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.

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Future Rocket Engines May Include Large-Scale 3D Printing

Blown powder directed energy deposition can produce large structures – such as these engine nozzles – cheaper and quicker than traditional fabrication techniques. (Credits: NASA)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — As part of the Artemis  program, NASA is returning astronauts to the Moon where we will prepare for human exploration of Mars. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, experts from NASA, industry, and academia are pioneering methods to print the rocket parts that could power those journeys.

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NASA’s Planet Hunter Completes Its Primary Mission

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

by Francis Reddy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, Md. — On July 4, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) finished its primary mission, imaging about 75% of the starry sky as part of a two-year-long survey. In capturing this giant mosaic, TESS has found 66 new exoplanets, or worlds beyond our solar system, as well as nearly 2,100 candidates astronomers are working to confirm.  

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Lab Researchers, NASA Find Space Station’s Surface Microbial Profile Resembles Skin of its Crew Members

An astronaut dons gloves before starting to collect samples from an International Space Station environmental surface. (Credit: NASA)

LIVERMORE, Calif. (Lawrence Liivermore National Laboratory PR) — A study conducted by a team of national laboratory and NASA researchers has found that the environment of the International Space Station is affected by the microbial composition of the astronauts themselves.

The five-year research effort represents the first study to compare the space station’s environmental microbial profile (or microbiome) to an astronaut’s microbiome using metagenomic DNA sequencing techniques. 

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Frontier Development Lab Continues High-stakes AI Research Despite COVID-19

LUXEMBOURG (Luxembourg Space Agency PR) —Frontier Development Lab (FDL) – an artificial intelligence research accelerator for space science – has kicked off its 2020 program on a virtual platform with researchers and faculty from across the globe.  

The Luxembourg Space Agency partners with FDL for the 4th consecutive year.

The teams, comprised of early-career PhDs in AI and interdisciplinary science domains, are supported by subject matter experts from NASA (including NASA Headquarters, NASA Ames Research Center and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center) and the SETI Institute together with FDL Partners: Google Cloud, Mayo Clinic, Lockheed Martin, MIT, USGS, IBM, Intel AI, Luxembourg Space Agency, NVIDIA, Planet and Augustus Intelligence. Along with expertise, FDL partner organisations support advanced AI research by providing funding, hardware, AI/ML algorithms, datasets, software and cloud-based super-compute resources.

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NASA’s TESS Delivers New Insights Into an Ultrahot World

This illustration shows how planet KELT-9 b sees its host star. Over the course of a single orbit, the planet twice experiences cycles of heating and cooling caused by the star’s unusual pattern of surface temperatures. Between the star’s hot poles and cool equator, temperatures vary by about 1,500 F (800 C). This produces a “summer” when the planet faces a pole and a “winter” when it faces the cooler midsection. So every 36 hours, KELT-9 b experiences two summers and two winters. [Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (USRA)]

By Francis Reddy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, Md. — Measurements from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) have enabled astronomers to greatly improve their understanding of the bizarre environment of KELT-9 b, one of the hottest planets known.

“The weirdness factor is high with KELT-9 b,” said John Ahlers, an astronomer at Universities Space Research Association in Columbia, Maryland, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It’s a giant planet in a very close, nearly polar orbit around a rapidly rotating star, and these features complicate our ability to understand the star and its effects on the planet.”

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VIPER Moon Rover’s Instruments Tested for Early Lunar Flight

Engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley assemble the Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System in preparation for its 2021 flight to the Moon. While assembling the instrument inside the NIRVSS clean room, integration engineer Amanda Cook uses ultraviolet light to inspect the four infrared detectors on the NIRVSS Longwave Calibration Sensor for cleanliness, before fastening the board into its enclosure. (Credits: NASA / Ames Research Center / Dominic Hart)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — When NASA’s new Moon rover, VIPER, lands on the lunar surface to begin its hunt for water ice at the poles, it will be equipped for the job with instruments that have already been battle-tested in this harsh environment.

