DARPA SBIR Awards for XS-1 & Rocket Technologies

XS-1 vehicle (Credit: Boeing)
XS-1 vehicle (Credit: Boeing)

I was conducting some research into Defense Department Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards to see what space and rocket projects it has been funding.  I found a group of SBIR Phase I contracts awarded by DARPA in 2015, most of them related to the XS-1 launcher program. I don’t think I’ve written about them previously.

The XS-1 projects include:

  • FAST Technology for XS-1 Low Cost LOX Pump — Florida Turbine Technologies, Inc., Jupiter, Fla.: $149,934
  • Modification of a Commercial NLV Booster Concept for Use as a Low-Cost Upper Stage for the XS-1 — Garvey Spacecraft Corporation, Long Beach, Calif.: $149,307
  • Ultra Low Diffusivity High Temperature Insulation — Mentis Sciences, Inc., Manchester, NH: $149,808
  • High Performance, Semi-Solid Monopropellant for Advanced Low Cost Expendable Launch Vehicle — Physical Sciences Inc., Andover, Mass.: $149,926
  • Low Cost Expendable Launch Technology — Rocket Lab USA, Inc., Frederick, Colo.: $99,964
  • Novel Propellant, High-Energy Upper Stages for Space Access — Whittinghill Aerospace, LLC, Camarillo, Calif.: $148,403

Other SBIRs related to rocket technology include:

  • Low Cost Expendable Launch Technology — Firefly Space Systems, Leander, Texas: $97,500
  • Low Cost Upper Stage — TGV Rockets, Inc., Washington, DC: $142,299

I also found the following SBIR awards focused on CubeSats that were awarded last year by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy:

  • Monopropellant Thrusters for CubeSats — Ogden Engineering & Associates, LLC, Tucson, Ariz.: $149,999
  • Monopropellant Propulsion Unit for Cubesats (MPUC) Thruster System — CU Aerospace, Champaign, Ill: $149,999
  • SeaCube Radar Altimeter for CubeSats — Busek Co. Inc., Natick, Mass.: $124,839

The total for all the awards is $1,511,978. Summaries of the projects follow.

FAST Technology for XS-1 Low Cost LOX Pump

Florida Turbine Technologies, Inc.
Jupiter, Fla.

Program: DARPA SBIR Phase I
Year: 2015
Amount: $149,934
Principal Investigator: Alex Pinera

Description

Florida Turbine Technologies, Inc. of Jupiter, Florida proposes the combination of additive and subtractive manufacturing processes to significantly reduce part count, lead time and cost for development and production of FTTs Advanced Space propulsion Turbopump (FAST) Technology Liquid Oxygen (LOX) pump. The FAST LOX pump technology to be demonstrated signifies a significant leap forward in the use of additive manufacturing and will have a profound impact in the space propulsion turbomachinery industry’s use of traditional fabrication and assembly processes for rocket engine turbomachinery which is very labor intensive and provides numerous opportunities for damage during processing.

Modification of a Commercial NLV Booster Concept for Use as a Low-Cost Upper Stage for the XS-1

Garvey Spacecraft Corporation
Long Beach, Calif.

Program: DARPA SBIR Phase I
Year: 2015
Amount: $149,307
Principal Investigator: Christopher Bostwick

Description

The opportunity exists to significantly advance the introduction of a low-cost upper stage for DARPAs Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) by leveraging Garvey Spacecraft Corporations (GSCs) on-going nanosat launch vehicle (NLV) development and flight test program along with focused composite tank and wireless data networking R&D being conducted by XS-1 contractor Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems (NGAS). GSC has made substantial progress towards the implementation of a series of two-stage NLVs that are optimized for delivering cubesat and nanosat-class payloads to a variety of low Earth orbits. The NLV uses the high-density-impulse propellant combination of densified propylene and LOX along with composite cryogenic propellant tanks to enable simple pressure fed propulsion system/engine cycle. This architecture allows for lowered mission costs through the absence of turbopumps which reduces hardware costs, improves reliability, and simplifies engine start-up. The NLV booster stage designs are readily scalable to the incremental series of XS-1 upper stage test and operational missions. Furthermore, GSCs extensive experience in flight testing prototype stages and demonstrating TRL=6 maturity for critical technologies that include composite cryogenic propellant tanks, advanced engines and alternative cryogenic hydrocarbon fuels is applicable to conducting an aggressive Phase II flight test program.

