NASA Funds 3D Printing Research at 2022 SBIR/STTR Awards –


Of the 333 proposals NASA is funding through its 2022 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, 24 create new additive manufacturing (AM) processes or take advantage of printing technologies existing 3Ds. Each project will receive a share of NASA’s $50 million prize, which aims to develop technology to help drive the future of space exploration, as part of the agency’s Phase I development.

In May 2022, the agency revealed that proposals from 257 small businesses and 41 research institutes would help solve many of NASA’s challenges in human exploration, space technology, science and technology. aeronautics. Notably, Jenn Gustetic, director of innovation and early-stage partnerships for NASA’s Space Technology Missions Directorate, said uses of these technologies could even be for Artemis and other missions and to the commercial space industry, as well as to people’s daily lives.

Each proposal team will receive $150,000 – a 20% increase over previous years’ funding – to establish the merit and feasibility of their innovations. SBIR Phase I contracts are awarded to small companies and last for six months, while STTR Phase I contracts are awarded to small companies in partnership with a research institute and last for 13 months.

Over the past few years, NASA’s SBIR/STTR program has seen dozens of AM-related projects for space innovations. For example, in 2021 NASA supported 36 3D printing submissions for Phase I, and before the pandemic the agency funded another 10 AM projects. Based on their progress during this initial stage, companies can submit proposals for $850,000 in Phase II funding to develop a prototype and subsequent SBIR/STTR opportunities after Phase II.

Among the innovative 3D printing projects this year, highlights six projects that have AM at heart:

3D Printing Anti-Radiation Construction

One of the most important future sectors of the space economy is construction on the surface of the Moon or Mars. For this reason, International Scientific Technologies, in collaboration with Virginia Tech, is proposing 3D printing of regolith combined with hydrogen-rich polymers to develop structural radiation shielding materials for human habitats.

The company offers on-site additive manufacturing structures thanks to on the spot resource utilization (ISRU), i.e. the use of regolith available on the extraterrestrial surface with a minimal amount of hydrogen-rich polymer binder, which would ideally be effective in deterring incoming particles found in the space radiation that would otherwise endanger crews. radiation sickness and an increased lifetime risk of cancer, central nervous system effects and degenerative diseases.

Radiation shielding is crucial for space missions, so this is one of our favorite projects selected for Phase I. Outside of NASA, this technology will find applications in the US Department of Defense and Homeland Security, helping to protect soldiers, first responders and emergency medical services. personnel against radiation resulting from dirty bombs and the risks associated with the accidental release of radiological materials.

3D printed fuel grains

EOS Energetics (trading as Estes Energetics) is a spin-off from model rocket company Estes Industries that will develop a hybrid rocket engine for the next generation of sample return missions. Designed with Utah State University, the system will incorporate several unique technologies that provide the performance and reliability needed for a sample-return propulsion system, including a high-capacity electric ignition system, an oxidizer high performance and 3D printed fuel grains.

According to the proposal, new fuels like 3D-printed fuel grains allow for more precise control of the rate at which fuel will burn inside a rocket case, so that for sample return, the thrust can be optimized for a high launch followed by an efficient cruise phase.

In addition to NASA sample return missions, other potential applications for additively manufactured hybrid engine technology include satellite maneuvering, deorbit propulsion, and applications where a traditionally energetic fuel source poses challenges. of security.

Bug fixes for In-Space AM

Intelligent Optical Systems, a California-based sensor solutions startup, will use its SBIR award to find a way to fix flaws during additive manufacturing in space. The team, led by electro-optical physicist Bradley Bobbs, will produce interrupted construction samples with simulated defects on an AM machine designed for use in space. He will then use laser ultrasonic testing (LUT) to run scans on them and further develop algorithms and software to improve detection and identification of defects from the scans.

According to the team, LUT is the only currently viable method for online fault detection during AM construction, so they will attempt to make preliminary evaluations to show the feasibility of integrating LUT into the AM machine. Additionally, the company already has plans for Phase II, which includes the development and testing of a prototype online inspection system that would eventually enable fully qualified AM parts on the surfaces of the Moon and Mars. , to support sustainable exploration there and on the International Space Station.

Above ground 3D printed data collector

Dedicated to producing new circuits in unique processes for rugged applications, Ozark Integrated Circuits submitted a 3D printing blueprint of a Read Only Memory (ROM) to collect data that can survive up to 500°C, which roughly corresponds to the temperature of Venus. surface.

According to NASA, extended missions to the surface of Venus (lasting months instead of hours) have proven futile due to the lack of a full suite of electronics that can operate that long without protection from the harsh conditions. extremes of the planet – think, hot enough to melt lead. The longest successful report is from the JFET-R at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, showing two months of operation under Venus surface conditions. However, the agency wants computational analyzes of Venus’ surface to better understand its atmosphere and greenhouse geology, which means extended missions.

The Ozark project will attempt to design, simulate, package, and characterize fully additive ROM technology based on materials qualified to Technology Readiness Level (TRL)-5 in NASA’s previous SBIR programs. The system could also be useful for other high-temperature environments, such as Mercury, high-temperature avionics, reentry, propulsion sensing, and controls, as well as any application requiring very high temperature data collection, from geothermal exploration to monitoring the health of molten salt reactors.

Lunar building

Another project that deals with off-Earth construction is Lunar Resources’ proposal for a new 3D printing construction system for the Moon. The innovative technique combines unique mass control in an ultra energy efficient pulsed power printing helmet to perform direct additive manufacturing of lunar regolith without any reagents.

If successful, the technology would allow 3D printing of lunar structures from lunar regolith and in-situ derived materials by printing from any direction to create structures with geometries and complexity that were not possible. previously on the Moon. Specific NASA applications include the fabrication of complex large-scale structures such as landing pads, habitats, roads, walls, shields, berms and beams.

Houston-based Lunar Resources is a spin-off company from various NASA and NASA-sponsored technology development programs and is focused on developing and commercializing space resource manufacturing and extraction technologies to catalyze the space economy. The company has been developing 3D printers for some time, mostly to repair broken satellites or build new ones (in orbit around Earth), but it hopes its resource-mining technologies will allow the United States to create a permanent presence on the Moon.

AM for spacesuits and structures

For two STTR awards, Nanosonic will partner with Virginia Tech. Together, they will develop nano-layer extruded textiles for next-generation spacewalking suits (or xEMUs), which will benefit several space programs, namely the International Space Station, Human Landing System, Artemis, Gateway and Orion. In their second venture, Nanosonic will partner with composite coding experts at Virginia Tech to predictively produce reproducible and reliable multifunctional lightweight hybrid structures through design tools.

Highly customized materials using AM techniques are Nanosonic’s expertise. The company is leading the development of innovative, high-performance polymer composites through new 3D printing methods, including reactive nanolayer extrusion, FFF and filament winding. For more than ten years, Nanosonic has used AM to create a wide range of applications, including RF components on flexible substrates. With AM expertise from Virginia Tech, they plan to combine and synergistically develop some of the applications NASA needs for space exploration.

Other proposed research and development initiatives include a new 3D printing technique to fabricate ultra-high temperature ceramic matrix composites with enhanced grain structure in microgravity by Nanoarmor; a work-in-progress X-ray sensor capable of detecting flaws in AM parts by Advanced Analyzer Labs, and Polaronyx’s additive manufacturing radiation-tolerant bearing for deep atmospheric probes for giant planets.


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