NASA Selects Altius Space Machines for 3 SBIR Awards

Altius_logo_newNASA has selected Altius Space Machines of Broomfield, Colo., for three Small Business Innovation Research Phase I awards for advanced propulsion in-situ resource utilization technologies.

The three proposals selected for contract negotiations include:

  • Solar Cube 2U: A Heliogyro Propulsion System for CubeSats
  • High-Flow, Low Connection-Force, In-Space Cryogenic Propellant Coupling
  • ISP3: In-Situ Printing Plastic Production System for Space Additive Manufacturing.


“The Solar Cube heliogyro is a CubeSat propulsion system that utilizes reflected solar pressure as its only means of propulsion and attitude control,” according to the proposal abstract.

“It has the appearance of a Dutch windmill and employs sail control akin to a helicopter. Four solar reflecting blades made of ultrathin polyimide attach to a central bus. During operation, centripetal tension and chord-wise battens provide stiffness,” the abstract said.

The in-space cryogenic propellant coupling system is designed to facilitate bulk propellant transfers in space.

“This coupling incorporates an innovative new cryogenic sealing architecture to enable a coupling with very low insertion/extraction forces, for both robotic and Astronaut-connected cryogenic propellant transfer operations,” the proposal states.

ISP3 is a system designed to “take methane and oxygen inputs from various in-situ sources, and convert them into High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) filaments for use in a fused deposition modeling (FDM) style 3D printer, such as those developed by Made In Space,” the company said.

Full descriptions of the selected proposals are below.

ALTIUS SPACE MACHINES
Broomfield, Colo.

SBIR PHASE I PROPOSALS

Solar Cube 2U: A Heliogyro Propulsion System for CubeSats
Subtopic Title: Large Deployable Structures for Smallsats

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Dr. Richard S Blomquist

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 2
End: 4

Technical Abstract

The Solar Cube heliogyro is a CubeSat propulsion system that utilizes reflected solar pressure as its only means of propulsion and attitude control. It has the appearance of a Dutch windmill and employs sail control akin to a helicopter. Four solar reflecting blades made of ultrathin polyimide attach to a central bus. During operation, centripetal tension and chord-wise battens provide stiffness. The system uses collective and cyclic pitch of the blades to control attitude and thrust. For stowage, each blade is rolled onto a spool adjacent to its pitch actuator. For deployment, the spacecraft spins and the blades unroll in a controlled manner. The proposed Phase I effort will focus on fabrication and feasibility testing of a blade assembly, to prove that a sail blade of sufficient area can stow in the proposed volume and can deploy and pitch reliably. Phase II will mature the hardware design and develop the necessary GNC software. Eventually, Solar Cube will help CubeSats become capable of interplanetary operation, and extend their reach to places that are currently unattainable.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

NASA has an innate interest in what a Solar Cube heliogyro CubeSat can enable: semi-autonomous, fuel-free positioning of spacecraft at presently unattainable places of interest. In developing this capability for CubeSats, Altius can provide to NASA the possibility of undertaking exotic CubeSat missions once reserved for large spacecraft.

Furthermore, the heliogyro can scale. Larger versions of the heliogyro that will be proven through this SBIR effort can accomplish all solar sail missions on NASA?s Technology Roadmap. Example applications are:

  • Solar Weather Monitor
  • Out-of-Ecliptic missions (Solar Polar Imager)
  • Interstellar Probe
  • Pole Sitter
  • Earth-moon L2 Radio Quiet Observatory
  • Transport to outer planets

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

Small, private spacecraft benefit from the heliogyro in unique ways, including increased access to space. Commercial space exploration is in its nascent stage and the CubeSat community is booming. The heliogyro will allow a CubeSat the same access to a large segment of space as a larger spacecraft. At the same time, it will dramatically reduce the cost of missions that otherwise would require a booster; e.g., going to the moon, GTO to LEO, high LEO to MEO, and other, scientifically important research missions. Solar Cube also enables nanosatellites with ambitious propulsion requirements to ride on launch vehicles that prohibit secondary payloads from carrying propellant. Example applications include:

  • Situational awareness & asset relocation (DOD)
  • Pole Sitter
  • Position beacon/relay in space
  • Mineral mapping of asteroids
  • CubeSat transport for lunar science and exploration
  • Orbital Transfer

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Algorithms/Control Software & Systems (see also Autonomous Systems)
  • Attitude Determination & Control
  • Autonomous Control (see also Control & Monitoring)
  • Deployment
  • Models & Simulations (see also Testing & Evaluation)
  • Navigation & Guidance
  • Photon Sails (Solar; Laser)
  • Prototyping
  • Spacecraft Design, Construction, Testing, & Performance (see also Engineering; Testing & Evaluation)
  • Vehicles (see also Autonomous Systems)

Lightweight, High-Flow, Low Connection-Force, In-Space Cryogenic Propellant Coupling
Subtopic Title: Cryogenic Fluid Management for In-Space Transportation

