NASA

NASA (65)

After long delays caused by storms and rough seas, NASA launched a rocket into space carrying an experiment built by students at Utah State University.

The 43-foot-tall sounding rocket launched from Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia. The vehicle flew in space for approximately seven minutes and reached an altitude of 107 miles before parachuting back to Earth and splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean for recovery.

USU’s payload was one of four selected to fly on the rocket. Student teams from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln; the University of Kentucky, Lexington; and the Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, also had experiments on board as part of NASA’s Undergraduate Student Instrument Project known as USIP.

USU aerospace engineering graduate students Marc Bulcher, Zac Lewis and Rob Stoddard, and aerospace engineering professor Stephen A. Whitmore designed and built the USU experiment. Their goal was to flight test a new type of thruster developed and patented by Whitmore.

Thrusters are small motors used to orient spacecraft in zero gravity. The new USU thrusters are made with printed ABS plastic — the same material used to make Legos — and do not burn conventional liquid rocket fuel.

“The vast majority of liquid rocket fuels used for space propulsion are extremely dangerous and toxic,” said Bulcher. “Hydrazine, for example, powers thrusters that control satellites and small spacecraft. Hydrazine is carcinogenic, expensive to make and presents many safety and environmental challenges.”

To test the new thrusters, the team mounted two of the soda-can sized units to a small test frame inside the large sounding rocket. When the rocket reached the appropriate altitude, its mid-section fell away and exposed the student experiments to the vacuum of space. Whitmore confirmed the test was successful and said each thruster fired five times. Next, the team will determine if exhaust plumes from the thrusters contaminated a nearby optical sensor. If the thrusters burn clean, the technology could revolutionize the space industry.

Such in-flight measurements had never been obtained for this type of thruster system. And Whitmore says a rocket of this class had never been started and re-started in a space environment. Until now.“This is the first time a USA-developed green propellant has been flight tested in space,” said Whitmore. “It’s an exciting time for us because this gives our students unparalleled industry experience, and at the same time we’re developing something that could completely change the small spacecraft industry.”

In a fierce competition against four other contenders, Norwich University emerged as the winning team in NASA's third Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing BIG Idea Challenge. The University of Colorado Boulder team was awarded second place.

In this engineering design competition, NASA enlists university teams from across the nation to develop creative solutions to some of the agency's most relevant challenges.

In 2017, NASA called for proposals for large power systems that could be used on the surface of Mars.  Because these systems need to be in place before humans ever arrive on the Red Planet, teams were required to propose robotic or autonomous solutions for deployment and sustainable operation.

The Norwich University team, led by Brian Bradke, proposed an innovative flexible solar array design using inflatable booms to provide a compact stowed configuration and low launch mass. The team made an impressive inflatable model that validated their packing and deployment concept.

The University of Colorado Boulder team, led by Kyri Baker, developed an autonomous foldable solar array concept that secured them the runner-up position. Their approach leveraged extremely lightweight/flexible composite booms that could be wrapped around a centralized hub and then unwound for deployment on the Martian surface.

The five finalists each proposed completely different, unique and viable concepts. Students from Norwich University, Princeton University, Texas A&M University, the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Virginia presented their concepts to the judges in an intense design review during the 2018 BIG Idea Challenge Forum held March 6 and 7 in Cleveland, Ohio.

"This year's Big Idea Challenge brought some fresh and exciting ideas on Mars solar arrays that gives us greater confidence to move forward toward human Mars missions," said Lee Mason, principal technologist for power and energy storage with NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, and a Big Idea judge. "The two winning teams provide a nice diversity in their design and operational construct: one focusing on inflatables, the other on composite booms."

The BIG Idea Challenge is aligned with NASA's goal to increase the capabilities of the nation's future workforce through participatory, immersive educational experiences. This includes the challenge prize, which offers NASA internships to members from the winning team.

In a surprise twist during this year's competition, a new industry collaboration led to even more opportunities for the finalists. Bao Hoang of SSL served as an industry judge, and was so impressed with the quality of work and caliber of students that his company will be making internship offers and possibly job offers to those who participated in the final stage of the challenge.

"It has been an honor for SSL to collaborate with NASA and the NIA in helping to judge the 2018 BIG Idea Challenge," said Dario Zamarian, group president at SSL, a Maxar Technologies company. "The student teams have developed innovative concepts that reflect exceptional technical capabilities. In support of the program, SSL will invite multiple BIG Idea Challenge participants to join our summer internship program, where they will have the opportunity to work with a leading technology company that brings a commercial mindset to the development of next-generation space infrastructure."

The BIG Idea Challenge is sponsored by NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate's Game Changing Development Program, and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace.

NASA is on a mission to inspire young minds to become the next generation of critical thinkers. By engaging students in space exploration at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, NASA encourages learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in a way that fosters hands-on learning and discovery.

"As more states incorporate STEM-focused education into their standards, we assist teachers by developing curriculum support materials that help them meet the standards while making learning fun for their students," said Susan Currie, education specialist at Marshall.

One example of how Marshall achieves this goal is through collaboration with the Oak Ridge City School System in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Marshall staff assisted in curriculum development that incorporated unique NASA resources, and then trained teachers to use the resources for a new elective engineering course called NASA Project-Based Learning. Marshall engineers also serve as mentors to students in the course. Patrick Hull, technical assistant for the Structural and Mechanical Design Branch of the Engineering Directorate at Marshall, assisted with this collaboration in the community where he grew up.

"We sought to invest in our community and influence middle school students by exposing them to exciting STEM careers at NASA" said Hull. At many schools, this type of unique experience in STEM fields was only available in an extracurricular environment.

Hull partnered with Robertsville Middle STEM teacher, Todd Livesay, to create a project that tasked students with designing and 3-D printing a small one-unit cube satellite, or 1U CubeSat. Once completed, the students presented their project at Marshall in front of Hull and a panel of fellow engineers. "To have had an opportunity in junior high to work with a group of engineers from NASA would have been very motivating to me," said Hull.

"The value of skills learned by our students in this program spans more than just STEM disciplines," said Holly Cross, career and technical education supervisor for the Oak Ridge City School System. "The mentors from NASA encouraged our students to talk about their project in a conversational manner rather than memorizing for a presentation. Our English teachers have commented on how their presentation skills have developed and matured as a result of their interaction with the NASA engineers."

For the 2017 class mission, students chose a cause that is near to their hearts. In 2016, wildfires ravaged communities in nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee, taking the lives of 14 residents and leaving more than 2,500 homes and businesses damaged or destroyed. To assist Gatlinburg and other communities impacted by wildfires, the students set out to develop a CubeSat capable of deploying a camera and radio in space to observe and communicate the regrowth pattern of vegetation after a widespread fire. This information can be used to help communities regrow after destruction.

The students submitted their completed project in proposal form to NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative to compete for a spot to fly on a future launch. Through the initiative, NASA provides universities, high schools and non-profit organizations access to a low-cost pathway to conduct research in the areas of science, exploration, technology development, education or operations. NASA is planning to make their next round of CubeSat selections in February. Selected experiments will be considered as potential payloads on agency launches or for deployment from the International Space Station beginning in 2018 through 2021.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017 10:41

NASA Seeking BIG Ideas for Solar Power on Mars

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Missions to the surface of distant planetary bodies require power — lots of power.  Through the 2018 Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge, NASA is enlisting university students in its quest for efficient, reliable and cost-effective solar power systems that can operate on Mars both day and night.

The teams will have until November to submit their proposals. Interested teams of three to five undergraduate and/or graduate students are asked to submit robust proposals and a two-minute video describing their concepts by November 30th.

NASA’s Game Changing Development Program (GCD), managed by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) are seeking novel concepts that emphasize innovative mechanical design, low mass and high efficiency, with operational approaches that assure sustained power generation on the Mars surface for many years.

It’s not easy to harness the power of the sun from Mars. Depending on where spacecraft land, the angle and distance from the sun changes substantially during different seasons, affecting solar power flow management and performance. Martian dust is also a threat. It clings to everything on the surface and could form a blanket over solar panels.

The goal is to have a reliable operating power source in place before astronauts ever step foot on the surface of Mars. That means solar array designs will need to fit compactly into a single cargo launch, have the capability to deploy robotically on the surface, and begin producing power soon after landing.

The 2018 BIG Idea Challenge invites teams and their faculty advisors to work together to design and analyze innovations in the design, installation, and sustainable operation of a large solar power system on the surface of Mars, in the following areas:

Novel packaging, deployment, retraction, and dust-abatement concepts Lightweight, compact components including booms, ribs, substrates, and mechanisms Optimized use of advanced ultra-lightweight materials and high efficiency solar cells Validated modeling, analysis, and simulation techniques High-fidelity, functioning laboratory models and test methods.

From these proposals, NASA and industry experts will select four teams to continue developing their proposed concepts, submit a technical paper, and present their concepts in a face-to-face design review at the 2018 BIG Idea Forum, held at a NASA center in early March 2018. Each of these four teams will receive a $6,000 stipend to participate in the forum.

Student members from the BIG Idea Challenge winning team will receive offers to participate in paid summer internships at either NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, or Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where they will continue developing their concept under the mentorship of NASA experts.

Engineers and scientists at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, will kick off a lecture series on Wednesday, March 15, acknowledging the past, present and future of Langley's innovation, groundbreaking research and critical technologies that continue to address national priorities in aeronautic applications, space exploration and Earth sciences.

The five-part lecture series entitled "A Storied Legacy, a Soaring Future - NASA Langley Research Center, 100 Years and Beyond" will be held at the Yoder Barn Theatre in Newport News, Virginia, every Wednesday from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. EDT. The series, which begins on March 15 and concludes on April 12, is open to members of the Christopher Newport University Lifelong Learning Society and will also be streamed live to the public.

Each lecture carries a centennial theme:

  • 100 year historical overview - March 15
  • Past, present and future of aeronautics - March 22
  • Past, present and future of science - March 29
  • Past, present, and future of space exploration - April 5
  • A futurist's view of the next 100 years - April 12

NASA is giving university and college students an opportunity to be part of the agency’s journey to Mars with the Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge.

NASA’s Game Changing Development Program (GCD), managed by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) are seeking innovative ideas for generating lift using inflatable spacecraft heat shields or hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (HIAD) technology.

"NASA is currently developing and flight testing HIADs -- a new class of relatively lightweight deployable aeroshells that could safely deliver more than 22 tons to the surface of Mars," said Steve Gaddis, GCD manager at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. "A crewed spacecraft landing on Mars would need to weigh between 15 and 30 tons."

The NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover is the heaviest payload ever landed on the Red Planet -- weighing in at only one ton. To slow a vehicle carrying a significantly heavier payload through the thin Martian atmosphere and safely land it on the surface is a significant challenge. NASA is addressing this challenge through the development of large aeroshells that can provide enough aerodynamic drag to decelerate and deliver larger payloads. HIAD technology is a leading idea because these kinds of aeroshells can also generate lift, which would allow the agency to potentially do different kinds of missions.

Interested teams of three to five undergraduate and/or graduate students are asked to submit white papers describing their concepts by November 15th. Concepts may employ new approaches such as shape morphing and pneumatic actuation to dynamically alter the HIAD inflatable structure.

Selected teams will continue in the competition by submitting in the spring of 2016 full technical papers on the concept. Up to four teams will present their concepts to a panel of NASA judges at the BIG Idea Forum at Langley in April 2016.

Each finalist team will receive a $6,000 stipend to assist with full participation in the forum. BIG Idea Challenge winners will receive offers of paid internships with the GCD team at Langley, where they can potentially work toward a flight test of their concept.

For more information, visit: bigidea.nianet.org

Wednesday, 16 September 2015 14:53

NASA Tests Provide 3D Printed Part Comparison Data

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A key part of the F-1 engine — the rocket engine that propelled the Saturn V and sent men to Moon -- just completed a series of tests that will provide new data for today's rocket engine designers. While this rocket engine component is not currently being flown, engineers were able to test a 1960's era rocket engine part, the gas generator, in 2013, and then make one with additive manufacturing and test it on the same stand - giving NASA engineers a direct one-to-one comparison of a key rocket component.

"This test gave NASA the rare opportunity to test a 3-D printed rocket engine part, an engine part for which we have lots of data, including a test done three years ago with modern instrumentation," said Chris Protz. "This adds to the database we are creating by testing injectors, turbo pumps and other 3-D printed rocket engine parts of interest to both NASA and industry."

