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Moon Thrusters Withstand Over 60 Hot-Fire Tests

NASA and Frontier Aerospace are developing next-generation thrusters for use on Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander. In March 2020, thruster prototypes performed over 60 hot-fire tests in a vacuum chamber Credits: Frontier Aerospace

NASA and Frontier Aerospace are developing next-generation thrusters for use on Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander. In March 2020, thruster prototypes performed over 60 hot-fire tests in a vacuum chamber
Credits: Frontier Aerospace

A new spacecraft thruster prototype developed under NASA’s Thruster for the Advancement of Low-temperature Operation in Space (TALOS) project undergoes a hot-fire test in a vacuum chamber.
Credits: Frontier Aerospace

Future Artemis lunar landers could use next-generation thrusters, the small rocket engines used to make alterations in a spacecraft’s flight path or altitude, to enter lunar orbit and descend to the surface. Before the engines make the trip to the Moon, helping deliver new science instruments and technology demonstrations, they’re being tested here on Earth.

NASA and Frontier Aerospace of Simi Valley, California, performed roughly 60 hot-fire tests on two thruster prototypes over the course of 10 days. The tests concluded March 16 and took place in a vacuum chamber that simulates the environment of space at Moog-ISP in Niagara Falls, New York. While replicating mission flight operations, engineers collected multiple data streams, including the pressure and stability of the combustion chamber and the pressure and temperature of the feed system, which delivers propellant from tanks to the thruster.

Being developed under NASA’s Thruster for the Advancement of Low-temperature Operation in Space (TALOS) project, the thrusters are designed to reduce spacecraft cost, mass and power – three things that constrain every space mission. Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh plans to use the new thrusters aboard their Peregrine lunar lander.

“TALOS is about leveraging the benefits of MON-25, which will reduce the amount of power needed for spacecraft when operating in extremely low temperatures,” said TALOS Project Manager Greg Barnett at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The thrusters burn mixed oxides of nitrogen and monomethyl hydrazine propellants (MON-25/MMH), which are capable of operating at low temperatures for an extended period of time without freezing. Although MON-25 has been tested since the 1980s, no spacecraft currently uses the propellant. TALOS is capable of operating at a wide propellant temperature range, between -40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s compared to state-of-the-art thrusters of the same size that generally operate between 45 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Because MON-25 does not need to be conditioned at extreme temperatures like other mixed oxides of nitrogen propellants, it will reduce power requirements for spacecraft operating in low temperatures, resulting in smaller, lighter and less expensive systems. Reducing power requirements for the spacecraft could potentially reduce the number of batteries and the size of solar panels needed to maintain the spacecraft.

“NASA will soon verify this versatile thruster design for space so that the agency and commercial companies can easily implement the technology in future missions,” said Barnett. “Astrobotic plans to use this thruster design on their lunar lander that will deliver science and technology payloads to the Moon for NASA in 2021.”

The TALOS project is slated to perform engine qualification testing in late summer to ready the thruster design for use on Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander. Astrobotic is one of several American companies working with NASA to deliver science and technology to the lunar surface through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, as part of the Artemis program.

In addition to sending instruments to study the Moon, NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program will land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024 and establish a sustained presence by 2028. The agency will leverage its Artemis experience and technologies to prepare for the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

The TALOS thruster is being developed by Frontier Aerospace. The project is led and managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Once the TALOS design has been qualified for flight, Frontier Aerospace will build the thrusters for Astrobotic’s lunar lander under a project called Frontier Aerospace Corporation Engine Testing (FACET). The Game Changing Development program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate funds the technology development project.

Learn more about NASA’s investments in space technology:

Molly Porter
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.


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Distributed Spacecraft Autonomy (DSA)

Distributed Spacecraft Autonomy (DSA) project seeks to advance NASA’s scalable autonomy capabilities.

Autonomy is an essential technology for multi-spacecraft missions. Autonomy allows spacecraft to decide their next activities, as opposed to having the spacecraft send their status to a control station on the ground and await further instructions. Autonomous decision making is needed for deep-space multi-spacecraft missions. The time delay on the round-trip communications and the amount of data that can be sent make it impractical to follow the classic model of receiving status on the ground then commanding, especially for multiple spacecraft. Autonomous decision-making would allow mutleple spacecraft to share data and make quick decisions together, thus overcoming any latency and bandwidth constraints.

The DSA project will advance command and control methodologies for controlling a swarm of spacecraft as a single entity, demonstrate autonomous coordination between multiple spacecraft in the swarm, and demonstrate approaches for adaptive reconfiguration of the swarm’s plan and distributed decision-making across a swarm of spacecraft.

The project will contribute to the STMD’s Small Space Craft Technology Starling Program’s 2021 mission, which involves four CubeSats that will carry NASA payloads. After this 2021 in-space demonstration, DSA software will then be tested on ground hardware with up to 100 spacecraft. This ground hardware test will validate the scalability of the software.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
Terry Fong ( Nick Cramer (

Space Synthetic Biology (SynBio)

As we extend our reach into space, there is a need to make missions more self-sustaining. Conducting long-duration lunar and Mars missions will require that we minimize the amounts of supplies launched, increase reuse and recycling, and use local resources to make crucial products for the crew.

The Space Synthetic Biology (SynBio) project located at NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley is developing biomanufacturing methods that can produce high-value products on-demand such as vitamins or medicines. In addition, bio-manufacturing processes will allow crews to produce key materials from local resources.

SynBio launched the first batch of bio nutrient packs for a five-year systems demonstration to the ISS on April 2019. The BioNutrients demonstration will test a newly-developed in-space nutrient production platform that uses genetically-engineered baker’s yeast and an extended shelf-life growth substrate to produce specific antioxidants, such as beta carotene and zeaxanthin.

SynBio is also developing a platform technology that chemically converts CO2 and water to organic compounds that then “feed” microbial biomanufacturing systems to make a wide range of products such as food, medicines, and fuels.

These synthetic biology technologies will be a critical aspect of astronaut health and the sustainability of future NASA missions to the Moon and beyond.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
Terry Fong ( John Hogan (

Integrated System for Autonomous and Adaptive Caretaking (ISAAC)

The ISAAC project will develop an integrated data framework, control interfaces, and other software systems to coordinate fault management, recovery tasks and more.

NASA needs autonomous systems to help monitor and maintain exploration spacecraft and habitats during long-duration, deep-space missions.

To satisfy this need, the Integrated System for Autonomous and Adaptive Caretaking (ISAAC) project will develop key technologies required for autonomous and adaptive caretaking.

The first of the three primary objectives for the ISAAC project is to create technology for autonomous state assessment of spacecraft interior environments during uncrewed periods using both spacecraft data and autonomous robots. The second objective for the ISAAC project is to develop technology for autonomous logistics management for spacecraft during uncrewed periods. The final objective of the ISAAC project is to create technology for integrated fault management of spacecraft during uncrewed periods.

The current state of the art in spacecraft caretaking relies heavily on ground control being in close communication with the crew. By contrast, long uncrewed periods during a mission will require a new operational paradigm for identifying and handling critical faults and emergencies. Data integration and robot activity will be essential for Mission Control to assess and understand spacecraft state.

The ISAAC project will develop an integrated data framework, control interfaces, and other software systems to coordinate fault management, recovery tasks and more.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
Terry Fong ( Matt Deans (

Autonomous PUFFER (A-PUFFER)

The Autonomous PUFFER project

The Autonomous PUFFER project will focus on developing new needed capabilities: autonomy for accurate instrument placement in extreme terrain, minimal operational intervention, and coordination with other platforms.

Currently, planetary exploration is limited to benign operating areas due to the inability to land, traverse challenging terrain, or generally too great a risk for the primary mission asset. Unfortunately the most compelling locations are often in these extreme terrains.

A small, low cost, expendable rover could transport key sensors and instruments to locations considered too risky for the primary lander, rover, or astronaut. Also, due to the high communications latencies of deep space missions, these expendable rovers must minimize their dependence on ground control and be able to operate primarily autonomously. NASA needs this capability to augment current missions, such as Lunar and Mars rovers, where the terrain is extremely challenging and considered too risky for the primary platform to access.

Specific capabilities needed for a deployable, expendable rover include: low cost, low volume, low mass, mobility in extreme terrain, and science payload capability, which all have been demonstrated with PUFFER (Pop-Up Flat-Folding Explorer Robots) during the previous Game Changing Development Program (GCDP) effort. The Autonomous PUFFER project will focus on developing new needed capabilities: autonomy for accurate instrument placement in extreme terrain, minimal operational intervention, and coordination with other platforms. To support the development of these new autonomy capabilities for PUFFER, the hardware platform developed in the prior GCDP effort will be updated to support new requirements from autonomy (e.g., mesh radios for PUFFER-to-PUFFER communication).

Principal Technologist Project Manager
(Autonomy PI)
Deputy Project Manager
(Hardware PI)
Terry Fong
Jean-Pierre de la Croix
Jaakko Karras

Small Robots Practice Scouting Skills for Future Moon Mission

The upgraded Autonomous Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot, or A-PUFFER, is on a roll. The technology could find itself on a commercial lunar lander in the next few years. The newest edition of NASA’s small, foldable robots recently practiced their scouting skills and successfully traversed rugged terrain in the Mars Yard at NASA’s Jet Propulsion […]

Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution (SPLICE)

Navigational Doppler Lidar device developed during earlier COBALT project.

Generation-3 Navigational Doppler Lidar device developed during earlier COBALT project.

To demonstrate maturation of the technologies…[testing includes]… an integrated hardware-in-the-loop simulation, aircraft testing, helicopter testing, and suborbital flight testing onboard a commercial, reusable rocket vehicle.

The Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution project, or SPLICE, plans to develop, mature, demonstrate, and infuse precision landing and hazard avoidance (PL&HA) technologies for NASA and for potential commercial spaceflight missions.

PL&HA technology advancements are being pursued in the following areas:

– Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL), which provides direct velocity and ranging measurements using Doppler-based techniques

– Hazard Detection Lidar (HDL), capable of generating a real-time, 3-D terrain map within a 50-meter radius of the landing target, at a sufficient range to allow for safe landing site determination
– Algorithms for performing guidance and navigation, including Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) and Hazard Detection (HD)

– Advanced computing capabilities, via a high performance space computing-based platform with a path to spaceflight, capable of supporting processing-intensive algorithms for navigation and image processing

In order to demonstrate the maturation of the technologies, an integrated ground test and flight test capability will also be developed as part of the project. This includes an integrated hardware-in-the-loop (HWIL) simulation, aircraft testing, helicopter testing, and suborbital flight testing onboard a commercial, reusable rocket vehicle.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
Michelle Munk ( John Carson (

Langley Researchers Are Shaking Up Lunar Landing Technology

The Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL) project team at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, recently delivered a key component of the instrument to Blue Origin in Kent, Washington, for integration on their New Shepard launch vehicle for an upcoming flight test. NDL is part of NASA’s Tipping Point program where Blue Origin and NASA […]

Laser-based Sensor Tests Moon Landing Technology at Langley Air Force Base

GPS is used every day to navigate on Earth. As NASA prepares to land humans on the Moon by 2024, new laser-based technology will safely and precisely navigate astronauts to their destination. Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL), being developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, will determine a spacecraft’s exact velocity and position to […]

One Giant Leap for Lunar Landing Navigation

When Apollo 11’s lunar module, Eagle, landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, it first flew over an area littered with boulders before touching down at the Sea of Tranquility. The site had been selected based on photos collected over two years as part of the Lunar Orbiter program. But the “sensors” that ensured […]

Coming in for a Landing with New NASA Technology

Wishing you had a driverless car or plane? NASA Langley is developing navigational radar sensor technology to use during future space missions. The sensors can also help make autonomous vehicles more efficient on Earth.  Credits: NASA     NASA will need ultra-precise entry, descent and landing technology to land the first woman and next man safely […]

Rapid Analysis and Manufacturing Propulsion Technology (RAMPT)


Credits: NASA


RAMPT composite overwrap SLM GRCop84 with directed energy deposition nozzle.
Credits: NASA

Engineers at NASA test a 2,400 lbf thrust 3D-printed copper rocket thrust chamber with composite overwrap to see if the uniquely made hardware can withstand the heat and structural loads from testing. A total of 18 hot fire tests at high chamber pressure were conducted at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and the 3D printed hardware successfully withstood the heat and loads. The tests demonstrated the new 3D-printed and composite technologies, as well as a new additive technique for the nozzle, were feasible for thrust chamber assembly.

