Deep Space Industries Selected for NASA SBIR Phase II Award

dsi_logoNASA has selected asteroid mining company Deep Space Industries for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II award to continue work on developing and testing of asteroid soil simulants.

The project is aimed at producing “at least four asteroid simulants at high fidelity for mineral content and particle size, created through standardized inputs and documented processes” for use by terrestrial researchers in a variety of programs.

“The Asteroid Redirect Mission has requested more than a ton of the simulant that will be produced by the Phase 2 program, for use in testing the design of ARRM equipment for sensing and grasping the boulder to be returned to lunar orbit, and for preparing the ARCM astronauts to be able to safely interact with the boulder,” according to the company’s project description.

“The OSIRIS-REx mission is expected to use the Phase 2 simulants to understand and model the results of its interactions with asteroid Bennu,” DSI said.

The project description follows.

NASA SBIR PHASE II AWARD

Deep Space Industries
Orlando, Fla.

Proposal Title: Task-Specific Asteroid Simulants for Ground Testing

Subtopic Title: Regolith ISRU for Mission Consumable Production

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
John S Lewis

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

Technical Abstract

The project will produce at least four asteroid simulants at high fidelity for mineral content and particle size, created through standardized inputs and documented processes. In addition to making simulant available at moderate cost compared to duplicative individual efforts, this initial library of pedigreed asteroid simulants will enable researchers and technology developers to compare their results with others using the library, and with their own previous experiments using the library. The downside of uncoordinated, undocumented, dissimilar simulants is the wasting of time and financial resources, as well as the risk of misleading results from the use of inappropriate or low-fidelity materials.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The Asteroid Redirect Mission has requested more than a ton of the simulant that will be produced by the Phase 2 program, for use in testing the design of ARRM equipment for sensing and grasping the boulder to be returned to lunar orbit, and for preparing the ARCM astronauts to be able to safely interact with the boulder.
Joel Sercel, the PI of a NASA-funded NIAC on solar-induced volatiles production already has been using simulant from Phase 1 and intends to use the higher-fidelity simulants to be produced in Phase 2.

The OSIRIS-REx mission is expected to use the Phase 2 simulants to understand and model the results of its interactions with asteroid Bennu.

NASA’s upcoming deep space habitation module, funded in the 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, will be an appropriate location to test microgravity ISRU processes designed to enhance exploration capabilities through abundant space-sourced propellant, and eventually space-sourced metals for structures and silicon for PV cells. Simulants are required to fully implement this research, since the boulder returned by ARM will represent only one of the roughly 47 asteroid types.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

The Hayabusa2 mission could use the Phase 2 simulants to interpret the results when it blows a crater on its target asteroid.

Asteroid mining companies such as Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources will require simulants in order to design and test sensors and manipulators for sampling asteroids, large-scale mining equipment, and the the industrial processes to refine and manufacture propellants, components and structures.

Academic researchers require simulants for a wide range of investigations into solar system formation and evolution.