NASA Announces Early Stage Innovations Space Technology Research Grants

NASA has selected 15 university-led proposals for the study of innovative, early stage technologies that address high priority needs of America’s space program.

The Early Stage Innovations awards from NASA’s Space Technology Research Grants Program are worth as much as $500,000 each. Universities have two to three years to work on their proposed research and development projects.

Credit: NASA

SPHERES is a space robot operated inside the International Space Station, which has been used to demonstrate how assistive free-flyers (AFFs) can perform tasks currently done manually. The performance of AFFs is directly linked to payloads that are integrated for application-specific functions, such as making measurements or performing grasping.

“The agency’s space technology research areas lend themselves to the innovative approaches U.S. universities can offer for solving tough science and exploration challenges,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. “NASA’s Early Stage Innovations grants align with NASA’s Space Technology Roadmaps and the priorities identified by the National Research Council, helping enable NASA’s exploration goals including robotic missions to Mars and the outer planets, and ultimately human exploration of Mars.”

The proposals selected under the Early Stage Innovations 2015 solicitation address unique, disruptive or transformational technologies, including: payload technologies for assistive free-flyers; robotic mobility technologies for the surfaces of icy moons; integrated photonics for space optical communication; computationally guided structural nanomaterials design; and atmospheric entry modeling development using flight data from the Orion’s first flight test in space last December called Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1).

The 15 universities selected for Early Stage Innovation (ESI) grants and the titles of their proposals are:

Autonomous Navigation for Exploration on Icy Moons — Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Ultra-Low Power Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor-Compatible Integrated Photonic Platform for Terabit-Scale Communications — Columbia University, New York
Versatile Manipulation for Assistive Free-Flyers — Columbia University, New York
A Novel Electrostatic/Microstructured Adhesive with Dust Mitigation Capabilities — Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago
Compact Robust Integrated Pulse Position Modulation Laser Transceiver Chip Set with High Sensitivity, Efficiency and Re-Configurability — Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
Integrated Tapered Active Modulators for High Efficiency Gbps Pulse Position Modulation Laser Transmitter Photonic Integrated Circuits — Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, Indiana
Assistive Free-Flyers with Gecko-Inspired Adhesive Appendages for Automated Logistics in Space — Stanford University, California
Integrated Photonics for Adaptive Discrete Multi-Carrier Space-based Optical Communication and Ranging — University of California, San Diego
PICULS: Photonic Integrated Circuits for Ultra-Low Size, Weight and Power — University of California, Santa Barbara
Investigating the Thermochemical Response of Avcoat Thermal Protection Systems from First Principles for Comparison with EFT-1 Data — University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Material Response Reconstruction of Ablative Thermal Protection Systems Using Accurate Boundary Layer Modeling — University of Kentucky, Lexington
Design, Test and Control of a Magnetorheological Universal Gripper for Use On-Orbit – University of Maryland, College Park
Modular Cryogenic Hydraulics for Legged Mobility — University of Maryland, College Park
Mesoscopic Distinct Element Method-Enabled Multiscale C Computational Design of Carbon Nanotube-based Composite Materials — University of Minnesota, St. Paul
Computational Design of Carbon Nanotube Network Materials and Polymer Matrix Nanocomposites — University of Virginia, Charlottesville
The goal of the Space Technology Research Grants Program is to accelerate the development of low-technology readiness level space technologies to enable future systems capabilities and missions for NASA, other government agencies and the commercial space sector. The program is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is responsible for developing the cross-cutting, pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

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