NASA has selected Terminal Velocity Aerospace (TVA) of Atlanta for negotiations on a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II award to continue development of small capsules to return experiments from the International Space Station.
TVA is developing two types of small reentry devices (RED). The RED-4U is a recoverable capsule that will be able to accommodate a payload that’s the equivalent of at least four CubeSats.
“The immediate application for RED-4U is to service government and commercial customers performing microgravity research on the ISS,” according to the company’s technical abstract. “Market research and workshops conducted by NASA and industry concluded that high-frequency payload return is an essential capability to drive high-volume research aboard the ISS. Longer-term NASA applications include sample return from asteroids or planetary bodies in support of robotic or human exploration.”
The other system is called RED-Data2, which is a capsule that collects engineering data during the reentry and breakup of a larger spacecraft. The data gathered help to improve simulations and prediction models for orbital debris, end-of-life disposal of spacecraft, and the design of vehicles for crew survivability
“As the next step in hardware development toward commercialization of these systems, TVA proposes to produce a flight unit RED-Data2 and an engineering development unit of RED-4U,” according to the company’s technical abstract.
SBIR Phase II contracts are valued at up to $750,000 and last no more than two years. Phase III, or the commercialization of an innovation, may occur after successful completion of Phase II.
A summary of TVA’s proposal is below.
Low-Cost Small Reentry Devices to Enhance Space Commerce and ISS Utilization
Subtopic Title: International Space Station (ISS) Utilization
Terminal Velocity Aerospace, LLC
Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Terminal Velocity Aerospace, LLC (TVA) proposes to enable commercial space activity and improve utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) through use of small reentry devices (REDs) for high-temperature materials flight testing and small payload return missions. TVA is presently developing two RED systems with a high degree of technological similarity. The first is RED-Data2, a 1.7 kg capsule that rides along with a host vehicle to collect engineering data during reentry and breakup. RED-Data2 can also serve as a test-bed for testing and demonstrating high-temperature materials in actual flight conditions. The second device, named RED-4U, is a recoverable capsule sized to accommodate a payload mass and volume equivalent to four CubeSats or more. As the next step in hardware development toward commercialization of these systems, TVA proposes to produce a flight unit RED-Data2 and an engineering development unit of RED-4U. Flight of a RED-Data2 serves as an opportunity to both demonstrate the materials flight test mission, and to demonstrate key technologies for the RED-4U mission. The RED-4U engineering development unit is an important step toward an operational RED-4U system for on-demand return of experiment samples. Both RED-Data2 and RED-4U enable innovative commercial space activity and improved utilization of the ISS.
Potential NASA Commercial Applications
RED-Data2 has two main applications of benefit to NASA. The first is for reentry data to improve simulations and prediction models. This has value as NASA tackles challenges associated with orbital debris and end-of-life disposal, and for design of crewed space vehicles for survivability. The second application is for development of high temperature materials. Low-cost flight testing of materials allows for rapid qualification of materials in relevant environments for use on future government and COTS missions.
The immediate application for RED-4U is to service government and commercial customers performing microgravity research on the ISS. Market research and workshops conducted by NASA and industry concluded that high-frequency payload return is an essential capability to drive high-volume research aboard the ISS. Longer-term NASA applications include sample return from asteroids or planetary bodies in support of robotic or human exploration.
Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications
The Non-NASA commercial applications of RED-Data2 and RED-4U parallel those of the government applications. Reentry breakup data collected by RED-Data2 can assist space vehicle engineers in designing expendable satellites to reduce the hazards of debris, and in designing reusable spacecraft for survivability. Better knowledge of reentry phenomena can improve understanding of risk and lead to increased satellite operational lifetimes. The ability to flight test new materials can help fill a gap in materials characterization to enable development of hypersonic vehicles for crew and cargo transportation.
Small payload return capability complements the business models of the emerging commercial space industry and the rapidly expanding small satellite sector. RED-4U could be used to return scientific experiment samples and other payloads from commercial orbital platforms such as those proposed by Bigelow Aerospace and Orbital Technologies, or for intermittent return from free-flying commercial transportation vehicles such as the SpaceX DragonLab, Orbital Sciences Corporation Cygnus, or the Sierra Nevada DreamChaser. Sample return is also a key element of plans of commercial companies seeking to mine the Moon or asteroids such as Moon Express, Planetary Resources, and Deep Space Industries.
Technology Taxonomy Mapping
- Biophysical Utilization
- Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)
- Space Transportation & Safety
- Spacecraft Design, Construction, Testing, & Performance (see also Engineering; Testing & Evaluation)