Additive manufacturing layers metallic powders to form engine parts, but much is still unknown about the ability to produce rocket engine parts reliable enough for use on launch vehicles carrying humans. Over the last few years, NASA engineers have built and tested a variety of complex rocket components manufactured with 3-D printing processes. The part put to the test in this particular series, a gas generator, supplies power to fuel pump to deliver propellant to the engine.

The gas generator produces around 30,000 pounds of thrust and was fired up on the same test stands at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama where Protz and his team tested a vintage F-1 gas generator in 2013. New cutting-edge instruments on the stand measured performance and combustion properties, providing engineers with new data on old hardware. The gas generator tests allow a direct comparison of the F-1 engine component built with traditional manufacturing -- welding and forging -- to a similar F-1 engine component with parts built with additive manufacturing.

NASA conducted this test series for Dynetics in Huntsville and its partner Aerojet Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, California, who built the gas generator and is examining future technologies and their applicability to future propulsion systems.

The results from these tests of a 3-D printed F-1 gas generator adds more information to help NASA and the aerospace industry reduce the risks associated with using 3-D printing to make future engine parts, especially for future versions of spacecraft like NASA’s new Space Launch System.

The Space Launch System will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration, with the first version of the rocket, referred to as Block 1, capable of launching 70 metric tons to low-Earth orbit. This first configuration will be powered by twin boosters and four RS-25 engines. The next planned evolution of the SLS, Block 1B, would use a more powerful exploration upper stage to enable more ambitious missions with a 105-metric-ton lift capacity.

Ultimately, a later evolution, Block 2, will add a pair of advanced solid or liquid propellant boosters to provide an unprecedented 130-metric-ton lift capability to enable missions even farther into our solar system, including Mars.

“NASA is exploring many technologies to enhance the Space Launch System as it evolves for use in a variety of missions,” said Sam Stephens, SLS Advanced Development Task Lead at Marshall, where the SLS Program is managed. “If it proves to be a viable option, additive manufacturing may help us build future propulsion systems. With this testing, NASA is helping the community and the nation’s aerospace companies stay at the forefront of advanced technologies.”

Additive manufacturing is one of many technologies that could help provide affordable propulsion systems for the rocket that will take humans on the journey to Mars. This additive manufacturing test project is one of many projects from industry and academia SLS is funding to inform innovative and affordable solutions to evolve the launch vehicle from its initial configuration to its full lift capacity capable of sending humans farther into deep space than ever before.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls

Wednesday, 26 August 2015 15:36

NASA Tests 3D Printed Metal Rocket Fuel Pump

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One of the most complex, 3-D printed rocket engine parts ever made, a turbopump, got its “heartbeat” racing at more than 90,000 revolutions per minute (rpms) during a successful series of tests with liquid hydrogen propellant at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. These tests along with manufacturing and testing of injectors and other rocket engine parts are paving the way for advancements in 3-D printing of complex rocket engines and more efficient production of future spacecraft.

Additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, is a key technology for enhancing space vehicle designs and enabling affordable missions to Mars. The turbopump is a critical rocket engine component with a turbine that spins and generates more than 2,000 horsepower--twice the horsepower of a NASCAR engine. Over the course of 15 tests, the turbopump reached full power, delivering 1,200 gallons of cryogenic liquid hydrogen per minute--enough to power an upper stage rocket engine capable of generating 35,000 pounds of thrust.

“Designing, building, and testing a 3-D printed rocket part as complex as the fuel pump was crucial to Marshall’s upcoming tests of an additively manufactured demonstrator engine made almost entirely with 3-D printed parts,” said Mary Beth Koelbl, deputy manager of Marshall’s Propulsion Systems Department. “By testing this fuel pump and other rocket parts made with additive manufacturing, NASA aims to drive down the risks and costs associated with using an entirely new process to build rocket engines.”

The 3-D printed turbopump has 45 percent fewer parts than similar pumps made with traditional welding and assembly techniques. Marshall engineers designed the fuel pump and its components and leveraged the expertise of four suppliers to build the parts using 3-D printing processes. To make each part, a design is entered into a 3-D printer's computer. The printer then builds each part by layering metal powder and fusing it together with a laser, using a process known as selective laser melting.

“NASA is making big advances in the additive manufacturing arena with this work," said Marty Calvert, Marshall’s design lead for the turbopump. “Several companies have indicated that the parts for this fuel pump were the most complex they have ever made with 3-D printing.”

During the tests, the 3-D printed turbopump was exposed to extreme environments experienced inside a rocket engine where fuel is burned at greater than 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit (3,315 degrees Celsius) to produce thrust.  The turbopump delivers the fuel in the form of liquid hydrogen cooled below 400 degrees Fahrenheit (-240 degrees Celsius). Testing helps ensure 3-D printed parts operate successfully under these harsh conditions. Test data are available to American companies working to drive down the cost of using this new manufacturing process to build parts that meet aerospace standards. All data on materials characterization and performance are compiled in NASA’s Materials and Processes Technical Information System, called MAPTIS, which is available to approved users.

“Our team designed and tested the fuel pump and other parts, such as injectors and valves, for the additive manufactured demonstrator engine in just two years,” said Nick Case, a propulsion engineer and systems lead for the turbopump work. “If we used traditional manufacturing processes, it would have taken us double that time. Using a completely new manufacturing technique allowed NASA to design components for an additively manufactured demonstration engine in a whole new way.”

In addition to sharing test data with industry, the innovative engine designs can be provided to American companies developing future spaceflight engines. The engine thrust class and propellants were designed within the performance parameters applicable to an advanced configuration of NASA's Space Launch System, referred to as Block II. It will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever built and provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system to places like Mars.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/sls

NASA and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, known as America Makes, are holding a new $2.25 million competition to design and build a 3-D printed habitat for deep space exploration, including the agency’s journey to Mars.

The multi-phase 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge, part of NASA's Centennial Challenges program, is designed to advance the additive construction technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth and beyond.

Shelter is among the most basic and crucial human needs, but packing enough materials and equipment to build a habitat on a distant planet would take up valuable cargo space that could be used for other life-sustaining provisions. The ability to manufacture a habitat using indigenous materials, combined with material that would otherwise be waste from the spacecraft, would be invaluable.

The first phase of the competition, announced at the Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo, California, runs through Sept. 27. This phase, a design competition, calls on participants to develop state-of-the-art architectural concepts that take advantage of the unique capabilities 3-D printing offers. The top 30 submissions will be judged and a prize purse of $50,000 will be awarded at the 2015 World Maker Faire in New York.

"The future possibilities for 3-D printing are inspiring, and the technology is extremely important to deep space exploration," said Sam Ortega, Centennial Challenges program manager. "This challenge definitely raises the bar from what we are currently capable of, and we are excited to see what the maker community does with it."

The second phase of the competition is divided into two levels. The Structural Member Competition (Level 1) focuses on the fabrication technologies needed to manufacture structural components from a combination of indigenous materials and recyclables, or indigenous materials alone. The On-Site Habitat Competition (Level 2) challenges competitors to fabricate full-scale habitats using indigenous materials or indigenous materials combined with recyclables. Both levels open for registration Sept. 26, and each carries a $1.1 million prize.

Winning concepts and products will help NASA build the technical expertise to send habitat-manufacturing machines to distant destinations, such as Mars, to build shelters for the human explorers who follow. On Earth, these capabilities may be used one day to construct affordable housing in remote locations with limited access to conventional building materials.

"America Makes is honored to be a partner in this potentially revolutionary competition," said Ralph Resnick, founding director of America Makes. "We believe that 3D printing/Additive Manufacturing has the power to fundamentally change the way people approach design and construction for habitats, both on earth and off, and we are excitedly awaiting submissions from all types of competitors.”

America Makes is a public/private partnership of organizations focused on accelerating the capabilities and adoption of additive manufacturing technology.

The Centennial Challenges Program is managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama for the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information, visit: www.americaMakes.us/challenge

When you think of copper, the penny in your pocket may come to mind; but NASA engineers are trying to save taxpayers millions of pennies by 3-D printing the first full-scale, copper rocket engine part.

“Building the first full-scale, copper rocket part with additive manufacturing is a milestone for aerospace 3-D printing,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Additive manufacturing is one of many technologies we are embracing to help us continue our journey to Mars and even sustain explorers living on the Red Planet.”

Numerous complex parts made of many different materials are assembled to make engines that provide the thrust that powers rockets. Additive manufacturing has the potential to reduce the time and cost of making rocket parts like the copper liner found in rocket combustion chambers where super-cold propellants are mixed and heated to the extreme temperatures needed to send rockets to space.

“On the inside of the paper-edge-thin copper liner wall, temperatures soar to over 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and we have to keep it from melting by recirculating gases cooled to less than 100 degrees above absolute zero on the other side of the wall,” said Chris Singer, director of the Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the copper rocket engine liner was manufactured. “To circulate the gas, the combustion chamber liner has more than 200 intricate channels built between the inner and outer liner wall. Making these tiny passages with complex internal geometries challenged our additive manufacturing team.”

A selective laser melting machine in Marshall’s Materials and Processing Laboratory fused 8,255 layers of copper powder to make the chamber in 10 days and 18 hours. Before making the liner, materials engineers built several other test parts, characterized the material and created a process for additive manufacturing with copper.

“Copper is extremely good at conducting heat,” explained Zach Jones, the materials engineer who led the manufacturing at Marshall. “That’s why copper is an ideal material for lining an engine combustion chamber and for other parts as well, but this property makes the additive manufacturing of copper challenging because the laser has difficulty continuously melting the copper powder.”

Only a handful of copper rocket parts have been made with additive manufacturing, so NASA is breaking new technological ground by 3-D printing a rocket component that must withstand both extreme hot and cold temperatures and has complex cooling channels built on the outside of an inner wall that is as thin as a pencil mark. The part is built with GRCo-84, a copper alloy created by materials scientists at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, where extensive materials characterization helped validate the 3-D printing processing parameters and ensure build quality. Glenn will develop an extensive database of mechanical properties that will be used to guide future 3-D printed rocket engine designs. To increase U.S. industrial competitiveness, data will be made available to American manufacturers in NASA’s Materials and Processing Information System (MAPTIS) managed by Marshall.

“Our goal is to build rocket engine parts up to 10 times faster and reduce cost by more than 50 percent,” said Chris Protz, the Marshall propulsion engineer leading the project. “We are not trying to just make and test one part. We are developing a repeatable process that industry can adopt to manufacture engine parts with advanced designs. The ultimate goal is to make building rocket engines more affordable for everyone.”

Manufacturing the copper liner is only the first step of the Low Cost Upper Stage-Class Propulsion Project funded by NASA’s Game Changing Development Program in the Space Technology Mission Directorate. NASA’s Game Changing Program funds the development of technologies that will revolutionize future space endeavors, including NASA’s journey to Mars. The next step in this project is for Marshall engineers to ship the copper liner to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where an electron beam freedom fabrication facility will direct deposit a nickel super-alloy structural jacket onto the outside of the copper liner. Later this summer, the engine component will be hot-fire tested at Marshall to determine how the engine performs under extreme temperatures and pressures simulating the conditions inside the engine as it burns propellant during a rocket flight.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov

Thursday, 23 April 2015 15:15

NASA Creates Advanced Composites Consortium

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NASA has established a public-private partnership with five organizations to advance knowledge about composite materials that could improve the performance of future aircraft.

Composites are innovative materials for building aircraft that can enhance strength while remaining lightweight. The agency selected the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) in Hampton, Virginia, to manage administration of the Advanced Composites Consortium, which is working to improve composite materials research and certification.

Included in the consortium are NASA's Advanced Composites Project, managed from the agency's Langley Research Center in Hampton; the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); General Electric Aviation, Cincinnati; Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, Palmdale, California; Boeing Research & Technology, St. Louis; a team from United Technologies Corporation led by subsidiary Pratt & Whitney in Hartford, Connecticut; and the NIA.

"NASA is committed to transforming aviation through cutting edge research and development," said Jaiwon Shin, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington. "This partnership will help bring better composite materials into use more quickly, and help maintain American leadership in aviation manufacturing."

The NIA will handle communications within the consortium and help manage the programmatic and financial aspects of members' research projects. The NIA will also serve as a "tier two" member with a representative on the consortium's technical oversight committee.

NASA formed the consortium in support of the Advanced Composites Project, which is part of the Advanced Air Vehicles Program in the agency's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. The project's goal is to reduce product development and certification timelines by 30 percent for composites infused into aeronautics applications.

A panel of NASA, FAA and Air Force Research Laboratory experts reviewed 20 submissions and chose the members based on their technical expertise, willingness and ability to share in costs, certification experience with government agencies, and their focused technology areas and partnership histories.