Engineers at NASA test a 2,400 lbf thrust 3D-printed copper rocket thrust chamber with composite overwrap to see if the uniquely made hardware can withstand the heat and structural loads from testing. A total of 18 hot fire tests at high chamber pressure were conducted at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and the 3D printed hardware successfully withstood the heat and loads. The tests demonstrated the new 3D-printed and composite technologies, as well as a new additive technique for the nozzle, were feasible for thrust chamber assembly.
Credits: NASA

NASA is developing lighter and more efficient liquid rocket engine parts for future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

The Rapid and Analysis Manufacturing Propulsion Technology (RAMPT) project is advancing manufacturing methods that will improve the performance and reduce the production costs of rocket thrust chamber “assemblies.” These thrust chamber “assemblies” are made up of a combustion chamber, nozzle and joints. In rocket engines, fuel and an oxidizer are mixed and burned in the combustion chamber. This combustion produces hot exhaust, which is passed through a nozzle to accelerate the flow and produce thrust.

Thrust chamber assemblies are the most expensive parts of rocket engines to develop because they are highly complex and take a long time to manufacture. They are also the heaviest components within a rocket engine, and can significantly drive up the costs of NASA missions.

Novel Manufacturing Methods Will Cut Costs, Production Time for NASA Missions

To cut down on these costs, RAMPT replaces some traditionally metal pieces on the thrust chamber with composite material, uses advanced 3D printing methods to “print” the combustion chamber and nozzle, and employs innovative mechanical methods to fuse the two instead of using traditional metal joints.

RAMPT’s 3D-printed copper combustion chamber is ­­­­­­­­covered with a composite wrap. This thin wrap – made of carbon fiber – provides structural support for the combustion chamber and replaces the traditional metal jacket, resulting in a weight savings of up to 50% compared to metal counterparts. The RAMPT nozzle is printed using directed energy deposition. This method uses a mechanical multi-axis arm to deposit material onto a surface. It then uses lasers to melt, deposit, and solidify the material into a structure. This manufacturing method can reduce the time required for rocket engine nozzle p­­­­roduction from approximately two years to a few months compared to traditional processes. It also significantly reduces the part count since less pieces need to be manufactured individually.

Another manufacturing capability RAMPT is advancing to reduce the weight and cost of the thrust chamber assembly is “bimetallic joints,” to fuse the copper combustion chamber directly onto the nozzle without any additional metal joints or bolts. This direct fusion will reduce the overall weight of the thrust chamber assembly since it will enable engineers to forgo those heavy metallic bolts and joints in that section.

Advancement for NASA, Commercial Aerospace, and Related Industries

RAMPT’s advanced manufacturing method provides design options not previously possible and replaces the standard manufacturing process for assembling thrust chambers, which includes building the combustion chamber and nozzle individually and then bolting or welding the together.

Through this project, the RAMPT team will provide NASA and the commercial sector with entirely new advanced manufacturing capabilities that will result in shorter production times and reduced overall costs for aerospace and related industry projects. The RAMPT project is a partnership between NASA and Auburn University in Alabama. Auburn University tapped specialty manufacturing vendors for the production of the composite overwrap thrust chamber structural jackets, the directed energy deposition production of the nozzle, and the bimetallic joints.

The RAMPT team will continue with testing their thruster prototypes to help qualify the technology for use on future missions, from NASA’s Artemis lunar missions, to future deep space exploration of Mars and beyond.


The RAMPT team successfully hot-fire tested a 3D-printed copper alloy combustion chamber capable of 2,400 lbs of thrust in February 2019. This testing successfully demonstrated the hardware could withstand the associated heat and structural loads.
In 2020, the RAMPT team used directed energy deposition to create one of the largest rocket nozzles NASA has ever printed, measuring 40 inches in diameter

Technical Paper Resources:
Lightweight Thrust Chamber Assemblies using Multi-Alloy Additive Manufacturing and Composite Overwrap
Paul R. Gradl, Chris Protz, John Fikes, David Ellis, Laura Evans, Allison Clark, Sandi Miller and Tyler Hudson
AIAA 2020

In-Situ Alloying of GRCop-42 via Additive Manufacturing: Precipitate Analysis
David S. Scannapieco and John J. Lewandowski, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, Richard B. Rogers and David L. Ellis, Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio.


Principal Technologist Project Manager
John Vickers ( John Fikes (

Automated Reconfigurable Mission Adaptive Digital Assembly Systems (ARMADAS)


ARMADAS space port conceptual imageTo meet the needs of future deep space exploration, NASA is interested in large-scale hardware systems in the agency’s thrust areas of solar power, communications, habitats and science interests. Scalable in-space assembly of physical systems is critical to massless exploration and in-space reliance goals.

The Automated Reconfigurable Mission Adaptive Digital Assembly Systems (ARMADAS) project will develop and demonstrate the autonomous assembly of digital materials and structures. This will produce automation technologies with potential for meeting long duration and deep space infrastructure needs, including achieving in-space reliance with construction and maintenance of long duration spaceport and habitat scale systems.

The term “digital material” refers to a material that is composed of a finite set of types of discrete building blocks, with effective material properties that depend on the arrangement of these building blocks within the material. Modular and reconfigurable construction, particularly the capacity of building components to be reusable or interchangeable, have been appreciated throughout technological history. The key philosophical idea behind digital materials is that these systems can be engineered to be highly scalable, through physical error correction mechanisms (like our digital communication and computation algorithms). This exponential manufacturing strategy can also be used to create extremely high performing (specific strength and stiffness) ultralight lattice materials and structural systems that could find broad applications in aerospace systems.

The final deliverable for this project will be a small satellite-sized payload that automatically unpacks and assembles into functioning systems, such as a small habitat module and array/antenna, using onboard robotic assemblers.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
Keith Belvin ( Kenny Cheung (

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Autonomous Medical Operations (AMO)

Medical testing procedures underway on the ISS.

In this image, ultrasound procedures help provide for medical diagnoses on the International Space Station. The medical kit on the ISS is basic, and all astronauts receive basic medical training prior to blasting into orbit: life-saving skills, how to stitch a wound, how to give an injection, and even how to pull a tooth. But faced with a far more serious medical emergency – what would they do? The AMO project is investigating development of a Medical Decision Support System to augment crew members’ medical capabilities when they are out of direct contact with Earth. Credits: NASA

AMO intends to develop an on-board software system, the preliminary Medical Decision Support System, or MDSS, which will enable astronauts on long-duration exploration missions to operate autonomously while independent of Earth contact.

The current space flight medical scenario relies heavily on telemedicine and ground clinical support. Long-duration missions will require a chief medical officer to handle both routine medical check-ups and issues of emergent care that might arise while out of contact with ground resources. A challenge for missions beyond low-Earth orbit is to minimize the impact of potential delays between transmission and receipt of expert medical advice. Other challenges include potential medical misdiagnosis incidents and the need for assistance during clinical procedures.

In support of NASA’s strategic thrust to advance “human augmentation” capabilities, the Autonomous Medical Operations (AMO) project primarily intends to develop an on-board software system, the preliminary Medical Decision Support System, or MDSS, which will enable astronauts on long-duration exploration missions to operate autonomously while independent of Earth contact. Such a system is not intended to replace a chief medical officer, but rather to support the medical actions by providing advice and procedure recommendations during emergent care and clinical work performed by crew.

The planned end deliverable is a prototype ultrasound and advisory system (on the International Space Station or in an analog test bed), next generation inference engine and advisory software to the Human Research Program.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
Terry Fong ( David E. Thompson ( )

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SpaceCraft Oxygen Recovery (SCOR)

Picture of Substrate loaded with carbon from Honeywell Aerospace’s Carbon Vapor Deposition process.

Substrate loaded with carbon from Honeywell Aerospace’s Carbon Vapor Deposition process.
Credit: NASA

The SpaceCraft Oxygen Recovery (SCOR) project will develop advanced technologies for recovery of oxygen from carbon dioxide beyond the state-of-the-art Sabatier process. The Sabatier hardware has operated on the International Space Station as the Carbon Dioxide Reduction Assembly with an average estimated recovery of about 47 percent. SCOR technologies are expected to more than double this value. These technologies will seek to increase mission affordability, performance, vehicle self-sufficiency and life support systems closure, through decreasing consumable mass and other mission resources.

SCOR development was designed to occur in two phases: Phase I, the engineering development unit (EDU), involved the design, fabrication, and demonstration of an EDU capable of empirically demonstrating the capability of the proposed technology. Phase II, the current stage, is the prototype hardware phase during which development occurs of a more mature brassboard system capable of recovering the target rate of oxygen from a representative input gas stream.

SCOR supports NASA’s Strategic Goal 1: “”Extend human presence deeper into space and to the moon for sustainable long-term exploration and utilization” and Objective 3.1: “Develop and Transfer Revolutionary Technologies to Enable Exploration Capabilities for NASA and the Nation.” The project aligns with the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s strategic thrust “Enable Humans to Live and Explore on Planetary Surfaces,” which includes technologies for long duration human exploration missions including near closed-loop air revitalization.

The key programmatic goals are to:

  1. Develop oxygen recovery technology that significantly increases the recovery of oxygen from carbon dioxide over current state-of-the-art.
  2. Reduce the mass of a recovery system (which includes consumables) with comparable oxygen production rates.
Principal Technologist Project Manager
Molly Anderson ( ) Dan Barta (

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Advanced Near Net Shape Technology (ANNST)

8-inch diameter proof of concept and 17-inch diameter sounding rocket cylinders


ISC mandrel and forming machine

ISC mandrel and forming machine. Credits: NASA

The objective of the Advanced Near Net Shape Technology (ANNST) project is to radically improve near net shape manufacturing of cryogenic propellant tanks using the Integrally Stiffened Cylinders (ISC) process. Under NASA’s Game Changing Development Program, the goal of ANNST is to develop innovative spin/flow forming technology that could revolutionize cryogenic tank fabrication by producing a net shape tank with internal stiffeners in one forming operation. ANNST is seeking to mature the ISC process technology/manufacturing readiness levels (TRL/MRL 5-6) to the point where they are viable candidates (TRL/MRL 7) for launch vehicles structures. The specific focus of the ISC process is for cryogenic tanks, however, other applications such as intertank and dry bay structures for commercial launch vehicles, along with sounding rocket and missile bodies are being explored.


10-foot diameter ISC completed May 29, 2017

10-foot diameter ISC completed May 29, 2017 Credits: NASA

The ISC process evolved from an automotive process used to make 8-inch diameter steel clutch housings with 0.0125 inch tall internal gear teeth. The first technology demonstration of the ISC process occurred in 2011 with the successful transition from forming with steel to forming with aerospace grade aluminum. This was performed in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, MT Aerospace and Leifeld Metal Spinning. Later in 2013, the ISC process was further developed to produce cryogenic scale stiffeners that were 1-inch tall and more widely spaced than gear teeth produced for the automotive industry. In 2015, the ISC process was scaled up to 17-inches in diameter with 1-inch tall stiffeners. During this effort, a 17-inch diameter ISC part was directly substituted for a smooth-walled sounding rocket section and flown on a technology demonstration flight at Wallops Flight Facility, taking the process from lab scale demonstration to flight in just four years. In 2017, the ANNST Project is partnering with Lockheed Martin, MT Aerospace, and the European Space Agency (ESA) to scale up the ISC process to 10-foot in diameter, which is directly applicable to numerous U.S. commercial launch vehicles. A series of 10 foot diameter ISCs were fabricated in May 2017 featuring 48 internal stiffeners up to 1 inch tall equally spaced about the circumference.

