9. Research Topics for the SBIR Ignite Solicitation
Offerors are advised to be thoughtful in selecting a topic to ensure the proposal is responsive to the NASA need as defined by the topic. The NASA SBIR program will NOT move a completed proposal package between SBIR topics.
As stated in section 2.2, an Offeror shall not submit the same (or substantially equivalent) completed proposal packages to more than one topic. It is the Offeror’s responsibility to select which topic to propose to.
Topic Title: Technologies Using NASA Data to Foster Climate Resilience
This focus area seeks technologies that enable people worldwide to use NASA’s vast and diverse Earth science data sets to peer into different futures. Solutions should demonstrate how they leverage the diverse suite of available Earth science data and models to provide decision-makers with actionable information – helping leaders understand the potential outcomes and impacts of various climate-related risks, and of planning and land-use decisions to address these risks. Of particular interest are:
Proposers are encouraged to highlight novel and state-of-the-art features of their solutions, including advancements that differentiate them from their competition. In addition to solution benefits, proposers should describe analyses and results of data quality assessments and data product validations, including uncertainty quantifications.
Topic Title: Enabling technologies for the development of a robust Low-Earth Orbit Economy.
One of NASA’s strategic goals is to “Lay the foundation for America to maintain a constant human presence in low-Earth orbit (LEO) enabled by a commercial market." To achieve that goal, NASA is committed to developing a robust LEO economy and enabling both the supply side (i.e., future LEO destinations providing services for a fee) and the demand side (i.e., need for on-orbit services for Government requirements or to produce products of commercial value).
The Commercial LEO Destinations (CLDs) project will enable the development of commercially owned and operated LEO destinations that are safe, reliable, and cost-effective, and allows NASA to be one of many customers. In December 2021, NASA signed three funded Space Act Agreements with U.S. companies worth $415.6 million to develop designs of commercial destinations in LEO. The International Space Station (ISS) is also enabling the development of commercially owned and operated LEO destinations by hosting a new commercial segment by Axiom Space that will attach to the ISS Node 2 forward port and expand the habitable volume for commercial research and other activities. All of these agreements are part of the agency’s efforts to enable a robust, American-led commercial economy in low-Earth orbit. Building on the success of the Commercial Orbital Transportation System, Commercial Cargo, and Commercial Crew programs, these agreements will catalyze additional commercial activity in space to expand opportunities in LEO for both established players and small businesses. The CLD project is enabling opportunities and partnerships to be created with universities, small businesses, industry, emerging commercial entities, individual innovators, and other Government agencies to meet NASA mission needs and support commercial expansion in space.
Doing business in space has become one of the fastest growing businesses on earth. The space economy has expanded by over 60% in the last decade and is now valued at roughly $400 billion. A robust LEO economy ensures national interests for research and development in space are fulfilled while allowing NASA to focus government resources on deep space exploration through the Artemis program and land the first woman and next man on the surface of the Moon in 2024. Creating a robust LEO economy will be dependent on bringing many new businesses and people into space and will require the development of enabling technologies for this emerging LEO economy. Three areas of interest are:
Topic Title: Electric and Hybrid Electric Systems for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and Aircraft in the 1500 to 5000 lbs. size class
The purpose of this topic is to stimulate U.S. entrepreneurship in the emerging markets of electric and hybrid electric aircraft. Components are sought for integration, ground, and potential flight testing for a 1500 lbs. class hybrid electric drone. Proposals should support market introduction to the existing large UAV or the emerging electric and hybrid electric aircraft markets. Components sought include, but are not limited to motors, converters, circuit interrupt devices, cables, turbo generators, batteries, bus capacitors, electrically actuated control surfaces, electrically actuated landing gear, components that integrate multiple functions (like a motor/converter combination). Evaluation will be based on economic, environmental, and technical criteria. We seek companies that will produce technology and the resultant product in the U.S., have understanding of how their product reduces lifecycle aviation emissions, and have a differentiating technology advantage which has been clearly shown though an evaluation of the power/weight and efficiency metrics.
NASA is currently designing an unpiloted, 25% scale, version of the Subsonic Single Aft Engine (SUSAN) Transport Aircraft Concept described generally here: https://www1.grc.nasa.gov/aeronautics/eap/airplane-concepts/susan/ and with more detail in the paper here: https://arc.aiaa.org/doi/pdf/10.2514/6.2022-2179. Reference information for the 25% SUSAN Flight Research Vehicle: Power: 150kW total, individual converters at 40Kw, and 10kW operating on 300V DC bus. Thermal management: Pumped liquid cooling loops with a worst-case hot temp of 60C. Max altitude: 15,000 ft. Max speed 150 mph.
Topic Title: Low-Cost Photovoltaic Arrays for Space
Space rated photovoltaic costs are orders of magnitude higher than terrestrial photovoltaics. The increased cost is seen at all levels from the material, manufacturing, test, and qualification which presents multiple opportunities to improve processes and develop new strategies to advance low-cost space rated solar arrays.
