NASA has selected nine space technologies for flight testing to support innovations that address mission needs for both the agency and the commercial space industry. These technologies were selected as part of NASA’s TechFlights 2022 challenge and will fly aboard commercial suborbital vehicles such as high-altitude balloons, parabolic trough aircraft, suborbital rocket systems, as well as commercial payload hosting platforms in orbit such as spacecraft.
By preparing these technologies in an environment similar to what they will experience in space, NASA, industry and universities can help reduce potential costs and risks before deploying the technologies on longer and more expensive missions in Earth orbit or to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
Walt Engelund, deputy associate administrator for programs in NASA’s Space Technology Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington said “This $6.1 million investment in technology testing will help advance technologies for the agency’s goals, from space exploration to scientific discovery,” said . And in doing so, we also provide significant support to help the commercial space industry thrive.”
The technologies were selected by STMD’s Flight Opportunities Program, which rapidly demonstrates technologies for space exploration, discovery and expansion of space commerce. For the first time, TechFlights’ 2022 request included access to test opportunities hosted on commercial platforms and on-orbit spacecraft in partnership with the agency’s Small Spacecraft Technology program.
Small Spacecraft Technology program
“Flight Opportunities is excited to support this effort to solve some of the most important challenges facing space exploration and Earth observation,” said Danielle McCulloch, acting program manager for Flight Opportunities at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. “By partnering with the Small Spacecraft Technology program this year, which offers opportunities for payloads hosted aboard commercial orbital platforms, we can expand our reach to advance even more technologies from a variety of institutions and technical disciplines.”
Organizations developing selected technologies will receive a grant or cooperative agreement that will allow them to purchase flights from the U.S. commercial flight vendor that best suits their needs. As in previous years, the 2022 challenge included options for researchers to fly automated technology experiments unattended, or to have one or more researchers fly alongside their technology payload on parabolic flights or suborbital rockets.
NASA’s priorities for further space exploration and scientific discovery:
The request included three subject areas that reflect NASA’s priorities for further space exploration and scientific discovery. These topics focus on supporting infrastructure and capabilities for a robust lunar economy, services and infrastructure from low Earth orbit to geosynchronous Earth orbit and Earth observation architectures, as well as systems for monitoring and addressing climate change.
The selected technologies are:
Creare in Hanover, New Hampshire, will test a device designed to support the transfer of liquid fuel from a storage tank to a receiving tank in microgravity as a potential solution for refueling satellites and spacecraft on long-duration missions. The technology is planned to be flown on parabolic flights with Zero Gravity Corporation’s (ZERO-G) G-Force One aircraft.
Giner, in Newton, Mass., will test a fuel cell energy storage system designed as a potential power source for future spacecraft or lunar surface operations to evaluate its gas-liquid separator in microgravity. This technology is scheduled to fly on ZERO-G’s G-Force One.
Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will test an imaging and particle detector system designed to improve autonomous assessment of fire structure and spread. The system uses aerosol measuring instruments that could have applications on other planets. This technology is planned for flight on the Aerostar high-altitude balloon.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, will evaluate technology designed to measure the variability of electrons present between a receiver on a suborbital flight vehicle and GPS satellites in orbit for its ability to inform atmospheric models. The technology is planned to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket system.
Paragon Space Development Corporation in Tucson, Arizona will evaluate in microgravity a device to capture and separate liquid condensation from cabin air to support spacecraft temperature and humidity control. This technology is scheduled to fly on ZERO-G’s G-Force One.
Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, will conduct an experiment to analyze heat transfer in cryogenic fuel storage for use in modeling and designing future fuel transfer and control systems. This technology is scheduled to fly on ZERO-G’s G-Force One.
The Rhea Space Activity in Washington will test guidance and navigation technology for small spacecraft to demonstrate its capabilities for autonomous orbit determination in cislunar space. The technology is planned to fly on Spaceflight’s Sherpa orbital transport vehicle.
San Diego State University in San Diego, California, will test a system that aims to improve the precision landing capabilities of spacecraft through adaptive navigation, allowing researchers to evaluate its performance on a rocket-powered lander. The technology is scheduled to fly on Astrobotic’s Xodiac vehicle.
The University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky, will perfect mechanisms for red blood cell rehydration in the space environment. Such technology could be used to offer transfusion therapy to astronauts on long-duration space missions. This technology is expected to fly on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo system.
Submit your technology at TechFlights 2023
The NASA TechFlights awards provide funding for space technologies to be tested on commercial aircraft. Administered by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, the next TechFlights challenge is expected in early 2023. Subscribe to the Flight Opportunities newsletter to receive notifications about TechFlights and other flight test access opportunities, and download this infographic to learn more.