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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Tethers Unlimited Aims to Put SPIDERs on Mars

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During the 1970’s, David Bowie sang about Ziggy Stardust and the spiders from Mars. If Tethers Unlimited has its way, the Red Planet will be crawling with them.

Earlier this month, NASA selected the Bothell, Washington-based company for a small business award to work on its Sensing and Positioning in Deep Environments with Retrieval (SPIDER) surface exploration system.

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NASA Selects In-Space and Advanced 3-D Manufacturing Technologies for Funding

NASA is continuing to encourage the use of 3-D manufacturing technologies for use on Earth and in space through the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

In addition to funding two projects by Made in Space focused on glass alloys and structures for advanced interferometery missions, the space agency also selected six other additive manufacturing proposals for funding under SBIR Phase II.

The awards, which are worth up to $750,000 for as long as two years, are focused on expanding additive manufacturing (AM) to include the use of stronger plastics and metals as well plastics recycling and improving production on Earth. One company is developing the ability to print next-generation electronics aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Several of the proposals are developing materials and technologies that would be used in a new additive manufacturing system called FabLab that NASA will launch to the station. The new printer would use multiple materials instead of just plastic feed stock to print parts and tools.

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NASA Selects Tethers Unlimited’s HYDROS-C Thruster for First PTD CubeSat Mission

BOTHELL, Wash. (Tethers Unlimited PR) — NASA has selected TUI’s HYDROS-C thruster for demonstration on the first Pathfinder Technology Demonstration (PTD) CubeSat mission, planned for launch in early 2019.

The HYDROS-C thruster, developed under a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract and matured to flight-readiness under a NASA Tipping Point Technologies Public-Private Partnership, is a revolutionary space propulsion technology that uses water as propellant.

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Tethers Unlimited Delivers SWIFT K-Band CubeSat Transmitter

SWIFT K-Band CubeSat transmitter (Credit; Tethers Unlimited)

BOTHELL, Wash. (Tethers Unlimited PR) — Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) announced that it has successfully delivered the first flight unit of its new K-Band transmitter for small satellites to a confidential customer.

Developed under a Small Business Innovation Research contract from the US Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, the SWIFT®-KTX transmitter builds upon TUI’s high-maturity SWIFT software defined radio platform to enable satellites as small as a loaf of bread to transmit data at rates exceeding 100 megabits per second (Mbps).

Capabilities

SWIFT-KTX provides small satellites with a high-throughput downlink in K-band. When paired with the next generation SWIFT baseband processor and sufficient link margin, real data rates of 500 Mbps or more are achievable using high order modulation (>3 bits/Hz) and Turbo/LDPC encoding.

Two transmitter front-end modules are currently in development. Each module includes a two 2W PAs that directly drive two switchable WR-42 waveguide interfaces for left/right antenna polarization agility. A third ≈10 dBm waveguide output is available before the PAs for driving TWTAs and integrated K-band ESAs.

  • >500 MHz real modulation bandwidth
  • Two discrete designs covering approximately:
    • 18-23 GHz
    • 23-28 GHz
  • ≈ 3 dBm saturated output power w/ ≈20 dB adjustable range
  • Three switchable WR-42 waveguide outputs (two w/ HPAs)

Target Specifications

  • >3 year LEO mission design life
  • 1/3U or smaller: 86×86 x < 40mm
  • < 500 grams
  • 6-36V unregulated DC
    • Integrated latch-up/fault detection and protection
  • Flexible mounting options
    • Flanges for deck mounting
    • Ears for CubeSat rail mounting
  • Power consumption:
    • Current generation 50 MHz baseband processor: ≈3W
    • Next generation 500 MHz baseband processor: ≈15W
    • K/Ka-band module power consumption for 33 dBm output: ≈16W
  • High-speed interface options:
    • 1Gbit Ethernet
    • 200 Mbps SpaceWire (LVDS)
    • 200 Mbps sync. HDLC over LVDS
    • 10+Gbps SERDES (next generation baseband processor only)

Tethers Unlimited Delivers In-Space Recycler to NASA


BOTHELL, Wash. (Tethers Unlimited PR) — Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) announced that it has successfully delivered the Refabricator payload to NASA in preparation for launch to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year.

The Refabricator is a mini-fridge sized experimental payload that combines a plastics-recycling system with a 3D printer. NASA will use this payload to demonstrate the ability for astronauts to recycle plastic waste and use the material to create new parts and tools to support long-duration manned missions to the Moon, Mars, and deep space.

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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NASA Selects Smallsat Technology Projects for SBIR Funding

Credit: NASA

NASA has selected nine small satellite technology projects for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Each contract is worth up to $750,000 over two years.

The proposals include:

Antara Teknik, LLC
Granite Bay, CA
Efficient and Secure Network and Application Communications for Small Spacecraft

Busek Company, Inc.
Natick, MA
Milliarcsecond Small Spacecraft Attitude Control System

CU Aerospace, LLC
Champaign, IL
Fiber-fed Advanced Pulsed Plasma Thruster (FPPT)

Froberg Aerospace, LLC
Rolla, MO
Multi-Mode Micropropulsion

Gener8, Inc.
Sunnyvale, CA
Integrated Waveguide Optical Gyroscope

Innoflight, Inc.
San Diego, CA
Compact Multi-Protocol Modem

Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA
MakerSat

Valley Tech Systems, Inc.
Folsom, CA
Affordable Small Satellite Launch Vehicle Reaction Control System

Vector Launch Inc.
Tucson, AZ
Flight Demonstration of a Micropump-based Stage Pressurization System

Summaries of the proposals follow.

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Tethers Unlimited’s MakerSat Would Allow Small Satellites to Grow on Orbit

Tethers Unlimited has been selected to receive up to $750,000 in NASA funding to demonstration technology that would allow small satellites to grow after they are launched into orbit.

The company’s MakerSat project was one of 128 proposals selected by NASA for phase II funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The contracts last two years.

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NASA Announces Ninth Round of Candidates for CubeSat Space Missions

Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 11 small research satellites from seven states and Puerto Rico to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard space missions planned to launch in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

The selections are part of the ninth round of the NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative. CubeSats are a type of spacecraft called nanosatellites, often measuring about four inches on each side and weighing less than three pounds, with a volume of about one quart. CubeSats are built using these standard dimensions as Units or “U”, and are classified as 1U, 2U, 3U, or 6U in total size.

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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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