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July 7, 2015


From Satellite Swarms to Interstellar Submarines, NASA Selects Leading-Edge Technology Concepts for Continued Study

Montage of several newly awarded NIAC Phase II concepts from fellows Bruce Wiegmann, Adrian Stoica, Steven Oleson, and Justin Atchison.

Credits: L to R, B. Wiegmann/MSFC, A. Stoica/JPL, S. Oleson, J. Atchison

NASA has selected seven technology proposals for continued study under Phase II of the agency's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program. The selections are based on the potential to transform future aerospace missions, introduce new capabilities or significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.

The selected proposals address a range of visionary concepts, including metallic lithium combustion for long-term robotics operations, submarines that explore the oceans of icy moons of the outer planets, and a swarm of tiny satellites that map gravity fields and characterize the properties of small moons and asteroids.

"NASA's investments in early-stage research are important for advancing new systems concepts and developing requirements for technologies to enable future space exploration missions," said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This round of Phase II selections demonstrates the agency's continued commitment to innovations that may transform our nation's space, technology and science capabilities."

NIAC Phase II awards can be worth as much as $500,000 for a two-year study, and the awards allow proposers to further develop their concepts from previously-selected Phase I studies. Phase I studies must demonstrate the initial feasibility and benefit of a concept. Phase II studies allow awardees to refine their designs and explore aspects of implementing the new technology.

NASA selected these projects through a peer-review process that evaluated innovativeness and technical viability. All projects are still in the early stages of development, most requiring 10 or more years of concept maturation and technology development before use on a NASA mission.

"This is an excellent group of NIAC studies," said Jason Derleth, NIAC Program executive at NASA Headquarters. "From seeing into cave formations on the moon to a radically new kind of solar sail that uses solar wind instead of light, NIAC continues to push the bounds of current technology."

NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate innovates, develops, tests and flies hardware for use in future missions. Through programs such as NIAC, the directorate is demonstrating that early investment and partnership with scientists, engineers and citizen inventors from across the nation can provide technological dividends and help maintain America's leadership in the new global technology economy.

For a complete list of the selected proposals and more information about NIAC, visit:



Joshua Buck
Headquarters, Washington

Cynthia M. O'Carroll
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Sarah Ramsey

Tags:  Goddard Space Flight Center, Technology,


July 3, 2015

NASA Testing Space Technologies with Wallops Rocket Launch July 7

The NASA sounding rocket payload carrying two space technology development projects goes through GPS checks at the Wallops Flight Facility by technicians Tom Malaby (left) and Darren Ryan.

Credits: NASA/Berit Bland

NASA will test two space technology development projects during the flight of a Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket at 5:45 a.m. EDT, July 7, from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The launch window for the 54-foot tall rocket runs until 8 a.m. The backup launch days are July 8 – 10.

The rocket will carry the SOAREX-8 Exo-Brake Flight Test from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California and the Radial Core Heat Spreader from NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio.

The SOAREX-8 experiment is testing an Exo-Brake that can passively de-orbit an object in space. The Exo-brake utilizes nano-satellite technology housed in a 50-unit Cubesat ejector pod.

The Radial Core Heat Spreader is a new heat transfer technology for Radioisotope Power Systems that substantially reduces the component level mass while providing increased scalability to higher power systems. The Black Brant IX experiment does not contain any nuclear materials.

The flight is being conducted through NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. 

The payload carrying the development projects is expected to reach an altitude of 217 miles approximately five minutes after flight.  The payload is expected to splash-down in the Atlantic Ocean 164 miles from Wallops Island.  The payload will not be recovered.

Live Ustream coverage of the mission will begin at 5 a.m. EDT on launch day at:


Also, the NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will open at 5 a.m. for viewing the launch which is expected to be visible from southern Delaware to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

More information on NASA’s sounding rocket program is available at:


More information on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility is available at:


More information on NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate is available at:



Keith Koehler
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Holly Zell

Tags:  Ames Research Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, Sounding Rockets, Technology, Wallops Flight Facility,

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June 26, 2015

NASA Explains Why June 30 Will Get Extra Second

Originally developed to study distant astronomical objects called quasars, the technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry provides information about the relative locations of observing stations and about Earth’s rotation and orientation in space.

Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The day will officially be a bit longer than usual on Tuesday, June 30, 2015, because an extra second, or “leap” second, will be added.

“Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing down a bit, so leap seconds are a way to account for that,” said Daniel MacMillan of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Strictly speaking, a day lasts 86,400 seconds. That is the case, according to the time standard that people use in their daily lives – Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC. UTC is “atomic time” – the duration of one second is based on extremely predictable electromagnetic transitions in atoms of cesium. These transitions are so reliable that the cesium clock is accurate to one second in 1,400,000 years.

However, the mean solar day – the average length of a day, based on how long it takes Earth to rotate – is about 86,400.002 seconds long. That’s because Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing down a bit, due to a kind of braking force caused by the gravitational tug of war between Earth, the moon and the sun. Scientists estimate that the mean solar day hasn’t been 86,400 seconds long since the year 1820 or so.

This difference of 2 milliseconds, or two thousandths of a second – far less than the blink of an eye – hardly seems noticeable at first. But if this small discrepancy were repeated every day for an entire year, it would add up to almost a second. In reality, that’s not quite what happens. Although Earth’s rotation is slowing down on average, the length of each individual day varies in an unpredictable way.

The length of day is influenced by many factors, mainly the atmosphere over periods less than a year. Our seasonal and daily weather variations can affect the length of day by a few milliseconds over a year. Other contributors to this variation include dynamics of the Earth’s inner core (over long time periods), variations in the atmosphere and oceans, groundwater, and ice storage (over time periods of months to decades), and oceanic and atmospheric tides. Atmospheric variations due to El Niño can cause Earth’s rotation to slow down, increasing the length of day by as much as 1 millisecond, or a thousandth of a second.

Scientists monitor how long it takes Earth to complete a full rotation using an extremely precise technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). These measurements are conducted by a worldwide network of stations, with Goddard providing essential coordination of VLBI, as well as analyzing and archiving the data collected.