High durability, high efficiency multijunction photovoltaics have long been the choice for space missions which typically require the highest possible PV performance. Unfortunately, the production of these devices requires the use of high cost, high quality crystalline substrates, precision epitaxial deposition systems, and meticulous device and module fabrication processes which drive costs to more than 100 times that of terrestrial silicon photovoltaics. High beginning of life conversion efficiency (>30%, 1 sun air mass zero at 28C) and durability in the space environment (resistance to darkening to UV light, stability through thermal cycles, and high energy radiation resistance) are required for many space missions and cannot be achieved using terrestrial silicon solar cells. Additionally, high efficiency reduces the mass, deployed area, and stowed volume at the solar array level.
Both NASA and commercial satellite providers would greatly benefit from technology that enables manufacturing of low-cost, high-efficiency photovoltaics for space applications at high throughput scale for <$25 per watt. Potential solutions include but are not limited to growth of substrates including reuse and alternative materials, low-cost deposition methods that maintain high efficiency performance, and cell processing (metallization, etching, packaging).
NREL technoeconomic studies (https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/72103.pdf) have indicated that these cost reductions for III-V photovoltaics are possible, especially at larger scale manufacturing.
Topic Title: Point-of-use Recycling for Optimized Space-Age Logistics
On Earth, logistics innovations have allowed industry to ship more and more, and waste less and less, but the packaging required for delivering a given product can still—sometimes—outweigh and outsize the product itself, leaving a large percentage of packaging waste at the delivery destination or point-of-use. The packaging problem is magnified when many small items need to be packaged and organized into larger packages, and when the deliveries must cover long distances under harsh environmental conditions. This is the challenge for logistics deliveries in space. A significant amount of packaging is required, but that leads to a significant amount of packaging waste. NASA seeks point-of-use recycling solutions for common waste streams produced in space. This includes the packaging waste stream, produced by logistics supply missions; but also, could include recycling of other common waste streams, such has food waste, human waste or paper, plastic, or cloth waste. The waste streams may be recycled individually, or they may be combined into mixed waste streams for more efficient recycling. In space, point-of-use recycling systems must be efficient and fit into a small footprint; and astronaut crews cannot spend valuable time separating or preparing the waste for recycling. Finally, the recycled products must be useful for the crew and reduce the need for delivering future supplies. Recycled materials may serve as feedstock for 3D printing or as resources for other manufacturing processes. Or recycled materials may be converted into end-use items for the crew. Examples of this might include Ziploc bags, plastic containers, paper towels, wipes, gloves, radiation shielding, tissue-paper or other paper or plastic products produced from recycled packing materials or other common waste streams. In this way, all the materials delivered, including the packaging, can be recycled and used, wasting nothing. Here on Earth, point-of-use recycling could also offer an efficient way for individuals and households to make direct use of all that unwanted packaging waste we produce at home. Instead of putting the waste in a recycling bin that may, or may not, eventually reach a recycling center, we could convert the material into useful household products, saving us both time and money.
Topic Title: Commercial Development of Active Debris Remediation (ADR) Services
The U.S. economy depends on space for critical infrastructure, from communications and financial exchanges to national security, transportation, and climate monitoring. Orbital debris created by objects such as abandoned vehicle stages, non-functional satellites, and fragments of launched materials impedes our ability to use space by increasing the cost of space operations (maneuvering around debris), threatening the safety of astronauts and satellites, limiting the ability to launch spacecraft, and potentially rendering entire orbits unusable for a generation or more. As described in the 2021 National Orbital Debris Research and Development Plan, there are three broad methods to reduce the risks associated with debris: 1) limit the generation of new debris; 2) better track and characterize debris; 3) and remediate debris that has already been created.
Debris remediation services are those that move, remove, or reuse extant debris to reduce the risks associated with it. The National Orbital Debris R&D Plan identifies the major challenges associated with debris remediation, including two major technological challenges. First, remediation technologies are often tailored to specific types of debris, making it difficult for a single technology to scale from remediating one piece to many pieces of debris. Second, some technologies have the potential to be counterproductive. For example, some methods may create more debris—either on accident or as part of nominal operations—or increase the remediated object’s cumulative probability of collision with other objects.
NASA is soliciting proposals for innovative systems that can perform commercial ADR services. Preference will be given to proposals that: a) can scale to provide bulk remediation services, potentially by remediating risk from different types of debris and/or remediating multiple debris items per mission; b) qualitatively address potential concerns that the proposed systems may be counterproductive; c) roughly estimate the monetary costs and benefits associated with a demonstration mission and the operational capability; and d) include plans to work with potential customers to reveal their use cases and price points.
All forms of remediation are in-scope, not just the capture and de-orbiting of debris. Likewise, the scope of the solicitation includes all forms of debris, not just upper stages or defunct satellites.