from entering the breathable airstream, and the plastic tile byproduct, which is high in polyethylene, can be used as an effective radiation barrier.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

As commercial space travel becomes more prominent, the need for efficient water recovery, volume reduction, and safe atmospheric conditions has become more critical. The PFDP, and similar HMC technology, will be a viable system not only within all NASA space travel vehicles but also in commercial space vehicles as well.

The addition of a system that reduces waste volume, recovers water, and creates a useful byproduct can be a boon for commercial aerospace companies, such as Bigelow Aerospace, trying to reduce overall mission costs.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Essential Life Resources (Oxygen, Water, Nutrients)
  • Isolation/Protection/Radiation Shielding (see also Mechanical Systems)
  • Waste Storage/Treatment