The time standard called Universal Time 1, or UT1, is based on VLBI measurements of Earth’s rotation. UT1 isn’t as uniform as the cesium clock, so UT1 and UTC tend to drift apart. Leap seconds are added, when needed, to keep the two time standards within 0.9 seconds of each other. The decision to add leap seconds is made by a unit within the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service.

Typically, a leap second is inserted either on June 30 or December 31. Normally, the clock would move from 23:59:59 to 00:00:00 the next day. But with the leap second on June 30, UTC will move from 23:59:59 to 23:59:60, and then to 00:00:00 on July 1. In practice, many systems are instead turned off for one second.

Previous leap seconds have created challenges for some computer systems and generated some calls to abandon them altogether. one reason is that the need to add a leap second cannot be anticipated far in advance.

“In the short term, leap seconds are not as predictable as everyone would like,” said Chopo Ma, a geophysicist at Goddard and a member of the directing board of the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service. “The modeling of the Earth predicts that more and more leap seconds will be called for in the long-term, but we can’t say that one will be needed every year.”

From 1972, when leap seconds were first implemented, through 1999, leap seconds were added at a rate averaging close to one per year. Since then, leap seconds have become less frequent. This June’s leap second will be only the fourth to be added since 2000. (Before 1972, adjustments were made in a different way.)

Scientists don’t know exactly why fewer leap seconds have been needed lately. Sometimes, sudden geological events, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, can affect Earth’s rotation in the short-term, but the big picture is more complex.

VLBI tracks these short- and long-term variations by using global networks of stations to observe astronomical objects called quasars. The quasars serve as reference points that are essentially motionless because they are located billions of light years from Earth. Because the observing stations are spread out across the globe, the signal from a quasar will take longer to reach some stations than others. Scientists can use the small differences in arrival time to determine detailed information about the exact positions of the observing stations, Earth’s rotation rate, and our planet’s orientation in space.

Current VLBI measurements are accurate to at least 3 microseconds, or 3 millionths of a second. A new system is being developed by NASA’s Space Geodesy Project in coordination with international partners. Through advances in hardware, the participation of more stations, and a different distribution of stations around the globe, future VLBI UT1 measurements are expected to have a precision better than 0.5 microseconds, or 0.5 millionths of a second.

“The next-generation system is designed to meet the needs of the most demanding scientific applications now and in the near future,” says Goddard’s Stephen Merkowitz, the Space Geodesy Project manager.

NASA manages many activities of the International VLBI Service for Geodesy and Astrometry including day-to-day and long-term operations, coordination and performance of the global network of VLBI antennas, and coordination of data analysis.  NASA also directly supports the operation of six global VLBI stations.

Proposals have been made to abolish the leap second. No decision about this is expected until late 2015 at the earliest, by the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations that addresses issues in information and communication technologies.

For more information about NASA's Space Geodesy Project, including VLBI, visit:  http://space-geodesy.nasa.gov/

Elizabeth Zubritsky
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Lynn Jenner

Tags:  Earth, Goddard Space Flight Center, Technology,

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June 4, 2015


Robotics Teams Prepare to Compete for $1.5 Million in NASA Challenge

The Los Angeles team Survey's robot is seen as it conducts a demonstration of the level two challenge during the 2014 NASA Centennial Challenges Sample Return Robot Challenge, Thursday, June 12, 2014, at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Mass.

Credits: NASA

Twenty robotics teams, ranging from university students to small businesses, are preparing to compete June 8-13 in the fourth running of the NASA Sample Return Robot Challenge for a prize purse of $1.5 million.

At the autonomous robot competition held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, teams must demonstrate their robot can locate and collect geologic samples from a large and varied landscape, without human control, through two levels of competition that grow in complexity. The objective is to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotic manipulation technologies. These innovations may enhance NASA's space exploration capabilities and could have applications on Earth, continuing the nation's leadership in robotic technology.

"With missions to other planets and deeper space in our sights, it is increasingly valuable and necessary to see these technologies through," said Sam Ortega, program manager for Centennial Challenges at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "Robots are our pioneers, and solving this challenge will be a breakthrough for future space exploration."

NASA awarded $5,000 for Level 1 challenge completion to Team Survey of Los Angeles in 2013 and the West Virginia Mountaineers of Morgantown in 2014. Both teams are eligible to begin the 2015 competition at Level 2.

Other returning teams are:

·         Formicarum of Worcester, Massachusetts

·         Gather of Alexandria, Virginia

·         Lunambotics of Mexico City

·         Middleman of Dunedin, Florida

·         Oregon State University of Corvallis

·         The Retrievers of Schenectady, New York

·         Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Rock Raiders of Troy, New York

·         Wunderkammer of Topanga, California

The new teams are:

·         Army of Angry Robots of Silicon Valley, California

·         DT Bozzelli of Ann Arbor, Michigan

·         MAXed OUT of San Jose, California

·         Mind and Iron of Needham, Massachusetts

·         Massachusetts Institute of Technology Robotics Team of Cambridge

·         RoboRetrievers of Tampa, Florida

·         Sirius of South Hadley, Massachusetts

·         Smart Move of Clearwater, Florida

·         Smart Tools of Gurnee, Illinois

·         National Autonomous University of Mexico

The Sample Return Robot Challenge is managed by NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, which falls under the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington. Through such challenges, STMD seeks out the best and brightest minds in academia, industry and government to drive innovation and enable solutions in important technology focus areas.

A Ustream feed of the Sample Return Challenge will be available at:


For more information about the Sample Return Robot Challenge, visit:





Joshua Buck
Headquarters, Washington

Janet Anderson
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

Tags:  Robotics, Technology,

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May 27, 2015


NASA Sets New Launch Window for Supersonic Vehicle Test

The second flight test of NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) now will launch no earlier than 1:30 p.m. EDT (7:30 a.m. HST) Tuesday, June 2, from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on Kauai, Hawaii. NASA Television coverage will begin at 1 p.m. EDT (7 a.m. HST).

