NASA Selects Pioneer Astronautics for 3 Small Business Awards

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Pioneer Astronautics will begin development of a magnetic sail to de-orbit satellites, a magnetic system to improve rocket engine performance in low gravity, and a gas replacement system that would allow balloons to explore other planets with the assistance of NASA funding.

The space agency selected the projects for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The awards are worth up to $125,000 for as much as six months.

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NIAC Award: High Irradiance Peltier Operated Tungsten Exo-Reflector

Concept of the HI-POWER rover. A small vehicle is shielded from the sun with a tungsten shield. The connections to the shield are comprised of stacked POLAR coolers. The outer skirt of the shield includes arrays of thermoelectric generators which absorb heat from the shield and radiate waste heat to the ground without heating the rover. (Credits: Troy Howe)

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

High Irradiance Peltier Operated Tungsten Exo-Reflector (HI-POWER)

Troy Howe
Howe Industries LLC 

One issue that arises with spacecraft in almost every mission is thermal management. Computers, instruments, and housing may heat up in space, as a combination of solar energy and poor heat rejection causes temperatures to rise to hundreds of degrees. This can be fought by advanced radiators or may require specialized cooling systems.

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NIAC Award: Advanced Aerocapture System for Enabling Faster-Larger Planetary Science & Human Exploration Missions

Discrete Magnets Positioned Circumferentially and Coaxially on the Forebody for Steering and Mitigating Heat Flux. (Credits: Robert Moses)

NASA Advanced Innovative Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award

Amount: $125,000

Advanced Aerocapture System for Enabling Faster-Larger Planetary Science & Human Exploration Missions

Robert Moses
NASA Langley Research Center

Aerocapture offers huge potential increases in science return by allowing the ability to deliver larger payloads, enabling faster transits of existing instruments, or offering flexibility to integrate payloads onto a single and perhaps cheaper launch vehicle. Previous calculations quantified the cost and delivered mass advantages of aerocapture for eleven representative missions for eight possible destinations in our solar system.

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NIAC Award: A Pulsed Plasma Rocket for Fast Human Transits to Mars

Depiction of the Pulsed Plasma Rocket: Shielded, Fast Transits for Humans to Mars concept. (Credits: Steven Howe)

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

Pulsed Plasma Rocket: Shielded, Fast Transits for Humans to Mars

Steven Howe
Howe Industries LLC

Development of a space faring civilization will depend on the ability to move cargo efficiently and humans rapidly. Due to the large distances involved in space travel, the ships must reach a high velocity for reasonable mission transit times. Thus, propulsion systems with high specific impulse (Isp) AND high thrust are required.

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NIAC Award: Lightweight Planetary Probe for Extreme Environment Exploration

Graphic rendering of the Lightweight Multifunctional Planetary Probe for Extreme Environment Exploration and Locomotion. (Credits: Javid Bayandor)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Lightweight Multifunctional Planetary Probe for Extreme Environment Exploration and Locomotion

Javid Bayandor
State University Of New York, Buffalo

With many characteristics similar to Earth, Venus has long been considered of high scientific interest to NASA. The Venus surface temperatures near 460°C and pressures of 93 bar have made long duration surface missions infeasible.

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BepiColombo Takes Last Snaps of Earth en route to Mercury

A sequence of images taken by the MCAM selfie cameras on board of the European-Japanese Mercury mission BepiColombo as it neared Earth ahead of its gravity-assist flyby manoeuvre in April 2020. Images in the sequence were taken in 10-minute intervals from 11:25 UTC until 21:04 UTC on 9 April 2020, less than a day before the closest approach. (Credit: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission completed its first flyby on 10 April, as the spacecraft came less than 12 700 km from Earth’s surface at 06:25 CEST, steering its trajectory towards the final destination, Mercury. Images gathered just before closest approach portray our planet shining through darkness, during one of humankind’s most challenging times in recent history.

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NIAC Award: Ultra Lightweight Nuclear Electric Propulsion Probe for Deep Space Exploration

Graphic depiction of the SPEAR Probe concept. (Credits: Troy Howe)

NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC)
Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

SPEAR Probe – An Ultra Lightweight Nuclear Electric Propulsion Probe for Deep Space Exploration

Troy Howe
Howe Industries LLC

Nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) systems have the potential to provide a very effective transit mechanism to celestial bodies outside of the realm of solar power, yet the heavy power source and massive radiators required to justify a reactor core often push NEP spacecraft towards very large masses and major missions.