Representatives from each organization in the consortium participated in technology goal planning discussions, assembled cooperative research teams, and developed draft plans for projects in three areas: prediction of life and strength of composite structures; rapid inspection of composites; and manufacturing process and simulation.

For more information, visit: www.nianet.org

Registration now is open for NASA's Cube Quest Challenge, the agency’s first in-space competition that offers the agency’s largest-ever prize purse.

Competitors have a shot at a share of $5 million in prize money and an opportunity to participate in space exploration and technology development, to include a chance at flying their very own CubeSat to the moon and beyond as secondary payload on the first integrated flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

"NASA's Cube Quest Challenge will engage teams in the development of the new technologies that will advance the state of the art of CubeSats and demonstrate their capabilities as viable deep space explorers," said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Prize competitions like this engage the general public and directly contribute to NASA's goals while serving as a tool for open innovation."

Challenge objectives include designing, building and delivering flight-qualified, small satellites capable of advanced operations near and beyond the moon. The challenge and prize purse are divided into three major areas:

  • Ground Tournaments: $500,000 in the four qualifying ground tournaments to determine who will have the ability to fly on the first SLS flight;

  • Lunar Derby: $3 million for demonstrating the ability to place a CubeSat in a stable lunar orbit and demonstrate communication and durability near the moon; and

  • Deep Space Derby: $1.5 million for demonstrating communication and CubeSat durability at a distance greater than almost 2.5 million miles (4,000,000 km), 10 times the distance from the Earth to the moon

The Cube Quest Challenge seeks to develop and test subsystems necessary to perform deep space exploration using small spacecraft. Advancements in small spacecraft capabilities will provide benefits to future missions and also may enable entirely new mission scenarios, including future investigations of near-Earth asteroids.

"Cube Quest is an important competition for the agency as well as the commercial space sector," said Eric Eberly, deputy program manager for Centennial Challenges at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "If we can produce capabilities usually associated with larger spacecraft in the much smaller platform of CubeSats, a dramatic improvement in the affordability of space missions will result, greatly increasing science and research possibilities."

All teams may compete in any one of the four ground tournaments. Teams that rate high on mission safety and probability of success will receive incremental awards. The ground tournaments will be held every four to six months and participation is required to earn a secondary payload spot on SLS.

The Lunar Derby focuses primarily on propulsion for small spacecraft and near-Earth communications, while the Deep Space Derby focuses on finding innovative solutions to deep space communications using small spacecraft. Together, these competitions will contribute to opening deep space exploration to non-government spacecraft.

NASA's Centennial Challenges Program is part of the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is responsible for innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use on future NASA missions. During the next 18 months, the directorate will make significant new investments to address several high-priority challenges for achieving safe and affordable deep space exploration. The challenges help find the most innovative solutions to technical challenges through competition and cooperation. There have been 24 Centennial Challenges events since 2005. NASA has awarded more than $6 million to 16 challenge-winning teams.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/cubequest

Today’s innovations in science and technology are being driven by new capabilities in additive manufacturing.  Also known as 3-D printing, this approach is changing the speed, cost and flexibility of designing and building future machines for space and earth applications.

NASA’s Game Changing Development Program in the Space Technology and Mission Directorate has been actively funding research in 3-D printing and co-funded a recent groundbreaking test series with Aerojet Rocketdyne (AR) at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. Recently, AR in partnership with NASA, successfully completed the first hot-fire tests on an advanced rocket engine thrust chamber assembly using copper alloy materials.  This was the first time a series of rigorous tests confirmed that 3-D manufactured copper parts could withstand the heat and pressure required of combustion engines used in space launches.

In all, NASA and AR conducted 19 hot-fire tests on four injector and thrust chamber assembly configurations, exploring various mixture ratios and injector operability points and were deemed fully successful against the planned test program.

“The successful hot fire test of subscale engine components provides confidence in the additive manufacturing process and paves the way for full scale development,” says Tyler Hickman, lead engineer for the test at Glenn.

The work is a major milestone in the development and certification of different materials used in this manufacturing process.  According to AR, copper alloys offer unique challenges to the additive manufacturing processes.  The microstructure and material properties can be well below typical copper. So they have worked through a regimented process to optimize and lock down processing characteristics and have performed rigorous materials tests to know how the alloy performs structurally.

“Additively manufactured metal propulsion components are truly a paradigm shift for the aerospace industry,” says Paul Senick, Glenn project manager. “NASA and its commercial partners continue to invest in additive manufacturing technologies, which will improve efficiency and bring down the cost of space launches and other earth applications.”

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/home

America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. In recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machinery. These tools are enabling more Americans to design and make almost anything, and the applications to space exploration will help our astronauts to be less reliant on materials from Earth as they explore farther out into the solar system.

NASA in conjunction with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation, has issued a series of "Future Engineers" 3D Space Challenges for students focused on solving real-world space exploration problems. Students will become the creators and innovators of tomorrow by using 3D modeling software to submit their designs and have the opportunity for their design to be printed on the first 3D printer aboard the International Space Station. The winning student will watch from NASA’s Payload Operations Center with the mission control team as the item is printed in space.

The Design a Space Tool Challenge is the first in series of challenges where students in grades K-12 will create and submit a digital 3D model of a tool that they think astronauts need in space. Future Engineers is a multi-year education initiative that consists of 3D Space Challenges and curriculum videos on the site that parents and educators can use to get kids designing today.

NASA’s 3D Printing in Zero-G ISS Technology Demonstration will demonstrate the capability of utilizing a Made In Space 3D printer for in-space additive manufacturing technology. This is the first step toward realizing an additive manufacturing, print-on-demand “machine shop” for long-duration missions and sustaining human exploration of other planets, where there is extremely limited ability and availability of Earth-based logistics support. If an astronaut tool breaks, future space pioneers won’t be able to go to the local hardware store to purchase a replacement, but with 3D printing they will be able to create their own replacement or create tools we’ve never seen before. For NASA as well as the Maker community, 3D printing provides end-to-end product development.

NASA and the ASME Foundation will work together to inspire the next generation of space enthusiasts by highlighting student’s 3D designs submissions in Maker Community Challenge Showcases and in on online open hardware design repository.

For more information, visit: www.futureengineers.org

Friday, 19 September 2014 14:58

3D Printer Headed to International Space Station

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It’s not quite the replicator of Star Trek fame—but it’s seemingly a step in that direction. The first 3D printer is soon to fly into Earth orbit, finding a home aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The size of a small microwave, the unit is called Portal. The hardware serves as a test bed for evaluating how well 3D printing and the microgravity of space combine. Its use in space signals an new era of off-world manufacturing.

The foundation for 3D printing is also known as “additive manufacturing," which has been evolving for more than three decades. The technology has picked up speed more recently due to new materials and new applications. A 3D printer works by extruding heated plastic, and then builds successive layers to make a three-dimensional object. In essence, this test on the ISS might well lead to establishing a “machine shop” in space. The technology demonstration will print objects in the space station’s Microgravity Science Glovebox. The soon-to-fly 3D printer can churn out plastic objects within a span of 15 minutes to an hour.

The company behind the Portal 3D printer is Made In Space—a fitting name for this Silicon Valley team comprised of entrepreneurs, space experts and key 3D printing developers. Made In Space is located in the research park at NASA’s Ames Research Center in northern California. Made In Space was formed in 2010 with the goal of enabling humanity’s future in space, focused on additive manufacturing technology for use in the space environment. According to the group, manufacturing assets in space, as opposed to launching them from Earth, will accelerate and broaden space development while providing unprecedented access for people on Earth to use in-space capabilities.

To be lofted into space aboard SpaceX’s next Dragon resupply mission to the ISS, the made-for-space 3D printer is a product of extensive development work. That effort entailed affiliations between NASA and Made In Space over the years, supported by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, research and development contracts under NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and the space agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. For example, working with NASA, Made In Space chalked up over 30,000 hours of 3D printing technology testing, and 400-plus parabolas of airborne microgravity test flights. Now the 3D printer is ready for liftoff.

The 3D printer experiment is being done under the tech directorate's Game Changing Development Program, a NASA thrust that seeks to identify and rapidly mature innovative/high impact capabilities and technologies for infusion in a broad array of future NASA missions.

The International Space Station Technology Development Office at the agency's Johnson Space Center provided the Made In Space team a list of some 20 parts they'd like to be able to manufacture in space. Most of the print designs for those parts have been pre-loaded onto the printer. A couple of print designs will be uplinked to the ISS and then printed.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

By the end of September, NASA aerospace engineer Jason Budinoff is expected to complete the first imaging telescopes ever assembled almost exclusively from 3-D-manufactured components.

“As far as I know, we are the first to attempt to build an entire instrument with 3-D printing,” said Budinoff, who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Under his multi-pronged project, funded by Goddard’s Internal Research and Development (IRAD) program, Budinoff is building a fully functional, 50-millimeter (2-inch) camera whose outer tube, baffles and optical mounts are all printed as a single structure. The instrument is appropriately sized for a CubeSat, a tiny satellite comprised of individual units each about four inches on a side. The instrument will be equipped with conventionally fabricated mirrors and glass lenses and will undergo vibration and thermal-vacuum testing next year.

Budinoff also is assembling a 350-millimeter (14-inch) dual-channel telescope whose size is more representative of a typical space telescope.

Budinoff is developing both to show that telescope and instrument structures can benefit from advances in additive manufacturing. With this technique, a computer-controlled laser melts and fuses metal powder in precise locations as indicated by a 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) model. Because components are built layer by layer, it is possible to design internal features and passages that could not be cast or machined using more traditional manufacturing approaches.

The goal isn’t to fly them, at least not yet. “This is a pathfinder,” Budinoff said. “When we build telescopes for science instruments, it usually involves hundreds of pieces. These components are complex and very expensive to build. But with 3-D printing, we can reduce the overall number of parts and make them with nearly arbitrary geometries. We’re not limited by traditional mill- and lathe-fabrication operations.”

In particular, the 2-inch instrument design involves the fabrication of four different pieces made from powdered aluminum and titanium. A comparable, traditionally manufactured camera would require between five and 10 times the number of parts, he said. Furthermore, the instrument’s baffling — the component that helps reduce stray light in telescopes — is angled in a pattern that instrument builders cannot create with traditional manufacturing approaches in a single piece.

When he completes the camera’s assembly at the end of the fiscal year — ready for space-qualification testing — the project will have taken a mere three months to complete for a fraction of the cost. “I basically want to show that additive-machined instruments can fly,” he said. “We will have mitigated the risk, and when future program managers ask, ‘Can we use this technology?’ we can say, ‘Yes, we already have qualified it.’”

Budinoff also wants to demonstrate that he can use powdered aluminum to produce 3-D-manufactured telescope mirrors — a challenge given how porous aluminum is, which makes it difficult to polish the surfaces. Under his plan, a 3-D-manufacturing vendor will fabricate an unpolished mirror blank appropriate for his two-inch instrument. He then will place the optic inside a pressure chamber filled with inert gas. As the gas pressure increases to 15,000 psi, the heated chamber in essence will squeeze the mirror to reduce the surface porosity — a process called hot isostatic pressing.

“We think this, combined with the deposition of a thin layer of aluminum on the surface and Goddard-developed aluminum stabilizing heat treatments, will enable 3-D-printed metal mirrors,” Budinoff said.

Should he prove the approach, Budinoff said NASA scientists would benefit enormously — particularly those interested in building infrared-sensing instruments, which typically operate at super-cold temperatures to gather the infrared light that can be easily overwhelmed by instrument-generated heat. Often, these instruments are made of different materials. However, if all the instrument’s components, including the mirrors, were made of aluminum, then many of the separate parts could be 3-D printed as single structures, reducing the parts count and material mismatch. This would decrease the number of interfaces and increase the instrument’s stability, Budinoff added.

Next year, he also plans to experiment with printing instrument components made of Invar alloy, a material being prepared for 3-D printing by Goddard technologist Tim Stephenson. The 100-year-old iron-nickel alloy offers extreme dimensional stability over a range of temperatures. The material is ideal for building super-stable, lightweight skeletons that support telescopes and other instruments.

“Anyone who builds optical instruments will benefit from what we’re learning here,” Budinoff said. “I think we can demonstrate an order-of-magnitude reduction in cost and time with 3-D printing.”