To accommodate prevailing weather conditions, mission managers moved the launch window one hour earlier to increase the probability of LDSD launching on time.

NASA's LDSD project is designed to investigate and test breakthrough technologies for landing future robotic and human Mars missions and safely returning large payloads to Earth. The test, performed over the Pacific Ocean, will simulate the supersonic entry and descent speeds at which the spacecraft would be traveling through the Martian atmosphere.

Reporters are invited to learn about LDSD at a media day on Monday, June 1 at PMRF, which begins with a mission overview briefing at 8 a.m. HST. The briefing will be broadcast live on NASA TV and online at:




Media may participate by phone by contacting Kim Newton at 256-653-5173 or kimberly.d.newton@nasa.gov no later than 4:30 p.m. HST Sunday, May 31. Briefing participants will answer questions from the live audience, as well as those submitted to the Ustream chat box or via Twitter using the #askNASA hashtag. After the briefing, media at PMRF will be taken on a tour of the launch area and Range Operations Center, as well as a driving tour of the facility.

NASA's LDSD program is part of the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, which innovates, develops, tests and flies hardware for NASA's future missions. For more information about NASA's investment in space technology, visit:



Joshua Buck
Headquarters, Washington

Kim Newton
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

D.C. Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Stefan Alford
Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Sarah Ramsey

Tags:  Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, Technology,

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May 23, 2015

NASA Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD)

The NASA Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project is important to the agency's future missions: it's all about mass, speed and safety. NASA is planning ambitious robotic and human missions to Mars, which will require the advancement of technology that can decelerate large payloads traveling at supersonic speeds in thin atmospheres.

LDSD, led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, is conducting the next full-scale flight test of two breakthrough technologies in early June: a supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator, or SIAD, and an innovative new parachute. Learn more at www.nasa.gov/ldsd and follow along to the latest launch updates and test results here, https://blogs.nasa.gov/ldsd/.

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Loura Hall

Tags:  Technology,

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May 7, 2015

Planting an Ecosystem on Mars

An experiment for planting on Mars designed to evaluate oxygen-producing techniques that could support future human habitats on the Red Planet.

To help sustain expeditionary crews on Mars, experiments are underway to utilize the Martian soil plus subterranean ice, as well as the planet’s atmosphere, to make breathable oxygen.

Taming the brutal environment of Mars for future human explorers to survive and thrive there may demand a touch of “ecopoiesis” – the creation of an ecosystem able to support life.

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program is funding cutting-edge work by Eugene Boland, chief scientist at Techshot Inc. of Greenville, Indiana. The scientist has been busy working in the firm’s “Mars room,” which houses a test chamber capable of simulating the Red Planet’s atmospheric pressure, day-night temperature changes and the solar radiation that cascades upon the planet’s surface.

Inside the Mars room, Boland and his team are testing the viability of using ecosystem-building pioneer organisms to churn out oxygen by using Martian regolith. Some organisms within the test bed experiment planted on the Red Planet also could remove nitrogen from the Martian soil.

“This is a possible way to support a human mission to Mars, producing oxygen without having to send heavy gas canisters,” Boland saaid. “Let’s send microbes and let them do the heavy-lifting for us.”

Ultimately, biodomes on Mars that enclose ecopoiesis-provided oxygen through bacterial or algae-driven conversion systems might dot the Red Planet, housing expeditionary teams, Boland suggests.

But first things first.

Selected organisms

Boland and his colleagues envision their test bed gear carried aboard a future Mars rover. At carefully selected sites, the small container-like devices would be augured into the ground, planted just a few inches in depth. Then the selected Earth organisms -- extremophiles like certain cyanobacteria – would interact with the Mars soil that has been captured within the container.

Yet another possible ingredient extracted from the Martian soil is in the form of subterranean ice.

Boland says that NASA’s Curiosity rover now wheeling about on Mars has shown the pressure and temperature on the planet “flirts at the idea” that liquid water may be possible on that distant world.

Biological solution

In a form of “huff and puff” science, the sensor-laden container would detect the presence or absence of a metabolic product -- like oxygen -- reporting the find back to Earth via a Mars-orbiting relay satellite.

Boland adds that great care would be taken to craft the container to seal tightly, thereby preventing the Earthly organisms from being exposed to the Martian atmosphere.

The NIAC-funded work is dedicated to opening the door to a biological solution to shipping cylinders of breathable air to Mars at great expense, Boland says. It is another alternative to a known problem of oxygen consumption for the human explorers NASA plans to send to Mars, he adds.

“I’m a biologist and an engineer. So I want to put those two things together to make a useful tool,” Boland concludes.

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Loura Hall

Tags:  Technology,

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April 24, 2015

The Deep Space Atomic Clock

Work is progressing on the Deep Space Atomic Clock, a miniaturized, ultra-precise mercury-ion atomic clock that is far more stable than today’s best navigation clocks.

Credits: NASA/JPL

Sharing a ride on the Orbital Test Bed satellite owned by Surrey US as part of a U.S. Air Force mission, the Deep Space Atomic Clock will undergo a year-long shakeout in space.

Credits: NASA/JPL

The Deep Space Atomic Clock is being readied for flight next year. Moving hardware from the laboratory to space meant conquering a number of technological challenges.

Credits: NASA/JPL

One future use for the Deep Space Atomic Clock is using the technology to help investigate possible undersea oceans within Europa – a moon of Jupiter.

Credits: NASA/JPL

As the saying goes, timing is everything. More so in 21st-century space exploration where navigating spacecraft precisely to far-flung destinations—say to Mars or even more distant Europa, a moon of Jupiter—is critical.

NASA is making great strides to develop the Deep Space Atomic Clock, or DSAC for short.  

DSAC is being readied to fly and validate a miniaturized, ultra-precise mercury-ion atomic clock that is orders of magnitude more stable than today’s best navigational clocks.

Slated for a boost into space in 2016, DSAC will perform a yearlong demonstration aimed at advancing the technology to a new level of maturity for potential adoption by a host of other missions.

Stability in space

The upcoming DSAC mission will deliver the next generation of deep-space radio science. At first blush, that may seem humdrum. But here’s the wake-up call stemming from such work on a timepiece for tomorrow…

For one, the Deep Space Atomic Clock will be far more “stable” than any other atomic clock flown in space, as well as smaller and lighter. Stability is the extent to which each tick of the clock matches the duration of every other tick.

At its core, DSAC is a “paradigm shifting” technology demonstration mission to exhibit how to navigate spacecraft better, collect more data with better precision and boost the ability for a spacecraft to brake itself more accurately into an orbit or land upon other worlds.

The DSAC project is sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Flight-ready demonstration unit

At JPL, the DSAC flight-ready demonstration unit is assembled. Further environmental testing, performance optimization and other activities are being completed.

In the laboratory setting, DSAC has been refined to permit “drift” of no more than 1 nanosecond throughout 10 days. Drift is when a clock does not run at the exact right speed compared to another clock.

“Transitioning the technology from the lab, where environments are very stable, to the launch and space environments—where they are much more variable—has presented some unique challenges to DSAC’s design,” says Todd Ely, principal technologist for the DSAC Technology Demonstration Mission.

For example, Ely points to temperatures in orbit that vary daily and seasonally. They can affect clock function if not carefully considered. Then there are gravitational loads placed on the instrument during launch that can reach up to 14g (14 times the gravity of Earth). Those g-stresses can strain the clock’s structure and must also be accounted for in DSAC’s design.

“These are just a couple of factors that have led to DSAC’s robustness,” Ely says.

In-orbit test

The DSAC demonstration unit and payload are to be hosted on a spacecraft provided by Surrey Satellite Technologies U.S. of Englewood, Colorado, and lofted spaceward as part of the U.S. Air Force's Space Test Program (STP)-2 mission aboard a Space X Falcon 9 Heavy booster.

The DSAC payload will be operated for at least a year to demonstrate its functionality and utility for one-way-based navigation. The clock will make use of GPS satellite signals to demonstrate precision orbit determination and confirm its performance.

Once DSAC is in orbit, what are the steps to successful testing?

“Our in-orbit investigation has several phases beginning with commissioning, where we start up the clock and bring it to its normal operating state,” Ely responds.

“After that we’ll spend the first few months confirming and updating our modeling assumptions, which we will use to validate the clock’s space-based performance,” Ely adds. “With these updates and our observation data, we’ll spend the next few months determining DSAC’s performance over many time scales…from seconds to days.”

Infusion for the future

Ely says that from that point, the DSAC team transitions to a less intense mode, one in which they will monitor clock telemetry. By using that data, ground controllers can characterize the atomic clock’s potential for long life operations.

“This will be important data for the next generation DSAC, where its lifetime for deep space would most likely need to be many years,” Ely says. The DSAC flight in 2016 will identify pathways to ‘spin’ the design of a future operational unit to be smaller and more power efficient, he adds.

Indeed, DSAC is an ideal technology for infusion into deep space exploration.

One future use of DSAC follow-on application includes Mars-bound spacecraft that need to aerobrake accurately into the red planet’s atmosphere.

Transformational technology

Yet another DSAC-inspired duty is to help confirm the existence and characteristics of a possible subsurface liquid ocean on Europa. Any liquid/ice ocean on the enigmatic moon would be affected by nearby giant Jupiter. DSAC technology could make possible global estimations of the subsurface ocean.

Estimation of Europa’s gravitational tide, Ely says, provides an example of the use of DSAC-enabled tracking data for Europa gravity science.

DSAC-enabled high-quality one-way signals for deep space navigation and radio science can enhance radio science at Europa, Mars and other celestial bodies, Ely concludes. DSAC has the potential to transform the traditional two-way paradigm of deep space radiometric tracking, he says, to a more flexible, efficient and extensible one-way tracking architecture.

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Loura Hall

Tags:  Space Travel, Technology, Technology Demonstration,

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March 7, 2015

NASA Calls For Phase II Visionary Advanced Concepts

WASHINGTON -- NASA is looking for far-out ideas. NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program is seeking Phase II proposals for continuation of promising studies selected during the first phase of the visionary program.

The NIAC program funds cutting-edge concepts with the potential to transform future aerospace missions, enable new capabilities, or significantly alter current approaches to launching, building, and operating aerospace systems.

"Creating the technologies needed to keep our explorers -- robotic and human -- alive and well is a terrific challenge, and these transformative concepts have the potential to mature into the solutions that enable our future missions," said Steve Jurczyk, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington. "NASA's early investment and partnership with creative scientists, engineers and citizen inventors from across the nation holds the potential to pay huge technological dividends and help maintain America's leadership in the global technology economy."

NIAC's Phase II opportunity continues development of the most promising Phase I concepts. These are visionary aerospace architecture, mission, or system concepts with transformative potential, which continue to push into new frontiers, while remaining technically and programmatically credible. NIAC's current portfolio of diverse efforts advances aerospace technology in many areas, including science, aeronautics, robotics and manufacturing.

Recent NIAC Phase II studies have included a 10-meter, sub-orbital large balloon reflector that might be used as a telescope inside a high altitude balloon and uses part of the balloon itself as a reflector for the telescope, a spacecraft-rover hybrid that uses spinning flywheels to tumble and hop these robotic explorers across the surface of an extraterrestrial body, a concept for deep mapping of the interior of small solar system bodies using subatomic particles, a low-mass planar photonic imaging sensor and spectrometer design to replace bulkier telescopes, and an ultra-large space aperture using an orbiting cloud of dust-like matter to provide higher-resolution imaging.

"Phase II proposals are especially exciting because they can provide the opportunity to bring real breakthroughs one step closer to implementation," said Jay Falker, NIAC program executive at NASA Headquarters.

NASA will be accepting NIAC Phase II proposals of no more than 20 pages in length until April 28th. Selection announcements are expected later this year. This solicitation is open only to current or previously awarded NIAC Phase I concepts. Complete guidelines for proposal submissions are available on the NIAC website at http://www.nasa.gov/niac.

2015 NIAC Phase II Solicitation: http://nspires.nasaprs.com/external/solicitations/summary.do?method=init&solId={4B4A7307-C956-A6C1-0F34-98CE76B299A9}&path=open

NSPIRES: http://nspires.nasaprs.com/external/

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Loura Hall

Tags:  Technology,

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Feb. 21, 2015

NIAC Reviews Futuristic, Cutting-edge Ideas

A submarine concept that would explore both the shoreline and the depths of this strange world that has methane rain, rivers and seas!

Fathom this: a submarine to examine undersea features on Titan, a moon of Saturn. New approaches to space exploration are being supported by NIAC.

Credits: Steven Oleson/NASA GRC

New ways to move about on small bodies in our solar system. This novel approach is being studied through NIAC support.

Credits: Marco Pavone/Stanford University

Want to grab a front row seat to the future? If so, look no further than the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program to gain that opportunity.

NIAC is home base and incubator of cutting-edge, innovative and technically credible advanced concepts…ideas that could one day change the possible in aeronautics and space.

From orbiting rainbows, hitchhiking on a comet, a submarine to measure the seas of Saturn’s moon, Titan, or creative ways to wrangle asteroids and orbital debris—these and other notions are samples of work in progress that were detailed at NIAC’s 2015 symposium, held January 27-29 at the Hilton Cocoa Beach in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

NIAC is a program within the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Improving the State of Knowledge

An objective of NIAC, explains Jay Falker, NIAC Program Executive, is to further the Nation’s leadership in key research areas, enable far-term capabilities, and spawn innovations that make aeronautics, science, space travel, and exploration more effective, affordable, and sustainable.

“Even if we don’t actually build or fly a NIAC-funded idea, we’ve improved the state of the knowledge about concepts and what we think they would do,” Falker says. “NIAC has a perfect role to play in this regard, and I’m very proud of that,” he adds.

Falker points to the 2015 Symposium as example, a gathering of NIAC Fellows that provided overviews of their imaginative projects. That range of multidisciplinary research efforts includes propulsion and power, mitigating the threat of near-Earth objects, humans in space and on planetary surfaces, robotics and space probes, as well as imaging and communications.

Right Balance

“The purpose of NIAC is to fund just the right balance of giggle factor and plausibility,” says best-selling science fiction writer and physicist, David Brin.

After several years reviewing NIAC-supported projects, Brin sees a common thread. “They all seek ways to get past a current constraint,” he observes, be it shaving off weight via adopting a lightweight technique, evading a bottleneck, or utilizing more autonomy—taking these and other avenues to achieve a lower cost space mission.

“If you are going to come up with new ideas for space exploration, you want approaches that will address all of these issues,” Brin explains.

Crossing Boundaries

No doubt, NIAC Fellows are a wellspring of creative juices.

Furthermore, nobody today is talking about the “curse” of specialization, Brin notes, “because we found solutions.”

Brin observes that the boundaries between many scientific disciplines have been torn down. Researchers are far more agile than they used to be at crossing these discipline boundaries.

“This sort of cross-fertilization is so gracious, quick and natural today. We are vastly smarter than we were,” Brin says. “Because in today’s more relaxed mood of collaboration, you’re more likely to know what’s going on in the lab down the hall.”

“That’s the notion of the enlightenment…that’s the notion of our civilization. We stand on the shoulders of everybody,” Brin concludes.

For more information on NIAC, go to:


To watch the exciting presentations given at the NIAC 2015 event, go to these video reports at:


Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Loura Hall

Tags:  Technology,

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Jan. 21, 2015


NASA Spinoff 2015 Features Space Technology Making Life Better on Earth

NASA technologies are being used to locate underground water in some of the driest places on the Earth, build quieter and more fuel-efficient airplanes, and create shock absorbers that brace buildings in earthquakes.

The 2015 edition of NASA’s annual Spinoff publication highlights these and other technologies whose origins lie in space exploration, but now have broader applications.

“The game-changing technologies NASA develops to push the envelope of space exploration also improve our everyday lives,” said NASA Chief Technologist David Miller. “Spinoff 2015 is filled with stories that show there is more space in our lives than we think.”

Spinoff 2015 tells the story of shock absorbers used during space shuttle launches that are now being used to brace buildings during earthquakes, preventing damage and saving lives. The book also features a NASA-simplified coliform bacteria test that is being used to monitor water quality in rural communities around the world, as well as cabin pressure monitors that alert pilots when oxygen levels are approaching dangerously low levels in their aircraft.

Published every year since 1976, Spinoff offers a close-up look at how NASA's initiatives in aeronautics and space exploration have resulted in technologies with commercial and societal benefits across the economy, in areas such as health and medicine; transportation; public safety; consumer goods; energy and environment; information technology; and industrial productivity. These spinoffs contribute to the country’s economic growth by generating billions of dollars in revenue and creating thousands of jobs.

“NASA enjoys a large and varied technology portfolio unlike any other in existence,” said Daniel Lockney, NASA’s Technology Transfer program executive. “And the range of successful technology transfer documented in Spinoff each year is as diverse as NASA’s many science and exploration missions.”

The publication also includes a “Spinoffs of Tomorrow” section showcasing 20 industry-ready NASA technologies -- from smart coatings that protect metal from corrosion to an identity verification system that uses the human heartbeat as a “fingerprint” -- that are all available for licensing.

NASA’s Technology Transfer Program is charged with finding the widest possible applications of agency technology. Through partnerships and licensing agreements with industry, the program ensures NASA’s investments in pioneering research find secondary applications that benefit the economy, create jobs, and improve quality of life.

Print copies of Spinoff 2015 can be requested free of cost on the Spinoff website, where digital versions of the book also can be downloaded.

An iPad version of Spinoff 2015, including multimedia and interactive features, also is available for download in the Apple iTunes store.

Spinoff 2015 is available online at:


For more information about NASA's Technology Transfer Program, visit:



Sarah Ramsey

Headquarters, Washington



Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Sonja Alexander

Tags:  Agency-About NASA, Technology,

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Webb Telescope

Dec. 23, 2014

Amazing View of Engineers Preparing NASA's Gigantic Space Simulation Chamber for Massive Test

Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn

"This is what space science is all about," said NASA photographer Chris Gunn, who captured a photo from outside the enormous mouth of NASA's giant thermal vacuum chamber called Chamber A at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Previously used for manned spaceflight missions, this historic chamber is now filled with engineers and technicians preparing for one of NASA's biggest missions, the James Webb Space Telescope.

"There is nothing else like this that anyone will see in their day-to-day lives," said Gunn. Engineers and technicians, dressed in sterile suits and secured by harnesses to stands for safety, are seen inside Chamber A preparing a lift system that will be used to hold the telescope during testing.

Once fully assembled and launched into space, this telescope will allow us to explore ever further into the cosmos, seeing things that even the mighty Hubble Space Telescope can’t. Before this telescope is launched one million miles into space to its destination, it must undergo a series of detailed tests to ensure it's ready for the harsh environment of space. This spring, a model of the telescope called "Pathfinder" will begin cryogenic optical testing inside this chamber.

"Maintaining the schedule with a very large number of optical and ground support equipment integration efforts, while securing the telescope to a suspension system inside the chamber and conducting a cryo-strength test is an incredible integration and test challenge," said Mark Voyton, manager for the Optical Telescope Element and Integrated Science Instrument Module (OTIS).

The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Laura Betz
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Rob Garner

Tags:  Goddard Space Flight Center, James Webb Space Telescope, Technology,

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Oct. 24, 2014

UP Aerospace Rocket Flight Tests Four Technology Payloads

Four NASA sponsored experiments were provided nearly four minutes of microgravity flight and testing after UP Aerospace's SpaceLoft rocket SL-9 soared into suborbital space from Spaceport America outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico on Thursday.

While flying on suborbital launch vehicles in zero gravity, experimental technologies are briefly exposed to the space environment where they are expected to operate.

Technicians check out UP Aerospace' SL-8 sounding rocket on its launch rail prior to its flight in November 2013.

Credits: Spaceport America

Funded by NASA's Flight Opportunities Program, three of the technologies were flown in collaboration with NASA's Game Changing Development Program: an advanced micro sun sensor from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. a radiation-tolerant computer system from Montana State University, Bozeman and a vibration isolation platform from Controlled Dynamics, Inc. of Huntington Beach, Calif.

The vibration isolation platform has also been selected by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) for further development on the International Space Station. This system will dampen experiments from fluctuations and disturbances that occur aboard spacecraft.

The fourth experiment from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Spain was investigating the effect of controlled vibrations on multiphase flow systems such as those found in environmental systems and fuel tanks.

NASA's Flight Opportunities Program helps foster the growth of the commercial spaceflight market while helping fulfill the overall goal of advancing space technology to meet future mission needs. The program selects promising technologies from industry, academia and government, and provides valuable testing for them on commercial suborbital launch vehicles.  This approach takes technologies from a laboratory environment and gives them flight heritage so that they can be considered for infusion into exploration missions.

Both Game Changing and Flight Opportunities Programs are part of the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing, and flying hardware for use in NASA's future missions.

Over the next 18 months, NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate will make significant new investments that address several high priority challenges for achieving safe and affordable deep-space exploration. For more about NASA's investment in space technology, visit:


Leslie Williams, Public Affairs
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Yvonne Gibbs

Tags:  Technology,

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Supersonic Decelerator

Oct. 9, 2014

NASA Parachute Engineers Have Appetite for Destruction

Engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are bound and determined to destroy a perfectly good parachute this week during the latest test for the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project. The parachute to be tested at the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in California is the same 100-foot (30.5-meter) parachute design that flew during the first supersonic flight of LDSD this past summer. That test took place in June in Kauai, Hawaii, at the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility.

The upcoming test, employing a Navy Seahawk helicopter, almost 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) of synthetic rope and a rocket sled packing four solid rocket motors with 280,000 pounds (127,000 kilograms) of thrust, is scheduled to take place on Thursday, October 9, weather permitting.

“Whenever you get to see a rocket sled in action, that is a good day,” said Mark Adler, project manager for NASA’s LDSD project at JPL. “When you watch the sled rip apart something you worked very hard in creating, and be happy about it, that is a great day.”

The goal of the LDSD project’s Parachute Design Verification test 1-1B is to place stresses on NASA’s Supersonic Disksail Parachute that will cause the 8,000 square feet (740 square meters) of synthetic fiber and ripstop nylon to fail structurally. It is the latest in a series of tests developed to evaluate two new landing technologies for future Mars missions.

“Our parachute has a not-to-exceed load during normal operations of 80,000 pound-force of pull,” said Adler. “Then there is another load rating well beyond that, where we expect the chute to fail. That is 120,000 pounds-force of pull. Well, to ensure we get to see how the chute fails and at what load, we configured the sled so it can get up to 162,000 pounds-force of pull when all the rockets kick in. The details of the failure will be used to calibrate our models, and if the failure is earlier or in a different place than expected, we will address that in the parachute design before our supersonic flights this coming summer.”

When the test begins, a Navy helicopter crew will lift the still-packed parachute, trailing on a very long, very sturdy rope and a chunk of ballast known as the "bullet," to about 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) and then drop it.

At this point, a 300-horsepower winch -- connected to the other end of the rope -- begins pulling. The parachute inflates, and the whole setup -- rope, bullet and inflated parachute -- descends toward the surface and the rocket sled at about 15 mph (24 kilometers per hour).

Near the surface, the bullet will enter a funnel, which guides it into a latching mechanism on the rocket sled. When this latch-up occurs, the first two of four 70,000-pound (32,000-kilogram) thrust solid rocket motors fires. A few seconds later the second set of rockets kicks in. The test is expected to apply the full load on the parachute canopy in about five seconds.

The parachute is the same design used during the first high-altitude supersonic flight test of the LDSD project last June, which was launched from Kauai. During the Kauai test, which was a shakeout flight designed to explore the capabilities of LDSD’s saucer-shaped test vehicle, the test parachute shredded during its deployment at nearly 2,000 mph (3,200 kilometers per hour).

“That test was such a blessing to this program,” said JPL’s Ian Clark, principal investigator for the LDSD project. “We got an early look at the parachute we were going to test in 2015 and found we needed to go back and rethink everything we thought we knew about supersonic parachute inflation. When we combine what we learned there with the data set from this test, we should have a new working model on how to build large supersonic parachutes.”

A new supersonic parachute design is expected to be ready in time for the next round of Kauai flight tests scheduled for the summer of 2015.

“This is going to be fun,” said Adler. “Basically, we are going to watch this test with every instrument we can get our hands on and then watch the parachute be destroyed. Then we will apply what we learn to our future parachutes.”

More information about the LDSD space technology demonstration mission is online at:


NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate funds the LDSD mission, a cooperative effort led by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages LDSD within the Technology Demonstration Mission Program Office. NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, is coordinating support with the Pacific Missile Range Facility and is providing the balloon systems and core avionics for the LDSD test.

For more information about the Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit:


DC Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

David Steitz
NASA Headquarters, Washington


Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Tony Greicius

Tags:  Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, Solar System, Technology, Technology Demonstration,

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Aug. 21, 2014

Why NASA Studies the Ultraviolet Sun

Spacecraft record solar activity as a binary code, 1s and 0s, which computer programs can translate into black and white. Scientists colorize the images for realism, and then zoom in on areas of interest.

Credits: NASA/Karen Fox

Four of the telescopes on the Solar Dynamics Observatory observe extreme ultraviolet light activity on the sun that is invisible to the naked eye.

Credits: NASA/SDO

The Solar Dynamics Observatory observed a solar flare (upper left) and a coronal mass ejection (right) erupting from the sun’s limb in extreme ultraviolet light on August 6, 2010.

Credits: NASA/SDO

You cannot look at the sun without special filters, and the naked eye cannot perceive certain wavelengths of sunlight. Solar physicists must consequently rely on spacecraft that can observe this invisible light before the atmosphere absorbs it.

“Certain wavelengths either do not make it through Earth’s atmosphere or cannot be seen by our eyes, so we cannot use normal optical telescopes to look at the spectrum,” said Dean Pesnell, the project scientist for the Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Several spacecraft can observe these invisible light wavelengths. SDO for example has four telescopes that image the sun in the ultraviolet spectrum. As beams of ultraviolet light pass into the telescope, a mirror with special coatings filters and amplifies the ultraviolet light’s otherwise poor reflection. The incoming photons are then recorded as pixels and converted into electrical signals, similar to how your cell phone camera sees visible light.

“It’s exactly the same process, whether it’s ultraviolet light, infrared light, visible light, or radio,” said Joseph Gurman, project scientist for both the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory at Goddard. “In this case we’re trying to understand how the sun changes and how those changes affect life here on Earth.”

Ultraviolet light causes molecular radiation damage to our skin, seen as sunburns that can lead to cancer. Its cousin, extreme ultraviolet radiation, and the associated solar storms have the potential to disrupt communications and spacecraft navigation. “These are very damaging, energetic photons, and we want to understand what chain of events produces these photons,” Pesnell said.

Thankfully our planet’s atmosphere absorbs much of this solar radiation, making life on Earth possible. However, this means that to study extreme ultraviolet light, instruments must do it from the vacuum of space.

“Ultraviolet light from the sun can show us the origins of solar storms that can lead to power outages, cell phone disruptions, and delays in shipping packages due to the rerouting of planes from over the pole,” Gurman said.

By understanding what occurs in the sun’s atmosphere, scientists hope to predict when powerful solar events such as coronal mass ejections and solar flares may occur.

“You really want to know what’s happening on the sun as soon as you can,” said Jack Ireland, a solar visualization specialist at Goddard. “We can then use computer models to estimate how solar events will affect Earth’s space environment.”

The information can then be used by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, in Boulder, Co. to alert power companies and airlines to take the necessary precautions, thus avoiding power outages and keeping airplane passengers safe.

Max Gleber
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Karl Hille

Tags:  Goddard Space Flight Center, SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory), Solar System, Sun, Technology,

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Webb Telescope

Aug. 19, 2014

Making Room for Webb's Mirrors

Engineers inside the world's largest clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland are working on the engineering test unit or "Pathfinder," for the James Webb Space Telescope. Webb’s Pathfinder acts as a spine supporting the telescope primary mirror segments. The Pathfinder is a non-flight prototype. To install the mirrors onto the center structure, the pathfinder must be first be over-deployed, that means engineers must secure two of the struts against the wall so they have plenty of room to work. 

Image credit: Chris Gunn/Text credit: Laura Betz
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Lynn Jenner

Tags:  Goddard Space Flight Center, James Webb Space Telescope, Technology,

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Webb Telescope

June 6, 2014

Mock the Bus: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope

At Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, California, integration and test technicians work on a mock-up of the James Webb Space Telescope spacecraft bus, testing the assembly of its parts.

The spacecraft bus will provide the necessary support functions for the operation of the Webb Observatory after it is launched into space in 2018.

The bus is the home for six major subsystems:

·         Electrical Power Subsystem

·         Attitude Control Subsystem

·         Communication Subsystem

·         Command and Data Handling Subsystem

·         Propulsion Subsystem

·         Thermal Control Subsystem

The Electrical Power Subsystem or EPS provides the power needed to operate the whole observatory. The EPS converts sunlight shining on the solar array panels into the power needed to operate the other subsystems in the bus as well as the Science Instrument Payload.

The Attitude Control Subsystem senses the orientation of the Observatory, maintains the Observatory in a stable orbit, and provides the coarse pointing of the Observatory to the area in the sky that the Science Instruments want to observe.

The Communication Subsystem is the ears and mouth for the Observatory. The system receives instructions (commands) from the Operations Control Center and sends (transmits) the science and status data to the OCC.

The Command and Data Handling (C&DH) System is the brain of the spacecraft bus. The system has a computer, the Command Telemetry Processor (CTP) that receives commands from the Communications System and directs them to the appropriate recipient. The C&DH also has the memory/data storage device for the Observatory, the Solid State Recorder (SSR). The CTP will control the interaction between the Science Instruments, the SSR and the Communications System

The Propulsion System contains the fuel tanks and the rockets that, when directed by the Attitude Control System, are fired to maintain orbit.

The Thermal Control Subsystem maintains the operating temperature of the spacecraft bus.

Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built.

For more information about the Webb telescope, visit: www.jwst.nasa.gov  or www.nasa.gov/webb

For more information about the spacecraft bus, visit: http://jwst.nasa.gov/bus.html

Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman Corporation

Rob Gutro
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Lynn Jenner

Tags:  Goddard Space Flight Center, James Webb Space Telescope, Technology,

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May 10, 2014

New Players for the BETTII Puzzle

If all goes according to plan, a balloon the size of a football field will loft NASA's BETTII mission above 99.5 percent of Earth's atmosphere next year to study star formation.

This mission will use a technique called spatial interferometry to combine observations of smaller telescopes to effect the viewing power of a larger one. BETTII will be NASA's first such mission.

Computer model of BETTII. BETTII's two telescopes are positioned at the ends of the horizontal truss.

Credits: NASA Goddard/Spencer Gore, Anthony Cotto

Dr. Stephen Rinehart, associate chief of the Observational Cosmology Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has worked with interns on BETTII, short for Balloon Experimental Twin Telescope for Infrared Interferometry, for many years now.

For the spring, Joe Gibson and Yamil Huertas are thrilled they are part of this team. "Both of them are doing really well — once again, we've got some great students!" Rinehart said.

Last summer's seven students worked tirelessly to finish parts of BETTII's control system, which will be used to guide BETTII and stabilize it for clearer pictures. "It has been performing very well." Rinehart said.  "They did a great job."

Huertas, a senior studying electrical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Bayamón Campus, chose BETTII because it let him work on fields related to mechanics, electronics and computers. Huertas worked on two projects this summer. He focused on BETTII's Star Camera, which will tell scientists where BETTII is pointing, and developed a circuit that will read BETTII's temperature sensors.

Joe Gibson works on BETTII's Star Finder programming.

Credits: NASA Goddard/Talya Lerner

Gibson is a senior at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, studying computer engineering. Gibson works with Stephen Maher, a computer scientist at Goddard, writing code for the communication and control software on BETTII. His code will send information from the Star Camera to the control system to map exactly where in the sky BETTII takes its pictures.

"We are a team and all of us work for the greater good and success of the project," Huertas said. 

"It is a childhood dream to be working here," Gibson said. "After such an amazing experience, the only thing I can say is that I sincerely hope to return some day."

Gibson and Huertas' amazing experiences, those of the students before them, and students yet to come are what will enable BETTII to reach its 2015 launch date and study stellar evolution like never before.

Related Link

› Up, Up and Away: Goddard Interns Work on Balloon-Based Telescope (08.07.13)

Talya Lerner
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Rob Garner

Tags:  Balloons, Goddard Space Flight Center, Technology,

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NASA Armstrong

Feb. 19, 2014

Flight Opportunities Program Busy in 2013; Even More So in 2014

A Near Space Corporation balloon lifts the firm's small HASS shuttle glider during a test flight in 2013.

Credits: Near Space Corp.)

Masten Space Systems' Xombie technology demonstration test bed ascends into the Mojave Desert sky from the Mojave Air and Space Port during a March 2013 flight to validate Draper Labs' GENIE flight control system.

Credits: NASA / Tom Tschida

NASA's Flight Opportunities Program of the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate accomplished its busiest year in 2013 since its inception in late 2010, and 2014 promises to be even busier.

The program enabled flight validation of 35 technologies that were tested in space-like environments on four different flight platforms during the year. There were five parabolic flight campaigns on the Zero-G airplane, five flights of the Near Space Corporation's high-altitude balloon, four vertical takeoff, vertical landing flights on vehicles from Masten Space Systems, and two launches on suborbital rockets provided by UP Aerospace, Inc.

The Flight Opportunities Program, managed by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif., will be funding numerous flights by sub-orbital vehicles and aircraft during 2014 to flight-validate a variety of technologies that could prove useful to NASA and other agencies for future space exploration missions. At this time, 19 parabolic and 17 sub-orbital payloads have been manifested for flight. Up to 29 additional payloads could be flown, once they are ready for flight or a launch vehicle is available.

Current flight providers include UP Aerospace (sounding rockets), Near Space Corporation (high-altitude balloons, the HASS glider), Masten Space Systems (rocket-propelled vertical-launch, vertical-landing vehicles), Zero-G Corporation (modified Boeing 727 aircraft for reduced-gravity parabolic flights) and Virgin Galactic (SpaceShipTwo rocket-propelled horizontal landing sub-orbital vehicle). The Flight Opportunities Program will be issuing a new contract for flight providers this year.

Among the earliest technology flight validations on the 2014 schedule is an automated spacecraft landing system payload from Astrobotic Technology Inc. of Pittsburgh that is tentatively slated to be tested on Masten Space Systems XA-0.1B "Xombie" suborbital reusable launch vehicle in February. Astrobotic's landing system may enable future unmanned spacecraft to land on the moon or the rocky and hazardous terrain of an asteroid.

Following completion of sub-orbital flight testing, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is tentatively scheduled to carry technology payloads for NASA's Flight Opportunities Program later this year.

For more on NASA's Flight Opportunities Program, visit:


A camera mounted atop the left vertical fin of Virgin Galactic / Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo captures the vehicle gliding through the upper atmosphere after its rocket engine is shut down during a 2013 test flight. The Earth's horizon can be seen at lower right.

Credits: Virgin Galactic

Leslie Williams / Alan Brown, public affairs
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

Last Updated: July 7, 2015

Editor: Monroe Conner

Tags:  Armstrong Flight Research Center, Technology,

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