ISC Technology Benefits

Reducing launch costs is essential to ensuring the success of NASA’s visions for planetary exploration and earth science, economical support of the International Space Station, and competitiveness of the U.S. commercial launch industry. Reducing launch vehicle manufacturing cost supports NASA’s budget and technology development priorities. Manufacturing of the Shuttle external cryogenic propellant tank relied on multi-piece machined and welded construction using technology developed in the 1950’s. It was expensive, time consuming, and environmentally unfriendly. Welding increased tank weight and risk. This manufacturing technology remains the baseline for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and commercial launch system cryotanks.

The ISC Process will produce near net shape tanks with internal stiffeners in a single forming operation. This eliminates the need for expensive machining and longitudinal welding of the cryogenic tank barrel sections. The integrally stiffened cylinder (ISC) advanced manufacturing technology will replace conventional multi-piece construction, realizing up to 50% reduction in the cost to manufacture launch vehicle cryogenic tanks with an associated 10% reduction in vehicle mass.

A cost benefit analysis for the technology was prepared in 2016. Read by clicking here: » Cost-Benefit Analysis for the Advanced Near Net Shape Technology (ANNST) Method for Fabricating Stiffened Cylinders.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
John Vickers ( John Wagner (

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Composite Technologies for Exploration (CTE)

Large scale composite joints graphic with diagram of joint structure.

The goal of the Composite Technology for Exploration project is to advance composite technologies that provide lightweight structures to support the Evolvable Mars Campaign. It also supports SLS payload adapters and fittings by maturing composite bonded joint technology and analytical tools to predict failure and enable risk reduction.

The Composite Technology for Exploration (CTE) Project will develop and demonstrate critical composites technologies—with a focus on joints—incorporating materials, design/analysis, manufacturing, and tests that utilize NASA expertise and capabilities. In particular, the CTE project will demonstrate weight-saving, performance-enhancing bonded joint technology for Space Launch System (SLS)-scale composite hardware. Further, the project will advance the state of the art in the detailed analyses of lightweight composite bonded joints and the interactions of their stress-strain fields with local design features.

NASA seeks to mature technology and produce important innovations across the discipline areas of materials, design and analysis, and advanced manufacturing, as defined by the NASA Strategic Plan. The CTE project is related to the Agency’s vision and mission in its focus on enabling the technology infusion of lightweight composite joints into future exploration missions. Success criteria include the structural test of one or more representative bonded joint concepts in various SLS flight-like loading conditions, accompanied by analyses that accurately predict joint failure and residual strength.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
John Vickers ( John Fikes (

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Earth Gravitational Observatory–Crosslink Occultation system (EGO-XO)

Artist's concept of EGO-XO nanosats taking measurements in Earth's atmosphere.

An operational EGO-XO system would dramatically improve monitoring of the continual redistribution of water in all its forms (ice, liquid, and vapor) below, on, and above Earth’s surface, allowing major improvements in water resource planning and climate change monitoring.

NASA needs instruments with improved sensitivity for measuring Earth gravity. These measurements will allow NASA to better understand the movement of water on the surface and in the atmosphere and many other aspects of Earth dynamics. In addition to increasing the sensitivity, increasing the sampling and reducing the cost of these measurements is a key need.

The Earth Gravitational Observatory–Crosslink Occultation system (EGO-XO) is an integrated Earth observational array that will continuously map Earth’s time-varying gravitational field to unprecedented resolution in both space and time, and perform next-generation LEO-LEO crosslink radio occultation of the atmosphere. These tasks will be executed concurrently through the exchange of tailored radio signals or crosslinks among small fleets of nanosats.

The EGO-XO Tipping Point project will develop and test a laboratory version of the crosslink ranging system broadcasting at two frequencies: one near the H2O absorption line at 22.7 GHz, the second at a frequency 2-3 times higher. The precise frequencies will be selected during the initial detailed design phase. From the demonstration instrument EGO-XO will produce a design for a full flight instrument together with a design for a complete nanosat to house the instrument and conduct operational missions. EGO-XO will also conduct studies of the science and commercial benefits of different configurations of spacecraft as a basis for future EGO-XO deployments.

GeoOptics and EGO-XO partners at Tyvak and JPL will deliver a system design that can achieve an order of magnitude improvement on GRACE-FO gravity mapping precision with small fleets of nanosats, each less than one-third the linear dimension and one-tenth the mass of the GRACE-FO satellites. The major deliverable for this project is a functioning laboratory version of the dual-frequency range and range rate measurement system, including transmitters and integrated receiver-processor, capable of making range rate measurements of the required precision.

An operational EGO-XO system would dramatically improve monitoring of the continual redistribution of water in all its forms (ice, liquid, and vapor) below, on, and above the surface of the Earth, allowing major improvements in water resource planning and climate change monitoring. It will also be a key resource in monitoring internal Earth dynamics and assessing hazards from volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, among many other things.

Principal Technologist Project Manager NASA POC
Steve Horan ( Thomas Yunck ( ) Kevin Kempton (

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Deployable Composite Booms (DCB)

Langley Research Center’s Dr. Juan “Johnny” Fernandez, DCB project principaI investigator, and the two lead boom fabrication technicians, Kevin McLain and Mark Griffith, demonstrate that the 54.5-ft (16.6-m) boom is lightweight and self-supporting, or maintains its straightness, at over 16.4-ft (5-m) lengths under gravity.
Credits: NASA

Four 54.5-ft (16.6-m) booms deployed during testing at the DLR Braunschweig hangar in Germany, showing the area footprint of a DCB-boom-enabled 5000 ft2 (465 m2)-class solar sail (HIPERSail) and that of NASA’s ACS3 900-ft2 (80-m2) solar sail that uses 23-ft (7-m) booms.

Four 54.5-ft (16.6-m) booms deployed during testing at the DLR Braunschweig hangar in Germany, showing the area footprint of a DCB-boom-enabled 5000 ft2 (465 m2)-class solar sail (HIPERSail) and that of NASA’s ACS3 900-ft2 (80-m2) solar sail that uses 23-ft (7-m) booms. Credits: NASA

Four 54-ft (16.6-m) booms co-wrapped inside the DLR-developed deployment mechanism (top plate removed). Credits: NASA

Four 54.5-ft (16.6-m) booms co-wrapped inside the DLR-developed deployment mechanism (top plate removed). Credits: NASA

The DCB/ACS3 team poses with the two-sail-membrane test fixture used to assess boom loads during solar sail deployment and tensioning. Credits: NASA

The DCB/ACS3 team poses with the two-sail-membrane test fixture used to assess boom loads during solar sail deployment and tensioning.
Credits: NASA

Artist’s rendering of the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3) Low Earth Orbit Solar Sail Structures Technology Demonstration. Credits: NASA

Artist’s rendering of the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3) Low Earth Orbit Solar Sail Structures Technology Demonstration.
Credits: NASA

In recent years, NASA and other organizations have begun to use small satellites more and more as technologists have miniaturized spacecraft avionics. Small satellites can now be used for some missions previously reserved for larger satellites. Additionally, they have a lower manufacturing cost compared to larger satellites and can be mass produced more easily. In order to have an equivalent functionality to larger satellites, small satellites still need to carry deployable antennas, radiators, solar panels and other instruments. However, there are limited designs for compact, lightweight support structures that can be folded or rolled up for launch and then self-deployed in space to support these kinds of systems on small satellites.

NASA’s Deployable Composite Booms (DCB) project, led out of NASA’s Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Hampton, Va., is answering this need for a lightweight, foldable/rollable structural material to enable large deployable systems on small satellites. The project is developing a family of thin-shell composite structural booms of various sizes targeting different volumetric needs of small satellites. Before launching a mission into space, these booms will be flattened and rolled onto spools, much like a carpenter’s measuring tape, for compact stowage within the spacecraft. These booms can physically extend to lengths up to 54.5 ft (16.6 m) and support a wide range of small satellite deployable systems.

These DCB booms will enable high-power solar arrays, large antennas for high data rate communications, large drag augmentation devices for rapid end-of-life deorbiting, and propellantless continuous low-thrust propulsion systems to be included on small satellites. These new thin-shell composite booms are inexpensive to manufacture and have the ability to be packaged in very small volumes for a long period of time without becoming distorted in shape. Additionally, the DCB team has performed functional testing on the booms that shows they deploy controllably and reliably and maintain the intended structural performance and shape once deployed. These DCB booms are 75 percent lighter and experience 100 times less in-space thermal distortion than equivalent available thin-shell metallic booms. This additional boom performance enables engineers to increase significantly the size of solar sails on small satellite platforms, which could more than triple the propulsion performance of state-of-the-art solar sail structures for small satellites under development.

The DCB team is aiming to qualify several of its boom concepts to be considered ready for flight by mid 2021. This will prepare the technology for possible use on future deep-space small satellite missions. The DCB booms will ultimately enable a variety of science and exploration precursor missions for small sailcraft, including communication relays between the Earth and Moon, asteroid and planetary reconnaissance, and space weather early warning platforms for human exploration support.


The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is a collaboration partner on the DCB project and is performing structural characterization testing of the DCB developed boom. DLR is also developing the boom deployer mechanism for demonstrating the functional performance of the booms, particularly packaging and deployment, in a simulated space environment. The University of Central Florida is also supporting testing and modeling of the thin-ply composite laminate materials and representative boom forms for characterization of viscoelastic behavior as they need to package for a long period of time without permanent distortion.

Currently, DCB technology is being infused into a small solar sail system — called the Advanced Composites Solar Sail System (ACS3) — for flight testing circa 2021. The ACS3 payload, being developed at LaRC, is about the size of a shoebox. The 30-ft by 30-ft (9-m by 9-m) square solar sail consists of four triangular aluminum-coated plastic membrane sails supported by four 23-ft (7-m) composite booms provided by the DCB project.

The ACS3 spacecraft will be deployed and tested in low Earth orbit, where a suite of onboard digital cameras will obtain images of the solar sail during and after deployment to assess the shape and precision of the deployed solar sail and composite booms. The collected ACS3 flight data will be used to design future larger-scale solar sail systems based on the DCB boom technology. The ACS3 technology project is funded by NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program.

In addition to this work, DCB’s larger 54.5-ft (16.6-m) booms and deployer mechanism unit could enable a scaled-up, mission-enabling 5000 ft2 (465 m2) solar sail version of the ACS3 system to be flown in the near term in a larger platform, such as a 27U cube satellite (1 ft3 (0.03 m3) in volume), which is about twice the size of the current ACS3 satellite. LaRC’s technology road map to an affordable demonstration of solar sail capabilities consists of increasing the size of these rollable thin-shell composite booms to enable testing sailcrafts with a reflective area of up to 21,500 ft2 (2,000 m2) housed on small satellite platforms.

DCB is also in discussions with other NASA projects and the Air Force Research Laboratory to support flight experiments of deployable systems that could benefit from its boom technologies and is licensing some of the invented boom technologies to industry for commercial exploitation.


October 2019 — The DCB team completed fabrication of five composite booms that are roughly 5.1 in (13 cm) tall when flattened and 54.5 ft (16.6 m) long.

November 2019 — The DCB team delivered the composite booms to DLR for use in packaging and deployment testing with the DLR’s engineering model boom deployer mechanism.

June 2020 — The DCB team completed computational model development and model correlation with test data from DLR’s stiff-ness/strength testing of DCB delivered booms.

The Game Changing Development (GCD) program is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The GCD Program aims to advance exploratory concepts and deliver technology solutions that enable new capabilities or radically alter current approaches.