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov

3-D printers can create all kinds of things, from eyeglasses to implantable medical devices, straight from a computer model and without the need for molds. But for making spacecraft, engineers sometimes need custom parts that traditional manufacturing techniques and standard 3-D printers can’t create, because they need to have the properties of multiple metals. Now, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are implementing a printing process that transitions from one metal or alloy to another in a single object.

“You can have a continuous transition from alloy to alloy to alloy, and you can study a wide range of potential alloys,” said R. Peter Dillon, a technologist at JPL. “We think it’s going to change materials research in the future.”

Although gradient alloys have been created in the past in research and development settings, this is the first time these composite materials have been used in making objects, such as a mount for a mirror, said John Paul Borgonia, a JPL mechanical engineer.

Why would you need to make a machine part like this? Say you want a metal object where you would like the ends to have different properties. One side could have a high melting temperature and the other a low density, or one side could be magnetic and the other not. Of course, you could separately make both halves of the object from their respective metals and then weld them together. But the weld itself may be brittle, so that your new object might fall apart under stress. That’s not a good idea if you are constructing an interplanetary spacecraft, for example, which cannot be fixed once it is deployed.

JPL scientists have been developing a technique to address this problem since 2010. An effort to improve the methods of combining parts made of different materials in NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which safely landed the Curiosity rover on the Red Planet in 2012, inspired a project to 3-D print components with multiple alloy compositions.

Researchers from JPL, the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, and Pennsylvania State University, University Park, joined forces to tackle the issue. The result has implications for space travel and machinery on our own planet.

“We’re taking a standard 3-D printing process and combining the ability to change the metal powder that the part is being built with on the fly,” said Douglas Hofmann, a researcher in material science and metallurgy at JPL, and visiting associate at Caltech. “You can constantly be changing the composition of the material.”

In their new technique, Hofmann and his colleagues deposit layers of metal on a rotating rod, thus transitioning metals from the inside out, rather than adding layers from bottom to top, as in the more traditional 3-D printing technique. A laser melts metal powder to create the layers.

Future space missions may incorporate parts made with this technique. The auto industry and the commercial aerospace industry may also find it useful, Hofmann said.

A report on this work was published in Scientific Reports on June 19. Coauthors include Douglas Hofmann; Scott Roberts, Joanna Kolodziejska and Andrew A. Shapiro from Caltech and JPL; R. Peter Dillon, Jong-ook Suh, and John-Paul Borgonia from JPL; and Richard Otis and Zi-Kui Liu from Pennsylvania State University. The work was funded by NASA. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov

Scientists finally have their hands on a piece of Mars, sort of. Technology seemingly straight out of Star Trek allowed the replication of a rock on Mars using a 3D printer.

The result is a realistic looking, true-size facsimile of a martian meteorite called "Block Island." NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity found it in 2009. Block Island is the largest meteorite yet found on Mars. It is an iron-nickle meteorite about the size of a small ice chest. The real Block Island probably weighs a half-ton. You could easily carry its plastic twin under an arm.

Most meteorites break up when hitting the ground because today's martian atmosphere is not dense enough to slow them down enough. Scientists say this meteorite could have landed on Mars intact only if it had two things: a very specific entry point into the atmosphere and a very shallow flight path. That would slow it down enough to keep it from breaking apart upon landing.

This 3D-printer model of a meteorite is the first of its kind, made from precise measurements by a rover on Mars. It potentially opens the door to other detailed models of objects and terrain on Mars or elsewhere in the solar system. Researchers expect the technology will also find uses in other applications on Earth, such as life-size 3D reproductions of remote objects or settings.

Scientists based the design of the plastic meteorite on detailed measurements and stereo images taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera, or PanCam. The rover took pictures during its 360-degree study of Block Island five years ago. Researcher Kris Capraro works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He says one reason the rock could not be replicated back in 2009 is that the rover could not see every square inch of the meteorite. The missing data created holes in the computer model. That made the rock data unfit for 3D printing (stereolithography). The first model Capraro tried to make had lots of holes, so it wouldn't hold together. It looked like a partially melted plastic pot scrubber.

Last summer, said Capraro, researchers solved the problem of filling in the missing data and built several small models of the meteorite. "Holding one of these small models in your hand was very cool," said Capraro, "but to experience the meteorite that lay before Opportunity, it had to be BIG -- an actual-size model of the meteorite." Creating a life-size model was the only "natural" way to visualize fully what Opportunity beamed home as a 2D image to humankind on Earth."

The researchers applied software methods usually used to help navigate the rover. They created depth meshes of the meteorite's surface from six positions, then combined them into a three-dimensional digital model, said Capraro.

The 3D printer used for the project is a mainstream tool used in office and light industrial settings. It builds the model from a spool of ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), a common plastic about the diameter of weed-whacker cord. To build the contour of the object it is replicating, the printer slowly heats the plastic and layers it precisely.

"It's been an interesting challenge to create the large 3D model," said Capraro, who also creates navigation maps of the Martian surface for planning rover drive paths. The rock was much bigger than the 3D printer's building space, about the size of the inside of a kitchen oven. To solve that problem, researchers broke up the computer model of the meteorite into 11 sections. It took 305 hours and 36 minutes to print the parts: 281.11 cubic inches of acrylic thermoplastic media and 37.29 cubic inches of plastic support media that forms the support structure inside the rock model. Then, researchers were ready to assemble the parts. Then they finished by painting it to match the real rock's color based on rover images. For now, said Capraro, "it's the next best thing to bringing back real Martian rock samples back to Earth."

For more information, visit: marsrover.nasa.gov/home/index.html

NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne of West Palm Beach, Florida, recently finished testing a rocket engine injector made through additive manufacturing or 3d printing.

This space technology demonstration may lead to more efficient manufacturing of rocket engines, saving American companies time and money.

NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland conducted the successful tests for Aerojet Rocketdyne through a non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement.

A series of firings of a liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen rocket injector assembly demonstrated the ability to design, manufacture and test a highly critical rocket engine component using selective laser melting manufacturing technology. Aerojet Rocketdyne designed and fabricated the injector by a method that employs high-powered laser beams to melt and fuse fine metallic powders into three dimensional structures.

"NASA recognizes that on Earth and potentially in space, additive manufacturing can be game-changing for new mission opportunities, significantly reducing production time and cost by 'printing' tools, engine parts or even entire spacecraft," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington. "3-D manufacturing offers opportunities to optimize the fit, form and delivery systems of materials that will enable our space missions while directly benefiting American businesses here on Earth."

This type of injector manufactured with traditional processes would take more than a year to make but with these new processes it can be produced in less than four months, with a 70 percent reduction in cost.

"Rocket engine components are complex machined pieces that require significant labor and time to produce. The injector is one of the most expensive components of an engine," said Tyler Hickman, who led the testing at Glenn.

Aerojet Rocketdyne's additive manufacturing program manager, Jeff Haynes, said the injector represents a significant advancement in application of additive manufacturing, most often used to make simple brackets and other less critical hardware. "The injector is the heart of a rocket engine and represents a large portion of the resulting cost of these systems. Today, we have the results of a fully additive manufactured rocket injector with a demonstration in a relevant environment." he said.

Glenn and Aerojet Rocketdyne partnered on the project with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, California. At the Air Force lab, a unique high-pressure facility provided pre-test data early in the program to give insight into the spray patterns of additively manufactured injector elements.

"Hot fire testing the injector as part of a rocket engine is a significant accomplishment in maturing additive manufacturing for use in rocket engines," said Carol Tolbert, manager of the Manufacturing Innovation Project at Glenn. "These successful tests let us know that we are ready to move on to demonstrate the feasibility of developing full-size, additively manufactured parts."

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/glenn

In preparation for a future where parts and tools can be printed on demand in space, NASA and Made in Space Inc. of Mountain View, California, have joined to launch equipment for the first 3-D microgravity printing experiment to the International Space Station.

If successful, the 3-D Printing in Zero G Experiment (3-D Print) will be the first device to manufacture parts in space. 3-D Print will use extrusion additive manufacturing, which builds objects, layer by layer, out of polymers and other materials. The 3-D Print hardware is scheduled to be certified and ready for launch to the space station next year.

"As NASA ventures further into space, whether redirecting an asteroid or sending humans to Mars, we'll need transformative technology to reduce cargo weight and volume," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said during a recent tour of the agency's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. "In the future, perhaps astronauts will be able to print the tools or components they need while in space."

NASA is a government leader in 3-D printing for engineering applications. The technology holds tremendous potential for future space exploration. One day, 3-D printing may allow an entire spacecraft to be manufactured in space, eliminating design constraints caused by the challenges and mass constraints of launching from Earth. This same technology may help revolutionize American manufacturing and benefit U.S. industries.

"The president's Advanced Manufacturing Initiative cites additive manufacturing, or '3-D printing,' as one of the key technologies that will keep U.S. companies competitive and maintain world leadership in our new global technology economy," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington. "We're taking that technology to new heights, by working with Made in Space to test 3-D printing aboard the space station. Taking advantage of our orbiting national laboratory, we'll be able to test new manufacturing techniques that benefit our astronauts and America's technology development pipeline."

In addition to manufacturing spacecraft designs in orbit, 3-D printers also could work with robotic systems to create tools and habitats needed for human missions to Mars and other planetary destinations. Housing and laboratories could be fabricated by robots using printed building blocks that take advantage of in-situ resources, such as soil or minerals. Astronauts on long-duration space missions also could print and recycle tools as they are needed, saving mass, volume and resources.

"The 3-D Print experiment with NASA is a step towards the future," said Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made in Space. "The ability to 3-D print parts and tools on demand greatly increases the reliability and safety of space missions while also dropping the cost by orders of magnitude. The first printers will start by building test items, such as computer component boards, and will then build a broad range of parts, such as tools and science equipment."

Made in Space previously partnered with NASA through the agency's Flight Opportunities Program to test its prototype 3-D Print additive manufacturing equipment on suborbital simulated microgravity flights. NASA's Flight Opportunities Program offers businesses and researchers the ability to fly new technologies to the edge of space and back for testing before launching them into the harsh space environment.

For this mission, Made in Space was awarded a Phase III small business innovation and research contract from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. After flight certification, NASA plans to ship 3-D Print to the space station aboard an American commercial resupply mission. NASA is working with American industry to develop commercially-provided U.S. spacecraft and launch vehicles for delivery of cargo -- and eventually crew -- to the International Space Station.

For more information about Made in Space, visit: www.madeinspace.us

Eleven teams from across the country and around the globe are preparing to compete for $1.5 million during NASA's 2013 Sample Return Robot Challenge, June 5-7 at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Teams will demonstrate a robot that can locate and collect geologic samples from a wide and varied terrain, operating without human control. The objective of this NASA-WPI Centennial Challenge is to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotics technologies. Innovations stemming from the challenge could improve NASA's capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation's robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth.

"Anticipation is high for a successful sample collection this year," said Sam Ortega, program manager of Centennial Challenges, which is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "Last year, teams were finding their footing and tweaking their designs. This year, we have several teams that know what they're up against, and they can't wait to get back on the field. We have a lot of new competitors signed up. Improving this technology will be a huge boon, not just to NASA and space exploration, but also for countless applications here on Earth."

There will be two levels of competition. For a robot to complete Level 1 successfully, it must leave from a starting platform in search of a sample that has been previously identified in the robot's onboard computer. The robot must then autonomously return one undamaged sample to its starting platform within a 30-minute time limit. Only teams that complete Level 1 will be allowed to compete in Level 2.

To complete Level 2 successfully, a robot must autonomously return at least two undamaged samples, including the pre-cached sample, to its starting platform within a two-hour time limit.

Samples are categorized as easy, intermediate and hard based on the complexity of their shape, size and design, with higher point values given for samples classified as hard. Samples range in shape and size from rectangular (like a shoe box) or round (like a tennis ball). Prize awards will range from $100,000 to $1.5 million depending on the amount of points scored.

This is the second Sample Robot Return competition. During last year's competition, also at WPI, 11 teams registered to compete and the field narrowed to six as the competition approached. After robot inspections, only one team met the contest's rigorous requirements. That robot competed in Level 1, but failed to collect the required samples in the allotted time, so no prize money was awarded.

The Centennial Challenges program does not award funds to competitors unless the challenge objectives have been met. This assures desired results are gained before government funds are paid.

Returning teams this year include SpacePRIDE of Graniteville, S.C.; Survey of Los Angeles; Wunderkammer of Topanga, Calif.; Intrepid of Lynnwood, Wash.; and the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. New teams entering the competition are Fetch of Alexandria, Va.; Middleman of Dunedin, Fla.; Mystic Late Robots of The Woodlands, Texas; Team AERO of Worcester, Mass.; the Autonomous Rover Team of the University of California at Santa Cruz; and Kuukuglur of Estonia.

