NASA’s small business picks take on automation in space

NASA’s SBIR program regularly doles out cash to promising small businesses and research programs, and the lists of awardees is always interesting to sift through. Here are a dozen companies and proposals from this batch that are especially compelling or suggest new directions for missions and industry in space.

Sadly these brief descriptions are often all that is available. These things are often so early stage that there’s nothing to show but some equations and a drawing on the back of a napkin — but NASA knows promising work when it sees it.

Martian Sky Technologies wins the backronym award with Decluttering of Earth Orbit to Repurpose for Bespoke Innovative Technologies, or DEORBIT, an effort to create an autonomous clutter-removal system for low Earth orbit. It is intended to monitor a given volume and remove any intruding items, clearing the area for construction or occupation by another craft.

There are lots of proposals for various forms of 3D printing, welding, and other things important to the emerging field of “On-orbit servicing, assembly, and manufacturing” or OSAM. One I found interesting uses ultrasonics, which is weird to me because clearly, in space, there’s no atmosphere for ultrasonic to work in (I’m going to guess they thought of that). But this kind of counterintuitive approach could lead to a truly new approach.

Doing OSAM work will likely involve coordinating multiple robotic platforms, something that’s hard enough on Earth. TRAClabs is looking into a way to “enhance perceptual feedback and decrease the cognitive load on operators” by autonomously moving robots not in use to positions where they can provide useful viewpoints of the others. It’s a simple idea and fits with the way humans tend to work — if you’re not the person doing the actual task, you automatically move out of the way and to a good position to see what’s happening.

Hall effect thrusters are a highly efficient form of electric propulsion that could be very useful in certain types of in-space maneuvering. But they’re not particularly powerful, and it seems that to build larger ones existing manufacturing techniques will not suffice. Elementum 3D aims to accomplish it by developing a new additive manufacturing technique and cobalt-iron feedstock that should let them make these things as big as they want. ReadMore

Source : techcrunch