Picking up the PACE: Accelerating Development of Deep Space Technologies

Raven Aerostar’s high-altitude balloon is inflated the morning of its March 12, 2021 flight to test NASA’s V-R3x technology in Baltic, SD – an effort made possible by the Agency’s new PACE initiative. (Credits: Raven Aerostar)

By Elizabeth DiVito
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center

A spacecraft is the sum of many parts – propulsion systems, radiation protection, communications systems, to name a few – and every mission has different technological needs and challenges. Before a technology innovation makes its way into deep space, however, its effectiveness can be tested a little closer to Earth through suborbital and orbital flights. These flight tests expose a technology to the challenging characteristics of spaceflight that ground testing cannot simulate, such as powerful forces of acceleration and the absence of gravity. While it offers critical benefits, this journey through several iterations of collecting flight data and fine-tuning a technology can sometimes take years and often stretches a research team’s bottom line.

(more…)

NASA, Blue Origin Partner to Bring Lunar Gravity Conditions Closer to Earth

New Shepard (NS-14) lifts off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas. (Credits: Blue Origin)

By Danielle McCulloch and Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program

EDWARDS, Calif. — At one-sixth that of Earth, the unique gravity of the lunar surface is one of the many variable conditions that technologies bound for the Moon will need to perform well in. NASA will soon have more options for testing those innovations in lunar gravity thanks to a collaboration with Blue Origin to bring new testing capabilities to the company’s New Shepard reusable suborbital rocket system.

(more…)

Tricky Terrain: Helping to Assure a Safe Rover Landing

Mars 2020’s Perseverance rover is equipped with a lander vision system based on terrain-relative navigation, an advanced method of autonomously comparing real-time images to preloaded maps that determine the rover’s position relative to hazards in the landing area. Divert guidance algorithms and software can then direct the rover around those obstacles if needed. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

How two new technologies will help Perseverance, NASA’s most sophisticated rover yet, touch down onto the surface of Mars this month.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — After a nearly seven-month journey to Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover is slated to land at the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater Feb. 18, 2021, a rugged expanse chosen for its scientific research and sample collection possibilities.

(more…)

V-R3x CubeSats to Develop Communications, Navigation

Three small satellites, or CubeSats, used in the V-R3x technology demonstration. (Credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/Dominic Hart)

Swarming small satellites to develop the next generation of communication and navigation tech

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Learning how to communicate and navigate multiple spacecraft autonomously in space is a technology challenge that will become even more important to solve as NASA continues to operate in low-Earth orbit and beyond.

The V-R3x mission uses a swarm of three small satellites to demonstrate new technologies and techniques for radio networking and navigation. By developing and demonstrating these technologies on a small scale, they can be implemented for future multi-spacecraft missions, enabling NASA to pursue its future science, technology, and exploration goals.

(more…)

NASA Perseveres Through Pandemic to Complete Successful 2020

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2020, NASA made significant progress on America’s Moon to Mars exploration strategy, met mission objectives for the Artemis program, achieved significant scientific advancements to benefit humanity, and returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States, all while agency teams acted quickly to assist the national COVID-19 response.

(more…)

Suborbital Space Again, NASA-supported Tech on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Scientific payloads in SpaceShipTwo cabin (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities program

EDWARDS, Calif. — Successful space and suborbital technology developments require ingenuity, understanding of mission and science needs, and testing. For many technologies matured with support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, the ability to undergo testing multiple times – and often on different types of commercial flight vehicles – adds the necessary rigor and refinement to advance these innovations.

(more…)

Window for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Suborbital Flight Opens Dec. 11

SpaceShipTwo fires its engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE), today announced its new flight window since it paused the spaceflight preparations in response to state guidelines from the New Mexico Department of Health to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The new flight window will open on December 11, pending good weather conditions and technical readiness. This flight expects to fulfill a number of objectives, including testing elements of the customer cabin as well as assessing the upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during boost. The flight will also carry payloads as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

(more…)

NASA Awards Flight & Integration Services Contracts to Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems

Scientific payloads in SpaceShipTwo cabin (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

EDWARDS, Calif., November 30, 2020 (NASA PR) — NASA has selected Virgin Galactic LLC of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Masten Space Systems Inc. of Mojave, California, to provide flight and integration services for payloads chosen by the agency’s Flight Opportunities program, which is managed at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The two companies join four others to provide service under commercial indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts with NASA.

