NASA Goes BIG, Selects University Teams to Build Technologies for the Moon’s Darkest Areas

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — Almost a quarter of a million miles away from home, the Moon’s permanently shadowed regions are the closest extraterrestrial water source. These craters have remained dark for billions of years, but student-developed technologies can help shine light on all they have to offer.

Through the competitive Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge and the Space Grant project, NASA has awarded nearly $1 million to eight university teams to build sample lunar payloads and demonstrate innovative ways to study the Moon’s darkest areas.

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NASA Funds Demonstration of Assembly and Manufacturing in Space

SPIDER on the Restore-L satellite. (Credit: Maxar Technologies)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA has awarded a $142 million contract to Maxar Technologies of Westminster, Colorado, to robotically assemble a communications antenna and manufacture a spacecraft beam in orbit. The technology demonstration is slated to take place on NASA’s Restore-L spacecraft, designed to service and refuel a satellite in low-Earth orbit.

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Prototype Vest Could Help Protect Astronauts on Trips to Moon, Mars

Crystal Chamberlain, a technician at NASA’s Langley Research Center, works in a sewing lab to piece together a radiation protection vest prototype. (Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman)

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — NASA has overcome many difficult engineering challenges when it comes to human spaceflight – one that remains is how to best protect astronauts from space radiation.

A team at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia is working on one potential solution – a next-generation wearable radiation protection garment to protect against solar particle events.

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Bobby Braun to Join JPL to Head Planetary Exploration Program

Bobby Braun (Credit: CU Boulder)

Former NASA chief technologist Bobby Braun will be re-joining the space agency in January as the leader of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) center’s planetary exploration program.

Braun, who serves as dean of the University of Colorado (UC) Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, will serve as a member of JPL’s leadership team.

In an internal memo, center Director Michael Watkins said Braun’s 30 years of experience with the JPL and NASA planetary missions, including the Mars Pathfinder lander, would be a great asset in implementing a planned overhaul of the lab’s Mars and planetary exploration programs.

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SNC Partners With NASA to Advance Moon, Mars Technology

Dream Chaser lands (Credit: NASA)

SPARKS, Nev. October 2, 2019 (SNC PR) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader owned by Chairwoman and President Eren Ozmen and CEO Fatih Ozmen, is extending its partnership with NASA to two entry, descent and landing projects designed to improve affordability and safety of current and future missions.  The first will test recoverability of the upper stage of a rocket using a deployable decelerator, and the second involves thermal imaging of SNC’s Dream Chaser® during reentry and landing.

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NASA Inflatable Heat Shield Technology Performs Under Pressure

LOFTID pack and deployment testing started with a load test to verify that the heat shield will perform as expected in flight under real-life conditions. (Credits: NASA)

SANTA ANA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Testing is well underway as NASA’s LOFTID – short for Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator – prepares to catch a ride on an Atlas V rocket launch in 2022.

LOFTID is a cross-cutting technology designed to help deliver heavy cargos to any planet with an atmosphere.

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NASA to Test Sensors for Precision Moon Landings on Blue Origin’s New Shepard

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

NASA Contract Award
NASA Langley Research Center
Hampton, Virginia

Blue Origin, LLC
Kent, Washington
Amount: $1,301,743

Synopsis:

The work will include the integration of NASA developed technology into Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle, providing opportunities to mature critical sensor technology and algorithms that enable precision and soft landing. Testing will be performed at approximately 100 km altitude on-board the flight proven New Shepard vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) suborbital vehicle.

Blue Origin and NASA will use the flight data to anchor analyses and models and support follow-on ground-based algorithm testing and development. The NASA-developed sensor suite will enable Blue Moon to precisely land anywhere on the lunar surface, from the equator to the poles, from the rim of Shackleton crater to permanently shadowed regions, from the far side locations on the South Pole/Aitken basin to lunar lava tubes.

This contract addresses three high-level technology objectives:

1. Demonstrate the performance of NASA-developed precision landing sensor and processing technology (including, but not limited to, Descent Landing Computer (DLC), Navigation Doppler Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR, NDL) and Landing Vision System (LVS) in an operating envelope (altitude, velocity, and vehicle environments) from space environments through soft propulsive landing operations on a commercial vehicle (the New Shepard Propulsion Module).

2. Demonstrate a commercial guidance and navigation system for safe and accurate lunar landings using NASA-developed Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) and Hazard Detection and Avoidance (HDA) algorithms as part of a Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) simulation environment.

3. Develop and demonstrate a Flash LiDAR (FL) prototype for hazard detection derived from NASA-developed Flash LiDAR sensor design.











Beyond the Metal: Investigating Soft Robots at NASA Langley

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — Into the Spiderverse’s newest crew of villains include a brilliant scientist named Doctor Octopus who uses flexible robotic arms to commit her dastardly deeds. Her bionic arms can throw objects, aid her in moving quickly in fight scenes, and a host of other functions. While we can leave the evil geniuses to the movies, two genius interns are investigating soft robotics like the supervillain’s incredible arms for viability beyond our planet at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

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Inflatable Heat Shield Project Gets a Spring in its Step

Illustration of Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID). (Credits: NASA)

NORFOLK, Va. (NASA PR) — Testing of a key component of NASA’s Low-earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) is on track, thanks in part to Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, Virginia.

LOFTID is a cross-cutting technology designed to enable delivery of heavy cargos to any planet with an atmosphere. In a few years, the project will launch a six-meter inflatable heat shield into low-Earth orbit on an Atlas V rocket and collect data during re-entry.

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Inspector General: NASA Goddard Lags in Tech Transfer

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is lagging behind three other agency centers when it comes to transferring technology to the private sector, according to a new audit by the Office of Inspector General. [Full Report]

“Goddard…is experiencing poor technology transfer performance outcomes when compared to the other three NASA Centers we reviewed, to include a lower percentage of licenses as well as delays in processing of [New Technology Reports] and patent applications,” the audit said.

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IG: NASA Needs to Better Document Cost Savings on Services Contracts

NASA needs better methods to track its efforts to minimize costs on the more than $16 billion worth of engineering and technical services the space agency purchases annually, according to a new audit by the Inspector General (IG).

[Full Report — PDF]

“Although NASA has a variety of mechanisms at the Headquarters and Center levels to share lessons learned, many of these are informal, dependent upon personal relationships between Centers, and not focused on sharing information on efficiencies,” the audit said.

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NASA Looking to Tiny Technology for Big Payoffs

A demonstration flight article is wound with carbon nanotube composites. (Credits: NASA)

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — NASA is advancing technology that could use large amounts of nanoscale materials to launch lighter rockets and spacecraft than ever before. The Super-lightweight Aerospace Composites (SAC) project seeks to scale up the manufacturing and use of high-strength carbon nanotube composite materials.

Carbon nanotubes consist of carbon atoms chemically bound in the shape of cylinders that are less than 1/80,000 the diameter of human hair. At that scale, carbon nanotubes are about 100 times stronger than steel and about eight times lighter.

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NASA Awards Contract for Continued Development of Carbon Nanotube Technology

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has awarded a contract to Nanocomp Technologies Inc. of Merrimack, New Hampshire, for the continued development of high strength carbon nanotube (CNT) material.

The firm-fixed-price contract allows for the continued improvement of manufacturing high-strength CNT yarn/tape for use in developing CNT composites with strength properties at least double that of carbon fiber composites in use today. The contract also provides for studying commercialization objectives for CNT material as well as expanding manufacturing capabilities to lower production costs of high strength CNT yarn.

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