NASA Funds R&D Projects to Improve Small Satellite Performance

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Small satellites are increasingly being used for missions in Earth orbit and deep space. Although they are easy to launch, their size limits their capabilities and usefulness to scientists. NASA has selected a pair of research and development (R&D) projects designed to address some of these limitations for continued funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

The space agency selected Flight Works for a Phase II award to continue developing a high-performance, pump-fed transfer stage for Venture Class cislunar and deep space missions. The space agency also selected Nanohmics of Austin, Texas, for a SBIR Phase II award to continue working on adaptive optics for low-cost CubeSat optical systems. Each award is worth up to $750,000 over 24 months. Both companies received smaller SBIR Phase I awards.

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NASA Funds R&D Projects to Improve Operations of Satellite Swarms

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is funding a trio of research and development (R&D) projects by Nanoracks, Teltrium Solutions and Emergent Space Technologies aimed at enabling swarms of small satellites to better operate in Earth orbit and to explore other worlds.

The companies each received Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II awards worth $750,000 to continue work on the their technologies. They each received smaller awards under the first phase of of the program.

Nanoracks, which is based in Houston, is focused on reusing spent rocket stages known as Outposts to help improve communications with satellite swarms exploring the moon and other planets.

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Mitsubishi Electric Develops Technology for the Freeform Printing of Satellite Antennas in Outer Space

On-orbit manufacturing and deployment of a satellite antenna in space (from left). (Credit: Mitsubishi Electric Corporation)

New photosensitive resin harnesses solar radiation for low-power 3D printing in vacuum

TOKYO, May 17, 2022 – Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (TOKYO: 6503) announced today that the company has developed an on-orbit additive-manufacturing technology that uses photosensitive resin and solar ultraviolet light for the 3D printing of satellite antennas in the vacuum of outer space. The novel technology makes use of a newly developed liquid resin that was custom formulated for stability in vacuum. The resin enables structures to be fabricated in space using a low-power process that utilizes the sun’s ultraviolet rays for photopolymerization.

The technology specifically addresses the challenge of equipping small, inexpensive spacecraft buses with large structures, such as high-gain antenna reflectors, and enables on-orbit fabrication of structures that greatly exceed the dimensions of launch vehicle fairings. Resin-based on-orbit manufacturing is expected to enable spacecraft structures to be made thinner and lighter than conventional designs, which must survive the stresses of launch and orbital insertion, thereby reducing both total satellite weight and launch costs.

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Gov. Janet Mills Signs Bill to Establish Maine Space Corporation

Gov. Janet Mills (left) signs into a law LD 1923, which was sponsored by Sen. Mattie Daughtry (right). (Credit: Maine Governor’s Office)

AUGUSTA, Maine (Mattie Daughtry PR) — On Monday, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a bill from Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick. LD 1923, “An Act To Establish the Maine Space Corporation,” will help Maine’s emerging aerospace industry, create high-paying jobs and grow the state’s economy.

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NASA Funds Research to Use Smallsats to Improve Storm Predictions

Graphic depiction of Starburst: A Revolutionary Under-Constrained Adaptable Deployable Structure Architecture. (Credits: Jonathan Sauder)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is funding research into the development of a constellation of small satellites (smallsats) capable of measuring a storm from start to finish in order to improve weather forecasting.

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DEWA Signs Agreement with NanoAvionics to Provide Nanosatellites to Support the digitalisation of Dubai’s Power and Water Networks

Deal is part of DEWA’s Space-D programme

COLUMBIA, Ill. (NanoAvionics PR) — Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has selected NanoAvionics, a leading smallsat manufacturer and mission integrator company, to design, build, test, and manage the launching of two nanosatellites 3U and 6U. The services supplied by NanoAvionics also include operation, knowledge transfer and training. This is part of DEWA’s space-D programme that seeks to enhance operational efficiency and reliability, and promote preventive maintenance for the planning, generation, transmission and distribution of electricity and water networks.

Through this programme, DEWA will lead the industry in improving the operations, maintenance and planning of its networks with the support of nanosatellite technology. Space-D supports DEWA’s grid digitalisation programme by using IoT and remote sensing technologies.

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NASA Awards Challenge Prizes to Startup Companies

NASA’s Entrepreneur’s Challenge awarded 10 startup companies awards for innovative technology concepts, including those that could improve onboard systems on small satellites. Such satellites are often no larger than a loaf of bread, such as the CubeSats shown here as they were deployed from the International Space Station on May 16, 2017. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has awarded $90,000 each to seven entrepreneurial startup companies under its Entrepreneur’s Challenge program. The awards will advance new technology concepts ranging from novel materials with properties not found in nature to innovative technologies that will enable small satellite (SmallSat) science missions.  