(more…)

NASA Flight Opportunities Program PI Spotlight: Kevin Crosby

Kevin Crosby during a microgravity flight on G-FORCE ONE airplane.

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — With a half-dozen Flight Opportunities campaigns under his belt (including one currently underway — see Flights section above), Carthage College professor Kevin Crosby understands the value of the program. Through flight testing, he has been able to raise the technology readiness level (TRL) of his slosh control and propellant gauging technologies for spacecraft.

As head of the school’s Space Sciences program, Crosby blends his development of these technologies with powerful learning opportunities for his students. We spoke with Crosby about what he has learned during his years of flight testing and how those lessons apply to both students and the research community as a whole. 

(more…)

Keeping Spacecraft on Course with Propellant Management Technologies

Carthage students Taylor Peterson (left) and Celestine Ananda are shown here observing the gauging of unsettled liquids during a period of microgravity on a flight with ZERO-G in November 2018. (Credits: Carthage College)

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center

Rocket off course? It could be a slosh problem.

Propellant slosh, to be exact. The motion of propellant inside a rocket-based launch vehicle or spacecraft tank is an ever-present, vexing problem for spaceflight. Not only can it make gauging the amount of available propellant difficult, but the volatile waves of liquid can literally throw a rocket off its trajectory.

(more…)

NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program Partners with EPSCoR, Launches Community Learning Initiative

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Flight Opportunities has partnered with NASA’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program to provide access to suborbital flight tests for the EPSCoR community.

Through an amendment to the existing 2021 EPSCoR International Space Station (ISS) Flight Opportunity solicitation, EPSCoR jurisdictions will be able to propose using suborbital flights to further their EPSCoR-funded research.

Proposals are due by January 7, 2021. Visit NSPIRES for more details.

Flight Opportunities Community Learning Initiative

The new Flight Opportunities Community Learning initiative is an effort to capture, organize, and communicate the lessons and experiences of suborbital researchers.

(more…)

The Perils and Promise of Dust on the Moon

Xodiac (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities program

MOJAVE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Think your home could use a bit of a sweep? Fret not – your hardwoods are nothing compared to the Moon. Its surface is so notoriously dusty that the desert here on Earth is the environment of choice for testing dust-related technologies bound for lunar missions.

(more…)

NASA Selects Promising Purdue Space Technologies for Commercial Flight Tests

Steven Collicott, Purdue University professor of aeronautics and astronautics, shown here in zero gravity, will have four projects under grants.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Faculty members in Purdue University’s schools of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Mechanical Engineering are among a list of 28 researchers whose technologies have been selected to receive funding under NASA’s Tech Flights solicitation.

Steven Collicott , professor of aeronautics and astronautics, will receive four separate grants totaling $1.8 million for four different experiments. Issam Mudawar, the Betty Ruth and Milton B. Hollander Family Professor of Mechanical Engineering, will receive one grant in the amount of $649,851.

(more…)

NASA Selects 31 Promising Space Technologies for Commercial Flight Tests

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program

NASA has selected 31 promising space technologies for testing aboard parabolic aircraft, high-altitude balloons, and suborbital rocket-powered systems. By exposing the innovations to many of the rigors and characteristics of spaceflight – without the expense of an orbital flight – NASA can help ensure these technologies work correctly when they are deployed on future missions.

“By supporting suborbital flight testing, our Flight Opportunities  program aims to help ensure that these innovations are well-positioned to address challenges and enable NASA to achieve its lunar ambitions, while also contributing to a growing and vibrant commercial space industry,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). The Flight Opportunities program is part of STMD.

(more…)

SwRI Planetary Scientist Alan Stern to Fly With Experiments on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern celebrates a Guinness World Record certificate on July 19 at U.S. Postal Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Dan Afzal, U.S. Postal Service)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, October 14, 2020 (SwRI PR) — A Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) planetary scientist has been chosen to be among the first group to conduct NASA-funded science experiments while flying aboard a commercial spacecraft, the space agency announced today.

(more…)