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NASA Selects New Technologies for Flight Tests for Future Space Exploration

flight platforms collage

NASA has selected five space technologies to test on low-gravity-simulating aircraft, high-altitude balloons or suborbital rockets. The opportunity to fly on these vehicles helps advance technologies closer to practical use by taking them from a laboratory environment to the real world.

The selections were made for NASA’s Flight Opportunities program which organizes chances to fly and selects experiments for NASA support twice each year. The program selects promising space technologies to test through relatively low-cost ways that simulate spaceflight or just reach the edge of “space” on commercial suborbital launch vehicles, reduced gravity aircraft and high-altitude balloon flights.

“These selections allow companies and academia to demonstrate technologies of interest to NASA in a much more realistic environment than what they could get in ground-based simulation facilities,” said Stephan Ord, the program technology manager for NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. “This program is a valuable platform for NASA to mature cutting-edge technologies that have the potential of supporting future agency mission needs.”

Two topics were included in this call for research. Under the first topic, which requested demonstration of space technology payloads, NASA selected four proposals:

  • Protein-Drop Pinning in Microgravity
    Amir Hirsa, principal investigator, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York
    Demonstration of a system for maintaining protein solutions in liquid samples involved in the study of diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s without using a container, which often influences scientific measurements.
  • Rapid Calibration of Space Solar Cells in Suborbital Environments
    Justin Lee, principal investigator, The Aerospace Corporation, Los Angeles
    Demonstration of an automated solar cell calibration platform, using a device attached to a high-altitude balloon to capture the solar spectrum and characterize the performance of the solar cells at high altitude up to 22 miles.
  • Guided Parafoil High Altitude Research II
    Garrett “Storm” Dunker, principal investigator, Airborne Systems, Pennsauken, New Jersey
    Demonstration of a new parafoil design that can be used for precision delivery or mid-air retrieval of scientific payloads, tested from a high-altitude balloon. Once the parafoil is deployed at 60,000-foot altitude, it will select its landing point and perform an automatic precision landing.
  • Strata-S1 – Refining a Testbed to Evaluate the Behavior of Regolith Under Microgravity Conditions
    Adrienne Dove, principal investigator, University of Central Florida, Orlando
    Demonstration of a regolith compression mechanism with transparent tubes, which contain beads and pebbles that simulate regolith, to evaluate behavior at various gravity levels during suborbital flights.

Under the second topic, demonstration of vehicle capability enhancements and onboard research facilities for payload accommodation, NASA selected one proposal:

  • BioChip SubOrbitalLab: An Automated Microfluidic and Imaging Platform for Live-Cell Investigations in Microgravity
    Daniel O’Connell, principal investigator, HNU Phototonics LLC, Kahului, Hawaii
    Demonstration of an automated platform to visualize in real time how live cells will react to the different phases of a rocket launch. Cell cultures with fluorescent genes will be pumped through channels and recorded by an optical microscope camera during flight.

Awards will be made for payload integration and flight costs, as well as limited payload development costs. These investments take technologies from the laboratory to a relevant flight environment, facilitate technology maturation, validate feasibility and reduce technical risks and enable infusion of key space technologies into multiple future space missions. The next call for proposals in this series, called the REDDI Flight Opportunities, will be released by the spring of 2017.

The Flight Opportunities program is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington and managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, manages the solicitation and selection of technologies to be tested and demonstrated on commercial flight vehicles.

For more information on NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, visit:

Kimberly Williams
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

Leslie Williams
Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, California