NASA Selects Tethers Unlimited for 4 SBIR Awards

Tethers_Unlimited_LogoNASA has selected Tethers Unlimited of Bothell, Wash., for four Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards to develop advanced spaceflight technology.

The selected proposals include:

  • ERASMUS: Food Contact Safe Plastics Recycler and 3D Printer System
  • 3D Printed Composite-Z and Graded-Z Radiation Shields (CoGZ-Rad)
  • Modular Advanced Networked Telerobotic Interface System (MANTIS)
  • OpenSWIFT-SDR for STRS.

Full descriptions of the proposals are below.

TETHERS UNLIMITED

ERASMUS: Food Contact Safe Plastics Recycler and 3D Printer System
Subtopic: International Space Station (ISS) Utilization

Small Business Concern
Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Dr. Rachel Muhlbauer

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

Technical Abstract

One of the goals of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) from 2012 is to “utilize the ISS for developing the systems and protocols necessary to humans to venture beyond low Earth orbit for extended durations,” and with the push from Congress in 2015 to build a deep space habitat for a Mars mission by 2018, the goals of HEOMD are increasingly important to meet. ERASMUS will enable these goals by providing a technology suite which is both a trash recycling unit and a microbial sterilizer. The ERASMUS technology suite contains a plastics recycler, dry heat sterilizer, and 3D printer that accepts previously used utensils, trays, and food storage containers, sterilizes these pre-used materials, recycles them into food grade 3D printer filament, and fabricates food contact safe 3D printed parts. This effort intends to minimize the requirements for resupplying and/or storing excess wet wipes, utensils, food containers, and waste. It also intends to improve astronaut health and safety by providing utensils which are truly sterile and free of harmful contaminants for long duration missions. In the phase II effort, we will further enable the goals of HEOMD by expanding ERASMUS to provide a medical grade 3D printer.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The proposed ERASMUS technology will find use on the ISS and on any future long duration manned mission as a means to promote astronaut health and safety as well as lowering mission cost and trash generated by providing a means to create needed parts while in space. TUI anticipates that the expansion of ERASMUS into medical grade 3D printing in the Phase II effort will further the need for ERASMUS on the ISS, long duration missions, and on manned habitats.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

TUI expects that the advancements made to 3D printing in order to create food contact safe sterilized materials will be ideal for the DoD to support soldiers in remote locations where resupply is limited. We also anticipate this technology to be a game-changer for people with little access to water. In the Phase II, we plan to explore the possibility to extend the technology to medical grade 3D printing which will have an even more widespread impact across the globe and in space. Medical facilities will be able to print sterile implants and surgical tools on demand, rather than requiring storage or waiting for the delivery of these devices.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Food (Preservation, Packaging, Preparation)
  • In Situ Manufacturing
  • Polymers
  • Processing Methods

3D Printed Composite-Z and Graded-Z Radiation Shields (CoGZ-Rad)
Subtopic: Command, Data Handling, and Electronics

Small Business Concern
Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Dr. Rachel Muhlbauer

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 4

Technical Abstract

Composite-Z and Graded-Z Radiation Shields (CoGZ-Rad) uses novel multi-material 3D printing techniques to fabricate a cost-effective and lightweight radiation shielding comprised of polymers and polymer composites. CoGZ-Rad relies on advancing the concept of the graded-atomic number (graded-Z) radiation shielding by utilizing new materials and materials configurations to form graded-Z, composite-Z, and compositionally graded-Z radiation shields utilizing lightweight and low cost polymers to increase the lifetime of COTS electronics in the space environment. Printing for the CoGZ-Rad effort requires a novel additive manufacturing technique in the form of multimaterial 3D printing through a single 3D printer nozzle which assists in materials mixing and the dilution of the composite 3D printer feedstock. This will allow for any of the materials configurations to be printed without a large number of materials or printer feedheads to be required. In addition to the 3D printing advancements, we will also be building a physics design tool to assess shield performance with respect to single event effects and single event upset. In Phase I, we will demonstrate the feasibility of CoGZ-Rad as a radiation shield through laboratory fabrication and testing. In phase II, we will demonstrate flight qualification of the technology to TRL-6.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The proposed 3D Printed Composite-Z and Graded-Z (CoGZ) Radiation Shields effort directly supports the top challenge of “Radiation ” identified in NASA Technology Roadmap 2015 by using high-hydrogen-content materials for passive radiation shielding to protect electronics from solar particle events and other radiation exposures. The CoGZ-Rad technology will enable NASA to use lightweight, low cost radiation shielding materials to protect electronics on aerospace vehicles and large space structures, enabling the use of low cost COTS parts to build the electronics. With the degree of flexibility inherent in the 3D printing fabrication methodology of CoGZ-Rad, the shields which can be created are appropriate for use in many space bodies, ranging from manned spacecraft to small scale satellite bodies.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

