Tethers Unlimited’s HyperBus Receives Additional NASA Funding

HyperBus orbital platform (Credit: Tethers Unlimited)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected Tethers Unlimited Inc. (TUI) for additional funding to develop its HyperBus Cargo (HBC) platform, which is designed to move modules around in space to support orbital construction.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) phase II award will provide up to $750,000 to further HBC development. NASA previously funded the program with a smaller phase I award.

TUI’s goal is “to create a palletized system that is capable of supporting transport, emplacement, and exchange of sub-modules in the 1-100 kg range,” TUI said.

The HyperBus would enable the “transport, emplacement, servicing, and exchange of sub-modules on persistent platforms assembled in-space. It will provide a cost-effective means for utilizing secondary payload launches and ISS deployment to support construction and operation persistent platforms for Earth science, space astronomy, and manned exploration,” the company added.

“Unlike existing smallsats that are optimized for transporting cubesats and ‘traditional’ payloads, HBC is architected to accommodate non-traditional payloads such as truss members, robotics or fuel tanks for in-space manufacturing, perform proximity operations and assemble systems on-orbit,” TUI said.

TUI said it received a contract from Boeing HorizonX Ventures to study the utility of HyperBus for geosynchronous communications satellite platforms.

The project summary follows.

HyperBus Cargo Platform
Subtopic: In-Space Sub-Modular Assembly

Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

Principal Investigator
Mark Hanson

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 3
End: 4

Technical Abstract

On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (OSAM) enable large, persistent platforms that are not limited by current launch vehicle constraints to be built in space. These platforms are expected to play a key role in near-term lunar missions as well as future missions to Mars.

Current OSAM space systems fall into two broad categories:

1) smallsats that deploy payloads (e.g. cubesat dispenser) or move spacecraft to different orbits (tugs) or

2) large, expensive GEO-based platforms for servicing and assembly.

Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) proposes a third approach – a HyperBus CARGO (HBC) platform suite that

1) proliferates OSAM by providing capabilities to spacecraft not designed for on-orbit servicing and

2) develops generic payload accommodation, GNC algorithms and system for low-cost platforms. 

Unlike existing smallsats that are optimized for transporting cubesats and “traditional” payloads, HBC is architected to accommodate non-traditional payloads such as truss members, robotics or fuel tanks for in-space manufacturing, perform proximity operations and assemble systems on-orbit.

In Phase I, basic feasibility and architecture were developed and analyzed for small cargo such as cubesats.

In Phase II, TUI proposes to develop a generalized payload accommodation system, adaptable Attitude Control System algorithms that handle changing moments of inertia, and proximity operation suite.

Potential NASA Applications

HyperBus CARGO is a crosscutting technology which directly addresses three of the 2020 NASA Technology Taxonomy: TX04.5.3 Rendezvous, Proximity Operations, and Capture (RPOC) Flight and Ground Systems, TX07.2.4 Micro-Gravity Construction and Assembly, and TX12.4.1 Manufacturing Processes.

HyperBus CARGO is an essential architecture/platform for in-space assembly that requires RPOC where a service vehicle delivers cargo to another platform or depot.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

HyperBus CARGO will support payload logistics and RPO needs for missions such as payload delivery and integration onto persistent GEO platforms, delivery of fuel and hardware to the Air Force NIMITZ platform, and delivery of fuel to/from OrbitFab’s tankers.

During the Phase I TUI received a contract from Boeing/HorizonX to study HyperBus value proposition for GEO communications satellite platform.

Duration: 24 months