A Look at NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Plans


Last month NASA officials gave a series of presentations about the space agency’s deep-space exploration plans to the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Committee. I have excerpted slides from those presentations to provide an overview of what the space agency is planning.
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NASA Selects 3 Companies to Develop Prototype Space FabLab

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — NASA is taking the next step in the development of a space-based, on-demand fabrication capability by partnering with three U.S. companies, under NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program, to create prototypes.

The selected companies are: Interlog Corporation of Anaheim, California; Techshot, Inc. of Greeneville, Indiana; and Tethers Unlimited, Inc. of Bothell, Washington. Combined funding for the awards is approximately $10.2 million. These companies will have 18 months to deliver the prototype, after which NASA will select partners to further mature the technologies.

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NASA Selects Tethers Unlimited for Four Small Business Awards

Tethers Unlimited (TUI) will being developing a small satellite capable of growing itself in orbit and a metal press and milling system capable of creating precision parts in microgravity with the help of NASA funding.

The projects were among four TUI proposals the space agency selected under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I program. The contracts are worth up to $125,000 apiece over six months.

The selected proposals include:

  • MakerSat
  • Metal Advanced Manufacturing Bot-Assisted Assembly (MAMBA) Process
  • COBRA-Bee Carpal-Wrist Gimbal for Astrobee
  • The Automated X-Link for Orbital Networking (AXON) Connector

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Tethers Unlimited Selected for 3 SBIR Phase II Awards

NASA has selected Tethers Unlimited for negotiations on three Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece over two years.

The three projects include:

  • ERASMUS: Food Contact Safe Plastics Recycler and 3D Printer System;
  • Modular Advanced Networked Telerobotic Interface System (MANTIS); and,
  • OpenSWIFT-SDR for STRS.

ERASMUS would allow astronauts to recycle waste plastics and 3D print new items that would be safe for food and medical use.

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ISS Utilization SBIRs Include Fiber Optic Manufacturing, Plastics Recycler & Printer

NASA has selected a fiber optics manufacturing unit , a 3D metal printer, and a plastics recycling and printing system for negotiations on SBIR Phase II contracts. All three projects are designed to enhance utilization of the International Space Station.

The three selected projects, which are eligible for contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece over two years, include:

  • Space Facility for Orbital Remote Manufacturing (SPACEFORM) — FOMS, Inc., San Diego, Calif.;
  • Sintered Inductive Metal Printer with Laser Exposure — Techshot, Greenville, Ind.; and,
  • ERASMUS: Food Contact Safe Plastics Recycler
    and 3D Printer System — Tethers Unlimited, Bothell, Wash.

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Firmamentum Wins Contract to Manufacture Comsat Component in Space

Tethers_Unlimited_LogoBOTHELL, Wash. (Tehters Unlimited PR) – Firmamentum, a division of Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI), announced that it has signed a contract with Space Systems Loral (SSL), a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, to prepare a flight demonstration of in-space manufacture of a component on a communications satellite.

Firmamentum’s in-space manufacturing hardware is intended to fly as part of SSL’s “Dragonfly” program, which will demonstrate in-space robotic assembly of geostationary (GEO) communications satellites, enabling dramatic improvements in GEO satellite performance and mission flexibility.

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Links to Parabolic Arc’s Coverage of Small Satellite 2016 Conference

SkyFire’s new infrared technology will help NASA enhance its knowledge of the lunar surface. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)
SkyFire’s new infrared technology will help NASA enhance its knowledge of the lunar surface. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

The Small Satellite 2016 Conference is now over. Below are links to Parabolic Arc’s coverage of the conference and the CubeSat Workshop that preceded it last weekend. There are also links to announcements made during the conference and in recent weeks.

Small Satellite Conference Coverage

Recent Smallsat News & Announcements

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Smallsat 2016: NASA Program & Mission Updates

Two three-unit (3U) CubeSats. At about a foot in length and four inches wide, these are similar in design to IceCube and the five selected heliophysics CubeSats. (Credit: NASA)
Two three-unit (3U) CubeSats. At about a foot in length and four inches wide, these are similar in design to IceCube and the five selected heliophysics CubeSats. (Credit: NASA)

NASA officials have been providing updates this week on agency programs and missions during the 2016 Small Satellite Conference and the CubeSat Workshop that preceded it. I have pulled together summaries of their presentations drawn from Twitter.  Information has come from the following Tweeters:

  • Jeff Foust ‏@jeff_foust
  • David Hurst ‏@OrbitalDave
  • Hanna Steplewska ‏@spacesurfingirl
  • Augie Allen ‏@AugieAllen
  • RITSpaceExploration ‏@RITSPEX

Enjoy!
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Tethers Unlimited Signs Contracts to Deliver HYDROS Water-Propelled Thrusters

HYDROS thruster (Credit: Tethers Unlimited)
HYDROS thruster (Credit: Tethers Unlimited)

BOTHELL, Wash. (Tethers Unlimited PR) — Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) announced that it has signed a Public-Private Partnership with NASA to deliver a HYDROS™ propulsion system for a CubeSat mission. Concurrently, TUI has signed an associated contract to provide three HYDROS thrusters sized for Millennium Space Systems’ (MSS) ALTAIR™ class microsatellites to support three different flight missions. Total contract value for the two efforts is $2.2M.

