NIAC Award: Crosscutting High Apogee Refueling Orbital Navigator for Active Debris Removal

Crosscutting High Apogee Refueling Orbital Navigator (CHARON) for active debris removal. (Credit: John Slough)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program
Phase I Award: Up to $125,000 for 9 Months

Crosscutting High Apogee Refueling Orbital Navigator (CHARON) for Active Debris Removal
John Slough

As of January 2018 an estimated 8,100 tons of space debris has accumulated in low Earth orbit consisting of spent rocket bodies, mission-related debris, and collision fragments. The vast majority of these objects are too small to detect with radar systems, but there are over 29,000 known objects larger than 10 cm. Impacts between these objects and operating missions have damaged costly equipment, required expensive collision avoidance maneuvers, and endangered the lives of astronauts on the international space station.


NIAC Phase II Award Funds Spacecraft Radiation Protection Research

Graphic depiction of Spacecraft Scale Magnetospheric Protection from Galactic Cosmic Radiation (Credits: John Slough)

Spacecraft Scale Protection from Galactic Cosmic Radiation

John Slough
Award: Up to $500,000
Study Period: Up to 2 years

An optimal shielding configuration has been realized during the phase I study, and it is referred to as a Magnetospheric Dipolar Torus (MDT). This configuration has the singular ability to deflect the vast majority of the GCR including HZE ions. In addition, the MDT shields both habitat and magnets eliminating the secondary particle irradiation hazard, which can dominate over the primary GCR for the closed magnetic topologies that have been investigated in the past.

MDT shielding also reduces structural, mass and power requirements. For phase II a low cost method for testing shielding on Earth had been devised using cosmic GeV muons as a surrogate for the GCR encountered in space.

During the phase I study MSNW developed 3-D relativistic particle code to evaluate magnetic shielding of GCR and evaluated a wide range of magnetic topologies and shielding approaches from nested tori to large, plasma- based magnetospheric configurations. It was found that by far the best shielding performance was obtained for the MDT configuration.

The plans for phase II include an upgrade of the MSNW particle code to include material activation and a full range of GCR ions and energies. The improved particle code will be employed to characterize and optimize a subscale MDT for shielding GCR-generated muons arriving at the Earth’s surface. The subscale MDT will be designed, built, and then perform several shielding tests using the GCR induced muons at various locations and elevations.

The intent is to the validate MDT concept and bring it to TRL 4. A detailed design will be carried out for the next stage of development employing High Temperature Superconducting Coils and plans for both structures and space habitat. A substantial effort will be made to find critical NASA and commercial aerospace partners for future testing in Phase III to TRL 5.

NASA Invests in Shapeshifters, Biobots & Other Visionary Technology

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA is investing in technology concepts that include meteoroid impact detection, space telescope swarms, and small orbital debris mapping technologies that may one day be used for future space exploration missions.

The agency selected 25 early-stage technology proposals that have the potential to transform future human and robotic exploration missions, introduce new exploration capabilities, and significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.


House to Hold Hearing on In-Space Propulsion

House of Representatives

Space Subcommittee Hearing

In-Space Propulsion: Strategic Choices and Options
Date: Thursday, June 29, 2017 – 10:00am
Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building

Hearing Purpose
NASA is pursuing several in-space propulsion technologies to advance not only human exploration, but also uncrewed spacecraft operations. The hearing will explore NASA’s current portfolio of investments in in-space propulsion technologies, the state of the various technologies, and how they fit into future space architectures.