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Jonathan A Goff

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 2
End: 3

Technical Abstract

Three of the key abilities needed for making future NASA and commercial in-space transportation systems more affordable and capable are: a) the ability to “live off of the land” via in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), b) the ability to reuse in-space transportation hardware, and c) the ability to leverage continuing advancements in lower-cost earth-to-orbit transportation. All of these abilities require the ability to transfer large quantities of cryogenic liquids (Oxygen, Hydrogen, and Methane) between tanks on separate vehicles. In this proposed SBIR research effort, Altius Space Machines proposes the development of a lightweight, high-flow cryogenic propellant coupling to enable such bulk propellant transfers. This coupling incorporates an innovative new cryogenic sealing architecture to enable a coupling with very low insertion/extraction forces, for both robotic and Astronaut-connected cryogenic propellant transfer operations.

In Phase I, Altius and its team will focus on developing and testing a proof-of-concept of this innovative new cryogenic sealing architecture, including performing insertion/extraction and leak testing, to compare with a more traditional spring-energized polymer seal concept. Altius will then update the coupling design based on lessons learned-from these tests, raising the TRL from 2 to 3 at the end of Phase I.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

Potential NASA applications include:

  1. Enabling refueling of the EUS upper stage in LEO or other in-space locations, enabling stage reuse, and/or launch of much larger payloads to deep space trajectories.
  2. An integrated T-0 fill coupling for EUS that enables in-space refueling with the same coupling.
  3. Fueling of Mars Ascent Vehicles or future fully-reusable Mars vehicles from ISRU production facilities.
  4. Distributed launch for very high-energy robotic science missions.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

Potential Non-NASA applications include:

  1. A combined T-0 coupling/in-space cryogenic transfer coupling that can be integrated into future upper stage designs, such as the planned ULA ACES upper stage.
  2. Refueling of commercial cryogenic stages in space.
  3. Other terrestrial applications that could benefit from a low-connection force cryogenic coupling, such as automated LH2 fueling for fuel-cell cars.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Cryogenic/Fluid Systems
  • Fasteners/Decouplers
  • Machines/Mechanical Subsystems
  • Models & Simulations (see also Testing & Evaluation)
  • Pressure & Vacuum Systems
  • Prototyping
  • Robotics (see also Control & Monitoring; Sensors)
  • Tools/EVA Tools

ISP3: In-Situ Printing Plastic Production System for Space Additive Manufacturing
Subtopic Title: In situ Resource Utilization – Production of Feedstock for Manufacturing and Construction

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Nathan A. Davis

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 2
End: 3

Technical Abstract

The ability to “live off of the land” via in-situ resource utilization has long been recognized as a key capability for enabling the affordable development of space. While most of the focus has been on the production of bulk quantities of rocket propellants such as Liquid Methane, Liquid Hydrogen, and Liquid Oxygen from extraterrestrial water and carbon dioxide sources, there has recently been an increase of interest in the production of structural materials as well from in-situ resources, particularly materials that can be used for Additive Manufacturing.

For this Phase 1 effort, Altius and its team members propose development of an In-Situ Printing Plastics Production (ISP3) system, that can take methane and oxygen inputs from various in-situ sources, and convert them into High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) filaments for use in a fused deposition modeling (FDM) style 3D printer, such as those developed by Made In Space. In Phase 1, Altius and its team members will simulate and test the three primary subsystems for ISP3: an Oxidative Coupling of Methane reactor that converts the methane into olefins and water, an olefin separation membrane that separates olefins from other outputs of the OCM reactor, and an innovative polymerization reactor that does not use physical catalysts for initiating the polyethylene polymerization reaction. Successful completion of these experiments and subsequent scaling and process refinement tasks will result in an updated ISP3 process design for Phase 2, raising the TRL of ISP3 from TRL 2 to TRL3. Phase 2 will focus on production of an integrated brassboard ISP3 prototype capable of producing small quantities of HDPE filament from methane and oxygen inputs. This will raise the system TRL to 5.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

In addition to long-term applications of ISP3 for producing HDPE for manned missions and colonies on places like Mars and Venus, Altius and its partners have developed a concept for demonstrating the ISP3 system on the International Space Station, for producing limited quantities of HDPE filament for the Made In Space Additive Manufacturing Facility, leveraging waste materials already on-board the ISS. This waste material source would likely be available on most other crew-tended space facilities, enabling the production of HDPE filaments anywhere humans go in the Solar System.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

Three potential Non-NASA applications for ISP3 are:

  1. Production of HDPE on non-NASA space facilities, such as those planned by Bigelow Aerospace.
  2. Production of small quantities of HDPE for 3D printers on military submarines.
  3. Production of small quantities of HDPE for 3D printers using natural gas feedstocks at remote locations such as military forward operating bases, and research facilities in remote regions such as Antarctica.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • In Situ Manufacturing
  • Lasers (Machining/Materials Processing)
  • Polymers
  • Process Monitoring & Control
  • Processing Methods