3D Printed Composite-Z and Graded-Z Radiation Shields (CoGZ-Rad) will provide cost-effective space radiation mitigation to improve reliability and lifetime of a wide range of commercial missions. By utilizing additive manufacturing to create the technology, CoGZ-Rad can be used as structural radiation shielding or as conformal covers. The cost to implement the CoGZ-Rad technology scales with the implementation, making it affordable and optimal at all scales ranging from Cubesats to interplanetary manned missions.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Composites
  • In Situ Manufacturing
  • Isolation/Protection/Radiation Shielding (see also Mechanical Systems)
  • Polymers
  • Processing Methods
  • Software Tools (Analysis, Design)

Modular Advanced Networked Telerobotic Interface System (MANTIS)
Subtopic: Robotic Systems – Mobility, Manipulation, and Human-System Interaction

Small Business Concern
Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Dr. Blaine Levedahl

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

Technical Abstract

With the goal to reduce astronaut time required to maintain experiments on the ISS and aid advances in vision processing and robotic arm control technology, TUI proposes to collaborate with NanoRacks to develop a “Modular Advanced Networked Telerobotic Interface System” (MANTIS) that will integrate an existing robotic arm in a NanoLabs payload on the ISS. The MANTIS system will reducing crew member burden for performing NanoLab experiments by enabling automated and/or supervised teleoperated operation of the Plate Reader, MixStix, and other systems in the NanoRacks instruments. The MANTIS development effort will leverage an existing KRAKEN robotic arm, integrate existing hardware and develop open source software to perform experiments on the NanoRacks platform. To aid design and integration in a Model Based Design (MBD) framework this SBIR will also develop an open simulation framework and tools, leveraging the Robot Operating System (ROS) environment. MANTIS will also enable advances in vision processing and arm control algorithms for the ISS by giving researchers an open software framework to develop on MANTIS. The Phase I effort will develop a detailed design for MANTIS. The Phase II effort will build MANTIS and mature it to TRL-6 through integrated testing with the KRAKEN arm and NanoRacks hardware aboard the ISS. NanoRacks has agreed to collaborate with us in these efforts to enable integration of MANTIS with their experiment platform, and will be our transition partner for Phase III commercialization.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

MANTIS has the potential to give NASA development and integration tools, open software, and hardware onboard the ISS to commercialize the use of the MANTIS platform for organizations to develop software for supervised telerobotic operation of experiments onboard the ISS.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

The MANTIS platform will give individuals wishing to perform experiments with supervised telerobotic operation on the ISS a pathway to do so through development and integration tools, open software, and accessible hardware. This framework can be leveraged by commercial entities like NanoRacks to increase the number and efficiency of experiments onboard the ISS. This is evidenced by NanoRacks in-kind contributions to the proposed effort.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Algorithms/Control Software & Systems (see also Autonomous Systems)
  • Autonomous Control (see also Control & Monitoring)
  • Process Monitoring & Control
  • Robotics (see also Control & Monitoring; Sensors)
  • Sequencing & Scheduling
  • Teleoperation

OpenSWIFT-SDR for STRS
Subtopic: Advanced Space Communication Systems

Small Business Concern
Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Tyrel D Newton

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

Technical Abstract

SWIFT is a small-form factor, highly-capable software-defined radio (SDR) platform whose strength lies in its flexible and modular hardware and software interfaces. TUI proposes to augment this existing, proven platform to make it compatible with the Space Telecommunication Radio System (STRS) architecture and other open standards. Furthermore, TUI proposes to leverage other ongoing work in the area of high-gain antenna pointing and electrically-steered antenna (ESA) control to augment these existing standards with antenna pointing and multi-antenna abstraction interfaces. The proposed STRS augmentations and ?OpenSWIFT-SDR? architecture will allow them to scale to large, multi-body networked systems, especially systems operating at multiple frequencies with multiple, steered antennas. The large existing code-base, availability of mature hardware solutions, and the ability to operate coherently at S-, X-, K-, and Ka-bands while connecting to multiple antennas makes SWIFT an ideal platform for both TUI and others to develop the next generation of communications architectures and protocols for current and future NASA missions.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

TUI anticipates the proposed technology will enable the increased use of advanced software-defined radio (SDR) technologies for creating multi-frequency, multi-channel, multi-antenna, and steered antenna communications systems. These features will lower the cost of deploying large constellations of small, mobile air and space vehicles for remote sensing applications where the volume of data necessitates tight-beam point-to-point data exfiltration links. Furthermore, the open nature of the proposed modifications to the proven SWIFT-SDR technologies as well as STRS and other open standards will enable their use in third-party ad-hoc and cognitive networking research simplifying the infusion of these technologies into future mission concepts.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

TUI anticipates the proposed technology enable the increased use of the proven SWIFT software-defined radio (SDR) platform in systems using multiple and steered high-gain apertures. Such systems include any mobile, networked remote sensing system that generate large volumes of data and subsequently require either ad-hoc or tight-beam exfiltration of the data. Separately, the proposed technologies would enable the creation of point-to-point links from low-Earth orbit to users in remote and/or disaster-stricken areas.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Ad-Hoc Networks (see also Sensors)
  • Architecture/Framework/Protocols
  • Command & Control
  • Sequencing & Scheduling
  • Telemetry/Tracking (Cooperative/Noncooperative; see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)
  • Transmitters/Receivers