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NASA’s Game Changing Entry, Descent and Landing

Video Caption: NASA EDGE gives an in depth look at the latest Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) technologies being developed at NASA. Chris Giersch is joined in studio by Steve Gaddis (Game Changing Development Program Manager) and Michelle Munk (EDL Principal Technologist) to discuss the game changing nature of EDL, while Blair and Franklin interview Mike Barnhardt (Systems Modeling), Mark Shoenenberger (MEDLI-2) and Joseph Del Corso (HIAD-2) in this first part of two episodes on EDL.











Tethers Unlimited Selected for 3 SBIR Phase I Awards

Tethers_Unlimited_LogoNASA has selected Tethers Unlimited, Inc., (TUI) for three Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards for materials that can be recycled on the International Space Station (ISS), an anchoring system that would allow rovers to explore rough terrain on other worlds, and a gimbal that would assist balloons in exploring the atmospheres of Venus and Titan.

Now that there is a 3D printer on the station, TUI is interested in developing cargo ship packing materials that can be easily recycled into feed stock for the printer.

“TUI proposes to develop Customizable Recyclable International Space Station Packaging (CRISSP), which is a set of materials, formats, and design methodologies optimized both for (1) the economic and mechanical requirements for ISS supplies packaging and (2) being efficiently recyclable onboard the ISS into high performance 3D printer feedstock,” the proposal states. “A range of packaging formats will be evaluated for use, including common bubble-wrap, foams, folded and thermoformed shells, and parametric cellular additively-manufactured boxes that can be readily optimized for specific payloads and launch environments.”

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NASA Captures Falcon 9 Descent Data to Help With Planetary Exploration

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA successfully captured thermal images of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on its descent after it launched in September from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The data from these thermal images may provide critical engineering information for future missions to the surface of Mars.

“Because the technologies required to land large payloads on Mars are significantly different than those used here on Earth, investment in these technologies is critical,” said Robert Braun, principal investigator for NASA’s Propulsive Descent Technologies (PDT) project and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “This is the first high-fidelity data set of a rocket system firing into its direction of travel while traveling at supersonic speeds in Mars-relevant conditions. Analysis of this unique data set will enable system engineers to extract important lessons for the application and infusion of supersonic retro-propulsion into future NASA missions.”

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JPL Selects Europa CubeSat Proposals for Study

Artist's concept of CubeSats near Jupiter's moon Europa. (Credit: NASA/JPL)
Artist’s concept of CubeSats near Jupiter’s moon Europa. (Credit: NASA/JPL)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has chosen proposals from 10 universities to study CubeSat concepts that could enhance a Europa mission concept currently under study by NASA. The CubeSat concepts will be incorporated into a JPL study describing how small probes could be carried as auxiliary payloads. The CubeSats would then be released in the Jovian system to make measurements and enhance our understanding of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

CubeSats are small, lightweight and low-cost satellites, often only inches on a side. With support from NASA, JPL is working to include small spacecraft on deep space exploration missions to complement primary spacecraft.

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NASA Issues RFI for New Upper Stage

NASA LOGONASA has issued a request for information (RFI) from companies interested in providing a common upper stage for use on future planetary missions. According to the RFI:

NASA is interested in utilizing a complete and independent upper stage that is compatible with existing launch vehicles using an industry standard set of payload adapters and electrical connectors. Of primary interest is a stage that provides an approximate delta-V capability of 3,000 m/sec (~10,000 ft/sec) given a payload of 500 kg (1100 lbs) and is able to support a payload range of approximately 400 to 3800 kg (880 to 8400 lbs). Both larger and smaller systems are of interest as well.

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Phobos-Grunt Undergoes Vacuum Chamber Tests

Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft

ROSCOSMOS PAO reports:

Experts of Lavochkin R&D prepare Phobos-Grunt spacecraft for electrical tests in thermal vacuum chamber. Ground hardware and harness mating is almost finished. The spacecraft will be accommodated in the chamber in the nearest future. The tests are to confirm spacecraft systems’ proper functioning in the environment close to the real one.

The launch of the spacecraft which is to return soil of Martian moon Phobos to the Earth is slated for late 2011.

In addition to conducting in depth studies of Phobos and Mars, the spacecraft will carry a Chinese sub-satellite that will orbit the planet and instruments from a number of other nations, including France. (more…)