Investments in space technology and innovation enable new missions, stimulate the economy, contribute to the nation’s global competitiveness and inspire America’s next generation of scientists, engineers and astronauts. The NASA Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT)
provides a technology and innovation focus for NASA.
Ames contributes to NASA’s technology program in two major ways. The first is through the activities of the Ames Chief Technologist
. The second is through work funded by the Space Technology Program (STP).
The Ames Chief Technology Office advises the Center on technology and innovation initiatives and advocates for Ames technology initiatives. The CCT:
- Manages the Center Innovation Fund, to encourage creativity and innovation within the NASA Centers to address technology needs of NASA and the nation
- Facilitates communication and enables collaborations and technology transfer between Ames, industry, and academia, including the NASA Research Park (NRP)
- Supports multidisciplinary initiatives and studies in strategic technology areas to accelerate solutions to agency challenges
The Ames Chief Technologist also initiates, coordinates and integrates technology investments across the center, from the NASA Mission Directorates (which "pull" technology development based upon established mission needs) and OCT (which supports significant "push" technology development and demonstration).
The Space Technology Program funds several projects at Ames. These are performed by Ames' technical organizations.
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- The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program nurtures visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions with the creation of breakthroughs. NASA Ames received two Phase 1 NIAC 2012 awards.
- The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs provide an opportunity for small, high technology companies and research institutions to participate in Government sponsored research and development efforts in key technology areas.
- The Flight Opportunities Program (FOP) facilitates low-cost access to suborbital environments for a broad range of innovators as a means of advancing space technology development and supporting the evolving entrepreneurial commercial space industry. The program will create flight opportunities for existing research payloads on commercial vehicles that will provide access to reduced-gravity, high-altitude monitoring of space and Earth, and, eventually, methods for environmental sampling and secondary launch of nanosats to orbit.
- The Game Changing Development (GCD) program investigates novel ideas and approaches that have the potential to revolutionize future space missions and provide solutions to significant national needs.
- The Small Spacecraft Technology Program (SSTP) matures mid-level technologies and demonstrates them in the space environment.
- The Space Technology Research Fellowship Program supports the creation of innovative new space technologies for our nation’s science, exploration, and economic future while developing a pipeline of highly-skilled scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians to improve America's technological competitiveness.
- The Technology Demonstration Missions (TDM) program seeks to mature laboratory-proven technologies to flight-ready status.
- The Technology Partnerships Division at Ames partnerships between NASA and U.S. industrial firms for innovative technology development. It facilitates transfer of NASA Ames’ technologies and capabilities.
- NASA Aeronautics Research Institute (NARI) invests in innovative, early-stage, and potentially revolutionary aviation concepts and technologies. The Seedling Fund annually provides the opportunity to perform research, analysis, and proof-of-concept development of novel ideas that have the potential to meet national aeronautics needs.
Featured example: Space synthetic biologyHow is Ames meeting the new technological challenges of synthetic biology in space: the challenge of designing organisms to perform reliable functions on which an astronaut may one day depend?
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The mission of the space synthetic biology program is to provide transformative biological tools and technologies for the benefit of space exploration, science and the economy. Ames' goals are to:
- a) use synthetic biology to increase the capability and reduce the risk of human and robotic exploration,
- b) establish leadership in synthetic biology by developing tools and applications that advance science, technology, and U.S. global competitiveness, and
- c) use synthetic biology as a tool to a advance fundamental and applied hypothesis-driven investigation.
Currently, we are developing technologies to manufacture regolith based composites to be used as bio-based building materials in space. We are also developing technologies in the areas of synthetic biology enabled environmental closed loop life support which is creating novel solutions for the purification of air and water and the production of methane from waste carbon dioxide. This system is based on a unique bio-electrical system, a transformative technology that will enable the production of a variety of valuable products (e.g., biopolymers, therapeutics, biofuels) from in situ resources and waste materials.
Ames is also investigating and developing other uses of synthetic biology, including: 3-D printing to produce bio-based products; bio-mining to obtain minerals from planetary surfaces or recover valuable elements from spent electronics; production and purification of "on-demand" pharmaceuticals; and tools to address astrobiology questions. Ames represents the agency's interests in synthetic biology on the Synthetic Biology Working Group (of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Life Sciences Subcommittee) and fosters collaboration with other academic, government and industry organizations.
Featured example: Autonomous systems
How is Ames developing and demonstrating the technology required to automate operations on Earth and in space?
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The Autonomous Systems project in the Space Technology Program aims to develop and demonstrate technology to automate operation of deep space habitats and of cryogenic propellant loading, including Integrated Systems Health Management (ISHM) and automated planning & scheduling.
The Autonomous Systems (AS) Project is focused on demonstrating autonomy, diagnostics, prognostics, and mission control technologies on mission-relevant test beds. This activity is comprised of three separate but complementary Project Elements: Habitat Automation (HA), Autonomous Cryogenic Loading Operations (ACLO), and Verification of Extra Terrestrial Software (VETS).
The primary customers of AS are the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Autonomous Mission Operations (AMO) project, the AES Habitation Systems (HS): Deep Space Habitat (DSH) definition and subsystem maturation project, the AES Integrated Ground Operations Demonstration Unit project, and the Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program.
During the initial two-year period, the HA Project Element will test and demonstrate the technology it develops on the 2nd Generation Deep Space Habitat (DSH), in collaboration with AES AMO and AES HS. During the optional third year, the HA project element will migrate its technology to the 3rd Generation DSH, which AES HS is planning to build inside the 20-foot chamber at JSC. The ACLO Project Element will test and demonstrate component technologies and autonomous cryogenic loading operations at the Kennedy Space Center Cryogenic Test bed Laboratory
Featured example: Low density supersonic decelerators (LDSD)
What is Ames doing to ensure that we have the entry systems required for larger and heavier future Mars robotic and human exploration missions?
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Future Mars robotic and human exploration missions will require entry systems capable of landing higher mass payloads. To address the entry, descent, and landing challenges of future Mars missions, the Office of the Chief Technologist has funded the Low Density Supersonic Decelerators (LDSD) project. The project is led by JPL with participation from several NASA centers, including Ames. The primary objective is to demonstrate, through ground and flight testing, a supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (SIAD) and a new supersonic ringsail parachute design. The SIAD and parachute would be deployed in succession to enable significant increases in landed mass carried by a Mars Science Laboratory-class entry vehicle.
The Entry Systems and Technology Division (code TS) and the Systems Analysis Branch (code AUS) provides aerosciences testing and analysis products to the LDSD project. The activity for FY11 and FY12 has focused on supporting the Supersonic Flight Dynamics Test (SFDT), a series of full-scale flight tests of SIAD technologies that will occur in FY13 and FY14. Predicting the aerodynamic behavior of the SFDT test vehicle is of critical importance to the success of the tests. The aerodynamics database delivered by Ames incorporates models of engineering and higher fidelity for the powered and unpowered phases of the test flight. Code TS also designed and conducted aerodynamics testing in the HFFAF to determine the aerodynamic coefficients for the SFDT test vehicle.