Fu­ture tech nasa’s new mis­sions

The ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy that have made the space agency’s short­list

All About Space - - Contents -

naSa has re­cently fi­nanced tech­nol­ogy projects that could make space­flight more sus­tain­able, safer and more cost-ef­fi­cient. the or­gan­i­sa­tion has handed out a to­tal of $15 mil­lion (ap­prox­i­mately

£12 mil­lion) to aid 20 tech­nol­ogy and re­search pro­pos­als from 19 small amer­i­can busi­nesses as part of ‘phase ii’ of their Small busi­ness tech­nol­ogy trans­fer (Sttr) pro­gram. each busi­ness is col­lab­o­rat­ing with a re­search in­sti­tu­tion from around amer­ica to en­sure that each pro­posal is ul­ti­mately both fea­si­ble and has the po­ten­tial for com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion.

“our Sttr pro­gram fo­cuses both en­trepreneurs and lead­ing re­search in­sti­tu­tions on naSa’s long-term goals, bring­ing the lat­est in aero­space re­search to our pro­grammes," said Jim reuter, the act­ing as­so­ciate ad­min­is­tra­tor for the agency’s Space tech­nol­ogy Mis­sion Direc­torate (StMD) in Wash­ing­ton, United States. “We are ex­cited to see the re­sults of these lat­est awardees.”

although these tech­nolo­gies are not go­ing to in­stantly rev­o­lu­tionise the in­dus­try, each pro­posal will boost naSa’s space ex­plo­ration ca­pa­bil­i­ties. there are pro­pos­als that in­tend to model the physics of rocket launches to iden­tify pos­si­ble im­prove­ments, from in­creas­ing fuel ef­fi­ciency to im­prov­ing the pro­duc­tion of food in mi­cro­grav­ity, and also har­ness­ing the true po­ten­tial of cubeSat swarms that can be scat­tered around the cos­mos.

naSa refers to three projects that have been the lucky re­cip­i­ents of a phase ii con­tract, which lasts for 24 months and has max­i­mum fund­ing of $750,000 (around £570,000), ex­em­pli­fy­ing the dif­fer­ent space ex­plo­ration di­vi­sions that these small busi­nesses hope to im­prove. the first, led by con­tin­uum Dy­nam­ics, inc and penn­syl­va­nia State Uni­ver­sity, looks to utilise the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Dis­trib­uted elec­tric propul­sion (Dep) air­craft. this project will re­search in­no­va­tive new ap­proaches to build elec­tric, or some form of hy­brid, propul­sion mech­a­nisms for these air­craft. this project aims to re­duce car­bon emis­sions and fuel us­age and im­prove cost ef­fi­ciency for the United States’ mil­i­tary and ur­ban air mo­bil­ity pro­grams.

an­other project has the in­ten­tion of im­prov­ing life higher up in the sky, es­pe­cially space sta­tions such as the col­lab­o­ra­tive in­ter­na­tional Space

Sta­tion (iSS) and the pro­posed Deep Space gate­way, which is cur­rently go­ing through much plan­ning and dis­cus­sion. pc Krause and as­so­ciates, inc and pur­due Uni­ver­sity have come forth with an idea to cre­ate a com­pletely new elec­tri­cal grid for space sta­tions – one that would be able to pro­vide elec­tric­ity in a highly au­ton­o­mous and se­cure man­ner for space sta­tion op­er­a­tions.

“Sttr fo­cuses both en­trepreneurs and lead­ing re­search in­sti­tu­tions on naSa’s long-term goals, bring­ing the lat­est in aero­space re­search to our pro­grammes”

the last one men­tioned is one that will make the most dan­ger­ous part of an as­tro­naut’s jour­ney much safer – the launch. Solid rocket Mo­tors (SrMs) were used in naSa’s Space Shut­tle pro­gram and there are some un­de­ni­able con­cerns about them, one of which is a left-over alu­minium ox­ide ma­te­rial known as slag. this ma­te­rial is a by-prod­uct of the com­bus­tion process within the rocket, and this can get into the in­ner work­ings of a rocket or space­craft and cause a se­ri­ous threat. this is why cFD re­search cor­po­ra­tion and Mis­sis­sippi State Uni­ver­sity are aim­ing to use highly de­tailed sim­u­la­tions to learn as much about the slag-ac­cu­mu­la­tion process in space­craft in order to avoid such sce­nar­ios and ul­ti­mately make the rock­ets more fuel ef­fi­cient.

Safer start to space­flightA les­son of NASA’s Space Shut­tle mis­sions was that launch is the most dan­ger­ous part of an as­tro­naut’s ad­ven­ture into space. Mod­el­ling the sev­eral as­pects of slag ac­cu­mu­la­tion that oc­cur in the fir­ing of the SRMs can make each launch safer for the as­tro­nauts, pro­tect the in­ter­nal in­stru­ments and equip­ment and more fuel ef­fi­cient so that less fuel is made into a use­less by-prod­uct.

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