Technical Paper Resources:


Principal Technologist Principal Investigator Project Manager
Mark Hilburger ( Juan M. “Johnny” Fernandez ( Phillip L. Brown (

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Adaptable, Deployable, Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT SR-1)

Diagram overview of ADEPT SR-1 flight experiment concept of operations

NASA’s Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan has identified entry, descent and landing (EDL) as one of eight core technology investment areas and, within the EDL core area, deployable hypersonic decelerators are identified as a key technology area. The Adaptable, Deployable, Entry and Placement Technology, ADEPT SR-1 project is developing a mechanically deployable low-ballistic coefficient aeroshell entry system to perform EDL functions for planetary missions.

This concept would be used to safely deploy scientific payloads or enable long-term human exploration of Mars with its associated cargo needs. The deployable system allows mission planners to develop an aeroshell design that fits within existing launch vehicle systems, and yet prior to the EDL mission segment, transforms into a low ballistic coefficient configuration. Thus during atmospheric entry, design requirements such as heating, acceleration, and pressure profiles imparted to the entry system are significantly lowered, allowing the use of lower heat capacity thermal protection system and lower design loads for other spacecraft components, including science instruments.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
Michelle Munk ( Paul Wercinski (

NASA Tests Space Tech on UP Aerospace Rocket

  Three NASA technology demonstration payloads launched aboard UP Aerospace’s SpaceLoft 12 mission from Spaceport America in New Mexico on Sept. 12. The suborbital rocket carried an umbrella-like heat shield called Adaptable Deployable Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT). Developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, ADEPT’s unique design could be used for […]

Exploring the Solar System? You May Need to Pack an Umbrella

Gearing up for its first flight test, NASA’s Adaptable Deployable Entry Placement Technology, or ADEPT, is no ordinary umbrella. ADEPT is a foldable device that opens to make a round, rigid heat shield, called an aeroshell. This game-changing technology could squeeze a heat shield into a rocket with a diameter larger than the rocket itself. […]

Extreme Environments Solar Power

Roll Out Solar Array (ROSA) technology undergoes testing (Credits: Deployable Space Systems, Inc.)

Roll Out Solar Array (ROSA) technology undergoes testing. Credits: Deployable Space Systems, Inc.

The Extreme Environments Solar Power (EESP) project goal is to develop advanced solar array technologies to provide lower cost, reliable power for missions in low sunlight intensity, low temperature (LILT) and high radiation environments, such as those in the general vicinity of Jupiter.

NASA missions focused on outer planets, such as Jupiter, are often subjected to intense radiation while experiencing less than 10 percent of the solar flux relative to a mission in the general vicinity of Earth. Under these conditions, existing solar array technology is not as efficient in converting the sun’s energy, and the solar array performance degrades quickly due to the high radiation exposure. In addition to these deep space missions, there are also multiple classes of NASA, other government agency, and commercial space missions in Earth orbit that are exposed to high levels of radiation.

Various methods can be used to increase solar array performance for missions exposed to severe radiation environments and increase overall efficiency when operating in LILT-type environments. One method involves a redesign of the solar cell. The choice of appropriate semiconductor materials, cell designs, and precise attention to cell fabrication processes can be used to develop a high efficiency device that is both radiation tolerant and exhibits minimal LILT-type degradation effects.

Another approach is the use of concentrator optics to shield the solar cell and minimize the amount of solar cell area needed. Concentrator concepts have been successfully used for both space and terrestrial photovoltaic systems. This approach utilizes either reflective or refractive elements to focus the sunlight onto a much smaller solar cell area. Designs vary greatly in terms of complexity and solar concentration, from simple two-sun trough reflectors to greater than 100-sun refractive point-focus designs. Issues such as degradation/contamination of the concentrator optics and sun-pointing requirements for the solar array must be addressed; however, concentrator concepts address EESP project goals by providing added protection from the radiation environment for the solar cells and by operating at higher solar intensity and temperature conditions than one-sun planar arrays.

The EESP project is currently investing in both advanced solar cell and concentrator technologies. The development of these new solar cell and array-level component technologies will enable future NASA robotic and human-exploration missions as well as other potential missions by increasing solar array performance, and thus increasing mission life and/or decreasing mission mass/cost.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
Lee Mason ( Fred Elliott (

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Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP)


Non-nuclear testing of fuel element materials is an affordable approach to nuclear thermal propulsion engine development. This image captures the compact fuel element environmental test underway.

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) is an attractive option for in-space propulsion for exploration missions to Mars and beyond. NTP offers virtually unlimited energy density and specific impulse roughly double that of the highest performing traditional chemical systems.

As missions aim for targets farther out into the solar system, nuclear propulsion may offer the only viable technological option for extending the reach of exploration missions beyond Mars, where solar panels can no longer provide sufficient energy and chemical propulsion would require a prohibitively high mass of propellant and/or prohibitively long trip times.

NTP is directly relevant to the Agency’s vision, mission, and long-term goal of expanding human presence into the solar system and to the surface of Mars because it provides the fastest trip time of all currently obtainable advanced propulsion systems. Fast trip times will safeguard astronaut health by reducing exposure to zero gravity and cosmic radiation and reduce risks associated with reliability uncertainties inherent in complex systems as well as those associated with life-limited, mission critical systems. NTP enables abort modes not available with other architectures, including the ability to return to earth anytime within 3 months of the Earth departure burn, and also the ability to return immediately upon arrival at Mars.

The overall goal of this Game Changing Development Program project is to determine the feasibility and affordability of a low-enriched uranium (LEU)-based NTP engine with solid cost and schedule confidence.

The project will be considered a success if these objectives are met:
1. Establish a conceptual design for an NTP LEU engine in the thrust range of interest for a human Mars mission.
2. Design, build and test, in the Compact Fuel Element Environmental Tester (CFEET) and the Nuclear Thermal Rocket Element Environmental Simulator (NTREES), prototypic fuel element segments based on the conceptual design.
3. Establish robust production manufacturing methods for a LEU fuel element / reactor core.
4. Demonstrate the feasibility of exhaust capture as a method of nuclear rocket engine testing.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
Ron Litchford ( Doyce “Sonny” P. Mitchell Jr. (

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion: Game Changing Technology for Deep Space Exploration

Today’s advances in materials, testing capabilities, and reactor development are providing impetus for NASA to appraise Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) as an attractive 21st century option to propel human exploration missions to Mars and other deep space destinations. Utilizing nuclear technology as an ingredient of NASA’s exploration prowess is not new. NTP research is part […]

NASA Contracts with BWXT Nuclear Energy to Advance Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Technology

As NASA pursues innovative, cost-effective alternatives to conventional propulsion technologies to forge new paths into the solar system, researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, say nuclear thermal propulsion technologies are more promising than ever, and have contracted with BWXT Nuclear Energy, Inc. of Lynchburg, Virginia, to further advance and refine those […]

Mars Entry, Descent and Landing Instrumentation 2 (MEDLI2)

MEDLI2 will gather data of effects on both the heat shield and backshield during atmospheric entry

The Mars Entry, Descent and Landing Instrumentation 2 (MEDLI2) will collect data during the Mars 2020 mission’s entry through the planet’s atmosphere to enable improved designs of future Mars entry systems for robotic and crewed missions. Understanding aerothermal environments, thermal protection system performance, and aerodynamic performance characteristics of the Mars 2020 entry vehicle also extends to designing entry systems for other destinations, such as Venus, Titan, and the gas giants.

Close analysis of MEDLI2 flight data is vital to future NASA exploration of the red planet. Extending on groundbreaking entry data collected by the MEDLI instrument flown aboard the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, MEDLI2 will explore regimes not addressed during the MSL 2012 mission and seek answers to questions generated from examining MEDLI/MSL data.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
Michelle Munk ( Henry Wright (

MEDLI2 Installation on Mars 2020 Aeroshell Begins

Vibration testing of the MEDLI2 primary electronics box was successfully completed recently at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Flight hardware is being shipped and installed on the Mars 2020 entry vehicle in preparation for next year’s launch. Credits: NASA   Hardware installed onto NASA’s Mars 2020 entry vehicle this week will help to […]

Bulk Metallic Glass Gears

BMG Gears

(a) Schematic showing the motivation for developing bulk metallic glass (BMG) gears. Crystalline metals tend to exhibit poor wear while ceramics are brittle. BMGs offer wear resistance similar to ceramics but with up to two orders of magnitude higher toughness. (b) Micrograph showing the teeth of a BMG gear. (c) Two BMG gears in a spur gear test where their performances were shown to be up to three times better than the best steel alloys. (d) Cast BMG gears integrated into a working gearbox. (e) A handful of cast BMG gears demonstrating the ease with which they can be fabricated. Images credit: NASA

NASA needs heaterless gearboxes to enable cold capable mechanisms for missions to icy bodies and extreme cold environments like Europa; missions like a Europa lander will not have solar panels or nuclear sources for power generation and will have to meet mission objectives on battery power.

The problem to be solved is to make metal alloys that combine the benefits of metals and ceramics into a single material, optimally suited for wear-resistant applications. Such an optimal material would (1) have a higher toughness than ceramics, (2) have higher wear-resistance than any metals (approaching ceramics), (3) have low processing temperatures so that net-shaped forming is possible, (4) be machinable, and (5) be robust to extreme environments.

BMG Gears project’s unique material solution is a metallic glass with mechanical properties very similar to ceramics; it is high in strength, wear resistant, and holds up to extreme temperatures. Bulk metallic glass is moldable for reduced component cost after the initial tooling investment, and existing industry infrastructure supports alloy and component supply change, providing another opportunity for cost savings as well as opportunities for partnering with industry.

Keith Belvin ( Robert Dillon (

New Gears Can Withstand Impact, Freezing Temperatures During Lunar Missions

Many exploration destinations in our solar system are frigid and require hardware that can withstand the extreme cold. During NASA’s Artemis missions, temperatures at the Moon’s South Pole will drop drastically during the lunar night. Farther into the solar system, on Jupiter’s moon Europa, temperatures never rise above -260 degrees Fahrenheit (-162 degrees Celsius) at […]

Metallic Glass Gears Make for Graceful Robots

Throw a baseball, and you might say it’s all in the wrist. For robots, it’s all in the gears. Gears are essential for precision robotics. They allow limbs to turn smoothly and stop on command; low-quality gears cause limbs to jerk or shake. If you’re designing a robot to scoop samples or grip a ledge, […]

Thermal Protection Systems – Modeling

Seam Performance

Image of a model under testing of seam performance at 400 W/cm2. Objectives of this particular test were reported as met for several reasons, one of which is that 5 tested seam designs evaluated demonstrated no gap widening during the test. Image credit: NASA

The Thermal Protection Systems Modeling (TPS-M) project seeks to develop, evaluate, test and transfer cutting edge materials that meet the thermal requirements for deep space missions. The extreme heating produced during atmospheric entry is such that without adequate protective materials and structures, valuable spacecraft and instruments would be destroyed. Materials such as woven thermal protection have been tested and proven to be advanced technologies compared with previously used materials, such as heritage carbon phenolic. TPS-M is testing a variety of thermal protection systems and components options under conditions likened to that the materials would be exposed to in space.

The Heat Shield for Extreme Entry Environment Technology, or HEEET, uses a dual-layer approach that allows greater mass efficiency by limiting the thickness of the high-density outer layer and reducing heat shield mass as much as 40 percent. Other activities include arc jet testing to characterize 3D Woven TPS, arc jet exposure of ablative and non-oxide ceramic matrix composite TPS for planetary probe and sample return applications, and validation of fiber optic temperature sensor arrays for TPS materials.

Michelle Munk ( Ethiraj Venkatapathy (

Tiny Probes Hold Big Promise for Future NASA Missions

Video of a probe-shaped test article that is a nearly-perfect match to the TVA flight article, tested in the IHF (Interactive Heating Facility) arc jet at a constant condition, matching the anticipated flight total heat load on the probe. After the flight, we will subject another test article with time-profiled heating to simulate the conditions […]

Ancient Art of Weaving Ready to Head to Mars and Beyond

Weaving processes created millennia ago are part of the most cutting-edge technology on NASA’s Orion spaceship that may one day shield humans from heat as they ride all the way to Mars and back. That same technology is finding a home on Earth as well, enabling thicker, denser composite materials for race cars, among other […]

First 3D woven composite for NASA thermal protection systems

Orion NASA’s Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle has been designed to transport a crew of six to and from deep space, including an asteroid (≈2025) and Mars (≈2030). It comprises two modules: the Crew Module (or Command Module, CM), built by Lockheed Martin (see Sara Black’s article on its composite heat shield) and the Service Module […]

Affordable Access to Space

Image of testing at Marshall Space Flight Center where AVA is controlling attitude on an air bearing.

