Companies Eye Space Station for Retinal Implants, Organs-on-Chips & More

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is funding projects that will use the microgravity of the International Space Station (ISS) to improve sight-restoring retinal implants, produce high-value optical materials, and conduct research using organs-on-chips (OOCs).

These are three of seven proposals the space agency selected for funding last month under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program that utilize ISS or demonstrate technologies in low Earth orbit (LEO). Each phase 1 award is worth up to $125,000 over six months.

Other selected projects are focused on improving water recycling on crewed vehicles, facilitating on-orbit spacecraft refueling and storage, hosting payloads on satellite constellations, and automating the watering of plants on ISS.

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Paragon Selected for 3 NASA Small Business Awards

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA selected three projects from Paragon Space Development Corporation of Tucson, Arizona for funding in its recent round of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards. Each contract is worth a maximum of $125,000 over six months.

Paragon’s Separation Technology of On-Orbit Liquid and Excrement (STOOLE) project is pretty much what it sounds like: an improved system for recycling human waste in space.

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NASA Gives a Financial Boost to In-Space Welding Projects

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA selected two projects for funding focused on developing in-space welding technologies as part of its recent round of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards.

The space agency selected Busek Company of Natick, Mass., and Made in Space of Jacksonville, Fla., for phase 1 awards worth up to $125,000 apiece for six months.

“Busek proposes to initiate the development of a semi-autonomous, teleoperated welding robot for joining of external (or internal metallic uninhabited volume at zero pressure) surfaces in space,”according to the proposal summary. “This welding robot will be an adaptation of a versatile Busek developed system called SOUL (Satellite On Umbilical Line) with a suitable weld head attached to it.

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NASA STTR Awards Focused on Advanced Thermal Protection Systems

This computer-generated art depicts Orion’s heat shield protecting the crew module as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

As NASA is funding research into lighter and more capable thermal protection systems (TPSs) producing using additive manufacturing (3D printing) as it looks to land ever larger payloads on other worlds and return extraterrestrial soil samples to Earth.

The space agency recently selected four heat shield proposals from corporate-university partnerships for funding under its Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. The phase 1 grants are worth up to $125,000 over 13 months.

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Busek Company Selected for NASA Funding to Develop Spacecraft Advanced Propulsion

Busek Company will develop advanced CubeSat propulsion and Hall Effect thrusters (HETs) with the help of NASA funding.

The space agency has selected the Massachusetts-based company for five Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 awards. The contracts are worth up to $125,000 apiece over 13 months.

The three proposals focused on CubeSats and small satellites include:

  • a low impulse bit electrospray thruster control system;
  • a compact high performance plasma propulsion system (CHPPPS); and,
  • an iodine-compatible photocathode for RF ion thrusters.

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NASA Funds Final Frontier Design for Low-Cost Personal Life Support System

Spacewalker Kate Rubins works outside the International Space Station with the SpaceX Dragon space freighter just below her. (Credit: NASA TV)

Final Frontier Design (FFD) has been selected for NASA funding to develop a low-cost personal life support system for spacesuits that would use commercial off-the-shelf components and be discarded after use.

The space agency selected the Brooklyn-based company’s proposal for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 program. The contract is worth up to $125,000 for as long as 13 months.

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Altius Space Machines Selected for 2 NASA SBIR Phase 1 Awards

Altius Small Machines will develop systems that will allow for orbiting satellites to be upgraded and for planetary science missions to changes the tools they are using with the help of NASA funding.

The space agency selected the Colorado-based company for two awards under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 program. Each contract is worth up to $125,000 over 13 months.

One project involves MagTags, which are modular interfaces that use “solid state switchable magnets and ferrous target materials to create a secure electrical or low-pressure fluid connection between modules and spacecraft with no moving parts,” according to the proposal summary.

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Paragon Developing Advanced Radiator for Inflatable Habitats

Paragon Space Development Corporation will develop a flexible radiator for inflatable habitats and an improved condenser for use on human space missions with the help of NASA funding.

