Deep Space Industries Selected for NASA SBIR Contract

Deep Space Industries will build a constellation of 24 nano-sats, called BitSats for Dunvegan Space Systems. (Credit:  Bryan Versteeg, DSI)
Deep Space Industries will build a constellation of 24 nano-sats, called BitSats for Dunvegan Space Systems. (Credit: Bryan Versteeg, DSI)

NASA has selected Deep Space Industries for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I award to develop asteroid simulants for use in testing technologies on the ground.

“We will design, prototype, and test a variety of asteroid simulants needed to validate most aspects of asteroid ISRU processes,” the company said in its proposal.  “These include physical simulants for excavation, transfer, and preparation (including comminution); chemical/mineralogical/volatile simulants for processing tests such as volatiles extraction, metals extraction, and oxygen production; and simulants to evaluate scientific and commercial instrumentation.”

SBIR Phase I feasibility studies are for six months and a maximum of $125,000. Firms that successfully complete this phase are eligible to submit a proposal for Phase II proposal, during which selectees will expand on the results of the developments in Phase I. Phase III awards examine the commercialization of Phase II results and requires the use of private sector, non-SBIR, funding.

The proposal follows.

Task-Specific Asteroid Simulants for Ground Testing
Subtopic: Regolith ISRU for Mission Consumable Production

Deep Space Industries Inc.
Houston, TX

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Dr. John S. Lewis

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 5

Technical Abstract

We will design, prototype, and test a variety of asteroid simulants needed to validate most aspects of asteroid ISRU processes. These include physical simulants for excavation, transfer, and preparation (including comminution); chemical/mineralogical/volatile simulants for processing tests such as volatiles extraction, metals extraction, and oxygen production; and simulants to evaluate scientific and commercial instrumentation.

The need for task-specific asteroid simulants is illustrated by the history of ill-designed and ill-applied lunar simulants, and current practices for asteroid simulants, which are marked by ad-hoc improvisation that frequently results in an inability to compare results among experiments or reliably repeat experiments for confirmation.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

Simulants are needed in order to adequately test equipment prior to launch to an actual asteroid. The simulant may need to adequately reproduce the physical characteristics of an asteroid to validate sampling techniques, anchoring methods, or to test hazards such as dust production. A simulant may need to reproduce the appearance and spectrum of an asteroid, in any of several wavelength ranges. It may need to replicate the mineralogy and possibly the volatiles content to test related instrumentation.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

Asteroid mining is a new commercial application that begs for appropriate asteroid simulants. Companies such as DSI need to test instrumentation for proximity operations, mineralogical assay, excavation techniques and equipment, volatiles extraction, metals and oxygen production, and hazards (such as dust) mitigation.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Resource Extraction