  • Mr. William Gerstenmaier — Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, NASA
  • Mr. Stephen Jurczyk — Associate Administrator, Space Technology Mission Directorate, NASA
  • Dr. Mitchell Walker — Chair, Electric Propulsion Technical Committee, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)
  • Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz — Founder and CEO, Ad Astra Rocket Company
  • Mr. Joe Cassady — Executive Director for Space, Washington Operations, Aerojet Rocketdyne
  • Dr. Anthony Pancotti — Director of Propulsion Research, MSNW LLC

NIAC Focus: Magnetoshells for Human & Robotic Exploration

Top- Artist rendering of Magnetoshell Aerocapture concept. Bottom Left - RF injector operating on Argon. Bottom Right - Magnetoshell operating with internal gas feed and intercepting an accelerated neutral and plasma jet. (Credit: D. Kirtley)
Top- Artist rendering of Magnetoshell Aerocapture concept. Bottom Left – RF injector operating on Argon. Bottom Right – Magnetoshell operating with internal gas feed and intercepting an accelerated neutral and plasma jet. (Credit: D. Kirtley)

Magnetoshell Aerocapture for Manned Missions and Planetary Deep Space Orbiters
NASA Innovative Advance Concepts Phase II Award

David Kirtley

It is clear from past mission studies that a manned Mars mission, as well as deep space planetary orbiters will require aerobraking and aerocapture which use aerodynamic drag forces to slow the spacecraft. Aerocapture would enable long term studies of the outer planets and their moons that would not be possible with existing braking technologies. While utilizing planetary atmospheres to slow down and capture spacecraft would dramatically reduce the cost, launch mass, and travel time, current technologies require significant additional spacecraft mass and risk, as the spacecraft must descend deep into a planetary atmosphere that is not well characterized in order to produce significant drag on a relatively small, fixed dimension aeroshell or temperature and structurally sensitive inflatable ballute.


NASA Announces 12 NextSTEP Partnerships

NASA LOGOWASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Building on the success of NASA’s partnerships with commercial industry to date, NASA has selected 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) to advance concept studies and technology development projects in the areas of advanced propulsion, habitation and small satellites.

Through these public-private partnerships, selected companies will partner with NASA to develop the exploration capabilities necessary to enable commercial endeavors in space and human exploration to deep-space destinations such as the proving ground of space around the moon, known as cis-lunar space, and Mars.

“Commercial partners were selected for their technical ability to mature key technologies and their commitment to the potential applications both for government and private sector uses,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters. “This work ultimately will inform the strategy to move human presence further into the solar system.”


An In-depth Look at Recent Altius Space Machines Contract Awards

Altius_logo_newBy Jonathan Goff
President and CEO
Altius Space Machines

Part 1 of 2

It has been a while since our last blog post, and those of you have been following the news over the last month may have noticed that Altius has recently been awarded or selected for negotiation on a few significant NASA technology development contracts. These four contracts are:

  • ISS Launched Cubesat Demonstration of Variable-Drag Magnetoshell Aerocapture – an SBIR Select Phase I that MSNW LLC of Redmond, WA is priming with Altius as subcontractor
  • Multi-purpose Interplanetary Deployable Aerocapture System (MIDAS) – an SBIR Select Phase I that Altius is priming with MSNW LLC as subcontractor
  • Kraken Asteroid Boulder Retrieval System – an Asteroid Redirect Mission BAA Phase I that Altius is priming with support from Boston-based Empire Robotics, Dr. Brad Blair of NewSpace Analytics, and the Materials Technology Lab at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, CO
  • Multipurpose SEP Module for ARM and Beyond – an Asteroid Redirect Mission BAA Phase I study where Altius will be supporting an industry team led by ExoTerra Resources of Littleton, CO.


Altius Space Machines Displays MIDAS Touch with Deep Space CubeSats

altiusBy Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected Jon Goff’s Altius Space Machines for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)  grant to develop an aerobraking and aerocapture system using an electromagnetic coil that would allow CubeSats to explore other planets and their moons.

The project, which is being done in cooperation with MSNW LLC of Redmond, Wash., involves technology that can be scaled up for larger robotic and human missions to Mars and other worlds. The electromagnetic systems would allow for significant mass savings in the size of the spacecraft.

Altius’ work focuses on the Multi-Purpose Interplanetary Deployable Aerocapture System (MIDAS), which could be packaged into 6U CubeSats sent to Mars, Venus, or Jupiter’s moon Europa.