The space agency has selected the Tuscon, Ariz.-based company for two contracts under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 program. The agreements are worth up to $125,000 apiece over 13 months.

The target market for Paragon’s Flexible Radiator (FlexRAD) is “long duration human spaceflight exploration missions and other spacecraft” that use a single loop  active thermal control system (ATCS).

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Masten Space Systems Selected for NASA SBIR Phase 1 Award

Masten Space Systems of Mojave will pursue a project designed to better use additive manufacturing (AM) in the production of rocket engines with the help of NASA funding.

The space agency selected the company’s PermiAM project for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 program. The contract is worth as much as $125,000 over 13 months.

“Part of the work performed in this SBIR will help in determine the potential savings for future engine development programs, currently projected at 10x for injector build cost savings which require face cooling,” the project summary stated.

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Made in Space Eyes Glass Alloy Production & Modular Science Platforms in Orbit

Made in Space (MIS) will develop systems for the production of glass alloys in microgravity, the assembly and refurbishment of modular platforms in orbit, and the in-space manufacturing of large structures for infrared space interferometry missions with the help of NASA funding.

The three projects were among five Made in Space proposals that NASA selected for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I program. Each contract is worth up to $125,000 over 13 months.

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Planetary LEGO Blocks Take Shape in Hawaii

Planetary LEGOs (Credit: PISCES)

HILO, Hawaii (PISCES PR) — These LEGO blocks are not the familiar plastics bricks you may have pieced together as a kid or given to your children to play with. In fact, these blocks could one day form the foundations of habitats and infrastructure supporting astronauts on places like Mars, the Moon and other worlds.

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Tethers Unlimited to Develop Collaborative Robotics Platform with NASA Funding

Tethers Unlimited (TUI) will develop a collaborative robotics platform for use aboard the International Space Station with the assistance of NASA funding.

The space agency has selected the company’s AstroPorter proposal for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I program. The contract is worth up to $125,000 over 13 months.

‘TUI will develop an AstroPorter payload for Astrobee to perform collaborative robotics tasks with TUI’s MANTIS – an EXPRESS Rack payload with a robotic arm for telerobotic operation of experiments on the ISS,” the proposal summary states. “AstroPorter will interface with Astrobee through the dedicated payload bay and function as a platform for transporting equipment and other stowed material around the ISS.”

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Tyvak Selected for NASA SBIR Phase 1 Award

Tyvak Nano-Satellite System plans to develop a low-cost, high-performing avionics system for use in small launch vehicles and maneuvering upper stage carriers with the help of NASA funding.

The space agency selected the Tyvak Extended Mission PlatfOrm (TEMPO) for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 program. The contract is worth up to $125,000  over 13 months.

“The system provides autonomous guidance and control and stage/deployment sequencing,” the proposal summary stated. “It also uses customizable subsystem packages to enable carrier vehicles to provide services currently unavailable to small satellites, such as delivery of multiple satellites to multiple orbital planes, long-duration carrier vehicle operations, delayed deployment of spare satellites until they are needed to replenish a constellation, hub-and-spoke rendezvous and proximity, and communication relay.”

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NASA Awards $43.5 Million to US Small Businesses for Technology Research, Development


WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 304 proposals from U.S. small businesses to advance research and technology in Phase I of its 2018 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and 44 proposals for the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, totaling $43.5 million in awards. These selections support NASA’s future space exploration missions, while also benefiting the U.S. economy.

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A Closer Look at Astra Space

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

At some point in the next few weeks, the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska will host its first commercial rocket launch. Officials at the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, which runs the spaceport, are hoping the suborbital test flight is the first of many commercial flights from the underused facility.

While officials have not identified the California company conducting the launch, a perusal of the corporation’s board minutes indicate it is almost certainly a small Bay Area startup named Astra Space.

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