The challenge begins on the WPI campus Wednesday, June 5, with awards expected on Saturday, June 8, if competition objectives are met. The awards ceremony will take place during the day-long TouchTomorrow technology festival hosted by WPI. The festival will showcase the teams and robots as well as NASA and WPI exhibits in science, robotics and space technology. The TouchTomorrow festival is open to the public.

For more information, visit: touchtomorrow.wpi.edu

Registration is open for teams seeking to compete in the $1.5 million energy storage competition known as the Night Rover Challenge, sponsored by NASA and the Cleantech Open of Palo Alto, California.

To win, a team must demonstrate a stored energy system that can power a simulated solar-powered exploration vehicle that can operate through multiple cycles of daylight and extended periods of darkness.

"The goal of the Night Rover Challenge is to stimulate innovations in energy storage technologies of value in extreme space environments, such as the surface of the moon, or for electric vehicles and renewable energy systems here on Earth," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "NASA wants this challenge to generate new ideas that will allow planetary rovers the ability to take on a night shift, and possibly create new energy storage technologies for applications of benefit here on our home planet."

This is a Centennial Challenge in which NASA provides the prize purse for technological achievements by independent teams while the Cleantech Open manages the competition as NASA's allied organization. The challenge is extended to individuals, groups and companies working outside the traditional aerospace industry. Unlike most contracts or grants, awards will be made only after solutions are demonstrated successfully.

During the Night Rover Challenge energy storage systems will receive electrical energy from a simulated solar collector during daylight hours. During darkness, the stored energy will be used for simulated thermal management, scientific experimentation, communications and rover movement. A winning system must exceed the performance of an existing state-of-the-art system by a pre-determined margin. The winning system will be the one that has the highest energy storage density.

"The partnership NASA has with the Cleantech Open allows us to leverage taxpayer dollars in advancing technology development in this critical area," said Larry Cooper, Centennial Challenges program executive at NASA Headquarters. "Technology development is a priority for NASA; we push technology development effectively by partnering with industry and academia to advance our nation's space exploration and science goals while maintaining America's technology edge."

Since the program's inception in 2005, NASA's Centennial Challenges has awarded more than $6 million to 15 different competition-winning teams through 23 events. Competitors have included private companies, citizen inventors and academia working outside the traditional aerospace industry. The competitions are managed by nonprofit organizations that cover the cost of operations through commercial or private sponsorships.

The Cleantech Open bills itself as the world's largest accelerator for renewable, or clean, energy technology development. Its mission is to find, fund and foster entrepreneurs with big ideas that address today's most urgent energy, environmental, and economic challenges. A not-for-profit organization, the Cleantech Open provides the infrastructure, expertise and strategic relationships that turn clever ideas into successful global clean-technology companies.

For information, visit: www.nightrover.org

Tuesday, 12 March 2013 10:30

NASA Launches Exploration Design Challenge

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NASA unveiled an Exploration Design Challenge to give students from kindergarten through 12th grade the opportunity to play a unique role in the future of human spaceflight. The innovative educational opportunity was announced in a special event at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The challenge asks students in the U.S. and abroad to think and act like scientists to overcome one of the major hurdles for deep space long-duration exploration -- protecting astronauts and hardware from the dangers of space radiation.

This education-focused effort was developed through a Space Act Agreement between NASA and Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., in collaboration with the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton, Va. The goal is to help students see their role in America's future exploration endeavors.

"America's next step in human space exploration is an ambitious one and will require new technologies, including ways to keep our astronauts safe from the effects of deep-space radiation," Bolden said. "That is the focus of this challenge, and we are excited students will be helping us solve that problem."

The announcement took place in front of a full-size Orion replica at Johnson's Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. Orion is the spacecraft that will take astronauts to deep space destinations in the future. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, NASA Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer, Lockheed Martin CEO and President Marillyn Hewson, and NASA Associate Administrator for Education Leland Melvin were at the event. They were joined by local teacher Amber Pinchback, who offered an educator's perspective on the value of NASA missions and programs and how they benefit science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the classroom.

"Space exploration has inspired and fascinated young people for generations, and the Exploration Design Challenge is a unique way to capture and engage the imaginations of tomorrow's engineers and scientists," Hewson said.

The first Orion test mission in space is called Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1). The mission is set to lift off in 2014 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Melvin, a two-time shuttle astronaut, explained the details of the challenge and shared why hands-on experience and involvement is an effective catalyst for engaging young minds in the future of America's human spaceflight program.

"Exploration Flight Test-1 is set to launch next year, so participating in this challenge will give the students a real sense of being part of the NASA team," Melvin said. "They will be able to chart Orion's progress as it moves closer to the test launch. That's important because these students represent our future scientists, engineers and explorers."

NASA is planning for longer human space exploration missions outside the protective blanket of Earth's atmosphere and magnetosphere. NASA, Lockheed Martin and other partners are developing the Orion spacecraft to carry astronauts farther into space than humans ever have gone before. To do this, materials must be engineered for the spacecraft that will better protect future space explorers from the dangers of space radiation. In 2017, NASA's Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, currently in development, will send Orion on a flight test mission around the moon.

NASA's Exploration Design Challenge brings cutting-edge learning to educators and students using standards-based activities, as well as print and video resources developed by leading education experts. Students taking part in the challenge will discover how to plan and design improved radiation shielding aboard the new spacecraft.

Younger students, in grades K-4 and 5-8, will analyze different materials that simulate space radiation shielding for Orion and recommend materials that best block harmful radiation and protect astronauts. Students in grades 9-12 will learn about radiation and human space travel in greater detail. Using what they have learned, they will be asked to think and act like engineers by designing shielding that protects a sensor on the Orion capsule from space radiation.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/education/edc

NASA is inviting potential partners to help the agency achieve its strategic goals for education.

Using its unique missions, discoveries, and assets, NASA supports education inside and outside the formal classroom to inspire and motivate educators and learners of all ages in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The agency is seeking unfunded partnerships with organizations to engage new or broader audiences across a national scale.

NASA recognizes the benefit of leveraging those unique resources and abilities that partners can provide in order to improve efficiency and maximize impact of its STEM efforts. This announcement requests information from organizations interested in working with NASA to improve STEM education in America.

Potential partnership activities are varied, and NASA is receptive to a wide range of possibilities. All categories of domestic groups, including U.S. federal government agencies, are eligible to respond to this announcement. NASA particularly seeks responses from creative organizations with wide-ranging areas of expertise that can affect systemic change for improving STEM education. NASA will accept responses through Dec. 31, 2014. Review of responses will begin April 1.

For more information, visit: go.nasa.gov/VgRZYt

A materials research scientist who works at NASA's Langley Research Center has been named 2013 Robert A. Mitcheltree Young Engineer of the Year - an award presented by the Hampton Roads Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Dr. Hyun Jung Kim, who conducts her research in the Advanced Materials and Processing Branch at NASA Langley, but works for the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), is an internationally recognized scientist in the field of solid-state physics and energy harvesting, including advanced thermoelectric and solar cells.

The local AIAA chapter cites her work as, "a remarkable achievement in the field of thermoelectric material development and a gateway to utilize waste heat recovery technology for the green energy.” Her work at NASA Langley includes new material configurations and has led to a number of patent and invention disclosures related to emerging thermoelectrics and solar cell technologies.

“Dr. Kim is a very intelligent and gifted scientist who consistently has excellent solutions to challenging technical problems, and enjoys exploring new and interesting areas of research,” said Robert Bryant, NASA Langley's Advanced Materials and Processing Branch head. “One of the difficulties with her research topics is that the materials and devices do not exist and have to be created from the ground up. Consequently, the methods and instrumentation to measure and compare their effectiveness against the current technology also has to be developed from the ground up.”

This marks the second consecutive year that a member of NIA’s research staff, who works at NASA Langley, has been named Hampton Roads Section AIAAYoung Engineer of the Year. The local chapter is one of the largest chapters of the professional organization in the nation, and the nomination process for this award is highly competitive.

As the recipient of this award, Kim is also the HRS nominee for the Peninsula Engineers Council (PEC) 2013 Doug Ensor Award.

For more information, visit: info.aiaa.org/Regions/NE/Hampton_Roads/default.aspx

Thursday, 13 December 2012 12:05

NASA Named Best Place to Work in Government

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NASA was named the best place to work in the federal government among large agencies in a survey released today by the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization. This ranking, which reflects NASA's highest results since this index was developed, makes clear that the agency's work force is focused on carrying out the nation's new and ambitious space program.

"The best workforce in the nation has made NASA the best place to work in federal government," said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, who is accepting the award at a ceremony this morning in Washington, D.C. "Our employees are carrying out the nation's new strategic missions in space with heart-stopping landings on Mars, cutting-edge science and ground-breaking partnerships with American companies to resupplying the space station. They are truly leading in the innovation economy."

The rankings are based on responses from nearly 700,000 federal workers. The Best Places to Work rankings are based on data from the Office of Personnel Management's annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey conducted from April through June 2012 and additional survey data from nine agencies plus the Intelligence Community. This is the seventh edition of the Best Places to Work rankings since the first in 2003.

NASA's Stennis Space Center was ranked second in the sub-agency component category.

During the past year, NASA's employees continued to implement America's ambitious space exploration program, landing the most sophisticated rover on the surface of Mars, carrying out the first-ever commercial mission to the International Space Station and advancing the systems needed to send humans deeper into space.

Just last week, NASA announced the next Mars rover mission and recently announced the first year-long crew stay on the International Space Station. As the agency continues developing the capabilities to explore the solar system and beyond, as well as understand our home planet and make life better here, workers with a wide range of skills and interests will be critical.

For more about NASA, visit: nasajobs.nasa.gov

NASA is offering high school junior girls from across the United States an opportunity to jump-start their future by participating in the Women In STEM High School (WISH) Aerospace Scholars program for 2013.

WISH participants will participate in online forums focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) topics, and complete online activities to qualify for a six-day summer experience at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. During the summer experience, they will work with mentors to design a mission to Mars, interact with NASA female role models, and mingle with scientists and engineers as they learn about careers in STEM.

Applications are due January 3, 2013. Applicants must be U.S. citizens, female high school juniors with a cumulative GPA of 3.25 or higher and interested in STEM. They must have access to the Internet and e-mail, be able to commit to the project for one year and participate in the Johnson summer program in 2013.

For more information, visit: wish.aerospacescholars.org

Wednesday, 05 December 2012 10:30

NASA Announces New Mars Program

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Building on the success of Curiosity's Red Planet landing, NASA has announced plans for a robust multi-year Mars program, including a new robotic science rover set to launch in 2020. This announcement affirms the agency's commitment to a bold exploration program that meets our nation's scientific and human exploration objectives.

"The Obama administration is committed to a robust Mars exploration program," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "With this next mission, we're ensuring America remains the world leader in the exploration of the Red Planet, while taking another significant step toward sending humans there in the 2030s."

The planned portfolio includes the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers; two NASA spacecraft and contributions to one European spacecraft currently orbiting Mars; the 2013 launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter to study the Martian upper atmosphere; the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, which will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars; and participation in ESA's 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing "Electra" telecommunication radios to ESA's 2016 mission and a critical element of the premier astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.

The plan to design and build a new Mars robotic science rover with a launch in 2020 comes only months after the agency announced InSight, which will launch in 2016, bringing a total of seven NASA missions operating or being planned to study and explore our Earth-like neighbor.

The 2020 mission will constitute another step toward being responsive to high-priority science goals and the president's challenge of sending humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s.

The future rover development and design will be based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) architecture that successfully carried the Curiosity rover to the Martian surface this summer. This will ensure mission costs and risks are as low as possible, while still delivering a highly capable rover with a proven landing system. The mission will constitute a vital component of a broad portfolio of Mars exploration missions in development for the coming decade.

The mission will advance the science priorities of the National Research Council's 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey and responds to the findings of the Mars Program Planning Group established earlier this year to assist NASA in restructuring its Mars Exploration Program.

"The challenge to restructure the Mars Exploration Program has turned from the seven minutes of terror for the Curiosity landing to the start of seven years of innovation," NASA's associate administrator for science, and astronaut John Grunsfeld said. "This mission concept fits within the current and projected Mars exploration budget, builds on the exciting discoveries of Curiosity, and takes advantage of a favorable launch opportunity."