Image of testing at Marshall Space Flight Center where AVA is controlling attitude on an air bearing. Credit: NASA

The Affordable Access To Space (AATS) project is a set of agreements / studies to enable NASA missions with affordable, dedicated access to space by continually maturing new technologies and implementing new approaches to reduce the price point for space payloads.

Several private and government-sponsored launch vehicle developers are working toward the ability to affordably insert small payloads into low-Earth orbit. But until now, cost of the complex avionics remained disproportionately high. Affordable Vehicle Avionics (AVA), a project at NASA’s Ames Research Center solves this problem. AVA is looking into development of next-generation, very low-cost guidance, navigation and control avionics systems aimed as a possible solution for a family of low-cost suborbital to orbit launch vehicles.

AATS: Affordable Vehicle Avionics Ron Litchford Amela Zanacic

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Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robots, or PUFFER, is a small, origami-inspired robotic technology under development to provide a low-volume, low-cost mission enhancement for accessing new science from extreme terrains that are of high interest to future NASA missions. A “pop-up” robot that folds into a small, smartphone-sized weight and volume, PUFFER’s compact design means numerous robots can be packed into a larger “parent” craft at a low payload cost, then deployed on a planet’s surface individually to increase surface mobility.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
Bob Ambrose ( Jaakko Karras (

Entry Systems Modeling (ESM)

Entry Systems Modeling (ESM)

“The Entry Systems Modeling technology development project helps mature aerosciences and materials products for entry, descent and landing technologies.”

Modeling and simulation is on the critical path for NASA’s planetary exploration program, because it is generally impossible to fully test a new entry system and evaluate its performance prior to the actual mission. The Entry Systems Modeling (ESM) project is developing new capabilities in modeling and simulation for entry systems that will revolutionize the design and overall reliability for future missions.

During any planetary entry, the entry vehicle is exposed to an extreme heating environment. The ESM project is exploring and developing new approaches to accurately predict the spacecraft entry environment and to simulate the response of the thermal protection system to that environment. These predictions are made using complex codes that are extensively validated against test data. As computer codes improve, uncertainty in predictions is reduced, which translates to reduced system mass and/or higher reliability (lower risk).

As the reentry vehicle slows, aerodynamic forces buffet the vehicle and create a highly unsteady and dynamic environment. Predicting the behavior of the spacecraft is critical to understanding its stability and the performance of deceleration systems such as parachutes or supersonic retro-propulsion.

Principal Technologist: Program Manager:
Michelle Munk ( Mike Wright (

NASA Parachute Device Could Return Small Spacecraft from Deep Space Missions

  After a two-month stay aboard the International Space Station, NASA’s Technology Educational Satellite (TechEdSat-5) that launched Dec. 9, 2016, was deployed on March 6, 2017 from the NanoRacks platform and into low-Earth orbit to demonstrate a critical technology that may allow safe return of science payloads to Earth from space. Orbiting about 250 miles […]

Cryo Fluid Technologies


The development of a 20 Watt 20 Kelvin cryocooler is a critical step in enabling zero boil-off of liquid hydrogen.

NASA does not currently have zero boil-off cryogenic technologies that will enable preserving liquid hydrogen propellant necessary for future exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit.

The development of a 20 Watt 20 Kelvin cryocooler is a critical step in enabling zero boil-off of liquid hydrogen. Active thermal control of cryogenic propellants is made possible by integrating a cryocooler to intercept and collect heat from the cryogenic tank support structure and/or a broad area cooled shield.

Click on the gallery tab to view a 3D model of the 20-W, 20-K cryocooler.

Principal Technologist Project Manager
Lee Mason ( Mike Doherty (

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KSC team delves into wearable tech in space

KSC Delves in Wearable Tech

In the image above,  NASA engineers Delvin VanNorman, Michael McDonough, Kelvin Ruiz, David Miranda and Allan Villorin in the lab experimenting with Epson and Vuzix smart glasses. (Photo: Malcolm Denemark/FLORIDA TODAY)

On his “smart” watch, David Miranda checks e-mail and appointments, dictates text messages and performs Google searches, among other tasks.

The accessory makes the Kennedy Space Center engineer an early adopter of “wearable technology” that one leading consumer electronics company predicts will emerge as a hot workplace trend this year .

But in “wearables” like the LG watch or Google Glass eye wear, Miranda and a group of colleagues see the potential for something more visionary: helping KSC workers do their jobs more safely and efficiently, and maybe someday also astronaut explorers.

“Whether they’re walking on the Martian surface or on an asteroid, this could give them a lot of critical information to help them be successful,” said Miranda, 31, of Orlando.

Miranda leads an eight-person team of young engineers who this month are beginning a two-year project to develop a prototype headset that works something like a Google Glass for space operations.

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Child’s Toy Design Could Help Humans Get to Mars


Devising a way to one day land astronauts on Mars is a complex problem and NASA scientists think something as simple as a child’s toy design may help solve the problem. Safely landing a large spacecraft on the Red planet is just one of many engineering challenges the agency faces as it eyes an ambitious goal of sending humans into deep space later this century.

At NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, engineers have been working to develop an inflatable heat shield that looks a lot like a super-sized version of a stacking ring of doughnuts that infants play with. The engineers believe a lightweight, inflatable heat shield could be deployed to slow the craft to enter a Martian atmosphere much thinner than Earth’s.

Such an inflatable heat shield could help a spacecraft reach the high-altitude southern plains of Mars and other areas that would otherwise be inaccessible under existing technology. The experts note that rockets alone can’t be used to land a large craft on Mars as can be done on the atmosphereless moon. Parachutes also won’t work for a large spacecraft needed to send humans to Mars, they add.

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*Source: ABC News

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World’s First 3D Printer in Space Will Launch This Month

Above: Mike Snyder and Jason Dunn of Made In Space work on construction of the 3D printer in the company’s cleanroom. Credit: Made In Space

The first 3D printer ever to fly in space will blast off this month, and NASA has high hopes for the innovative device’s test runs on the International Space Station.

The 3D printer, which is scheduled to launch toward the orbiting lab Sept. 19 aboard SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon cargo capsule, could help lay the foundation for broader in-space manufacturing capabilities, NASA officials said. The end result could be far less reliance on resupply from Earth, leading to cheaper and more efficient missions to faraway destinations such as Mars.

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NASA Completes Successful Battery of Tests on Composite Cryotank

NASA has completed a complex series of tests on one of the largest composite cryogenic fuel tanks ever manufactured, bringing the aerospace industry much closer to designing, building, and flying lightweight, composite tanks on rockets.

“This is one of NASA’s major technology accomplishments for 2014,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for Space Technology. “This is the type of technology that can improve competitiveness for the entire U.S. launch industry, not to mention other industries that want to replace heavy metal components with lightweight composites. These tests, and others we have conducted this year on landing technologies for Mars vehicles, show how technology development is the key to driving exploration.”

The demanding series of tests on the 18-foot (5.5-meter) diameter tank were conducted inside a test stand at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Engineers added structural loads to the tank to replicate the physical stresses launch vehicles experience during flight.

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NASA Selects Proposals for Advanced Energy Storage Systems

The Scarab lunar rover is one of the next generation of autonomous robotic rovers that will be used to explore dark polar craters at the lunar south pole. The rover is powered by a 100-watt fuel cell developed under the Space Power Systems Project under Game Changing Development program. Supported by NASA, the rover is being developed by the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University. Image Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

NASA has selected four proposals for advanced energy storage technologies that may be used to power the agency’s future space missions.

Development of these new energy storage devices will help enable NASA’s future robotic and human-exploration missions and aligns with conclusions presented in the National Research Council’s “NASA Space Technology Roadmaps and Priorities,” which calls for improved energy generation and storage “with reliable power systems that can survive the wide range of environments unique to NASA missions.” NASA believes these awards will lead to such energy breakthroughs.

“NASA’s advanced space technology development doesn’t stop with hardware and instruments for spacecraft,” said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “New energy storage technology will be critical to our future exploration of deep space — whether missions to an asteroid, Mars or beyond. That’s why we’re investing in this critical mission technology area.”

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First LDSD Test Flight a Success

Hours after the June 28, 2014, test of NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator over the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range, the saucer-shaped test vehicle is lifted aboard the Kahana recovery vessel. Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

Hours after the June 28, 2014, test of NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator over the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range, the saucer-shaped test vehicle is lifted aboard the Kahana recovery vessel. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA representatives participated in a media teleconference this morning to discuss the June 28, 2014 near-space test flight of the agency’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), which occurred off the coast of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

A high-altitude balloon launch occurred at 8:45 a.m. HST (11:45 a.m. PDT/2:45 p.m. EDT) from the Hawaiian island facility. At 11:05 a.m. HST (2:05 p.m. PDT/5:05 p.m. EDT), the LDSD test vehicle dropped away from the balloon as planned and began powered flight. The balloon and test vehicle were about 120,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean at the time of the drop. The vehicle splashed down in the ocean at approximately 11:35 a.m. HST (2:35 p.m. PDT/5:35 p.m. EDT), after the engineering test flight concluded. The test vehicle hardware, black box data recorder and parachute were all recovered later in the day.

“We are thrilled about yesterday’s test,” said Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The test vehicle worked beautifully, and we met all of our flight objectives. We have recovered all the vehicle hardware and data recorders and will be able to apply all of the lessons learned from this information to our future flights.”

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International Space Station Being Used As A Technology Test Bed

The International Space Station is critically important to NASA’s future exploration missions. The orbiting outpost provides a platform to test technologies in a long-duration weightless environment; conditions which are impractical to replicate on Earth. NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate is utilizing the space station as a test bed for multiple game-changing technology demonstrations.

“The International Space Station is our national laboratory for foundational space technology development,” said Dr. Michael Gazarik, Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate. “The new technologies we fly and test on the station will help create the new capabilities needed for our Asteroid Initiative and our Evolvable Mars Campaign. The International Space Station is an innovation incubator for the advanced space technology that will get us to Mars, and beyond.”

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Robots Will Pave the Way to Mars

The first robot capable of building anything including a replica of itself, might cost a fortune to develop; the billionth copy would be as cheap as dirt. Send some of them into space and they could build new armies out of planetary rubble and dust, then go on to construct enough spaceships and refueling stations to carry the human race to other planets and, eventually, other stars.

That’s the scenario laid out some 35 years ago by a team of academics and NASA engineers meeting at the University of Santa Clara, in California. They envisioned robotic factories that would cover the moon and exploit the asteroid belt, extracting the resources needed to build more and better versions of themselves and also vast orbiting telescopes, space colonies, and other structures too big to launch from Earth. Over time, the researchers wrote, these bots could “produce an ever-widening habitat for man throughout the Solar System” and beyond it. The approach could become so successful, they warned, that we might have to worry about robotic population control.

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NASA Langley part of new space tech research

April 17, 2014 | By Tamara Dietrich,


The technologies needed to get humans deeper into space and safely on another planet are continuing apace, and will take financial commitments for years to come, a NASA official says.

But NASA’s partnerships with industry and academia to develop and hone those technologies will also reap benefits on this planet, as well, he said.

“A deep-space exploration mission is, in some ways, imminent,” Michael Gazarik said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters to give updates on developing technologies and upcoming missions that will eventually enable manned exploration — to an asteroid, Mars or the moon of another planet.

Gazarik is the associate administrator for space technology at NASA headquarters. The broad umbrella of his Space Technology Mission Directorate includes the Game Changing Development Office at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, headed up by Steve Gaddis.

