Game Changing Technologies That Will Revolutionize Space Exploration
From reducing the number of life support systems for astronauts to dramatically improving spacecraft navigation capabilities, NASA is investing in ways to revolutionize space exploration.
In March 2011, NASA issued a call for proposals focused on “unique and innovative” technologies that hold a potential for providing "game-changing" impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency's space capabilities.
NASA has selected five proposals that each take steps toward addressing critical technological barriers for advancing exploration and science missions, while also potentially lowering the cost of other government and commercial space activities. The projects, described below, received awards ranging from $125,000 to $1.8 million, with a total NASA investment of approximately $6 million through 2015. Projects were selected through independent review of technical merit, alignment with NASA's Space Technology Roadmap priorities and the technology objectives identified by the National Research Council in its review of these roadmaps.
The five projects are:
Tele-Robotics and Autonomous Systems
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass.
“Representing and Exploiting Cumulative Experience with Objects for Autonomous Manipulation”
Rodrick Grupen is developing a technology that could improve autonomous robotic operations using artificial intelligence during deep space missions. The technology is focused on autonomous sensing and control for dexterous manipulation and multi-ﬁngered robot hands, in particular, multi-armed and multi-ﬁngered grasping and manipulation applications in uncertain environments. This effort will provide a game-changing advancement in autonomous robot grasping and an operation that is critical to future missions.
Materials, Structures, Mechanical Systems and Manufacturing
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Lightweight High Performance Acoustic Suppression Technology Development
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is looking to ease low-frequency acoustic environments seen by spacecraft and payload as they are launched into space. The acoustic blanket under development in this project could suppress acoustic environments by more than ten decibels. By reducing structural vibrations through acoustic suppression, not only will spacecraft and acoustic responsive components experience less stress at launch, but the amount of prelaunch components vibration stress testing conducted for onboard instruments could also be reduced. In addition, this technology has potential for reducing the mass of payload components and the number of delays caused by design challenges to accommodate the intense vibration currently seen in the launch environment due to the acoustic pressures.
Communication and Navigation
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
"Fast Light Optical Gyroscopes for Precision Inertial Navigation"
Gyroscope accuracy is often the limiting factor for the Guidance, Navigation and Control (GN&C) of launch vehicles, entry vehicles and most other vehicles that must operate precisely. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center proposes to enhance navigation capabilities for spacecraft by improving the performance of existing gyroscopes by a factor of 1,000 with a new device called called a Fast Light Optical Gyroscope (FLOG).
Thermal Management Systems
The Boeing Company and HRL Laboratories, Calif.
EHD-Based Variable Conductance Thermal Interface Material
Boeing and HRL Laboratories will jointly develop a new class of adaptive nanothermal interface material utilizing electrohydrodynamic (EHD) nanofluids. These nanofluids can provide thermal resistance that can be varied on demand, resulting in a new material dubbed: Variable Conductance Thermal Interface Material (VCTIM). The goal is to demonstrate the high and low-end thermal resistance of the material by testing samples within a range of parameters from smaller and low-density fast moving particles to larger and high-density slowly moving particles, which will improve thermal materials for spacecraft resulting in better heat management during atmospheric re-entry.
Human Health, Life Support and Habitation Systems
Oceaneering International Inc., of Houston, Tx.
“Membrane Enabled Reverse Lung” (MERL)
Oceaneering plans to demonstrate a technology that could reduce the number and complexity of life support systems needed for astronauts. Oceaneering has been using a similar technology for underwater research; and the innovation is to transfer this technology to a brand new field, namely space exploration. The Membrane Enabled Reverse Lung (MERL) removes CO2, humidity, and heat from air, and generates atmospheric-pressure oxygen O2 and H2-CO2 mixture. Oceaneering will perform MERL demonstrations and parametric testing at the laboratory as well as a demonstration of the prototype in a zero-g airplane.
NASA's Space Technology Program is enabling the future in space by investing in revolutionary and game-changing technologies that could open new doors for how we live, work and investigate in space. These selected technologies, with their highly qualified research teams, will enable great new opportunities for the next chapter in NASA's innovation story.
The Game Changing Development Program is part of NASA's Space Technology Program, which is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in future science and exploration missions. NASA's technology investments provide cutting-edge solutions for our nation's future.