NASA Selects Planetary Resources for 2 SBIR Phase II Contracts

planetary_resources
NASA has selected asteroid mining company Planetary Resources for two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II awards for the development of advanced CubeSat technologies.

One SBIR project involved the development of a hybrid green monopropellant/cold-gas propulsion system called the Integrated Propulsion and Primary Structure Module (IPPSM). The module would provide “a standard interface, serving as the strongback for simple integration of other Cubesat subsystems and payloads within the 6U and 12U size regimes.”

The second SBIR contract would pay for the development of the Compact Hyperspectral Aberration-Corrected Platform (CHAP) for use on CubeSats.

“To enable more capable missions without high cost we propose to develop a hyperspectral/multispectral imager designed for a microsatellite platform that will function in a reduced light environment while minimizing the mass and power consumption,” according to the project summary. “This type of instrument is crucial to the study of small bodies such as near earth asteroids and for missions further afield by maximizing capability while minimizing the instrumental cost and complexity.”

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.

Summaries of the two programs follow.

Integrated Propulsion and Primary Structure Module for Small Satellite and CubeSat Applications
Subtopic Title: Propulsion Systems for Robotic Science Missions

Planetary Resources Development Corporation
Bellevue, WA

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Chris Voorhees

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

Technical Abstract

Over the last decade, the CubeSat platform has emerged as a viable alternative for both innovative technology development and scientific investigation. However, to fully realize the platform’s potential, propulsion capability is required. For low-cost spacecraft developers, this capability remains among the most resource intensive to successfully implement.

Planetary Resources Development Corporation (PRDC) proposes to significantly reduce required resources by seamlessly integrating propulsion with another critical resource-intensive subsystem: the spacecraft’s primary structure. PRDC will integrate high-reliability COTS components from the medical consumer products industries into an additively-manufactured two-module primary structural element that includes integrated tank, plenum, and manifold geometries for a hybrid green monopropellant/cold-gas propulsion implementation, as well as the spacecraft’s launch interface. The resulting system, called the Integrated Propulsion and Primary Structure Module (IPPSM), provides a standard interface, serving as the strongback for simple integration of other Cubesat subsystems and payloads within the 6U and 12U size regimes.

During Phase II, PRDC will continue the IPPSM development initiated during Phase I, culminating in the fabrication, assembly, performance evaluation, and environmental test of a full-scale 12U IPPSM prototype with integrated RCS and high-thrust, high delta-V capability. It is expected that the completion of the above work will result in a technical maturation to TRL-6 by the end of Phase II, ready for flight demonstration.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The development of an low-cost, integrated propulsion and structure module for small satellites has the potential to assist in the progress towards the achievement of NASA near-term and long-term scientific and technical goals. Specifically, the proposed innovation is related to the following NASA Grand Challenges as specified by the Office of the Chief Technologist:

  1. Economical access to space
  2. Space debris hazard mitigation
  3. New tools of discovery

The proposed innovation is also relevant to the following NASA Strategic Goals:

  1. Goal 1.2: Develop competitive opportunities for the commercial community to provide best value products and services to low Earth orbit and beyond.
  2. Goal 2: Expand scientific understanding of the Earth and the universe in which we live.
  3. Goal 3: Create the innovative new space technologies for our exploration, science, and economic future.
  4. Goal 6.1: Improve retention of students in STEM disciplines by providing opportunities and activities along the full length of the education pipeline.

The proposed innovation is also relevant to the following current NASA programs:

  1. ELaNA
  2. NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative
  3. SLS EM-1 CubeSat flight opportunities
  4. Other future small satellite missions for deep space or Earth observation

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

PRDC’s IPPSM module enables small, agile and dexterous space systems, addressing needs in:

  1. Space situational awareness and hazard mitigation (Military)
  2. Reactive asset deployment for tactical coverage (Military)
  3. On-orbit asset-servicing (Commercial & Military)
  4. Long-life standardized 6U and 12U bus (Commercial & Scientific)
  5. Low-cost earth imaging, remote sensing, and telecommunications (Commercial)

Potential customers include:

  1. Current university and non-profit nanosatellite and Cubesat programs
  2. Commercial nano-satellite developers
  3. Low-cost commercial telecommunications and Earth observation companies.