Gaddis helped spotlight some of those game-changing technologies Tuesday when Sen. Tim Kaine visited the center for an informational tour. There, Kaine said he was committed to NASA’s proposed $17.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2015, and even to see it increased in future. Read more (+)

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A Step Up for NASA’s Robonaut: Ready for Climbing Legs


Getting your “space legs” in Earth orbit has taken on new meaning for NASA’s pioneering Robonaut program.

Thanks to a successful launch of the SpaceX-3 flight of the Falcon 9/Dragon capsule on Friday, April 18, the lower limbs for Robonaut 2 (R2) are aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Safely tucked inside the Dragon resupply vehicle, R2’s legs are to be attached by a station crew member to Robonaut’s torso already on the orbiting outpost.

R2’s upper body arrived on the space station back in February 2011 during the last flight of the space shuttle Discovery. That event signaled the first human-like robot to arrive in space to become a permanent resident of the laboratory.

Jointly developed by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations and Space Technology mission directorates in cooperation with with General Motors, R2 showcases how a robotic assistant can work alongside humans, whether tasks are done in space or on Earth in a manufacturing facility.

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NASA’s space station Robonaut finally getting legs

By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer | April 19, 2014


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot — now stuck on a pedestal — is going mobile at the International Space Station.

“Legs are going to really kind of open up the robot’s horizons,” said Robert Ambrose from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

It’s the next big step in NASA’s quest to develop robotic helpers for astronauts. With legs, the 8-foot Robonaut will be able to climb throughout the 260-mile-high outpost, performing mundane cleaning chores and fetching things for the human crew.

The robot’s gangly, contortionist-bending legs are packed aboard a SpaceX supply ship that launched Friday, more than a month late. It was the private company’s fourth shipment to the space station for NASA and is due to arrive Easter Sunday morning.

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Astronaut Ready to Take 3D Printing Into the Final Frontier

Above: A 3D printer developed by Made in Space will fly to the International Space Station. IMAGE CREDIT: Miriam Kramer/

One NASA astronaut launching to the International Space Station in May is ready to 3D print in space.

Astronaut Reid Wiseman, bound for the station in May, is eager to use the first 3D printer in space this summer. Wiseman, flying into space for the first time as a member of the Expedition 40/41 crew, thinks that the implications for 3D printing in space are exciting and far-reaching.

“Imagine if Apollo 13 had a 3D printer,” Wiseman said in a news conference this month. “Imagine if you’re going to Mars and instead of packing along 20,000 spare parts, you pack along a few kilograms of ink. Now, you don’t even need to know what part is going to break, you can just print out that part. Let’s say your screwdriver strips out halfway to Mars and you need a screwdriver, print out a screwdriver. Really, I think for the future, that’s pretty fascinating. I really like that and it’ll be fun to play with that on orbit.” Read more (+).

See the video: Space Station 3D Printer Slated To Launch This Summer.

See the photo gallery: 3D Printing In Space: A New Dimension.

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Next-gen battery collaboration to develop ‘beyond lithium-ion space’ in space


(Source: The American Ceramic Society)

There are few situations in life where two aren’t better than one.

So the recently announced collaboration between the Department of Energy’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), located at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), and NASA Glenn Research Center spells good things for batteries, which are poised to receive a double-dose of expertise from two of the country’s top research entities.

Together, “JCER’s deep knowledge of the basic science in energy storage research with NASA Glenn’s expertise engineering battery technology with aerospace applications” will spark the development of “next-generation batteries” (i.e., not lithium-ion) that will certainly make their way to space.

“The beyond lithium-ion space is rich with opportunity and mostly unexplored,” says George Crabtree, director of JCESR, in an ANL press release. “In this collaboration, JCESR will share fundamental research results with NASA, enabling them to develop technologies that benefit the space program and, ultimately, society as a whole through commercialization opportunities with a wide range of applications.”

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*Source: The American Ceramic Society

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NASA Marshall Kicks Off Game Changing Composite Cryotank Testing

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is set to begin a series of structural and pressure tests on one of the largest composite cryogenic fuel tanks ever manufactured. Advanced composite cryotanks will help enable NASA’s future deep space exploration missions.

Media are invited to view the unloading of the 18-foot-diameter (5.5-meter) composite cryotank from NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft on March 27 at 7 a.m. CDT at Redstone Army Airfield. In addition, journalists are invited to interview John Vickers, NASA project manager, Composite Cryotank Technology Demonstration (CCTD), and Dan Rivera, Boeing program manager for CCTD.

For more than 50 years, metal tanks have carried fuel to launch rockets and propelled them into space. NASA is pursuing composite cryogenic fuel tanks, a potentially game-changing technology, because the tanks could yield significant cost and weight reductions on future launch vehicles. Once installed in Marshall’s test facility, the composite cryotank will undergo a series of tests at extreme pressures and temperatures, similar to those experienced during spaceflight.

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NASA’s Super Guppy Makes a Special Delivery

NASA’s Super Guppy, a wide-bodied cargo aircraft, landed at the Redstone Army Airfield near Huntsville, Ala. on March 26 with a special delivery: an innovative composite rocket fuel tank. The tank was manufactured at the Boeing Developmental Center in Tukwila, Wash. The tank will be unloaded from the Super Guppy, which has a hinged nose that opens and allows large cargos like the tank to be easily unloaded. After the tank is removed from the Super Guppy, it will be inspected and prepared for testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The composite tank project is part of the Game Changing Development Program and NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. Image credit: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given

NASA’s Super Guppy, a wide-bodied cargo aircraft, landed at the Redstone Army Airfield near Huntsville, Ala. on March 26 with a special delivery: an innovative composite rocket fuel tank. The tank was manufactured at the Boeing Developmental Center in Tukwila, Wash. The tank will be unloaded from the Super Guppy, which has a hinged nose that opens and allows large cargos like the tank to be easily unloaded. After the tank is removed from the Super Guppy, it will be inspected and prepared for testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The composite tank project is part of the Game Changing Development Program and NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
Image credit: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given

› Alternate view #1
› Alternate view #2
› Flickr: Super Guppy and Cryotank

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Engineers Building Hard-working Mining Robot

Mining Robots

After decades of designing and operating robots full of scientific gear to study other worlds, NASA is working on a prototype that leaves the delicate instruments at home in exchange for a sturdy pair of diggers and the reliability and strength to work all day, every day for years.

Think of it as a blue collar robot.

Dubbed RASSOR, for Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot and pronounced “razor,” the autonomous machine is far from space-ready, but the earliest design has shown engineers the broad strokes of what their lunar soil excavator needs in order to operate reliably.

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LVAC: Advancing the Technology Readiness Of SLS Adaptive Controls

NASA Armstrong’s highly modified F/A-18A Full Scale Advanced Systems Testbed aircraft No. 853 validated the effectiveness of the Adaptive Augmenting Controller developed by NASA Marshall engineers for the Space Launch System.
Image Credit: NASA / Carla Thomas

Can a rocket maneuver like an airplane?

And can an airplane act as a surrogate for a maneuvering rocket?

NASA engineers demonstrated just that when they used a NASA F/A-18 aircraft recently to simulate a rocket in its early flight phase to test adaptive software for NASA’s new rocket the Space Launch System (SLS), the largest, most powerful launch vehicle for deep space missions.

The tests are helping engineers working on the development of the SLS at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., ensure the rocket can adjust to the environment it faces as it makes its way to space. Read more (+)

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Collaboration Key to Successful Technology “Push”

Bill Farr

Above, former DSOC Project Manager Bill Farr in his lab at NASA’s JPL. Credit: NASA

The Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) mission made history in October 2013 when it succeeded in transferring data at 622 Megabits per second, a rate six times that of comparable radio frequency systems, like going from dial up to a high-speed Internet connection. But this technological achievement in laser communications was at risk had it not been for the “push” researchers experienced when an important component, a photodiode detector, failed to perform as necessary during testing.

In the world of emerging technologies, a “push” is any activity attempting to expand on advancements to current challenges or limitations. Within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), projects like Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) seek to do just that. When LLCD was faced with the detector failure, a potential replacement was identified—one with a challenge: it was still under development with DSOC.

The LLCD experiment, now well known for its achievement, launched onboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on September 6, 2013. A series of LLCD experiments began in late September with the first successful downlink from LADEE on September 28, just before LADEE reached lunar orbit. LLCD mission operations began in mid-October, and by October 21 six links were successfully completed.

Getting to that successful point, however, was not a straightforward path and required numerous collaborative efforts among individuals and organizations across NASA and industry.

The Lunar Lasercom Ground Terminal at White Sands, New Mexico. Credit: MIT

The Lunar Lasercom Ground Terminal at White Sands, New Mexico. Credit: MIT

Early in the mission life cycle, it became evident that there was a high probability of limited or no communications link opportunities for the LADEE launch due to clouds or inclement weather during the monsoon season at the optical ground station at White Sands Center in New Mexico. NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Office stepped in by funding a back-up ground station at the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory. The JPL back-up ground station project is referred to as LLOT, or the Lunar Lasercom OCTL Terminal. The JPL ground station has a telescope specifically designed for space optical communications experiments. The back-up station project required a demonstration only at the lowest downlink rate of 39 Mb/s. During early testing of that capability, the baselined commercial intensified photodiode detector failed to adequately detect data at 39 Mb/s.

The need to overcome this limitation was clear; fortunately the answer was already in the works.


The optical module of the Lunar Laser Communication Demo’s Space Terminal aboard LADEE during environmental testing. Credit: NASA

Back in the summer of 2011, under SCaN funding, Bill Farr and Jeff Stern of JPL had begun WSi detector development in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, building on what Farr described as NIST’s “ground-breaking achievements.”

“This naturally flowed into STMD’s Game Changing Development DSOC project starting in the fall of 2011,” said Farr. “Our DSOC project goal has been to make large arrays of WSi detectors to go behind 5- to 12-m diameter telescopes. We are presently fabricating 64-pixel arrays. At an interim step we fabricated the 8- and 12-pixel devices, which were suitable for use behind a 1-m telescope, such as at the JPL ground station.”

Farr and Stern fabricated and began testing their first WSi devices at the start of March 2012.

“In collaboration with NIST, by the end of April 2012 we had a record setting 93-percent system detection efficiency with single-pixel devices, and under the DARPA-funded InPho program performed a record setting 13-bits per photon demonstration using pulse-position-modulation (the preferred deep-space optical communications modulation format) with one of these devices,” Farr said of the testing results.

In September 2012, after the critical nature of issues with the commercial photodiode detector was deemed insurmountable, the challenge was firmly set. The LLOT project found that to succeed, it would be necessary to switch to the WSi detector and moving forward was review-board approved.

With that approval, the push was now truly on.

Farr’s own words best describe the dynamic collaborative efforts:

“I knew a local vendor, Photon Spot, Inc., (Monrovia, Ca.) starting a business in superconducting nanowire detectors. The LLOT project worked with Photon Spot to quickly assemble and lease a cryostat that would achieve the required 1-K operating temperature for the WSi detectors.

“The cryostat was delivered to JPL in April 2013. Matt Shaw and Kevin Birnbaum at JPL then led the effort under the LLOT project to get the detector array installed into this cryostat and then interfaced to the data acquisition system, which was originally selected to operate with the photodiode detector. Kevin came up with a novel interface using only off-the-shelf electronic modules in order to meet the tight project schedule and budget.”

By June, the LLOT project demonstrated error-free communications and successfully completed compatibility testing of the WSi-based LLOT receiver with the Lunar Lasercomm Space Terminal engineering unit.

“An amazing 2-month integration effort by Matt and Kevin and the rest of the LLOT team,” said Farr.

John Rush, director for the Technology and Standards Division of NASA’s Space Communications Office, visited the JPL ground station for a final check before the LLCD experiment started. Discussions included the list of challenges the team faced in getting ready on time. “The biggest challenge was the detectors where everyone agreed that the original detectors would not have worked. But the tungsten silicide detectors that STMD invested in saved the day,” Rush said.

