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NASA seeking ultra-lightweight materials to enable missions to Mars

Curiosity lands via a Skycrane. Image Credit: JPL / NASA as seen on Spaceflight Insider

Curiosity lands via a Skycrane. Image Credit: JPL / NASA

NASA is seeking proposals to develop and manufacture ultra-lightweight materials for aerospace vehicles and structures of the future. Currently and in the recent past, manufacturers have been using composite “sandwich” materials. Composite sandwich structures are made by attaching two thin skins to a lightweight honeycomb or foam cores. Today this type of composite is used extensively within the aerospace industry, automotive industry and almost anywhere where reducing weight and cost while maintaining structural strength is desired.

The goal of NASA’s proposal is to create a “Game Changing Development Program effort” that could develop and demonstrate scalable, cost-effective manufacturing approaches to produce ultra-lightweight core materials both as flat panels and curved structures. The overall goal of the proposal is to produced materials will have be half or less than half the area density of conventional honeycomb cores, with equal or better mechanical properties. The development of these materials will be essential decreasing the cost and increasing the capabilities of future missions to Mars and beyond. As with most of NASA’s research and development efforts, the spinoffs will benefit us all in many facets of our daily lives.

“Technology drives exploration and ultra-lightweight materials will play a key role in our future missions,” said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This call for proposals continues a cadence of solicitations that touch on a specific set of thrust areas needed to push human and robotic exploration farther in the solar system.”

The Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is responsible for developing the crosscutting, pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

“Over the next year, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) will continue to seek industry and university partnerships to assure the agency has the capabilities it needs, while helping America maintain its leadership in the technology-driven global economy. These investments will focus on in-space propulsion and advanced high-power solar arrays; robotics and avionics for outer planetary exploration, especially high-reliability and low-mass, deep ice penetration systems; advanced materials, including large composite structures; and space observatory systems, with a focus on advanced optical coating materials,” said David E. Steitz, Media Relations for the Office of the Chief Technologist in Washington, DC.

NASA will accept proposals from U.S. organizations, including NASA centers and other government agencies, federally funded research and development centers, educational institutions, industry and nonprofit organizations. NASA expects to make two awards of up to $550,000 each for this first development phase.

The solicitation, entitled SpaceTech-REDDI-2015 NNH15ZOA001N-15GCD-C1 Ultra-lightweight Core Materials for Efficient Load-Bearing Composite Sandwich Structures Appendix, is available through the NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System website by going to “Solicitations” and then “Open Solicitations”.


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JD Taylor was a long-time space enthusiast who, wanting to become more involved, opened his own space-themed news website: Since the formation of this site, Taylor was introduced to the team at SpaceFlight Insider and opted to partner with SFI so as to be able to better tell the space exploration story.

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