Examples include:

  1. Dauria Aerospace
  2. Spire
  3. Planet Labs
  4. Other private space exploration companies
  5. Developing countries that need low-cost LEO assets to provide critical services not currently provided to their region

PRDC also intends to use the developed technology as part of its private spacecraft development for near-Earth asteroid exploration and prospecting.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Actuators & Motors
  • Attitude Determination & Control
  • Destructive Testing
  • Fuels/Propellants
  • Maneuvering/Stationkeeping/Attitude Control Devices
  • Nondestructive Evaluation (NDE; NDT)
  • Pressure & Vacuum Systems
  • Prototyping
  • Spacecraft Design, Construction, Testing, & Performance (see also Engineering; Testing & Evaluation)
  • Structures

The Compact Hyperspectral Aberration-Corrected Platform (CHAP),
an Instrument for Microspacecraft

Subtopic Title: In Situ Sensors and Sensor Systems for Lunar and Planetary Science

Planetary Resources Development Corporation
Bellevue, WA

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Matthew Beasley

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

Technical Abstract

In-situ analysis of solar system bodies plays a crucial role in understanding the evolution of our planet, setting the stage for life’s origins. As has been demonstrated by several NASA interplanetary missions, there is no replacement for in-situ observations, like spectral imaging, that prove critical for understanding the context of solar system bodies. There is, however, a conflict between more capability at the target and the desire for minimizing mission cost. Minimizing the mass and power of an instrument reduce the size, complexity and therefore the mission cost.

To enable more capable missions without high cost we propose to develop a hyperspectral/multispectral imager designed for a microsatellite platform that will function in a reduced light environment while minimizing the mass and power consumption. This type of instrument is crucial to the study of small bodies such as near earth asteroids and for missions further afield by maximizing capability while minimizing the instrumental cost and complexity.

The Compact Hyperspectral Aberration-corrected Platform (CHAP) is proposed as a new, innovative instrument using an aberration-correcting holographic grating to make maximal use of two optical components, allowing for functionality over an optical bandpass (400-800 nm) with <100 microradian spatial resolution and 1.44 nm spectral resolution. The optical design of CHAP produces a white light zeroth order image from undiffracted light to be formed at the telescope focus, enabling the co-registration of spatial and spectral information, providing unprecedented context never before seen in an instrument for planetary and lunar science low-light observation.

The CHAP spectrograph will be demonstrated in a 3U CubeSat-compatible form factor. Phase I activities will produce a proof-of-concept demonstration on an optical bench-top to a TRL 4 level. Follow on Phase II efforts will produce a CHAP with full capabilities for space environment qualification.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

CHAP can benefit NASA’s objectives in these specific implementations:

– A low-cost next-generation mission within NASA’s EOS program, such as follow-on to the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) onboard the Suomi NPP mission.

– A space-based complement to NASA’s Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) mission – Follow-ons to in-situ deep-space science missions including: OSIRIS-REx, Cassini, and DAWN, and Curiosity

– Integration into robotic precursor and manned science and exploration missions to small-bodies, Europa, and other highly mass-constrained opportunities. CHAP’s designs allows for use at far-ultraviolet (90 – 140 nm) wavelengths which could enable future missions that use ultraviolet imaging spectrographs like ALICE on Rosetta or UVS on New Horizons current enroute to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

As CHAP has the capability to be used in the visible, near-infrared, and infrared, the US Departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security would find interest in utilization of its low-cost ability to support the following applications:

– Agricultural crop health and moisture content monitoring, particularly in drought-susceptible regions

– Identification, measurement, and monitoring of oil spill rates and concentrations

– Monitoring of pollutants and hazardous trace surface and atmospheric constituents.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

The multi-Billion dollar mineral exploration and agricultural monitoring industries utilize remote sensing data derived from government and commercial platforms:

– Government platforms: U.S. LANDSAT 7 and Japanese ASTER on board NASA’s Terra

– Commercial platforms: Worldview, GeoEye, RapidEye and adhoc airborne capability CHAP improves on the following limitations of currently available platforms:

– Government Platforms: Aging LANDSAT and ASTER platforms provide seven and fourteen spectral bands respectively within the near infrared, short wave infrared and visible spectrums.

In comparison, CHAP can provide 400 discrete color bands at comparable spatial resolutions, enabling more refined observation

– Commercial Platforms: Utility of high spatial resolution commercial space platforms (Worldview, GeoEye) tends to be cost-limited with single imagery products costing upwards of USD $5,000.

As a result, the ability to perform hyperspectral measurements with a simple, low-cost package will be a disruptive innovation of high interest to several large and mature industries. More specifically, CHAP’s 3U form factor allows the instrument to be integrated onto standardized 27U, 12U, and potentially 6U cube-sat bus structures. This enables more sophisticated Earth observation missions within a small form factor and budget that were previously unreachable.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Filtering
  • Gratings
  • Lenses
  • Mirrors
  • Models & Simulations (see also Testing & Evaluation)
  • Multispectral/Hyperspectral
  • Prototyping
  • Smart/Multifunctional Materials
  • Spacecraft Design, Construction, Testing, & Performance (see also Engineering; Testing & Evaluation)
  • Visible