August 12, 2016 – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has partnered with Aerojet Rocketdyne to conduct an architectural design study for a habitation system that would enable NASA astronauts to live for long durations beyond low-Earth orbit. The partnership, under NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2) Broad Agency Announcement, Appendix A, will allow SNC and its partners to use their experience to design a complete habitat system architecture and build a full-scale prototype for testing and evaluation.
SNC’s concept is based on multiple modular components, leveraging both SNC’s internal expertise and external partners to create the most capable habitat.
“This program is a perfect opportunity to showcase the heritage of our 25 plus years supporting space missions,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area. “This habitat will combine our experience in space technologies, satellite systems, propulsion and environmental control systems from our subsidiary ORBITEC, as well as our work with the Dream Chaser spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) and Cargo Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract to support the International Space Station. The NextSTEP-2 habitat elevates our role as a prime integrator in the design of effective and efficient deep space habitats.”
Key Habitat Design Elements
The basis of SNC’s design stems from the Dream Chaser Cargo Module being developed for NASA CRS-2 missions. The Dream Chaser spacecraft will return home after LEO missions but the Cargo Module will remain on-orbit to be integrated with other components, including an advanced electric propulsion module for transferring the system to lunar orbit.
The project details will depend on final contract negotiations, however SNC’s proposed habitat design also includes:
Significant pressurized volume for long-duration human activity
Docking capability compatible with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, as well as other systems
Environmental control and life support systems
Airlocks for astronaut Extravehicular Activities (EVA)
Crew health monitoring and support systems
Propulsion systems for transport and maneuverability
As part of the project, Aerojet Rocketdyne has proposed building a fully-functional prototype PowerTrain Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system designed to deliver power from the solar arrays to the thrusters on the spacecraft. The PowerTrain SEP system uses a peak-power tracking capability and is compatible with current and future advanced Hall-effect thruster propulsion systems. Last year, the company successfully built and tested a prototype system in a simulated mission environment to show that it could achieve improved system efficiency over current Power Management and Distribution approaches used on satellites. The prototype was tested at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Los Angeles facility, where most of the International Space Station power-system hardware was developed.
Under the 18-month architectural design study, Aerojet Rocketdyne and SNC will devise concepts that include standards, common interfaces and testing approaches for the habitation system. It will also include the development and integrated testing of the full-size ground prototypes by 2018. The project details will depend on final contract negotiations.
“We look forward to working with our industry partners on an architectural study for a habitat system that will allow humans to live in space farther from Earth and for longer durations than ever before,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. “It’s an especially unique opportunity to help stimulate the commercial space industry while leveraging existing and emerging technologies, furthering our nation’s ability to explore the frontiers and expand our knowledge of space.”
According to NASA, the prototypes will demonstrate critical aspects of the engineering processes involved in the development of the operational unit. The engineering test units will closely resemble final hardware and software products, and will be built and tested in order to establish confidence that the designs will function as expected in the harsh environments of space.
SNC’s wholly owned subsidiary, Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) was selected as a part of the first NextSTEP awards in 2015 for the development and demonstration of hybrid life support systems, including in-space food growth. ORBITEC’s strong knowledge of environmental control and BioProduction systems will be crucial in creating a viable long-term habitat and will help overcome sustainability obstacles.
SNC is also teaming with NASA Langley Research Center to utilize its radiation analysis systems and airlock technology.
NASA’s NextSTEP-2 public-private partnerships support the journey to Mars, as well as the commercial development of low-Earth orbit (LEO) space by focusing on sustainable human habitats for long-duration spaceflight missions.