Ultra Low Diffusivity High Temperature Insulation

Mentis Sciences, Inc.
Manchester, NH

Program: DARPA SBIR Phase I|
Year: 2015
Amount: $149,808
Principal Investigator: Dr. Patrick McDermott

Description

This proposal is aimed at developing an extremely light-weight and affordable Thermal Protection Systems (TPS) for use on of DARPAs Mach 10 Experimental Space plane (XS-1) and other Expendable Hypersonic Vehicles launched from the XS-1 platform. Mentis Sciences, Inc. (Mentis) proposes to partner with Aspen Aerogels, Inc. (Aspen) to develop a structurally-sound TPS by encapsulating and curing low thermal conductivity (TC)/low diffusivity aerogels in Nextel cloth (an aluminum silicate fiber) using a stitching technique to create a mechanically-fasten able system with minimal thermal paths through the thickness. The TPS can be fabricated in a variety of shapes and sizes required for the various mission requirements. Aspen has already produced a fiber reinforced Aluminum Silicate aerogel that has been tested at 1.3 E-7 m2/sec which will be improved on with the addition of opacifiers. A YSZ aerogel material, with added dopants to reduce diffusivity though enhanced opacification and increased phonon scattering will also be developed as a candidate material. One of the core materials will be selected, and then Mentis will strengthen the chosen material by encapsulating it in woven ceramic. A coating will be applied to the woven surface that will stiffen following a cure. Additional coating layers will be added to facilitate attaching the insulation bat to a metal or CMC TPS that is capable of acting as the outer skin of the hypersonic vehicle.

High Performance, Semi-Solid Monopropellant for Advanced Low Cost Expendable Launch Vehicle

Physical Sciences Inc.
Andover, Mass.

Program: DARPA SBIR Phase I
Year: 2015
Amount: $149,926
Principal Investigator: Allan Dokhan

Description

Physical Sciences Inc. proposes to demonstrate and quantify a novel, safe, high density impulse, green storable liquid propellant in a rocket engine. This new propellant formulation can be treated as a monopropellant or as a bipropellant system with predicted specific impulse and density specific impulses exceeding NTO/MMH performance. The liquid propellant will allow for low-cost operability of high performance propulsion systems for high mass fraction launch and upper stage vehicles by reducing logistical operational cost compared to current state-of-the-art carcinogenic and potentially cryogenic systems. In Phase I, the liquid monopropellant efficacy will be quantified under engine operating environments. The results generated will be utilized to conduct a realistic system level design of the propulsion system, which will be incorporated into the trade study of the XS-1 launch vehicle. The results from this activity will serve to define critical refinement of the rocket engine for demonstration in Phase II.

Low Cost Expendable Launch Technology

Rocket Lab USA, Inc.
Frederick, Colo.

Program: DARPA SBIR Phase I
Year: 2015
Amount: $99,964
Principal Investigator: Bradley J Schneider

Description

Rocket Lab USA, Inc. proposes to develop and demonstrate how the use of the Electron launch vehicle either as an upper stage in support of the XS-1 program or dedicated small launch vehicle could employ the use of Automated Flight Termination (AFTS) technologies to reduce the cost of access to space without adversely impacting public safety. Providing the launch opportunity to obtain flight telemetry from Rocket Lab’s initial test flight will enable the development of a ruggedized AFTS for future DARPA, NASA and commercial launch campaigns.

Novel Propellant, High-Energy Upper Stages for Space Access

Whittinghill Aerospace, LLC
Camarillo, Calif.

Program: SBIR Phase I DARPA
Year: 2015
Amount: $148,403
Principal Investigator: George Whittinghill

Description

As low-cost space access drives the design of new 3,000 lb-to-orbit launch systems, inexpensive, high-energy stages with velocity increments of over 20,000 feet/sec are required. Whittinghill Aerospace proposes development of a highly energetic stage design for DARPAs XS-1 launch vehicle that makes use of novel propellants and a high mass fraction structure. A multi-disciplinary optimization design approach of physical and operational parameters for the upper stage will be employed in concert with propellant synthesis and development. Whittinghill Aerospace will leverage existing assets and facilities to fire the best propellant candidate in an 800 lb thrust, proof-of-concept test motor to validate c* performance predictions.

Low Cost Expendable Launch Technology

Firefly Space Systems
Leander, Texas

Program: DARPA SBIR Phase I
Year: 2015
Amount: $97,500
Principal Investigator: Dr. Thomas Markusic

Description

Conventional rockets all use a traditional bell nozzle. The nozzle represents lost weight from a payload point of view, but is necessary to direct thrust and ensure that the exhaust gas expands at the correct rate. However, this expansion velocity is dependent on the external air pressure, and for a rocket, that pressure is constantly changing. In other words, traditional bell nozzles are a compromise; while they are effective at optimizing thrust for a given external air pressure, they are less efficient at other points during the rocket’s trajectory. Nozzle design traditionally involves selecting an external pressure to design to; in every other part of the trajectory, the rocket will be under or over expanded. The objective of this proposal is to obtain experimental flight data to validate a plug cluster aerospike design. In phase 1 of this proposal we will design and manufacture the thrust mount for the plug-cluster aerospike assembly. This will provide the thrust and other telemetry data for sea-level pressure conditions. In future phases we will collect suborbital flight data, utilizing a suborbital flight of the Firefly Alpha launch vehicle first stage, in addition to ground testing.

Low Cost Upper Stage

TGV Rockets Inc.
Washington, DC

Program: DARPA SBIR Phase I
Year: 2015
Amount: $142,299
Principal Investigator: Dr. Earl Renaud

Description

Small expendable launch vehicle.

