NASA Selects Smallsat Technology Projects for SBIR Funding

Credit: NASA

NASA has selected nine small satellite technology projects for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Each contract is worth up to $750,000 over two years.

The proposals include:

Antara Teknik, LLC
Granite Bay, CA
Efficient and Secure Network and Application Communications for Small Spacecraft

Busek Company, Inc.
Natick, MA
Milliarcsecond Small Spacecraft Attitude Control System

CU Aerospace, LLC
Champaign, IL
Fiber-fed Advanced Pulsed Plasma Thruster (FPPT)

Froberg Aerospace, LLC
Rolla, MO
Multi-Mode Micropropulsion

Gener8, Inc.
Sunnyvale, CA
Integrated Waveguide Optical Gyroscope

Innoflight, Inc.
San Diego, CA
Compact Multi-Protocol Modem

Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

Valley Tech Systems, Inc.
Folsom, CA
Affordable Small Satellite Launch Vehicle Reaction Control System

Vector Launch Inc.
Tucson, AZ
Flight Demonstration of a Micropump-based Stage Pressurization System

Summaries of the proposals follow.


NASA Selects 3 ISRU Projects for SBIR Funding

CubeRover on the moon (Credit: Astrobotic)

NASA has selected three proposed focused on a miniaturized lunar rover and extraction of CO2 from the martian atmosphere under the space agency’s Small Business Research Innovation (SBIR) Phase II program.

Astrobotic, Air Squared and TDA Research were selected for two-year contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece to pursue projects focused on the moon and Mars. Each company previously received funding for its in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) project under the first phase of the SBIR program.


NASA Outlines New Lunar Science, Human Exploration Missions

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA is focused on an ambitious plan to advance the nation’s space program by increasing science activities near and on the Moon and ultimately returning humans to the surface.

As part of the President’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, NASA is planning a new Moon-focused exploration campaign that starts with a series of progressive commercial robotic missions.


Vector Selected for NASA SBIR Award

NASA has selected Vector Launch company for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II award to demonstrate a micropump-based stage pressurization system. The two-year contract is worth up to $750,000.

“Electrically-driven micropumps drive a small portion of each propellant over a novel 3D-printed heat exchanger at the engine to pressurize the tanks. Excess flow can be diverted to the engine as needed,” the company said in its proposal.


On Second Thought, the Moon’s Water May Be Widespread and Immobile

If the Moon has enough water, and if it’s reasonably convenient to access, future explorers might be able to use it as a resource. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

By Elizabeth Zubritsky
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — A new analysis of data from two lunar missions finds evidence that the Moon’s water is widely distributed across the surface and is not confined to a particular region or type of terrain. The water appears to be present day and night, though it’s not necessarily easily accessible.


Wilbur Ross Talks Deregulation, “Hundreds of Feet of Solid Ice” on Moon

The interview with Ross starts out well enough, with the Commerce secretary talking about simplifying government regulations to spur commercial space developing. Then it veers off into lunar geology, which the secretary appears to have a far lesser grasp of. Vanity Fair did a bit of fact checking on his claim.

Ross said that the White House hopes to “turn the moon into a kind of gas station for outer space,” which it will do by using “the dark surfaces that you see when you look up at the moon, [which] are actually hundreds of feet of solid ice”; “break[ing] the ice down into hydrogen and oxygen,” and “us[ing] those as the fuel propellant.” The only problem? According to Dr. Kevin Peter Hickerson, nuclear physicist and Surely You’re Joking host, Ross is ostensibly talking out of his ass.

“Hundreds of feet of solid ice? That’s not even remotely true,” Hickerson told me, noting that the patches Ross referred to are actually ancient lava flows. “Yes, there is water on the moon, but it’s not pure ice, it’s about 0.1 percent of the mass and locked up in rock.” He added that, while there is ice on the moon’s poles, “and we can possibly extract water and make fuel from that . . . it’s not the cost-effective venture he’s suggesting.” Perhaps, Hickerson noted, Ross was referring to the “sci-fi fuel of the future” called Helium-3 that does exist on the moon, but that scientists haven’t figured out how to use yet. “Maybe someone mentioned that to [Ross] and he got confused,” Hickerson posited.

Report Examines Benefits of Settling Space Using NEO Resources

TransAstra Corporation recently completed an in-depth study of how to use resources from near Earth objects to facilitate space exploration and settlement.

The 82-page report, “Stepping Stones: Economic Analysis of Space Transportation Supplied From NEO Resources,” was funded with a $100,000 grant from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.


A Look at NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Plans

Last month NASA officials gave a series of presentations about the space agency’s deep-space exploration plans to the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Committee. I have excerpted slides from those presentations to provide an overview of what the space agency is planning.

ispace to Announce Major Series A Investment Round

TOKYO — ispace, a Japanese start-up responsible for Team HAKUTO’s entry in the Google Lunar X Prize, is planning to announce “the largest fund raised in Series A in the global space industry” next week to support its efforts to mine the moon.

“It involves a round of significant financing and details around the next missions of ispace, planned after the currently run HAKUTO project,” according to an invitation sent to journalists.


NASA Seeks Industry Partnerships on In-situ Resource

NASA is seeking “proposals for trade studies and design, fabrication, and testing of critical components and subsystems for acquisition and processing of extraterrestrial resources into water, oxygen, and fuel.”

The broad agency announcement (BAA) came in an appendix to the space agency’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships 2 (NextSTEP-2) program, which has been working with commercial companies on facilitating space exploration and development beyond Earth orbit.


Highlights From Musk’s Ask Me Anything Session on Reddit

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk conducted an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit on Saturday. Below are selected responses to questions. A full list of questions and answers is located here.

BFR Development

Will be starting with a full-scale Ship doing short hops of a few hundred kilometers altitude and lateral distance. Those are fairly easy on the vehicle, as no heat shield is needed, we can have a large amount of reserve propellant and don’t need the high area ratio, deep space Raptor engines.

Next step will be doing orbital velocity Ship flights, which will need all of the above. Worth noting that BFS is capable of reaching orbit by itself with low payload, but having the BF Booster increases payload by more than an order of magnitude. Earth is the wrong planet for single stage to orbit. No problemo on Mars.

ESA Looking for Commercial Ride for ISRU Lunar Mission

Lunar base made with 3D printing (Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners)

PARIS (ESA PR) — In the first act of lunar exploration, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were major characters. In setting its sights on the Moon, ESA hopes to bring many more actors to this off-world stage.

By testing the market for transport services to the Moon, ESA aims to push the limits of technology and create new models of space business.


Printing Bricks From Moon Dust Using Solar Heat

Brick 3D printed from moondust using focused sunlight. (Credit: ESA–G. Porter)

COLOGNE, Germany (ESA PR) — Bricks have been 3D printed out of simulated moondust using concentrated sunlight – proving in principle that future lunar colonists could one day use the same approach to build settlements on the Moon.

“We took simulated lunar material and cooked it in a solar furnace,” explains materials engineer Advenit Makaya, overseeing the project for ESA.


NASA’s Resource Prospector Rover to Search for Lunar Volatiles

The Resource Prospector prototype searches for a buried sample tube at the Johnson Space Center rock yard in August 2015. (Credit: NASA)

While competitors in the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize are rushing to launch small rovers and hoppers to the moon by the end of the year to replicate what the Soviets achieved in the 1970’s, NASA has been quietly working on a much more capable vehicle designed to take lunar exploration to the next level.