The specific payload and science instruments for the 2020 mission will be openly competed, following the Science Mission Directorate's established processes for instrument selection. This process will begin with the establishment of a science definition team that will be tasked to outline the scientific objectives for the mission.

This mission fits within the five-year budget plan in the president's Fiscal Year 2013 budget request, and is contingent on future appropriations.

Plans also will include opportunities for infusing new capabilities developed through investments by NASA's Space Technology Program, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and contributions from international partners.

For information, visit: www.nasa.gov/mars

Thursday, 15 November 2012 09:30

NASA Technology Days 2012

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Business leaders, space enthusiasts, students and the public are invited to attend NASA Technology Days. The free, three-day public technology showcase will take place at the Cleveland Public Auditorium and Conference Center Nov. 28-30. Participants from industry, academia and the U.S. Government will discuss strategy development, partnerships and methods to foster technology transfer and innovation.

The showcase will feature NASA-funded technologies available for transfer to the aerospace, advanced-energy, automotive, innovative manufacturing and human-health industries. The venue will provide opportunities for networking, business development and forging new relationships, including dialogue with NASA technology program leadership.

NASA officials will discuss the agency's upcoming technology initiatives, technology transfer and strategic partnerships. NASA centers also will provide exhibits and information on how businesses can partner with the agency for technology development, transfer and innovation. Attendees also can learn about leading technologies contributing to American economic growth and innovation.

NASA Technology Days is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

For more information or to register, visit: www.aiaa.org/nasatechdays

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama is using a method called selective laser melting, or SLM, to create intricate metal parts for America's next heavy-lift rocket. Using this state-of-the-art technique will benefit the agency by saving millions in manufacturing costs.

NASA is building the Space Launch System or SLS -- a rocket managed at the Marshall Center and designed to take humans, equipment and experiments beyond low Earth orbit to nearby asteroids and eventually to Mars.

"Basically, this machine takes metal powder and uses a high-energy laser to melt it in a designed pattern," says Ken Cooper, advanced manufacturing team lead at the Marshall Center. "The laser will layer the melted dust to fuse whatever part we need from the ground up, creating intricate designs. The process produces parts with complex geometries and precise mechanical properties from a three-dimensional computer-aided design."

There are two major benefits to this process, which are major considerations for the Space Launch System Program: savings and safety.

"This process significantly reduces the manufacturing time required to produce parts from months to weeks or even days in some cases," said Andy Hardin, the integration hardware lead for the Engines Office in SLS. "It's a significant improvement in affordability, saving both time and money. Also, since we're not welding parts together, the parts are structurally stronger and more reliable, which creates an overall safer vehicle."

The emerging technology will build parts for America's next flagship rocket more affordably and efficiently, while increasing the safety of astronauts and the workforce. Some of the "printed" engine parts will be structurally tested and used in hot-fire tests of a J-2X engine later this year. The J-2X will be used as the upper stage engine for the SLS.

The goal is to use selective laser melting to manufacture parts on the first SLS test flight in 2017.

The agency procured the M2 Cusing machine, built by Concept Laser -- a division of Hoffman Innovation Group of Lichtenfels, Germany to perform the selective-laser-manufacturing.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/selective_melting.html

Registration is now open for the 20th annual NASA Great Moonbuggy Race, which challenges high school, college and university students around the world to build and race fast, lightweight "moonbuggies" of their own design.

The students' work will culminate in two days of competitive racing April 26-27, 2013, at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA created the event two decades ago to complement classroom learning, provide young thinkers and builders with real-world engineering experience and inspire them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- the STEM fields.

"It's our goal to keep the wheels turning," said Tammy Rowan, manager of the Academic Affairs Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, which organizes the race each year. "The ingenuity and enthusiasm we see among racers begins in the classroom. That first spark of interest -- whether it's in basic chemistry or astronomy or the history of spaceflight -- starts the wheels turning. The Great Moonbuggy Race helps sustain that momentum, turning interest into passion, and dreams into a lifelong pursuit of new answers and new horizons."

International registration for the 2013 race closes Jan. 7. Registration for U.S. teams closes Feb. 4. Participating high schools, colleges and universities each may register up to two teams and two vehicles.

When Marshall created the race as a regional college challenge during the 1993-1994 school year, only eight teams participated. The high school division was added in 1996, and registration has swelled ever since.

Racers compete to post the fastest vehicle assembly and race times in their divisions, while incurring the fewest penalties. Prizes are awarded to the three teams in each division that finish with the lowest final times. NASA and industry sponsors present additional awards for engineering ingenuity, team spirit, best debut by a rookie team and more.

The course, built each spring on the outdoor grounds of the Space and Rocket Center, comprises a winding half-mile of gravel embankments, sand pits and obstacles that mimic the harsh surface of the moon. The race's creators drew inspiration from conditions faced by the Apollo-era Lunar Roving Vehicles. Three rovers built at Marshall in the late 1960s were used on the moon during the Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 missions in 1971 and 1972.

Today, the students' moonbuggies address many of the same design challenges NASA and industry engineers overcame to deliver those historic rovers. The vehicles dramatically expanded astronauts' reach across the lunar surface and enabled them to conduct much more scientific research during their brief stays on the moon.

In the most recent Great Moonbuggy Race, held in April 2012, more than 70 teams tackled the course. Petra Mercado High School in Humacao, Puerto Rico was first place in the high school division. The University of Alabama in Huntsville won first place in the college division. Petra Mercado, in only its second year in the competition, earned a completion time of 3 minutes and 20 seconds. The winning University of Alabama in Huntsville team finished in 4 minutes and 3 seconds.

To date, more than 5,000 students from around the world have participated in the races. Past winning teams have hailed from Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming -- and from Canada and Germany. International racers have come from as far away as India, Italy, Romania, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

Racers from Erie High School in Erie, Kan., have held the record for the best course-completion time since 2008. Their best overall time of 3 minutes and 17 seconds earned the first-place trophy in the high school division that year.

For more information or to register, visit: moonbuggy.msfc.nasa.gov

NASA has released a Request for Information (RFI) to explore the potential interest and use of its unique facilities, labs and technical expertise for structural testing at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The facilities and capabilities could support commercial, government and academic activities, and possibly lead to new technology developments.

The RFI is seeking responses from prospective partners interested in using Johnson's extensive testing facilities to provide high-performance solutions for a variety of structural testing in diverse industries, including aerospace. These solutions can help businesses meet their challenges by helping engineers develop deeper insight in their materials and building processes.

Structure testing capabilities at Johnson include a full range of end-to-end test labs and tools, and the expertise of NASA scientists and engineers in analyzing data and operations. Core areas include material properties and advanced manufacturing techniques research, as well as rapid prototyping or fabrication of aircraft, spaceflight vehicle systems and industrial structures.

Johnson's structural analyses are able to evaluate many different types of designs and can be conducted with environmental conditioning to analyze composites in extreme environments and verify design predictions that may support industry goals.

New partnerships using Johnson structural testing facilities and expertise would be consistent with NASA's missions and are expected to be on a reimbursable basis.

For information about the RFI, visit: go.nasa.gov/OC0Yit

NASA and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Mass., have opened registration and are seeking teams to compete in next year's robot technology demonstration competition, which offers as much as $1.5 million in prize money.

During the 2013 NASA-WPI Sample Return Robot Challenge, teams will compete to demonstrate a robot can locate and retrieve geologic samples from a wide and varied terrain without human control. The objective of the competition is to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies. Innovations stemming from this challenge may improve NASA's capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation's robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth. The competition is planned for June 2013 in Worcester, Mass., attracting competitors from industry and academia nationwide.

NASA is providing the prize money to the winning team as part of the agency's Centennial Challenges competitions, which seek unconventional solutions to problems of interest to the agency and the nation. While NASA provides the prize purse, the competitions are managed by non-profit organizations that cover the cost of operations through commercial or private sponsorships.

"We've opened registration and are eager to see returning teams, and new challengers, enter this second Sample Return Robot Challenge," said NASA Space Technology Program Director Michael Gazarik at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "Contests like NASA's Centennial Challenges are an excellent example of government sparking the engine of American innovation and prosperity through competition while keeping our nation on the cutting edge of advanced robotics technology. Teams from academia, industry and even citizen-inventors are all invited to join the competition and help NASA solve real technology needs. With a $1.5 million prize purse, we're looking forward to seeing some great technology that will enable our future missions and advance robotics right here in America."

The first Sample Return Robot Challenge, which took place in June, also was held at WPI. While almost a dozen teams entered the competition, none qualified to compete for the prize purse. NASA and WPI are partnering again to repeat and advance the competition, which is expected to draw more competitors and greater technological innovation from among the teams.

"We're honored and excited to once again host the Sample Return Robot Challenge," said WPI President and CEO Dennis Berkey. "This year, 7,000 people turned out to watch the competition, which was the first of its kind on the East Coast, and to enjoy WPI's fantastic Touch Tomorrow Festival of Science, Technology and Robots. This university is a hub of expertise and innovation within the area of robotics, and it's a pleasure to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in the wonders of this competition, this festival, and this emerging field."

There have been 23 NASA Centennial Challenges competition events since 2005, and through this program NASA has awarded more than $6 million to 15 different challenge-winning teams. Competitors have included private companies, student groups and independent inventors working outside the traditional aerospace industry. Unlike contracts or grants, prizes are awarded only after solutions are successfully demonstrated.

WPI is one of the only universities to offer bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in robotics engineering. In 2007, the university was the first in the nation to offer a bachelor's degree program in this area. Through its Robotics Resource Center, WPI supports robotics projects, teams, events and K-12 outreach programs. Each year, WPI manages at least seven competitive robotics tournaments and also has sponsored programs that foster the use of robots to solve important societal problems and encourage consideration of the societal implications of this new area of technology.

For more information, visit: wp.wpi.edu/challenge or www.nasa.gov/challenges

NASA is seeking applications from graduate students for the agency's Space Technology Research Fellowships. Applications will be accepted from students pursuing or planning to pursue master's or doctoral degrees in relevant space technology disciplines at accredited U.S. universities. The fellowship awards, worth as much as $68,000 per year, will coincide with the start of the fall 2013 term.

The fellowships will sponsor U.S. graduate student researchers who show significant potential to contribute to NASA's strategic space technology objectives through their studies. To date, NASA has awarded these prestigious fellowships to 128 students from 50 universities and across 26 states and one U.S. territory.

"NASA's Space Technology Program is building, testing and flying the technologies required for NASA's missions of tomorrow," said Michael Gazarik, director of the Space Technology Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "With new technologies and innovation, astronauts will be able to travel safely beyond low Earth orbit and new science missions will make amazing discoveries about our universe. These fellowships will help create the next generation of highly skilled workers needed for NASA's and our nation's future, while motivating careers in science and technology that will lead to sustainable, high-tech jobs while America out-innovates the world."

Sponsored by NASA's Space Technology Program, the continuing goal of the fellowships is to provide the nation with a pipeline of highly skilled researchers and technologists to improve U.S. technological competitiveness. Fellows will perform innovative space technology research while building the skills necessary to become future leaders.

The deadline for submitting applications is Dec. 4.

For more information or to submit applications, visit: go.usa.gov/YDJW

NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy announced Wednesday the launch of the Big Data Challenge, a series of competitions hosted through the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL).

The Big Data Challenge series will apply the process of open innovation to conceptualizing new and novel approaches to using "big data" information sets from various U.S. government agencies. This data comes from the fields of health, energy and Earth science. Competitors will be tasked with imagining analytical techniques and software tools that use big data from discrete government information domains. They will need to describe how the data may be shared as universal, cross-agency solutions that transcend the limitations of individual agencies.

"The ability to create new applications and algorithms using diverse data sets is a key element for the NTL," said Jason Crusan, director of the Advanced Exploration Systems Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "NASA is excited to see the results that open innovation can provide to these big data applications."

"Big Data is characterized not only by the enormous volume or the velocity of its generation but also by the heterogeneity, diversity and complexity of the data," said Suzi Iacono, co-chair of the interagency Big Data Senior Steering Group, a part of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program. "There are enormous opportunities to extract knowledge from these large-scale diverse data sets, and to provide powerful new approaches to drive discovery and decision-making, and to make increasingly accurate predictions. We're excited to see what this competition will yield."

The competition will be run by the NTL, a collaboration between NASA, Harvard University and TopCoder, a competitive community of digital creators. The TopCoder Open Innovation platform and process allows U.S. government agencies to conduct high risk/high reward challenges in an open and transparent environment with predictable cost, measurable outcomes-based results and the potential to move quickly into unanticipated directions and new areas of software technology. Registration is open through Oct. 13 for the Ideation Challenge phase, the first of four idea generation competitions in the series.