Monopropellant Thrusters for CubeSats

Ogden Engineering & Associates, LLC
Tucson, AZ

Program: USAF SBIR Phase I
Year: 2015
Amount: $149,999
Principal Investigator: Greg Ogden

Description

Ogden Engineering & Associates, LLC (OE&A) and its teaming partners are proposing to develop a 0.5 to 1U high performance, green propulsion system using an ionic liquid monopropellant. This HAN/HGF based monopropellant has enhanced ignition characteristics and, as a result, can be used in power-constrained CubeSat applications. The team will develop a propulsion system which incorporates a low cost, low pressure feed system (for maximum propellant volume utilization) and a micropump-fed thruster. The Phase I technical objectives include optimizing catalyst preheat temperatures, developing a 1N-class or less thruster, and developing the preliminary design of CubeSat propellant feed and control subsystems. The result will be a highly capable CubeSat propulsion system. Successful demonstration of the green monopropellant with its high specific gravity and reduced toxicity will reduce the industrys dependence on hydrazine-based monopropellants as well as overcome the operational difficulties surrounding AF-M315E and its high light-off temperature in CubeSat applications. This development will greatly reduce environmental and health risks to operations and maintenance personnel, and therefore reduce acquisition and operational costs associated with CubeSat propulsion systems while enabling missions not possible today. BENEFIT:Successful demonstration of a micro-pump fed ionic liquid thruster will improve CubeSat performance through reduced power consumption while increasing performance. Low-pressure liquid propulsion technologies can maximize propellant volume utilization. Successful development of a green monopropellant based thruster and system will greatly reduce environmental and health risks to operations and maintenance personnel, and therefore reduce acquisition and operational costs associated with CubeSat propulsion systems.

Monopropellant Propulsion Unit for Cubesats (MPUC) Thruster System

CU Aerospace
Champaign, IL

Program: USAF SBIR Phase I
Year: 2015
Amount: $149,999
Principal Investigator: David Carroll

Description

CU Aerospace (CUA) proposes the development of the Monopropellant Propulsion Unit for CubeSats (MPUC) thruster, a breakthrough complete propulsion system technology for CubeSats and other small satellites, because of its high performance, nontoxic chemical monopropellant and benign storage characteristics. MPUC pushes the envelope of existing propulsion technologies by significantly increasing propellant storage density to provide >770 N-s total impulse and a thrust of 100 mN at 193 s specific impulse with an input power of ~3 W in a propulsion unit that fits entirely within a 0.5U volume plus hockey puck of a 3U CubeSat. MPUC uses a nontoxic propellant, with no special measures required for long-term storage. System pressurant is a self-pressurizing liquid, also used to provide cold-gas attitude control. MPUC provides a highly competitive total impulse in a small volume package, with a system lifetime estimated to be at least 3 years.BENEFIT:The baseline 0.5U MPUC offers CubeSats and other small satellites a complete propulsion system capability sufficient for significant orbital maneuvers with high impulse per unit volume. The propellant has no handling, storage, or operational restrictions beyond those of the CubeSat, and high thrust provides rapid response. CubeSats and nanosatellites with MPUC thrusters would enable a number of different significant missions for low Earth orbits including orbit raising and/or deorbiting. The drag makeup capability of MPUC systems would allow low altitude orbits, permitting onboard sensors to operate at lower altitude. MPUC would improve mission affordability for multiple CubeSats, since several CubeSats with MPUC could be launched from a single low-cost booster and maneuvered to other orbits, then later de-orbited. Note that MPUC is easily scalable to smaller or larger sizes, depending on mission and payload requirements, by changing the tank volume. Thus, the MPUC thruster provides a compact, non-hazardous, propulsion technology solution made available in a family of sizes that can meet the differing needs of users in DOD, NASA, industry, and academia for CubeSat and nanosatellite missions.

SeaCube Radar Altimeter for CubeSats

Busek Co. Inc.
Natick, MA

Program: US Navy SBIR Phase II
Year: 2015
Amount: $124,839
Principal Investigator: Craig DeLuccia

Description

Buseks SeaCube project brings ocean altimetry to a compact and cost effective CubeSat platform a capability currently limited to an aging and vulnerable fleet of costly conventional satellites. A constellation of SeaCube altimeters will provide near real time sea height data across all of Earths oceans, bringing a new and powerful capability to the Navy or commercial shipping. Additionally this capability will transform oceanographic forecasting, provide input and validation for future predictive models and hence make real contributions to the naval warfighter. SeaCube is made possible by a novel system design incorporating innovative broadband antenna array technology, compact high power density storage systems, and modern microwave electronics. The concomitant dramatic size and cost reduction allows rapid deployment, low cost development, rapid upgrade cycles, and large constellations with simultaneous measurements of sea state in multiple locations. The fundamental feasibility of SeaCube design was validated during the Phase 1. Critical items were bread boarded in the Phase 1 Option thus greatly reducing Phase 2 risks. Phase 2 baseline effort will focus on upgrading the SeaCube from wave height to mean sea level measurement. In the Phase 2 Option the system will progress to a bras board version, system integration and testing.