NASA taps university brains for small spacecraft development

In an effort to spike innovation in development of small spacecraft technology, NASA has selected 13 universities of a pool of more than 100 proposals to work on collaborative projects.

The project teams will have the opportunity to create a cooperative agreement with NASA, which could include up to $100,000 in funding and the chance to work with engineers and scientists from six NASA centers.

The main goal of the effort is to “transform small spacecraft, some of which weigh only a few kilograms, into powerful but affordable tools for science, exploration and space operations,” according to David Steitz, senior public affairs officer for the Office of the Chief Technologist.

The work from these project teams could produce functional results, such as miniature navigation and radio devices, radiation-tolerant computers, energy-storage devices, electric propulsion for deep-space missions, and even a low-power laser communications concept.


“In addition to enhancing small spacecraft technology, these teams will help strengthen our nation’s high-tech workforce,” said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The Small Spacecraft Technology Program at NASA falls directly in line with the directorate of NASA’s Space Technology Mission, which seeks to pioneer the innovation and development of flying hardware technology for use in future missions.

“There is a vibrant small spacecraft community within America’s universities and with this initiative, NASA seeks to increase our collaboration with that community,” said Andrew Petro, program executive for NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program. “The universities will benefit from the extensive experience NASA has in space research and technology, and NASA will benefit from fresh ideas and cost-conscious innovation at the universities.”

This is a project that NASA hopes to renew every two years, contingent on the availability of funding for the effort.

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