“The new detectors now hold the world record for efficiency at 93 percent and for a mind-boggling 13 bits per photon,” Rush added. “This is an excellent example of how working together we can achieve things that we can’t achieve by ourselves.”

Denise M. Stefula
NASA’s Langley Research Center

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NASA, Virginia Come Together to Talk Aerospace


Photo credit: NASA/David Bowman
Article by Denise Lineberry, NASA’s Langley Research Center

Amid the hustle and bustle on the nine floors of the Virginia General Assembly building in Richmond, about 75 representatives from NASA and the aerospace industry spoke to every single member during a two-day awareness campaign called Aerospace Day 2014.

In small teams, they moved from office to office, expressing thanks and noting the impact of the aerospace industry in Virginia: $36.4 billion, 28,110 high-paying jobs, $57.5 million in state tax revenues and a highly skilled workforce.

“There’s only one word we can use to describe the impact that Wallops and NASA have had, it’s ‘Wow.’” said Sen. John Cosgrove. “It’s just amazing … we’re just so excited. We take pride for being in your corner and supporting you.”

View the photo gallery here.

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Researching “super dust” and other materials that could reduce the cost of air and space travel

By The Partnership for Public Service, The Washington Post

Mia Siochi

Whether researching stronger, lighter materials for use in planes and spaceships or keeping squashed insects from sticking to airplane wings, Mia Siochi’s work at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia has the potential to improve aviation and save taxpayers millions of dollars.

Siochi, a research materials engineer, leads a NASA team that is seeking to tap the potential of nanotechnology to reduce the weight of space launch vehicles by up to 30 percent, or about 200,000 pounds. With launch costs being about $10,000 per pound, lightening the load leads to significantly lower costs.


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(Source: The Washington Post)

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NASA Boards the 3-D-Manufacturing Train

Goddard technologists Ted Swanson and Matthew Showalter hold a 3-D-printed battery-mounting plate developed specifically for a sounding-rocket mission. The component is the first additive-manufactured device Goddard has flown in space.  Image Credit: NASA

Goddard technologists Ted Swanson and Matthew Showalter hold a 3-D-printed battery-mounting plate developed specifically for a sounding-rocket mission. The component is the first additive-manufactured device Goddard has flown in space. Image Credit: NASA

Given NASA’s unique needs for highly custom­ized spacecraft and instrument components, additive manufacturing, or “3-D printing,” offers a compelling alternative to more traditional manufacturing approaches.

“We’re not driving the additive manufacturing train, industry is,” said Ted Swanson, the assistant chief for technology for the Mechanical Systems Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Swanson is the center’s point-of-contact for additive manufacturing. “But NASA has the ability to get on-board to leverage it for our unique needs.”

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NASA: Engineered Microbes May Support Life in Space

Photo Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

Photo Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

A new NASA project called Synthetic Biology Initiative is studying the potential of designer microbes, based on tiny organisms called cyanobacterium, or blue-green algae, to convert the toxic atmospheres of planets like Mars or Venus into more hospitable environments. Such creatures would be manufactured using synthetic biology.

For more information on Synthetic Biology, please visit the NASA Ames Research Center Biology and Astrobiology site:

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NASA Langley part of ISS ‘fluid slosh’ experiment

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins holds a plastic container partially filled with green-colored water which is used in the free-flying satellites known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES - Slosh experiment. Credits: NASA

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins holds a plastic container partially filled with green-colored water which is used in the free-flying satellites known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES – Slosh experiment. Credits: NASA

By Tamara Dietrich, The Daily Press

January 8, 2014

When a liquid-fueled rocket vaults into space, there’s a whole lot of sloshing going on inside those fuel tanks.

A better understanding of how that liquid behaves in zero gravity could help engineers build a better, safer rocket — one that could enable humans to explore asteroids, Mars, the moons of outer planets and, eventually, even deeper into space.

Now NASA expects that one of the many science experiments aboard the Cygnus commercial space freighter set to launch Wednesday from Wallops Island to the International Space Station will help toward that goal.

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NASA Planning for Mission To Mine Water on the Moon

RESOLVE, shown during testing on Canada's Artemis Jr. rover, is intended to pave the way toward incorporating the use of space resources into mission architectures. Credit: NASA photo

RESOLVE, shown during testing on Canada’s Artemis Jr. rover, is intended to pave the way toward incorporating the use of space resources into mission architectures. Credit: NASA photo

Irene Klotz | Jan. 28, 2014

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Following a series of reconnaissance missions that found hydrogen and then water on the Moon, NASA is laying the groundwork for a lunar rover that would scout for subsurface volatiles and extract them for processing.

The heart of the proposed Resource Prospector Mission (RPM) is the Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) payload, a technology development initiative that predates its official start two years ago in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division.

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NASA’s Robot Astronaut Now Has Bendy, $15M Legs for Crawling Around the ISS

PHOTO DATE: 11-13-13 LOCATION:  Bldg. 32 - Robonaut Lab SUBJECT: High quality, production photos of new Robonaut legs in the Robonaut Lab. PHOTOGRAPHERS:  BILL STAFFORD AND RON SYKORA

PHOTO DATE: 11-13-13
LOCATION: Bldg. 32 – Robonaut Lab
SUBJECT: High quality, production photos of new Robonaut legs in the Robonaut Lab.

Having a skeleton crew aboard the International Space Station means forcing PhDs to pull double-duty as janitors, and sometimes to undertake dangerous space walks. NASA’s solution? Robonaut, or R2 as it’s called by shipmates on the International Space Station. Conceived of in 1997, the goal was to create a robot that would take on jobs that are too dangerous, or dull, for humans. It has been an engineering marvel: Engineers equipped R2 with arms and hands that can carry 40 pound payloads; 350 sensors feeding into 38 processors give it the ability to carefully manipulate a control panel, or even send a text message from an iPhone.

There was just one problem—it couldn’t move. R2 was either mounted on a pole or attached to a wheeled base, both non-starters in space. Now, NASA’s engineers have finally unveiled a bizarre-looking pair of legs that will help the robot crawl around.

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Getting to the Root of Debris Predictions with Terminal Velocity Aerospace

On October 28, Terminal Velocity Aerospace (TVA) signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA Ames Research Center to collaborate on evaluation, testing, and technology transfer of newly-developed thermal protection system (TPS) materials.

“The Space Act Agreement mechanism offers a great way for companies to partner with NASA,” said Dominic DePasquale, the company’s CEO. “I’m excited that we have an opportunity to collaborate with the premier TPS technologists at NASA to transition this TPS material out of the laboratory for use in real missions that deliver value.” Read more…(+)

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This Awesome Ad, Set to the Beastie Boys, Is How to Get Girls to Become Engineers

This is a stupendously awesome commercial from a toy company called GoldieBlox, which has developed a set of interactive books and games to “disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.” The CEO, Debbie Sterling, studied engineering at Stanford, where she was dismayed by the lack of women in her program. Read more and watch the video by clicking here…(+)

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Composite tanks promise major savings

ROCKET ENGINEERS HAVE LONG BEEN enthralled by the idea of storing liquid hydrogen in cryogenic tanks made from graphite composite. These would weigh an estimated 40% less than the cryogenic tanks used today, which are made of aluminum or higher strength aluminum lithium alloy. Automated manufacturing also could make the composite tanks 20% less expensive than metal versions.

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Tooling up for larger launch vehicles

NASA and Janicki Industries demonstrate composites’ cost advantage in tooling for fabrication of 10m/33 ft diameter payload fairing for next-generation launch vehicle.

The Space Launch System (SLS) will be the next heavy-lift launch vehicle for the National Aeronautics and Space Admin. (NASA, Washington D.C.). Composites have been chosen for both the launch vehicle structures and tooling because they offer performance and cost advantages over metals.

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*Archived Projects

Digital Streams series. Composition of numbers lights and design elements on the subject of digital communications data transfers and virtual reality

Digital Streams series. Composition of numbers lights and design elements on the subject of digital communications data transfers and virtual reality

This page lists the previous Game Changing Development projects. The information remains accessible by clicking the project name below.


Researchers explore the potential of an exoskeleton patients can control with their brains


Robotics engineer Roger Rovecamp tries out the X1 exoskeleton as University of Houston professor Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal looks on. Image credit: University of Houston

Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal looked on as Roger Rovekamp, wearing a skullcap covered in electrodes, took halting steps, each leg moved by the robotic exoskeleton wrapped around his body.

Contreras-Vidal, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering, develops algorithms that read electrical activity in the brain and translate it into movement.

His Rehab Rex gained attention for its ability to help people with spinal cord injuries stand upright and “walk.” That project is now waiting for clinical testing to begin at Houston Methodist Hospital.

His newest project is a colaboration with engineers from NASA, and it could help patients with conditions such as stroke or Parkinson’s disease.

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What’s 3D Printing?

Niki Werkheiser, lead investigator of the 3D printing in zero-gravity technical demonstration project at Marshall Space Flight Center, stands beside a protected 3D printer bound for the International Space Station in 2014. Image Credit: (Lee Roop/

Niki Werkheiser, lead investigator of the 3D printing in zero-gravity technical demonstration project at Marshall Space Flight Center, stands beside a protected 3D printer bound for the International Space Station in 2014. Image Credit: (Lee Roop/


Some call it “additive manufacturing,” and some call it “3D printing.” Whatever you call it, the technique of building things by layering material according to a 3D computer design is one of the hottest things going. People are doing it with plastics and metals and trying it with food and even human “tissue” in a race to build the perfect Star Trek replicator.

At Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA scientists and engineers from the company Made in Space are building the first 3D printer to send to space. It will go the International Space Station next year aboard a SpaceX rocket. In the 2:30 video below, watch the machine build a small plastic clip that’s used frequently on the space station.

Printing in space will allow astronauts to replace a variety of small parts that break and save NASA the trouble and expense of launching multiple spares of multiple parts.

Watch a 2-minute video on 3D printing in zero gravity by clicking here.

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NASA’s Ironman-Like Exoskeleton Could Give Astronauts, Paraplegics Improved Mobility and Strength


Marvel Comic’s fictional superhero, Ironman, uses a powered armor suit that allows him superhuman strength. While NASA’s X1 robotic exoskeleton can’t do what you see in the movies, the latest robotic, space technology, spinoff derived from NASA’s Robonaut 2 project may someday help astronauts stay healthier in space with the added benefit of assisting paraplegics in walking here on Earth.NASA and The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) of Pensacola, Fla., with the help of engineers from Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston, have jointly developed a robotic exoskeleton called X1. The 57-pound device is a robot that a human could wear over his or her body either to assist or inhibit movement in leg joints.In the inhibit mode, the robotic device would be used as an in-space exercise machine to supply resistance against leg movement. The same technology could be used in reverse on the ground, potentially helping some individuals walk for the first time.

“Robotics is playing a key role aboard the International Space Station and will continue to be critical as we move toward human exploration of deep space,” said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology Program. “What’s extraordinary about space technology and our work with projects like Robonaut are the unexpected possibilities space tech spinoffs may have right here on Earth. It’s exciting to see a NASA-developed technology that might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time. That’s the sort of return on investment NASA is proud to give back to America and the world.”

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Russia Is Building an Inflatable Space Module of its Own


A leading spacecraft developer in Russia reveals the design of an inflatable space station module, raising some eyebrows on this side of the Atlantic, where Bigelow Aerospace has been developing something similar.

RKK Energia, the manufacturer of the Soyuz spacecraft and the prime contractor on the Russian part of the International Space Station, quietly published in its annual report last week details on an innovative inflatable space habitat.

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Gazarik Introduces Bright Minds to Space Tech

Mike Gazarik

At NASA’s Langley Research Center, Mike Gazarik, the associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), reminded nearly 200 summer interns of the important role they play in space technology.

“Space tech is about building a community of people,” Gazarik said, “especially those in college … tapping into the brightest minds, and yes, you are the nation’s brightest minds, you’re going to be called that a lot in the years as you come out of college.”