For full competition details and registration, visit: community.topcoder.com/coeci/nitrd

Meet an astronaut and watch a space capsule splash-tested. Check out more than a dozen NASA labs, and see where the original astronauts practiced landing on the moon. All that and more is on the agenda for NASA Langley Research Center's pubic open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22. Visitors will see the latest Langley science and technology, talk with researchers and take part in hands-on activities.

The open house is in celebration of Langley¹s 95th anniversary as the nation¹s first civilian aeronautics lab, opened in 1917, and later the birthplace of the U.S. space program. Today's Langley is helping develop spacecraft to send humans beyond Earth orbit; working on technologies to make aircraft safer, more efficient and environmentally friendly, and studying Earth's atmosphere to better understand and protect our planet.

Buses will be provided to take visitors to tour stops.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/events/95th-tour.html

NASA is accepting applications from teams of U.S. and international undergraduate and graduate students for the fourth annual Lunabotics Mining Competition. The event will be held at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida May 20-24, 2013.

Participants in the competition will design and build a remote controlled or autonomous robot. During the competition, the teams' designs, known as lunabots, will go head-to-head to determine which machine can excavate and deposit the most simulated lunar dirt within 10 minutes.

Registration is limited to the first 50 teams submitting applications.

The competition is designed to engage and retain students in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, disciplines critical to NASA's missions.

For information, visit: www.nasa.gov/lunabotics

Monday, 06 August 2012 11:40

NASA Lands Car-Size Rover on Mars

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NASA's most advanced Mars rover Curiosity has landed on the Red Planet. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars Sunday to end a 36-week flight and begin a two-year investigation.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway maneuver of the rocket backpack.

"Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars. Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars -- or if the planet can sustain life in the future," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory. President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030's, and today's landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal."

Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. PDT Aug. 5, (1:32 a.m. EDT Aug. 6) near the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside Gale Crater. During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life.

"The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph," said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld. "My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission's team."

Curiosity returned its first view of Mars, a wide-angle scene of rocky ground near the front of the rover. More images are anticipated in the next several days as the mission blends observations of the landing site with activities to configure the rover for work and check the performance of its instruments and mechanisms.

"Our Curiosity is talking to us from the surface of Mars," said MSL Project Manager Peter Theisinger of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "The landing takes us past the most hazardous moments for this project, and begins a new and exciting mission to pursue its scientific objectives."

Confirmation of Curiosity's successful landing came in communications relayed by NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter and received by the Canberra, Australia, antenna station of NASA's Deep Space Network.

Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance. The rover will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover.

To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater's interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.

The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.

For more information, visit: mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl

NASA's Space Technology Program is turning science fiction into science fact. The program has selected 28 proposals for study under the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program.

Eighteen of these advanced concept proposals were categorized as Phase I and 10 as Phase II. They were selected based on their potential to transform future aerospace missions, enable new capabilities, or significantly alter and improve current approaches to launching, building and operating aerospace systems.

The selected proposals include a broad range of imaginative concepts, including a submarine glider to explore the ice-covered ocean of Europa, an air purification system with no moving parts, and a system that could use in situ lunar regolith to autonomously build concrete structures on the moon.

"These selections represent the best and most creative new ideas for future technologies that have the potential to radically improve how NASA missions explore new frontiers," said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, NASA is taking the long-term view of technological investment and the advancement that is essential for accomplishing our missions. We are inventing the ways in which next-generation aircraft and spacecraft will change the world and inspiring Americans to take bold steps."

NIAC Phase I awards of approximately $100,000 for one year enable proposers to explore basic feasibility and properties of a potential breakthrough concept. NIAC Phase II awards of as much as $500,000 for two years help further develop the most successful Phase I concepts and analyze their potential to enable new or radically improved future NASA missions and potential applications with benefits for industry and society.

"We're excited to be launching Phase II, allowing the 2012 NIAC portfolio to feature an exciting combination of new ideas and continued development of last year's Phase I concepts," said Jay Falker, NIAC program executive at NASA Headquarters.

NASA solicited visionary, long-term concepts for technological maturation based on their potential value to NASA's future space missions and operational needs. These projects were chosen through a peer-review process that evaluated their innovation and how technically viable they are. All are very early in development -- 10 years or longer from use on a mission.

NASA's early investment and partnership with creative scientists, engineers, and citizen inventors from across the nation will provide technological dividends and help maintain America's leadership in the global technology economy.

The portfolio of diverse and innovative ideas selected for NIAC awards represent multiple technology areas, including power, propulsion, structures, and avionics, as identified in NASA's Space Technology Roadmaps. The roadmaps provide technology paths needed to meet NASA's strategic goals.

NIAC is part of NASA's Space Technology Program, which is innovating, developing, testing, and flying hardware for use in NASA's future missions. These competitively-awarded projects are creating new technological solutions for NASA and our nation's future.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/offices/oct/early_stage_innovation/niac/niac_2012_phaseIandII_awards.html

In an effort to accelerate technology transfer from NASA into the hands of American businesses, industry and the public, the agency's new Technology Transfer Portal is open for business.

NASA's Technology Transfer Portal provides an Internet-based one-stop front door to the agency's unique intellectual property assets available for technology transfer and infusion into America's new technology and innovation-driven economy. NASA's Technology Transfer Program allows research and development to transfer back into the U.S. economy via licenses, patents and intellectual property agreements that often result in new innovations, products and businesses. The use of NASA technology by American businesses spurs job growth and helps maintain U.S. economic competitiveness while improving our everyday lives.

"One of NASA's highest priority goals is to streamline its technology transfer procedures, support additional government-industry collaboration and encourage the commercialization of novel technologies flowing from our federal laboratories," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "One way NASA can streamline and increase the rate of aerospace technology transfer is through tools like NASA's Technology Transfer Portal."

NASA designs technologies to solve difficult problems in space and on Earth. Some examples include NASA-developed devices designed to operate remotely and with limited servicing in the harsh environment of space, and strong and lightweight materials that can withstand the extreme temperatures of supersonic flight or space travel. NASA has designed lifesaving techniques, protocols, and tools for use when orbiting the Earth and the nearest doctor is more than 200 miles below. Closed environment recycling systems, as well as energy generation and storage methods also have useful applications here on Earth.

NASA's new tech portal simplifies and speeds access to the agency's intellectual property portfolio, much of which is available for licensing. The site features a searchable, categorized database of NASA's patents, a module for reaching out to a NASA technology transfer specialist and articles about past successful commercialization of NASA technology. Historical and real-time data for NASA's technology transfer program also are available.

"A priority of NASA is to get federally-funded new technologies into the commercial marketplace," said NASA Chief Technologist Mason Peck. "We're hopeful that entrepreneurs, businesses of all sizes and anyone looking for innovative solutions to technology problems will explore NASA's Technology Transfer Portal to find opportunities to transfer NASA technologies into innovative solutions for the nation."

For more information, visit: technology.nasa.gov

Students and educators from across the country will experience what it is like to be a rocket scientist during "Rocket Week," June 16–22, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.

More than 100 participants will receive hands-on training in building payloads for spaceflight, learn the basics of rocketry and develop activities for the classroom through the fifth annual RockOn! workshop for university-level participants and the concurrent second annual Wallops Rocket Academy for Teachers and Students (WRATS) for high school teachers.

"RockOn! and WRATS provide a unique experience for students, faculty and teachers to understand the importance of a sounding rocket suborbital launch and the value of science that is collected," said Joyce Winterton, senior advisor for education and leadership development at Wallops. "Both opportunities demonstrate the practical application of science, technology, engineering and mathematics."

About 40 participants will build standardized experiments that will fly on a NASA Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital sounding rocket set to launch between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. EDT June 21. The 35-foot-tall rocket is expected to fly to an altitude of about 75 miles. After launch and payload recovery, the participants will conduct preliminary data analysis and discuss their results.

In addition to the nine workshop-built experiments, eight custom-built experiments also will fly on the rocket inside a payload canister known as RockSat-C. These experiments were developed at universities that previously participated in a RockOn! workshop.

The WRATS program gives high school teachers a technical flight experience to reinforce science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts they teach in their classrooms. During the week, 13 teachers from 12 states will learn about the dynamics of rocketry and the science gained from suborbital sounding rockets. They also will attend the June 21 sounding rocket launch.

The programs continue NASA's investment in the nation's education programs by supporting the goal of attracting and retaining students in STEM disciplines critical to future space exploration.

RockOn! is conducted in coordination with the Colorado and Virginia Space Grant consortia. Supported by the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program in NASA's Office of Education, it is designed to provide participants an introduction to building small experiments that can be launched on sounding rockets. The RockOn! and WRATS workshops are supported by the agency's Sounding Rocket Program at Wallops.

For more information, visit: spacegrant.colorado.edu/rockon or education.wff.nasa.gov

NASA is accepting proposals until June 29 for the mini-grants component of the agency's 2012 Summer of Innovation (SoI) project.

Proposals may be submitted through the National Space Grant Foundation for NASA-themed content in a variety of programs geared toward middle school students. The foundation is administering the grant program for NASA.

Mini-grants are designed to engage a wide variety of education partners – such as museums, schools or school districts, and youth organizations – to infuse science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) content in existing summer and after-school student programs. The maximum award value for each 2012 mini-grant is $2,500.

"This is an outstanding opportunity for a diverse group of organizations to work with NASA and share STEM learning through summer and after-school activities," said Leland Melvin, associate administrator for education at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Even non-traditional providers like church groups and Girl Scout troops can join the NASA team and help us fuel students' curiosity about exploration."

In 2011, 180 mini-grants were awarded in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to organizations including museums, non-profit organizations, public schools and youth organizations. This year, NASA anticipates making approximately 200 awards.

For more information, visit: soi.spacegrant.org/about

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems has successfully completed a preliminary design review (PDR) of the design, architecture and performance of its Dream Chaser orbital crew vehicle. This marks a new milestone in the company's effort to develop transportation for astronauts to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station.

SNC is one of several companies working to develop commercial crew transportation capabilities under the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) agreement with NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The goal is to help spur innovation and development of new spacecraft and launch vehicles from the commercial industry to develop safe, reliable and cost-effective capabilities to transport astronauts to low Earth orbit and the space station. The Dream Chaser is designed to carry as many as seven astronauts to space. It is the only spacecraft under CCDev2 that uses wings and is designed to land on a conventional runway.

"As CCP’s partners meet these critical milestones, we are moving in the right direction in our combined effort to advance commercial capabilities that could eventually transport NASA astronauts,” NASA CCP Program Manager Ed Mango said.

This marks the 17th milestone to be completed by SNC during CCP's initial two development phases. The PDR included a review of the entire orbital flight program, including the Dream Chaser spacecraft, and associated mission and ground systems. The company also reviewed the spacecraft's compatibility with its initial launch vehicle, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

"Our program includes 12 industrial partners, 7 NASA Centers and 3 universities from over 20 states who helped us achieve two major program milestones this week. With the completion of PDR and the beginning of our vehicle's flight test program, the Dream Chaser Program has now entered the next phase of its development. We are proud to be included with the other CCDev companies in developing a US crew capability to low earth orbit," said Mark Sirangelo, Corporate Vice President and head of SNC's Space Systems.

The final PDR board meeting was conducted shortly after the company successfully completed a captive-carry test of its full-scale Dream Chaser test flight vehicle May 29. The flight met all its test goals and moved the program a step closer to preparing the vehicle for an autonomous approach and landing test scheduled for later this summer.

All of NASA's industry partners, including SNC, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities.

NASA also is developing the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS), a crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS and Orion will expand human presence beyond low Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration across the solar system.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

NASA is seeking proposals from accredited U.S. universities focused on innovative, early-stage space technologies that will improve shielding from space radiation, spacecraft thermal management and optical systems.

Each of these technology areas requires dramatic improvements over existing capabilities for future science and human exploration missions. Early stage, or low technology readiness level (TRL) concepts, could mature into tools that solve the hard challenges facing future NASA missions. Researchers should propose unique, disruptive or transformational space technologies that address the specific topics described in this new solicitation.

"Both science and human deep space missions pose serious challenges that require new, innovative technological solutions," said Space Technology Program Director Michael Gazarik at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Radiation, thermal management and optical systems were all identified in the National Research Council's report on NASA Space Technology Roadmaps as priority research areas. This call seeks new ideas in these areas."

