Sunday, May 17, 2015

NASA Selects Honeybee Robotics for Self Refueling Prospector Spacecraft

NASA has selected Honeybee Robotics for four Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and one Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR) Phase I contracts, including one that would help develop a resource prospecting spacecraft capable of refueling itself using in-situ resources.

The five proposals include:
  • The World is Not Enough (WINE): Harvesting Local Resources for Eternal Exploration of Space (STTR)
  • Planetary Volatiles Extractor for In Situ Resource Utilization (SBIR)
  • Development of a Hermetically Sealed Canister for Sample Return Missions (SBIR)
  • Lunar Heat Flow Probe (SBIR)
  • Miniaturized System-in-Package Motor Controller for Spacecraft and Orbital Instruments (SBIR)
WINE, which is being done with the University of Central Florida in Orlando, involves a 3D-printed CubeSat that would be able to refuel itself by extracting in-situ resources. The spacecraft would be able to land on an asteroid or moon, examine the location, and fly to another location using the water it extracted in its thruster system.

“NASA can use this system to prospect for mining that will support Mars exploration missions. It can also use the system for any planetary exploration when there is a known water resource close to the surface,” according to the proposal. “The system could be used by several commercial companies that are interested in In Situ Resource Utilization for financial gain. These include Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries targeting asteroids.”

Under the Planetary Volatiles Extractor for In Situ Resource Utilization proposal, Honeybee would examine two methods for extracting water known as sniffer and corer. The company will compare these techniques with the Mobile In-Situ Water Extractor (MISWE), which Honeybee developed under a previous SBIR agreement with NASA.

At the end of the Phase 1, we will trade all 3: Sniffer, Corer, MISME and select one for further development in Phase 2,” the proposal states. “After the Sniffer and the Corer tests, a trade study will be conducted to compare Sniffer vs Corer vs MISME approaches. The trade study will include figure of merits (e.g. extraction efficiency etc), potential for scaling production up, easy of deploying on more than one planetary body, as well as mission implementation challenges and risks.”

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