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NASA to Demonstrate First-of-its-Kind In-Space Manufacturing Technique for Telescope Mirrors

A Goddard engineer won a flight opportunity to show that an advanced thin-film manufacturing technique called atomic layer deposition, or ALD, could apply wavelength-specific reflective coatings on a sample — the first time ALD has been tried in space. (Credits: NASA/W. Hrybyk)

By ​Lori Keesey
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — Large telescopes that could be used for detecting and analyzing Earth-like planets in orbit around other stars or for peering back in time to observe the very early universe may not necessarily have to be built and assembled on the ground. In the future, NASA could construct them in space.

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NASA’s New Solar Sail System to be Tested On-Board NanoAvionics Satellite Bus

Advanced Composite Solar Sail System on NanoAvionics’ 12U CubeSat. (Credit: NanoAvionics)

COLUMBIA, Ill. (NanoAvionics PR) — NanoAvionics has been selected to build a 12U  nanosatellite bus for an in-orbit demonstration of  NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3). This a result of a contract between NASA Ames Research Center and AST for a 12U bus to carry NASA’s  payload into low Earth orbit (LEO) including an approximately 800 square foot (74 square meter) composite boom and solar sail system.  

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NIAC Award: An Astropharmacy for Human Space Missions

An image showing the Microfluidics-based Astropharmacy production system. (Credit: Lynn Rothschild)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

An Astropharmacy

Lynn Rothschild
NASA Ames Research Center

Disease is an inherent part of being alive, and thus disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment will be critical to human deep space missions. Pharmaceuticals are used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease, but suffer from lack of stability on Earth and even more so in the space environment.

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Dedicated Team of Scientists Discover Habitable-Zone Earth-Size Planet in Kepler Data

An illustration of Kepler-1649c orbiting around its host red dwarf star. This newly discovered exoplanet is in its star’s habitable zone and is the closest to Earth in size and temperature found yet in Kepler’s data. Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/ Daniel Rutter

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (SETI Institute PR) — In a new paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, co-authored by SETI Institute scientist Jeff Coughlin, astronomers using Kepler data have identified a planet nearly the same size of Earth that orbits in its star’s habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on its surface. 

This new world, Kepler-1649c, is 300 light-years away and orbits a star that is about one-fourth the size of our Sun.  Only 6% bigger than the Earth, it shares its sun with a planet much like Venus, Kepler-1649b, which was discovered three years ago. Although NASA’s Kepler space telescope was retired in 2018 when it ran out of fuel, scientists are still making discoveries as they continue to examine the signals Kepler detected. 

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Earth-Size, Habitable Zone Planet Found Hidden in Early NASA Kepler Data

An illustration of Kepler-1649c orbiting around its host red dwarf star. This newly discovered exoplanet is in its star’s habitable zone and is the closest to Earth in size and temperature found yet in Kepler’s data. Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/ Daniel Rutter

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — A team of transatlantic scientists, using reanalyzed data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, has discovered an Earth-size exoplanet orbiting in its star’s habitable zone, the area around a star where a rocky planet could support liquid water.

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When the Moon Dust Settles, It Won’t Settle in VIPER’s Wheels

Robotics engineer Jason Schuler performs a preliminary test to prepare for dust testing of various seals for the wheel motors on NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, March 17, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test takes place in a bin holding more than 120 tons of simulated lunar regolith – loose dirt, dust and rock – that is used to help simulate the properties of the lunar surface. (Credits: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Moon dust is a formidable adversary – the grains are as fine as powder and as sharp as tiny shards of glass. During the Apollo 17 mission to the Moon, the astronauts lamented how the dust found its way into everything, coating their spacesuits and jamming the shoulder joints, getting inside their lunar habitat and even causing symptoms of a temporary “lunar dust hay fever” in astronaut Harrison Schmitt. Those symptoms fortunately went away quickly – but the problem of Moon dust remains for future missions.

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NASA Science Keeps the Lights On

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Across NASA’s many missions, thousands of scientists, engineers, and other experts and professionals all over the country are doing what they do best, but now from home offices and via video conferencing. With most personnel supporting missions remotely to keep onsite staff at a minimal level in response to COVID-19, the Agency is moving ahead strongly with everything from space exploration to using our technology and innovation to help inform policy makers.  

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