Space radiation poses a known danger to the health of astronauts. NASA is seeking proposals in the area of active radiation shielding (such as "shields" of electromagnetic force fields surrounding a spacecraft to block incoming radiation) or new, multifunction materials that are superior to those that exist today are sought. NASA also is interested in new technologies for active monitoring and read-out of radiation levels astronauts receive during long space trips.

Current space technology for thermal management of fuels in space is limited. NASA is seeking early-stage technologies to improve ways spacecraft fuel tanks and in-space filling stations store cryogenic (very low temperature) propellants, such as hydrogen, over long periods of time and distances. NASA also is seeking novel, low-TRL heat rejection technologies which operate reliably and efficiently over a wide range of thermal conditions.

The next generation of lightweight mirrors and telescopes requires advanced optical systems. NASA is seeking advancement of early-stage active wavefront sensing and control system technologies that enable deployable, large aperture space-based observatories; technologies which enable cost-effective development of grazing-incidence optical systems; and novel techniques to focus and detect X-ray photons and other high-energy particles.

NASA expects to make approximately 10 awards this fall, based on the merit of proposals received. The awards will be made for one year, with an additional year of research possible. The typical annual award value is expected to be approximately $250,000. Second year funding will be contingent on the availability of appropriated funds and technical progress. Only accredited U.S. universities may submit proposals to this solicitation. Notices of intent are due by June 21, 2012, with proposals due July 12.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/offices/oct/early_stage_innovation/grants/index.html

Five universities have been selected to participate in the 2013 Exploration Habitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge led by NASA and the National Space Grant Foundation. These universities will design habitat systems, concepts and technologies that could be used in future deep space habitats.

The selection is the first milestone in a year-long process for these five teams. Throughout the 2012-2013 academic year, the teams will meet a series of milestones to design, manufacture, assemble and test their systems and concepts in cooperation with the NASA Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Program's Habitation Systems Project team.

"The X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge is an exciting opportunity to engage university teams in the design process for NASA's next generation space systems," said Jason Crusan, NASA's AES Program manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The agency benefits from the fresh and innovative perspective of these university teams, and they learn about deep space human exploration and the systems engineering approach from an experienced NASA team."

The challenge is a university-level participatory exploration effort designed to encourage studies in spaceflight-related disciplines. The challenge encourages multidisciplinary approaches, further outreach efforts and partnering with experts and industry. This design challenge requires undergraduate students to explore NASA's work on development of deep space habitats while also helping the agency gather new ideas to complement its current research and development. NASA selected these five teams from among a group of proposals received in May 2012.

The X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge 2013 teams are:

  • California State Polytechnic University, Ponoma: Vertical Habitability Layout and Fabrication Studies
  • Oklahoma State University: Deep Space Habitat, Horizontal Habitability Layout Studies
  • Texas A&M University: Wireless Smart Plug for DC Power
  • University of Alabama in Huntsville: Design and Development of a Microgravity Random Access Stowage and Rack System
  • University of Colorado at Boulder: Remote Plant Food Production Capability

The National Space Grant Foundation will fund design costs, development and delivery of the systems to the AES Habitat Systems team during the summer of 2013.

NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate's Advanced Exploration Systems Program, via the Habitat Systems Project team, is sponsoring the technology challenge. NASA is dedicated to supporting research that enables sustained and affordable human and robotic exploration. This educational challenge contributes to the agency's efforts to train and develop a highly skilled scientific, engineering and technical workforce for the future.

For information, visit: www.spacegrant.org/xhab or www.nasa.gov/exploration/technology/deep_space_habitat/index.html

Autonomous robots created by 11 teams of engineers from across the country will compete for a NASA prize purse of $1.5 million on the campus of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), in Worcester, Mass., June 14 -17. The challenge: design and develop the next generation of robots to explore the landscapes of other worlds.

The NASA-WPI Sample Return Robot Challenge requires the competing teams to design and build an autonomous robotic system that will locate and collect a set of specific objects from a large area and return the "planetary samples" to the starting zone.

The innovative technologies the teams bring forward can help NASA in future exploration of distant planets while also potentially benefiting life here on Earth. Earthly benefits could include areas such as disaster recovery and mitigation and remote exploration and mapping of hazardous terrains.

The NASA-WPI Sample Return Robot goals are to discover innovative new technologies to advance robot navigation and sample collection without human control, and demonstrate robotic transportation over varied terrain without the aid of GPS or other Earth-based systems. The competition also will empower educators and people of all ages by introducing robotics and how they work, where they work, and real-world applications of how robots will be used the future.

The competition's roving area includes open rolling terrain, soft soils, a variety of rocks and immovable obstacles such as trees, large rocks and water hazards. Teams will be given maps with appropriate orbital resolution, including the location of the starting position and a pre-cached sample, but will have no control of the robots during the competition.

Robots will have to identify and collect samples and return them to their starting point. Samples will have different point values. Prizes will be determined based on the scores for the number and point value of samples collected and returned to the starting location.

During the first phase of the competition, a robot must autonomously navigate and retrieve a pre-cached sample within 15minutes. Teams will compete for portions of a $50,000 total prize purse, with a maximum winning value of $5,000 per team.

In the second phase, a robot must autonomously navigate and retrieve pre-cached samples as well as other, more difficult samples distributed over the roving area within two hours. Teams will compete for up to $1.5 million during this phase, with awards depending on the amount of points scored and number of successful competing finalists.

WPI is the first university selected as host and manager for one of NASA's Centennial Challenges Programs, which promotes technical innovation through novel prize competitions. NASA chose WPI to run this Centennial Challenge because of its proven experience managing robotics competitions, its academic expertise in robotics engineering, and its leadership in science, technology, engineering and mathematic education.

NASA uses prize competitions to establish important technical challenges without having to specify the approach that is most likely to succeed, while only paying for successful results. These competitions increase the number and diversity of individuals, organizations and teams that are addressing a particular problem or challenge of national or international significance. These challenges stimulate private sector investment many times greater than the cash value of the prize.

The Centennial Challenges are part of NASA's Space Technology Program.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/challenges or wp.wpi.edu/challenge

NASA's third annual Summer of Innovation (SOI) project is underway. The project is providing hands-on learning opportunities for middle school students and educators through NASA-unique science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educational activities during the summer school break. SOI is a key component of the agency's broader education program to increase student interest in STEM courses, particularly among those in underserved sectors of the academic community.

SOI uses NASA's out-of-this-world missions and technology programs to boost interest in STEM among middle school students by offering interactive learning experiences. This year, a major portion of the SOI content focus will be on Curiosity, a NASA flagship science mission currently en route to Mars and scheduled to land Aug. 6.

"NASA always has been fortunate when it comes to offering interesting STEM education content; our missions are compelling and inspiring," said Leland Melvin, associate administrator for NASA Office of Education. "Because Curiosity will reach the Red Planet during SOI 2012, it provides a timely and relevant context for teaching students about planetary science, engineering and technology. Students will get to see much of what they learned unfold as the rover makes its final rendezvous with Mars."

SOI 2012 is multi-faceted and features a variety of engagement activities offered by NASA's 10 centers located across the country. SOS 2012 also will continue several STEM summer programs developed by NASA's national SOI partners during 2010 and 2011.

SOI includes a competitive "mini-grant" component to assist small education and outreach organizations in providing NASA-themed STEM content to middle school students or teachers through existing summer or afterschool programs. NASA plans to announce the mini-grants proposal process and due dates within the coming weeks.

A revamped SOI website will include new products and tools for students and educators to access virtually NASA's educational offerings and resources. It will feature tools to download learning and activity plans and access to current SOI NASA center opportunities, highlights of the 2012 program and SOI contact information.

Another exciting new web feature is a collection of SOI virtual activity plans called "mini-camps." These eight self-contained STEM learning modules offer one-day, two-day and weeklong programs in fields such as rocketry, aeronautics and robotics that easily can be tailored to a variety of audiences.

SOI debuted in 2010 as a three-year pilot program to respond to President Obama's Educate to Innovate campaign. Since its inception, NASA has reached more than 45,000 students; had a presence in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; and provided professional development opportunities for approximately 5,500 educators.

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/soi

Students from across the nation will gather at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston May 2-5 for the annual NASA Explorer Schools Symposium. These future leaders in science, technology, education and math, or STEM, have completed research investigations and will present their findings to a team of NASA scientists and engineers, student peers and educators.

The competitively selected group consists of 60 students in grades four through 12 and 30 educators from 21 states. The group's research projects were designed to inspire interest in STEM disciplines and encourage pursuit of technical careers.

The students completed an original investigation based on existing NASA missions or research programs. Participants presented their work virtually to experts at NASA centers earlier this year in regional symposia using the agency's Digital Learning Network.

"NASA's mission of research and discovery is a powerful context for learning," said Greg "Box" Johnson, astronaut and associate director of external programs at the agency's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. "Each year students amaze us with presentations that in many ways mirror the work of our scientists and engineers. This symposium offers students practical experience giving presentations in a professional setting while providing a front-row seat to NASA's careers, research and discoveries."

In addition to presenting their work at the national symposium, participants also will learn more about NASA's research activities and exploration missions. Students will tour a variety of operational facilities at Johnson, including the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, a large swimming pool that plays a key role in astronaut training.

The NASA Explorer Schools project offers multiple pathways for participation and requires no application process. Teacher participants must be U.S. citizens and have a valid education certification as an administrator or educator in a nationally accredited education institution within the United States or its territories, or Department of Defense or State Department schools.

The program is a key part of NASA's Office of Education goals to help develop the next generation of scientists, engineers and explorers through STEM studies.

For more information, visit: explorerschools.nasa.gov

NASA, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the State Department and Nike today announced a challenge to identify 10 game-changing innovations that could transform waste-management systems and practices. Waste management is important for planning long-duration human spaceflight missions to an asteroid, Mars or beyond.

Humans living off the planet require waste solutions that mirror issues facing people on Earth. In the hostile environment of space, waste must be eliminated or transformed in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible. The innovations, which will be presented at the LAUNCH: Beyond Waste forum, may lead to practical applications for astronauts as we send humans deeper into our solar system.

The challenge will be open April 1-May 15 and will seek creative solutions to minimize waste or transform it into new products in space and on Earth. Forum partners will select 10 innovators to present their technology solutions at the LAUNCH: Beyond Waste forum, hosted by NASA July 20-22, at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

NASA and the LAUNCH Council -- thought leaders representing a diverse and collaborative body of entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, government, media and business -- will participate in the forum and help guide these innovations forward. The selected LAUNCH innovators will receive networking and mentoring opportunities from influential business and government leaders, as well as portfolio presentations.

Previous LAUNCH forums have focused on water, health and energy. These forums resulted in innovations, including technology that enables irrigation using brackish, saline and polluted water; a biodegradable needle that can deliver vaccines or medicine under the skin using a pressure device; a tiny holographic microscope attached to a cell phone that can detect parasites and bacteria in blood and water in remote locations; a handheld lab-in-a-box that diagnoses a variety of diseases in a matter of minutes; a modular, flexible smart-grid distribution technology to provide access to power for those in need; and a simple, affordable fuel cell that converts biomass directly to electricity.

LAUNCH was created to identify, showcase and support innovative approaches to global sustainability challenges. LAUNCH searches for visionaries whose ideas, technologies or programs show great promise for making tangible impacts on society in the developed and developing worlds.

For more information about LAUNCH: Beyond Waste and how to enter the challenge, visit: links.launch.org/beyond-waste

University faculty and students are invited to join a weeklong workshop June 16-21 to learn how to build and launch a scientific experiment to space. Registration is open through May 1.

RockOn! 2012 will be held at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The annual workshop is held in partnership with the Colorado and Virginia Space Grant Consortia.

"This workshop provides an opportunity for participants to learn how to build an experiment for space flight," said Phil Eberspeaker, chief of the sounding rocket program office at Wallops. "The hope is this experience will encourage them to participate in more ambitious payload programs, including someday building instruments for orbital spacecraft and beyond."

During the program, participants will work together to build experiment payloads for a NASA Terrier-Orion sounding rocket predicted to fly to an altitude of 73 miles. The flight will take place June 21, the last day of the workshop, weather permitting.

"During the week, the participants will gain an understanding of what it takes to build a basic scientific payload," said Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. "Through hands-on learning, they will learn how to develop circuit boards, program flight code and work together as a cohesive team."

Since the annual workshop began in 2008, 150 students and instructors have participated. It has been a successful program, with all experiments completed on time, launched and recovered. In addition, 48 of the 50 payloads have worked as intended.

For more information and to register online, visit: spacegrant.colorado.edu/rockon

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