Paragon to Develop Aerobot for Exploring Venus, System for Collecting Ice on Moon with NASA Funding

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Paragon Space Development Corporation will continue development of an aerobot for exploring Venus form the air and a system to extract ice from the lunar regolith with the help of a pair of NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II awards.

The Mechanical-compression Aerobot for extended Range Venus ExpLoration (MARVEL) would be an autonomous robotic balloon vehicle capable of carrying scientific payloads through the Venusian atmosphere. Paragon has teamed with Thin Red Line Aerospace to develop MARVEL.

“The current state of the art (SOA) in Venus aerial vehicles has been designed to operate within the altitude range of 50 to 60 km. This innovation will extend the operating range over 40 to 60 km, and integrate into a supporting aerial platform that will be able to operate on the sunlit side of Venus and be able to transit the night side and survive several circumnavigations around the planet,” Paragon said in its proposal summary.

MARVEL would also be useful in exploring Saturn’s cloud shrouded moon Titan and also have terrestrial applications, the company said.

“Two aspects of the proposed deployment/activation and gas supply/control system would lend themselves to direct commercialization in terrestrial applications. Robust aerial deployment will enable MC-ACB to be employed for military applications requiring tactical aerial drops and aerial deployment for timely, accurate weather/hurricane forecasting,” Paragon said.

NASA also selected Paragon for a second SBIR award to continue development of the ISRU Collector of Ice in a Cold Lunar Environment (ICICLE).

“A well-designed Cold Trap will selectively freeze out and collect water vapor from other volatile contaminants while rejecting the corrosive, toxic, and explosive contaminant gases found with water in the lunar regolith. The thermal management system of the ICICLE Cold Trap will be designed to achieve both the desired water purity and collection rates through maintaining isothermal internal deposition surface temperatures while simultaneously rejecting heat from the phase change of water,” Paragon said in its proposal summary.

“To this end, this proposal will develop a sub-scale ICICLE Cold Trap for standalone testing in a thermal vacuum chamber with simulated water vapor and contaminant inputs to demonstrate the critical functions of the system,” the company added. “Furthermore, the ICICLE Cold Trap will be integrated with the Honeybee Robotics’ Polar Volatiles Extractor (PVEx) and tested in a thermal vacuum chamber to demonstrate end-to-end water extraction-to-collection capability.”

The SBIR awards are worth up to $750,000 apiece. Summaries of the projects follow.

Mechanical-compression Aerobot for extended Range Venus ExpLoration (MARVEL)
Subtopic: Terrestrial Balloons and Planetary Aerial Vehicles
Phase II Award: up to $750,000

Paragon Space Development Corporation
Tucson, AZ

Principal Investigator: Robert Jacobi

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL)
Begin: 3
End: 5

Duration: 24 months

Technical Abstract

NASA’s goal to explore the atmosphere, surface, and interior structure of Venus can be accomplished through the use of an aerial vehicle specifically designed by Paragon and Thin Red line Aerospace (TRLA) to carry scientific payloads known as the Mechanical-compression Aerobot for extended Range Venus ExpLoration (MARVEL). MARVEL is an autonomous robotic balloon vehicle capable of exercising trajectory and/or altitude control in the atmosphere of Venus. and/or altitude control in the atmosphere of Venus.

Exploring the atmosphere and surface of Venus presents the issue of enduring the environmental extremes. The surface of Venus is extremely hot and contains gaseous components not favorable to many materials. The challenge lies largely in finding a means to protect and prolong time in which different sensors can be operate in the harsh thermal environment and record data. As most of the interest lies closer to the surface, below mid-level cloud cover the ability to more closely approach the surface increases the data fidelity and quality captured by the sensors.

MARVEL accomplishes the goal of all Venus exploration by combining advanced material configurations with innovative thermal control configurations for the payload. This results in a specialty Venus Aerobot system that can reach and remain at a lower altitude for longer times in the atmosphere of Venus to capture more and higher quality data on Venus.

The current state of the art (SOA) in Venus aerial vehicles has been designed to operate within the altitude range of 50 to 60 km. This innovation will 1 extend the operating range over 40 to 60 km, and integrate into a supporting aerial platform that will be able to operate on the sunlit side of Venus and be able to transit the night side and survive several circumnavigations around the planet.

Potential NASA Applications

The proposed Mechanical-compression Aerobot will have immediate application at Venus and Titan. In particular, supporting access to below Venus’ cloud layer for scientific payloads for missions such as the Venus Corona and Tessera Explorer (VeCaTEx) and investigating phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere and realizing 2020 Venus Flagship Mission Report and 2018 Venus Aerial Platforms Study report key science investigations.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

Two aspects of the proposed deployment/activation and gas supply/control system would lend themselves to direct commercialization in terrestrial applications. Robust aerial deployment will enable MC-ACB to be employed for military applications requiring tactical aerial drops and aerial deployment for timely, accurate weather/hurricane forecasting.

ISRU Collector of Ice in a Cold Lunar Environment (ICICLE)
Subtopic: Extraction of Oxygen from Lunar Regolith
Phase II Award: up to $750,000

Paragon Space Development Corporation
Tucson, AZ

Principal Investigator: Jordan Holquist

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL)
Begin: 3
End: 5

Duration: 24 months

Technical Abstract

Paragon proposes developing the a sub-scale hardware demonstrator of the in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) Collector of Ice in a Cold Lunar Environment (ICICLE), a Cold Trap for collecting and purifying water vapor from mining of water-ice from the permanently shadowed regions (PSR) of the lunar poles. Cold trap collection and purification of water from various lunar ice mining architectures is relatively undeveloped. This Cold Trap must be able to interface with the extraction methods as well as downstream processing systems, such as Paragon’s in-development ISRU-derived water purification and Hydrogen Oxygen Production (IHOP) subsystem.

A well-designed Cold Trap will selectively freeze out and collect water vapor from other volatile contaminants while rejecting the corrosive, toxic, and explosive contaminant gases found with water in the lunar regolith. The thermal management system of the ICICLE Cold Trap will be designed to achieve both the desired water purity and collection rates through maintaining isothermal internal deposition surface temperatures while simultaneously rejecting heat from the phase change of water.

To this end, this proposal will develop a sub-scale ICICLE Cold Trap for standalone testing in a thermal vacuum chamber with simulated water vapor and contaminant inputs to demonstrate the critical functions of the system. Furthermore, the ICICLE Cold Trap will be integrated with the Honeybee Robotics’ Polar Volatiles Extractor (PVEx) and tested in a thermal vacuum chamber to demonstrate end-to-end water extraction-to-collection capability.

Potential NASA Applications

NASA is seeking commercial solutions to support and harvest space resources, specifically with regards to ISRU as part of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and the Space Technology Mission Directorate. NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division is looking for solutions in deep space for resources such as water and breathable air. NASA’s Artemis program is learning all it can regarding the presence of water on the Moon before sending the first woman and the next man to the lunar surface in 2024.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

The ICICLE Cold Trap technology has the potential to be used as a method of industrial freeze distillation in applications requiring low pressures and temperatures.