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NASA Picks Small Spacecraft Propulsion Systems for Development

HAMPTON, Va. — NASA selected three proposals for the development of lightweight micro-thruster propulsion technologies that are small in size but have big potential.

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate selected the miniaturized electrospray propulsion technologies to perform stabilization, station keeping and pointing for small spacecraft. NASA hopes these technology demonstrations may lead to similar position control systems for larger spacecraft and satellites as well.

NASA’s Game Changing Development Program, managed by the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., sponsored this solicitation and will oversee the first phase of this technology development. Read more…(+)

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NASA, Industry Test “3D Printed” Rocket Engine Injector

Liquid oxygen/gaseous hydrogen rocket injector assembly built using additive manufacturing technology is hot-fire tested at NASA Glenn Research Center’s Rocket Combustion Laboratory in Cleveland.
Image Credit: NASA Glenn Research Center

NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne recently finished testing a rocket engine injector made through additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing.

This space technology demonstration may lead to more efficient manufacturing of rocket engines, saving American companies time and money. Read more…(+)

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NASA Sees Potential In Composite Cryotank

[dropcap1]S[/dropcap1]uccessful tests of an all-composite cryogenic fuel tank for space launch vehicles hold promise for lower-cost access to space, perhaps before the decade is out.

A small composite fuel tank fabricated by Boeing with funding from the “game-changing” program of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate contained 2,091 gal. of liquid hydrogen through a series of shifts in its internal pressure and three temperature cycles ranging from ambient down to minus 423F.

The June 25 test at Marshall Space Flight Center with a 2.4-meter-dia. composite fuel tank paves the way for more tests next spring. That test will subject a 5.5-meter tank to flight-like mechanical loads as well as temperature and pressure cycles.

So far it appears the project is achieving its goal of reducing the cost of building tanks by at least 25% from that of conventional aluminum-lithium tanks, while cutting the weight of tanks made from the lightweight aluminum alloy by at least 30%.

“This is a very difficult problem,” says Mike Gazarik, associate administrator for space technology. “Composites and cryos don’t work well together, and these guys have done incredible work in figuring out how to design and how to fabricate these tanks.”

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3-D Printing: NASA’s Next Frontier

3-D printing in space will radically enable the space industry. Building parts, structures, and tools in space will not only reduce launch mass and size constraints, it will also enable the capability to build parts when needed, on-demand.
Image credit: Made in Space

NASA is looking to boldly take 3-D printing where no 3-D printer has gone before. As NASA plans ventures deeper into space, flights that already cost millions of dollars will become more expensive. NASA could defray those rising costs by enabling crew members in space stations to print tools, replacement spacecraft parts and, eventually, even structures in which they could live on alien planets.

The aeronautical agency next year will fly the first 3-D printer to the International Space Station, where crew members will conduct the first 3-D printing tests in near zero gravity. Read more (+)

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3D Printer Launching to Space Station in 2014


A 3D printer is slated to arrive at the International Space Station next year, where it will crank out the first parts ever manufactured off planet Earth.

The company Made in Space is partnering with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on the 3D Printing in Zero G Experiment (or 3D Print for short), which aims to jump-start an off-planet manufacturing capability that could aid humanity’s push out into the solar system.

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Robot exoskeleton suits that could make us superhuman

Exoskeleton Technology

Lockheed Martin’s HULC exoskeleton is designed to allow soldiers to carry superhuman loads. (Image Credits: Lockheed Martin).

If you’ve been dreaming of strapping on your own “Iron Man” armor, you might have to wait a while longer. But revolutionary “bionic exoskeletons,” like the metal suit worn by comic book hero Tony Stark, might be closer than you think — just don’t expect to fly away in one.

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Source*: CNN

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Chief Technologist Mason Peck Attends MAGNET Event

NASA Chief Technologist Mason Peck and Ohio manufacturers celebrate NASA’s partnership with industry in building the innovation economy.

NASA Chief Technologist Mason Peck and Ohio manufacturers celebrate NASA’s partnership with industry in building the innovation economy. Credits: NASA

On May 23, NASA, the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and the Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network (MAGNET) announced nine small and medium-sized Ohio manufacturers that will receive NASA assistance to solve technical problems with new or existing products.

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Women at NASA: Meg Nazario

Meg Nazario

Meg Nazario

As a senior in high school, I took a physics class. I loved the challenge of figuring things out, and I loved how math could be used to predict where a ball would land as it rolled off of a table. My teacher was amazing and helped keep my interest by making the subject so fascinating. But, I also loved playing the piano and was considering becoming a concert pianist. After much soul searching, I decided to have piano as my creative outlet and pursue physics for my career. I definitely made the right choice! I went to college and majored in physics. I then went on to get my Master’s degree in Physics and Ph.D in Electrical Engineering. Today, I work as an engineer at NASA Glenn Research Center in the Space Flight Systems Directorate, where I am a project manager for Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP). I love working at NASA.

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NASA’s Solar-Electric Propulsion Engine and a Real-World Lightsaber (sort of)

NASA has released this image of the solar-electric propulsion thruster currently in development and undergoing tests at JPL. An earlier version of the engine is being used on the Dawn mission to the asteroid belt. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA has released this image of the solar-electric propulsion thruster currently in development and undergoing tests at JPL. An earlier version of the engine is being used on the Dawn mission to the asteroid belt. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA has posted an image of a solar-electric propulsion engine currently in development. The engine, which uses xenon ions, burns blue, and NASA is considering using the engine as part of its asteroid retrieval initiative. The engine is being tested at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The image above was taken at JPL through a porthole during testing.

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Supporting Local Communities by Building Capacity and Cutting Red Tape

President Barack Obama participates in the Presidential Daily Briefing in the Oval Office, May 6, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama participates in the Presidential Daily Briefing in the Oval Office, May 6, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

One year ago, the President established the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) that established an innovative new model of federal-local collaboration dedicated to assisting communities get back on their feet and create jobs by helping them better leverage federal resources and form key partnerships to implement economic visions. Teams of federal employees are embedded with seven Mayors across the country to provide tailored technical assistance to cut through red tape, increase government efficiency, and build partnerships to help local leaders implement sustainable economic plans.

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NASA JPL controls rover with Leap Motion, shows faith in consumer hardware


If you think using the Leap Motion controller for playing air guitar and typing without a keyboard was cool, try using it to control a NASA rover. Victor Luo and Jeff Norris from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab got on stage at the Game Developers Conference here in San Francisco to do just that with the ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer), which was located 383 miles away in Pasadena. As Luo waved his hand over the sensor, the robot moved in kind, reacting to the subtle movements of his fingers and wrists, wowing the crowd that watched it over a projected Google+ Hangout.

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Artist’s Concept of a Solar Electric Propulsion System


Image Credit: Analytical Mechanics Associates

Using advanced Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) technologies is an essential part of future missions into deep space with larger payloads. The use of robotics and advanced SEP technologies like this concept of an SEP-based spacecraft during NASA mission to find, rendezvous, capture and relocate an asteroid to a stable point in the lunar vicinity offers more mission flexibility than would be possible if a crewed mission went all the way to the asteroid.

NASA’s asteroid initiative, announced as part of the President’s FY2014 budget request, integrates the best of NASA’s science, technology, and human exploration capabilities and draws on the innovation of America’s brightest scientists and engineers. It uses current and developing capabilities to find both large asteroids that pose a hazard to Earth and small asteroids that could be candidates for the initiative, accelerates our technology development activities in high-powered SEP and takes advantage of our hard work on the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, helping to keep NASA on target to reach the President’s goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

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NASA Taps the Power of Zombie Stars in Two-in-One Instrument


This artist’s rendition shows the NICER/SEXTANT payload that NASA recently selected as its next Explorer Mission of Opportunity. The 56-telescope payload will fly on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Neutron stars have been called the zombies of the cosmos. They shine even though they’re technically dead, occasionally feeding on neighboring stars if they venture too close. Interestingly, these unusual objects, born when a massive star extinguishes its fuel and collapses under its own gravity, also may help future space travelers navigate to Mars and other distant destinations.

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New Thrust for Solar Electric Propulsion

NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) has developed a 7-kW ion thruster that can provide the capabilities needed in the future. Credits: NASA

NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) has developed a 7-kW ion thruster that can provide the capabilities needed in the future. Credits: NASA

Harnessing the power of the Sun to provide thrust for transport in space has long been a part of science fiction imagery. Now a reality after decades of development, it has found increasing use for applications ranging from station-keeping to orbit-raising. Obstacles remain, but evolving technology should enable expanding applications of this weight-saving form of energy, possibly even for manned spaceflight.

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Magnetic shielding of walls from the unmagnetized ion beam in a Hall thruster

A new 15kW high power Hall thruster is being developed to support a Solar Electric Propulsion Technology demonstration mission within the ISP project. One of the key design features for the new thruster will be the use of magnetic shielding for improving thruster life by shaping the magnetic field to reduce discharge channel wall erosion.

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SEXTANT/NICER production parts Credits: NASA

SEXTANT/NICER production parts Credits: NASA

Untitled-2 Untitled-21DSC_0486DSC_0484On April 15, 2010, the President challenged NASA to “break through the barriers” to enable the “first-ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space” by 2025. One of these barriers is navigation technology.In the 18th century, the advancement of clock technology and resulting improvement in navigation fidelity brought us to the New World that we now call home. In support of NASA’s push to explore new worlds beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), and to serve a variety of national needs, the NICER (Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR) team proposes to use the International Space Station (ISS) to validate a revolutionary navigation technology.

The NICER/SEXTANT (NICER is the name given to the instrument for the SMD proposal, but NICER and SEXTANT are the same instrument) concept uses a collection of pulsars— stellar “lighthouses”—as a time and navigation standard just like the atomic clocks of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Unlike GPS satellites, NICER pulsars are distributed across the Galaxy, providing an infrastructure of precise timing beacons that can support navigation throughout the Solar System. Since their discovery in 1967, pulsars have been envisioned as a tool for Galactic navigation (Figure 1). An NICER system measures the arrival times of pulses through the detection of X-ray photons; a sequence of measurements is then stitched together into an autonomous on-board navigation solution.

NASA’s plans for distant exploration demand breakthrough navigation tools. The best current capabilities are resource-intensive and degrade as explorers recede from Earth. At Mars, they yield crossrange spacecraft positions to a few kilometers, but impose scheduling burdens on the Deep Space Network (DSN). For critical applications such as orbit insertion at Jupiter and beyond, the current state-of-the-art is pushed to its practical limit. NICER complements the existing navigation toolbox, promising three-dimensional position accuracies better than 500 m anywhere in the Solar System.  Ultimately, a small (~0.1 m3), low mass (<~10 kg) NICER package will offer a cost effective on-board navigation option for the redundancy and reliability required for human exploration beyond LEO, and will enable deep-space missions that are not feasible with Earth-based tracking.

X-ray pulsar timing applications address the navigation and exploration goals of the National Space Policy of June 28, 2010, and NASA, DoD, and NIST are investing in technology development to exploit them. As celestial clocks, pulsars offer a new time standard that can be independently generated anywhere. The DoD is exploring applications enabled by a network of spacecraft with synchronized clocks, including mitigation of vulnerabilities in GPS. DARPA has funded the X-ray Timing (XTIM) program, which, in collaboration with the ISS NICER experiment, will demonstrate distributed time-synchronization using celestial sources.



Figure 1: NICER/SEXTANT brings to practical reality the concept of a pulsar based map, first used on the Pioneer Plaque to encode (radial lines at left) the Sun’s location in the Galaxy [3].

NICER (Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer) is a SMD science mission chosen to go into Phase A. NICER represents a science aspect of SEXTANT, where looking at many of the same Neutron Stars we need to enable pulsar navigation, scientists can also learn about the densest objects in the universe and study extreme physics.

The combination of the science and technology demonstration represented by SEXTANT reflects a true cost sharing between very different parts of NASA and the US Government.

The selection notice is at:

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