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NASA Selects New Mission to Study Storms, Impacts on Climate Models

Towering cumulonimbus thunderstorm clouds are seen in this photo taken Aug. 15, 2014, looking east toward the Atlantic Ocean from the Space Launch Complex 37 area at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (now Cape Canaveral Space Force Station) in Florida. NASA has selected a new Earth science mission called Investigation of Convective Updrafts (INCUS) that will study the behavior of tropical storms and thunderstorms, including their impacts on weather and climate models. (Credits: NASA/Jim Grossmann)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected a new Earth science mission that will study the behavior of tropical storms and thunderstorms, including their impacts on weather and climate models. The mission will be a collection of three SmallSats, flying in tight coordination, called Investigation of Convective Updrafts (INCUS), and is expected to launch in 2027 as part of NASA’s Earth Venture Program.

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Orbit Boy Announces Agreement with Microsatellite Developer CreoTech

LONDON (Orbit Boy PR) — Orbit Boy Ltd, a U.K. incorporated aerospace company that plans to offer next day space launches based on its unique air-launch capabilities today announced a preliminary launch services agreement with the microsatellite developer CreoTech (Poland).

The preliminary agreement was formally signed in August 2021 and is focused on a launch and delivery of microsatellites to its low-Earth orbit destination aboard a Boy Launcher.

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NASA Works to Give Satellite Swarms a Hive Mind

Two satellites on similar orbits collect valuable perspectives on the same part of the atmosphere. (Credit: NASA/Sabrina Thompson)

By Karl B. Hille
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — Swarms of small satellites could communicate amongst themselves to collect data on important weather patterns at different times of the day or year, and from multiple angles. Such swarms, using machine learning algorithms, could revolutionize scientists’ understanding of weather and climate changes.

Engineer Sabrina Thompson is working on software to enable small spacecraft, or SmallSats, to communicate with each other, identify high-value observation targets, and coordinate attitude and timing to get different views of the same target.

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Thinking Outside the Cube: Engineers Developing Disk Shaped Satellites

DiskSat is a plate-shaped satellite (1 meter in diameter, 2.5 centimeters thick) that could provide the required power and aperture needed for future missions. (Credit: Aerospace Corporation)

In response to growing interest in capable SmallSats, a team of engineers and scientists are thinking outside the (CubeSat) box with DiskSat, a new circular satellite design.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — A defining feature of a standard CubeSat is its containerization—the shape, volume and design—which makes it rideshare-friendly. This quality was historically important since these devices comprised a minor part of the total payload. Containerization ensured that CubeSats could not endanger the launch vehicle or primary payload.

Now, Aerospace engineers and scientists have reevaluated whether the standard CubeSat may be the best shape for a mission.

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Modularity Space and Orbital Transports Create Reusable Space Ecosystem

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., July 12, 2021 (Modularity Space PR) – Modularity Space and Orbital Transports announced a partnership to create a reusable ecosystem of suppliers, manufacturers, and rideshare opportunities for payloads. By combining mission planning and supply chain management services provided by Orbital Transports with reusable spacecraft engineering from Modularity Space, the companies can offer affordable opportunities for payloads to get to orbit with a full turn-key mission package. The combined service provides an easy on-ramp to space for payload types ranging from technology demonstration and qualification missions to full constellation-scale deployments.

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Launch 2020: U.S. Reclaimed Top Spot, Flew Astronauts Again from American Soil

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The United States reclaimed the top spot in launches from China last year as NASA astronauts flew into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly nine years, SpaceX deployed the world’s first satellite mega-constellation with reused rockets, and two new launchers debuted with less than stellar results.

American companies conducted 44 launches in 2020, with 40 successes and four failures. Bryce Tech reports that U.S. companies accounted for 32 of the 41 commercial launches conducted last year. The majority of those flights were conducted by SpaceX, which launched 25 orbital missions.

China came in second with a record of 35 successful launches and four failures. The 39 launch attempts tied that nation’s previous record for flights during a calendar year.

Let’s take a closer look at what U.S. companies achieved last year.

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Launch 2020: A Busy Year Filled with Firsts in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

SpaceX dominated, China surged and Russia had another clean sheet as American astronauts flew from U.S. soil again in a year of firsts.

First in a series

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a very busy launch year with a number of firsts in both human and robotic exploration. A total of 114 orbital launches were attempted, with 104 successes and 10 failures. It was the same number of launches that were conducted in 2018, with that year seeing 111 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

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NASA Space Technology Budget Request Fact Sheet

NASA’s Psyche mission to a distant metal asteroid will carry a revolutionary Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) package. This artist’s concept shows Psyche spacecraft with a five-panel array. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

NASA FACT SHEET
FY 2022 Budget Request
Space Technology
($ Millions)

The Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) develops transformative, cross-cutting technologies that lead to research and technology breakthroughs to enable NASA’s missions and is broadening its focus on cross-cutting space technologies that will support creating good jobs in a growing space industry.

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