April 28, 2016 – Honeybee Robotics today announced it has received five NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards and two NASA Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I award to develop new spacecraft systems and enabling technologies. The awards will allow Honeybee to analyze concepts for advanced future planetary exploration, on-orbit assembly, life support systems, and in-situ resource utilization.
The Strut Attachment System for In-Space Robotic Assembly project will provide a common electromechanical connection architecture for robotic on-orbit structures. Concepts for future on-orbit assembly strategies envision the creation of networked strut/node space frame, as well as the ability to dock to those structures for power and data transfer. The Strut Attachment System will facilitate modular designs that reduce manufacturing and launch costs, as well as provide greater mission flexibility and upgradeability on-orbit.
The Dust-Tolerant, High Pressure Oxygen Disconnect for Advanced Spacesuit and Airlock Applications project will develop a quick connect/disconnect interface for next-generation extravehicular activity spacesuits to receive high pressure oxygen. The design is based on dust-tolerant connector systems that Honeybee previously developed to TRL 6 for spacesuit applications. Current International Space Station Extravehicular Mobility Unit and Service and Cooling Umbilical interfaces are not designed for mate/de-mate cycles in the dusty environments astronauts will find on the Moon or Mars.
The High Temperature Joint Actuator project is designed to meet the extreme environmental and performance requirements of a future Venus surface mission. The scope includes assessing and integrating the components of a full actuator module, including the drive, geartrain, and twist capsule. This system will integrate previous technology developed at Honeybee Robotics that can operate reliably in at least 460° C, equivalent to surface temperatures on Venus.
The Stinger project is a geotechnical sensing package for robotic scouting on a small planetary rover. The Stinger is designed to fill the current gap in geotechnical instrument capabilities with a percussive shear vane penetrometer capable of measuring near-surface and subsurface soil properties to a depth of 50 cm or greater. Detailed understanding of soil properties is critical for future surface operations including reliable operation of mobility systems, excavation, mining and in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) operations, and regolith transport, all of which will be important for exploration missions and commercial ventures.
The Planetary Vacuum Cleaner for Venus and Mars project is designed to use pneumatic techniques for sampling regolith and soil. Such an approach minimizes moving parts and overall complexity for greater reliability and lower payload mass than traditional sampling and excavation methods. A single actuation can acquire and deliver sample to instruments in just seconds, reducing the challenges associated with sample handling prior to analysis. This technology could be incorporated onto a wide range of lander and rover architectures.
The In-Situ Spectroscopic Europa Explorer (ISEE) project, pursued in collaboration with Principal Investigator Pablo Sobron of the SETI Institute, will build and test the next-generation prototype of a compact, arm-mounted Raman Spectrometer with superior performance that meets the top-level scientific requirements of the 2022 Europa lander mission. ISEE integrates a high- performance signal processor and data processing algorithms that enable unprecedented measurements: in-situ chemical identification and quantitation of complex organic compounds, including pre-biotic compounds (e.g. amino acids); biomolecules (organic biomarkers including proteins, lipids, and nucleic acid polymers); minerals; and volatiles.
The Robotic ISRU Construction of Planetary Landing and Launch Pad project, pursued in collaboration with Principal Investigator Paul van Susante of Michigan Technological University, will develop an integrated robotic system for excavating planetary regolith, sorting rocks into discrete sizes, and building the landing pad. Such landing pads are necessary for controlled landings near existing structures or vehicles on the Moon, Mars, or other planetary bodies to avoid rocks and other ejecta accelerated by rocket exhaust from damaging the landing vehicle and surrounding infrastructure. Because it is impractical to bring materials to create a landing and launch pad, such structures will need to be built using existing materials, a form of in-situ resource utilization.
NASA received 1,278 proposals in response to its 2016 solicitation for its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs. From those, NASA selected 341 SBIR and 58 STTR Phase I proposals for contract negotiations.
Proposals were selected according to their technical merit and feasibility, in addition to the experience, qualifications and facilities of the submitting organization. Additional criteria included effectiveness of the work plan and commercial potential.