JPL Researchers Validate Technology Performance on Zero-G Parabolic Flights

Research team members evaluate the performance of the Biosleeve Gesture Control Interface for Telerobotics on a March 2017 parabolic flight. (Credit: NASA)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — A series of parabolic flights from Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G) in March 2017 enabled researchers to test and validate the performance of two technologies from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL):

  • Comet Sample Verification System (T0164-P): A tool that enables researchers to verify the quantity and volume of a sample from a comet surface before bringing it back to Earth for analysis
  • Biosleeve Gesture Control Interface for Telerobotics (T0161-P): A sleeve-based gesture-recognition interface that provides intuitive force and position control signals from natural arm, hand, and finger movements, with the potential to be embedded in clothing worn by astronauts working on the International Space Station (ISS) and other missions

The JPL payloads were selected for flight testing as part of NASA’s Space Technology Research, Development, Demonstration, and Infusion (REDDI) 2016 solicitation, administered through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. Recipients of SpaceTech-REDDI awards receive funds that allow them to purchase research flights from a suitable commercial flight provider.

The recent flight tests helped ensure flight readiness of JPL’s innovations for future missions and raise their technology readiness levels (TRLs).

The Comet Sample Verification System research team poses with their payload following a successful test flight aboard ZERO-G’s parabolic aircraft. From left to right: JPL researchers Jacob Tims, Dr. Valerie Scott, Vladimir Arutyunov, and PI Dr. Risaku Toda. (Credits: NASA/Josh Krohn)

Validating the Comet Sample Verification System in microgravity

Dr. Risaku Toda, principal investigator for the Comet Sample Verification System, said that testing the performance of the system’s fiberscope sample imager in microgravity helped ensure that the technology is capable of supporting the objectives of a potential Comet Surface Sample Return (CSSR) mission—to acquire and return to Earth for laboratory analysis a macroscopic (≥500 cm3) comet nucleus surface sample.

“This flight campaign was quite successful for us as a whole,” said Dr. Toda. “The flights were broken up into three sections of 10 parabolas, with moments of microgravity in between those. We had 12 sample canisters and were able to switch the samples in between the parabola sets without a problem to validate each sample.”

The Biosleeve Gesture Control Interface research team ready to board ZERO-G’s parabolic aircraft. From left to right: PI Dr. Christopher Assad, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate student Sherrie Hall, and JPL researchers Viet Nguyen, Dr. Michael Wolf, and Jaakko Karras. (Credit: NASA)

In total, the team was able to continuously observe all of the samples over 60 parabolas, obtaining the data they needed to validate TRL 6. Dr. Toda credits everyone involved, as well as the efforts of the Flight Opportunities program, with the flight’s success.

“The Flight Opportunities program has been very supportive of what we have been doing this year,” said Dr. Toda. “Because the flight requirements were quite strict, we needed a very coordinated effort. And all of the people from JPL, AFRC [NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center], and Flight Opportunities were very helpful in pulling everything together. This coordinated effort really led to the success in the end.”

Gathering data for the Biosleeve Gesture Control Interface

Meanwhile, the research team behind the Biosleeve Gesture Control Interface used the March 2017 parabolic flights to understand the gesture-recognition performance of the Biosleeve in a microgravity environment. The ZERO-G flight tests enabled them to collect operational data that will influence the future design, development, and test program as the technology advances toward other flight testing, including a possible test mission on the International Space Station (ISS).

“The ZERO-G flights through the Flight Opportunities program were a perfect stepping stone for us to gather preliminary data necessary for putting our ISS technology demonstration proposal in place,” said Dr. Christopher Assad, principal investigator for the Biosleeve technology.

The ZERO-G flights revealed a 92 percent accuracy rate and enabled the team to move beyond TRL 4. The Biosleeve team now hopes to gather more data to solidify their proposal for an ISS test mission. Next steps include addressing unanticipated noise interference and graphical user interface (GUI) issues encountered during the March flights and increasing the TRL to 5.

Through the FO program, the Space Technology Mission Directorate, STMD, selects promising technologies from industry, academia and government, and tests them on commercial launch vehicles. The program is managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. STMD is responsible for developing the crosscutting, pioneering new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

For more information about the Flight Opportunities program, visit: