Kennedy Space Center Robotic News
August 29, 2011 20:44:41
Heat Shields Made From Dirt? Ice Powered Machiens? NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts Program Moves Forward
By Robert Gass

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER -  Making spacecraft heat shields from dirt on other planets and using ice to power machines and even spacecraft engines are only two of 30 study proposals recently selected for funding under the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

Each proposal, from Kennedy Space Center's Engineering Directorate, will receive about $100,000 for one year to advance the innovative space technology concept and help NASA meet operational and future mission requirements.

"The interesting thing about projects like these is that we always learn the unexpected and more," said Engineering Director Pat Simpkins. "These projects will help make exploration affordable and the unknown spin-offs will improve life on Earth."

The first study is the Regolith-Derived Heat Shield for Planetary Body Entry and Descent System with In situ Fabrication. It will be led by Kennedy Principal Investigator and Research Physicist Dr. Michael Hogue, and Co-investigators Robert Mueller, who is chief of the Surface Systems Office at Kennedy, and Dr. Daniel Rasky, director for the Emerging Space Office and senior scientist at Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California.

Mueller said protecting large and heavy spacecraft from the intense heat experienced during entry and landing on a planet, such as Earth, Mars or Jovian moons, is one of NASA's grand challenges. The group is studying a way to create a spacecraft heat shield from the dirt and other material on the surface of another world. That could lead to a way to manufacture shielding off the Earth, and then just use it for landing, which would save weight and energy you would otherwise need if you were to haul it back and forth between worlds.

Development will take place in the Engineering Directorate's Surface Systems Office and Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations Laboratory, which has a variety of simulated regolith, or planetary dirt and materials, and the expertise for using them for in-situ resource utilization, according to Mueller.

"During Phase 1 we will fabricate and test 10 regolith-derived thermal protection system heat shield coupons at the Arc Jet facility at Ames," Mueller said. "We hope to develop a new and innovative way of protecting high-mass spacecraft during planetary entry, descent and landing."

Mueller said heat shields fabricated in situ could provide a thermal protection system for spacecraft that routinely enter a planet's atmosphere.

Hogue said it is an exciting and innovative project that has the potential to save significant resources in returning payloads to Earth. "I am really thrilled and thankful for this opportunity," Hogue said.

The second study is In Space Propulsion Engine Architecture Based on Sublimation of Planetary Resources: from Exploration Robots to NEO Mitigation.

According to Principal Investigator Dr. Laurent Sibille with Team QinetiQ-NA ESC at Kennedy, the project focuses on the possibility of accessing the potential energy of ice, a common resource found on many solid-surface planetary bodies in the solar system, and transforming it into a gas that can serve as a source of mechanical energy for deep-space robotic or human missions.

Co-investigators are Chemical Engineer Jesus Dominguez, also with Team QinetiQ-NA ESC, and NASA Physicist Dr. James Mantovani.

Sibille said the large majority of power used in deep-space systems is derived from electrical energy, such as solar panels; thermal energy, such as heat generated by radioisotope thermal generators; or chemical energy, such as fuel cells and chemical propulsion engines.

"NIAC asked for visionary concepts that could potentially change the way we explore and work in space," Sibille said. "Accessing local space resources and transforming their energy state to give additional capability and power to a robotic exploration mission or a human crew facing some new challenge struck us as being one of those promising ideas that merit a deeper look."

Sibille said Phase 1 work will focus on verifying what assumptions about ice properties in space are correct through experiments that show how much gas can be produced from them in different environments. The work will be performed in a vacuum chamber at Kennedy's Space Life Sciences Laboratory beginning in October.

Using water and carbon dioxide, which exist in the form of ice on the moon, Mars, and other worlds in the outer solar system in low-pressure environments, Sibille said the team will use small amounts of heat to transform them into gas. Once pressurized, the potential energy of the gas can be transformed into mechanical power to lift objects or hardware using mechanical actuators, pneumatic systems or used directly in propulsion.

"The innovative concepts funded under NIAC are imaginative and creative ideas with the potential to mature into technological breakthroughs," said Kennedy's Chief Technologist Karen Thompson. "These efforts meet the challenge given to NASA to investigate visionary, far-reaching advanced concepts as part of the agency's mission. It is exciting that Kennedy is a part of the first set of projects selected under the new NIAC."

"Although not broadly known as a research center in the past, the unique capabilities of the great scientists and engineers at the center come front-and-center from projects like these for both the scientific community and the public, at large, to see," Simpkins said.

He added, "As with all research and development, I hope that the investigators, through the NIAC awards, can move the science of space exploration forward. I also hope that we continue to learn more about what works, and what doesn’t, and then continue to pursue the 'art of the possible.'" Simpkins added.

 
 

Linda Herridge
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center


 

More Interactive Photography
Gale Crator InterActive First look crisp look around Gale Crator This 360-degree, full-resolution panorama from NASA's Curiosity rover shows the area all around...
Endeavour nose gear in OPF InterActive Endeavour nose gear in OPF This was shot from forward and underneath Space Shuttle Endeavour in the Orbiter Processing...
Endeavor engine compartment InterActive Endeavor engine compartment View into the Space Shuttle's engine compartment with the three main engines removed.
Endeavor engine compartment InterActive Endeavor engine compartment View into the Space Shuttle's engine compartment with the three main engines removed.
Endeavour Cargo Bay InterActive Endeavour Cargo Bay This image was shot from the forward end of Space Shuttle Endeavour's cargo ba as it sits in...
Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour forward flight deck. InterActive Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour forward flight deck. Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour aft flight deck.
Endeavour Forward Flight Deck InterActive Endeavour Forward Flight Deck Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour forward flight deck.
Atlas V with Mars Science Laboratory payload InterActive Atlas V with Mars Science Laboratory payload The rover Curiosity will carry the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific...
Curiosity rover InterActive Curiosity rover NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or...
Curiosity rover InterActive Curiosity rover NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or...
Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory InterActive GRAIL The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission's primary science objectives will be to...
Atlas V AV-029 InterActive Atlas V AV-029 ULA Atlas V number AV-029 reaches launch pad on August 4th, 2011. In less than 1 day this Atlas...
Atlas V up close InterActive Atlas V up close Get to know the Atlas V up close. Explore the rivets in this 74.62 megapixel image of the Atlas...
JUNO Atlas V InterActive JUNO Atlas V ULA Atlas V with the JUNO probe sitting atop at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is ready for...
Atlantis at wheels stop on runway 15 InterActive Atlantis on runway Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth in the predawn hours of July 21st, 2011. Marking the...
Atlantis at wheels stop on runway 15 InterActive Atlantis at wheels stop on runway 15 Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth in the predawn hours of July 21st, 2011. Marking the...
Atlantis and tower InterActive Atlantis and tower Space shuttle Atlantis waits to receive payload for the final space shuttle mission STS-135,...
Atlantis payload preparations InterActive Atlantis payload preparations Space shuttle Atlantis at pad 39A. The payload canister can be seen lifted in to position to...
Walk with the astronauts InterActive Walk with the astronauts A view of the 195ft level of the fixed service structure. This where the astronauts arrive at...
Last Space Shuttle prepares for launch InterActive Last Space Shuttle prepares for launch A close in look at space shuttle Atlantis on June 17th. Launch preparations are on going for...
The last space shuttle to be on the launch pad InterActive The last space shuttle to be on the launch pad Space shuttle Atlantis, the last space shuttle to flight begins launch prepartions at pad 39A...
Last space shuttle arrives at launch pad InterActive Last space shuttle arrives at launch pad Space shuttle Atlantis is seen here from the top of the rotating service structure the moring...
The last space shuttle has left the building InterActive The last space shuttle has left the building Space shuttle Atlantis rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building for the last time on the...
Space Shuttle Atlantis prepared to rollout to pad   InterActive Space Shuttle Atlantis prepared to rollout to pad Space shuttle Atlantis complete with the solid rocket boosters and external tank that will...
HiRes Atlantis hanging in VAB InterActive HiRes Atlantis hanging in VAB HiRes image of Space Shuttle Atlantis hanging in the Vehical Assembly Building. This shot was...
Atlantis vertical from VAB Level 5 InterActive Atlantis vertical from VAB Level 5 Space Shuttle Atlantis after being lifted into the verticle position before being mated to the...
Atlantis vertical InterActive Atlantis vertical Space Shuttle Atlantis hangs vertical before removing the rear hoist and lifting it for the...
Atlantis rolling vertical InterActive Atlantis rolling vertical Here Space Shuttle Atlantis is almost vertical being positioned to soon be mated to the...
Atlantis hanging in VAB InterActive Atlantis hanging in VAB Space Shuttle Atlantis is seen here hanging about 10 feet above the VAB floor. It has justed...
Endeavour at night InterActive Endeavour at night Space shuttle Endeavour seen here at night as launch preparation continue for the first launch...
Atlantis rolling over to VAB for final mission InterActive Atlantis rolling over to VAB for final mission Space Shuttle Atlantis rolling over the VAB for the last time. Atlantis is scheduled to be the...
Atlantis outside VAB for employee photos InterActive Atlantis outside VAB for employee photos Space shuttle Atlantis, the last space shuttle, pauses during rollover from the OPF to the VAB...
Hi Resolution image of the last space shuttle InterActive Hi Resolution image of the last space shuttle Hi Resolution composit image of the last space shuttle, Atlantis, as it sits atop the transport...
Atlantis in the VAB InterActive Atlantis in the VAB Nice 360 degree view of the VAB with Atlantis being preped for the Lift and Mate procedure
Atlantis on the sled in VAB InterActive Atlantis on the sled in VAB Explore the VAB with Space Shuttle Atlantis on the sled after rollover to the VAB jst before...
Atlantis being attached to sling InterActive Atlantis being attached to sling Full 360 degree panorama from inside the VAB as Space Shuttle Atlantis is attached to the sling...
Endeavour after RSS retraction InterActive Endeavour after RSS retraction Hi-Res image of Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad 39A minutes after the RSS was...
The Mound STS-134 4/29 Attempt InterActive The Mound STS-134 4/29 Attempt This a 360 degree panorama from the mound of the KSC media center. This was the scence about an...
Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) InterActive Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a particle physics detector designed to search for various...
AMS in the SSPF InterActive AMS in the SSPF The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a particle physics detector designed to search for various...
Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunrise InterActive Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunrise Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunrise the morning it arrived from the VAB. How...
Endeavour in the VAB InterActive Endeavour in the VAB Space Shuttle Endeavour sitting stacked and ready atop the crawler to rollout the launch pad.
Endeavour in the VAB InterActive Endeavour in the VAB Space Shuttle Endeavour sitting stacked and ready atop the crawler to rollout the launch pad.
Space Shuttle Discovery final towover InterActive Space Shuttle Discovery final towover View of Space Shuttle Discovery 4 hours after returning to Earth for the last time. Discovery...
Space Shuttle Discovery Final Launch InterActive Space Shuttle Discovery Final Launch This a 360 degree panorama taken 3 mile from the launch pad capturing the final lift off of...
Space shuttle Discovery final launch InterActive Space shuttle Discovery final launch This a 360 degree panorama taken 3 mile from the launch pad capturing the final lift off of...
Discovery at Night InterActive Discovery at Night This a panorama of Space Shuttle Discovery shortly after RSS retraction on 11/3/2010 preparing...
GRIP DC-8 Panorama InterActive GRIP DC-8 Panorama Interior of forward section of NASA GRIP aircraft while configured for studding hurricane...
GRIP DC-8 Interior InterActive GRIP DC-8 Interior Interior of forward section of NASA GRIP aircraft while configured for studding hurricane...
NASA GRIP DC-8 InterActive NASA GRIP DC-8 The NASA DC-8 is a four-engine jet transport that has been highly modified to support the...
Endeavour on pad InterActive Endeavour ready for launch HiRes image of Endeavour at Pad 39A
AMS-2 Antimatter Telescope InterActive AMS-2 Antimatter Telescope Explore the SSPF and ESA's Antimatter Telescope. 360 rotating,zoomable Panorama!
Spectacular ultra hi-rez interactive shot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad for the last time InterActive Explore LC-39A !! Spectacular ultra hi-rez interactive shot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad for...