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TUI Lands $1.25M in Army & NASA Funding to Develop Smallsat Communications System

Tethers_Unlimited_LogoBothell,Wa. (TUI PR) — Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) announced that it has secured three new contracts with a total value of over $1.25M to develop a robust suite of radio and antenna solutions to enable enable small, affordable satellites to provide high-bandwidth data services.

The US Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) has awarded TUI a contract to develop SWIFT® transceivers operating at K and Ka-Band frequencies. SMDC has also selected TUI for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to integrate its SWIFT radios with a gimbaled antenna to provide a full steered, multi-frequency, high-bandwidth communications solution for satellites.

Additionally, NASA’s SBIR Program has selected TUI to develop software interfaces for its SWIFT radios to facilitate integration of the radio with electrically-steered arrays (ESAs) and other high-performance antenna solutions.

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DARPA Awards TUI/Firmamentum Contract to Develop “Constructable” Persistent GEO Platform

Constructable GEO platform (Credit: TUI)
Constructable GEO platform (Credit: TUI)

Bothell,WA (TUI PR) — Firmamentum, a division of Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) dedicated to developing in-space manufacturing and construction services, announced that it has signed a contract with DARPA to design a persistent geostationary orbit (GEO) satellite platform.

Under the “Constructable™ Platform” Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award, Firmamentum will collaborate with Space Systems Loral (SSL), NanoRacks LLC, and Vulcan Aerospace to develop a modular architecture for constructing stations in Earth orbit capable of supporting multiple government and commercial payloads.

Firmamentum’s Constructable approach entails launching suitcase-sized modular elements at low cost using DARPA’s PODS payload delivery system and then robotically assembling these modules to form a space station in GEO capable of providing power, communications, stationkeeping, and other key services to ‘tenant’ payloads.

Firmamentum’s technologies for manufacturing satellite components such as trusses and reflectors on-orbit will enable integration of these small modules to form large, stable platforms that can grow and evolve to meet the needs of many different payloads over multiple decades of operation.

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NASA Selects SBIR Projects to Enhance Manufacturing on ISS

NASA astronaut and Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Jeff Williams works with the WetLab-2 system aboard the International Space Station. WetLab-2 is a research platform for conducting real-time quantitative PCR for gene expression analysis aboard the ISS. The system enables spaceflight genomic studies involving a wide variety of biospecimen types in the unique microgravity environment of space. (Credit: NASA)
NASA astronaut and Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Jeff Williams works with the WetLab-2 system aboard the International Space Station. WetLab-2 is a research platform for conducting real-time quantitative PCR for gene expression analysis aboard the ISS. The system enables spaceflight genomic studies involving a wide variety of biospecimen types in the unique microgravity environment of space. (Credit: NASA)

NASA has selected five proposals designed to enhance activities aboard the International Space Station for Small business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards.

Three of the proposals would enhance manufacturing aboard the orbiting laboratory. A fourth proposal would recycle wast plastic for 3D printing, and the fifth would improve the monitoring of air quality.

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NASA Selects Tethers Unlimited for 4 SBIR Awards

Tethers_Unlimited_LogoNASA has selected Tethers Unlimited of Bothell, Wash., for four Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards to develop advanced spaceflight technology.

The selected proposals include:

  • ERASMUS: Food Contact Safe Plastics Recycler and 3D Printer System
  • 3D Printed Composite-Z and Graded-Z Radiation Shields (CoGZ-Rad)
  • Modular Advanced Networked Telerobotic Interface System (MANTIS)
  • OpenSWIFT-SDR for STRS.

Full descriptions of the proposals are below.

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NASA Selects 3D Plastics Recycling Projects for SBIR Awards

NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore installs a 3-D Printer in the Microgravity Science Glovebox on the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA-TV)
NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore installs a 3-D Printer in the Microgravity Science Glovebox on the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA-TV)

NASA has agreed to continue funding the development of two projects aimed at turning plastic packaging waste into feed stock for 3-D printers aboard the International Space Station.

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