Research projects

NASA is funding deep space research projects, including a moon dust chaser

An artist’s conception shows astronauts at work on the moon. (Illustration by NASA)

How do you keep moon dust from obliterating the work of NASA’s future spacesuits and spacecraft? This is one of the issues being addressed in the latest batch of projects supported by NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

“NASA works on ambitious, game-changing missions that require innovative solutions from a variety of sources — especially our small businesses,” said Pam Melroy, NASA Deputy Administrator. said in a statement Thursday. “Small businesses have the creative edge and expertise to help our agency solve our common and complex challenges, and they are essential to maintaining NASA’s leadership in space.”

Four SBIR research contracts will go to companies in Washington State. And two of those contracts go to Everett Off-planet research.

One Off Planet Project focuses on developing a flexible fiber gasket that will withstand dusty environments. The gasket would use stainless steel and/or basalt fibers that align and interlock when compressed, conforming to surfaces to keep dust out.

“Traditional soft seals don’t hold up well in space, while hard seals often limit sealing capabilities or mobility,” Melissa Roth, principal researcher at Off Planet Research, told GeekWire in an email. . “Our dust seal does not rely on elastomers or polymers that fail due to intense temperatures or volatile depletion in the vacuum of space. The materials are resistant to many chemicals and oxidants, which makes them ideal for a wide range of use cases.

off planet other project meets one of the requirements for a next-generation NASA spacesuit designed for use on spacewalks and moonwalks. Next week NASA to announce who will make the spacesuitknown as the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit or xEMU.

“We will be developing a removable cover for the Service and Cooling Connector (SCC) on the xEMU that will protect the SCC from dust intrusion while operating on the lunar surface,” Roth said. The SCC serves as the spacesuit’s primary interface for water and oxygen flow.

Roth said there could be additional uses for dust protection technology. “We are planning additional applications as port coverage on rovers and commercial landers to increase the life of interconnect systems, such as xEMUs, rovers and ISRU. [in-situ resource utilization] plants,” she says.

Based in Kent space starfish receives a Phase I contract for its relative navigation software CETACEAN, which is designed to determine the relative position of two spacecraft during proximity operations. The NASA funding would be used to improve computer vision image processing and blend vision data with other sensor data.

Starfish Space was founded in 2019 by Trevor Bennett and Austin Link, two veterans of Jeff Bezos’ space venture Blue Origin. In an email, Link told GeekWire that the SBIR contract would be “a great opportunity for us to work more closely with NASA.”

“CETACEAN is a key technology for Starfish Space as we develop the Otter space tug,” Link said. “This is one of the technologies that will allow the Otter to be particularly effective for its two main missions: extending the lifetime of GEO [geosynchronous Earth orbit] satellites and debris removal in LEO [low Earth orbit]. We believe that our technologies like CETACEAN also enable a new paradigm for how humans can function in space: one where dynamic and autonomous interaction becomes mainstream. Imagine, building JWST in orbit rather than risking $8 billion on a single launch!

Based in Seattle Hover Inc. won a contract to advance the development of its miniaturized and hardened computing platform for autonomous and semi-autonomous aircraft. “The platform hosts a certifiable real-time operating system that can run many types of autonomy software applications, including simultaneously detect and avoid,” company founder James Lawson told GeekWire. in an email.

In his proposal, Hover says his technology could be incorporated into NASA’s experimental aircraft as well as commercial drones that aim to use the national airspace system. The company was founded in 2019 and is work in partnership with another Washington State aerospace company, Sagetech Avionics.

Each SBIR Phase I contract is worth $150,000, a 20% increase over the previous funding level, and covers a period of six months. Phase I contracts are designed to help small companies mature their technologies, paving the way for further development and commercialization in later phases of the SBIR program.

NASA has also awarded a new round of Phase I contracts under a parallel program known as Technology transfer to small businesses, or STTR. The space agency said it selected 333 proposals from 257 small companies and 41 research institutes for SBIR and STTR Phase I funding, totaling nearly $50 million nationwide.