Microgravity Research in LEO Added to Top U.S. R&D Priorities for FY 2022

NASA Astronaut Bob Behnken works within the Light Microscopy Module facility on the Capillary Driven Microfluidics investigation from 1Drop Diagnostics, Inc. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Trump Administration has added microgravity research in Earth orbit as one of the nation’s key research and development (R&D) priorities for the 2022 fiscal year.

“Microgravity research in biological and physical science on new platforms in Low Earth Orbit is important to enabling longer duration human missions in space and may have practical benefits to life on Earth,” according to a new memo to the heads of department and agencies.

Axiom modules attached to the International Space Station. (Credit: Axiom Space)

Axiom Space is developing commercial modules that will be attached to the International Space Station (ISS). The company plans to separate the modules when ISS is decommissioned and create a private space station.

The document laying out the nation’s top R&D priorities was signed by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Russel Vought and Kelvin Droegemeir, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Other than the addition of microgravity research and orbital debris management, the section on American space leadership is very similar to the one in the memorandum sent out last year.

An astronaut descends the ladder to explore the lunar surface. (Credit: NASA)

The document reiterates the Trump Administration’s plan to land two astronauts on the moon by 2024, with a focus on in-situ resource utilization of lunar resources.

Departments and agencies should prioritize in-situ resource utilization on the Moon and Mars, cryogenic fuel storage and management, in-space manufacturing and assembly, advanced space-related power and propulsion capabilities, and orbital debris management.

The memorandum also places an emphasis on fostering commercial space activities.

Departments and agencies should also prioritize activities that ensure an industrial base for commercial activity in space and that will broadly speed private sector progress in meeting stated Government goals and furthering the space economy.

Finally, departments and agencies should seek opportunities to work with advanced materials, additive manufacturing, and machine learning capabilities that have broad potential applications in space and on Earth.

A section titled Earth System Predictability and Meteorological Services directed NOAA and other agencies to implement a plan to improve weather forecasting.

Global weather on Earth Day 2019. (Credit: NOAA)

“The United States aspires to lead the world in meteorological services via an Earth system approach that encompasses weather, climate, hydrologic, ocean, and related environmental topics-providing societal benefits with information spanning highly local to global impacts,” the document stated.

Another priority is improving communications services, especially in the 5G spectrum.

“Departments and agencies, in close coordination with the private sector, should strengthen basic research in advanced communications technologies, including furthering America’s leadership in 5G and beyond wireless networks, in order to spur innovation and growth,” the memorandum said.

The Administration also made supersonic civil aircraft a priority.

“Departments and agencies should also prioritize civil supersonic aircraft, including for type certification, the creation of overland supersonic flight noise standards, and low-sonic-boom aircraft research,” the document said.

Illustration of the completed X-59 QueSST landing on a runway. (Credits: Lockheed Martin)

NASA’s X-59 demonstrator is designed to produce low sonic booms that would allow supersonic aircraft to fly over land. The vehicle, being built by Lockheed Martin, is expected to fly in 2022.

Relevant excerpts from the memorandum are below. You can also download the full document.

Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies

From: Russel T. Vought
Director, Office of Managment and Budget

Dr. Kelvin K. Droegemeier
Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy

Subject: Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Administration Research and Development Budget Priorities and Cross-cutting Actions

Selected Excerpts

American Space Leadership

R&D investments should continue to leverage efforts underway at American universities and in the private sector and focus on ensuring American leadership in space by supporting the Trump Administration’s call for a return of Americans to the Moon’s surface by 2024 for long-term exploration and utilization, and as a proving ground for future human missions to Mars.

Microgravity research in biological and physical science on new platforms in Low Earth Orbit is important to enabling longer duration human missions in space and may have practical benefits to life on Earth.

Departments and agencies should prioritize in-situ resource utilization on the Moon and Mars, cryogenic fuel storage and management, in-space manufacturing and assembly, advanced space-related power and propulsion capabilities, and orbital debris management.

Departments and agencies should also prioritize activities that ensure an industrial base for commercial activity in space and that will broadly speed private sector progress in meeting stated Government goals and furthering the space economy.

Finally, departments and agencies should seek opportunities to work with advanced materials, additive manufacturing, and machine learning capabilities that have broad potential applications in space and on Earth.

Earth System Predictability and Meteorological Services

The United States aspires to lead the world in meteorological services via an Earth system approach that encompasses weather, climate, hydrologic, ocean, and related environmental topics-providing societal benefits with information spanning highly local to global impacts.

Departments and agencies should prioritize, coordinate, and collaborate to implement a national strategy to accelerate progress in improving the theoretical understanding and practical utilization of predictability, reducing gaps in the observation of crucial processes, and exploring advanced modeling capabilities using non-traditional approaches such as AL Departments and agencies should prioritize the availability of adequate computing and data infrastructure and technology to enable this research; they also should collaborate closely on the most effective use of research resources via coordination and partnerships.

Advanced Communications Networks: Departments and agencies, in close coordination with the private sector, should strengthen basic research in advanced communications technologies, including furthering America’s leadership in 5G and beyond wireless networks, in order to spur innovation and growth.

As outlined in the report Research and Development Priorities for American Leadership in Wireless Communications, this includes research on AI/ML techniques optimized for wireless systems, as well as applying AI/ML to communications and cyber security in general, toward the goal of secure and trusted applications.

Departments and agencies should encourage the development of applications that leverage 5G and advanced networks that incorporate security and privacy as fundamental values. Departments and agencies should support growth in American manufacturing of wireless network equipment through R&D of open, interoperable, secure-by-design, modularized network architectures.

Supersonic Aircraft

Departments and agencies should also prioritize civil supersonic aircraft, including for type certification, the creation of overland supersonic flight noise standards, and low-sonic-boom aircraft research