August 11, 2012

NASA Awards Solar Array System Development Grants

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA has selected large-scale, next-generation solar array system development proposals from a pair of California-based aerospace technologies firms, the U.S. space agency announced on Friday.

The two companies, ATK Space Systems Inc., of Commerce, California and Deployable Space Systems (DSS) of Goleta, California, were chosen for contract negotiation to develop the advanced systems, which will help in the creation of the powerful solar electric propulsion units required to expand human space travel range, NASA officials said.

Those proposals offer "innovative approaches" in the areas of array and deployment mechanism development, "drastically" reducing both weight and stowed volume from similar solar arrays currently in use and "significantly" improving the functionality and efficiency of proposed advanced systems capable of creating hundreds of kilowatts worth of power, the organization said in an August 10 press release.

They added that such next-gen arrays could be useful not just in future manned exploration missions, but in science missions, communications satellites, and other astronomical applications as well.

"The technology embodied in these proposals will greatly advance the boundaries of NASA's science and exploration capabilities," Michael Gazarik, director of the Space Technology Program at the NASA's Washington-based headquarters, said in a statement.

"Our investment in this technology acknowledges that this technology is a priority for NASA's future missions, as reported recently by the National Research Council," he added. "Once matured through these ground tests, NASA hopes to test next generation solar array systems in space, opening the door for exploration of a near-Earth asteroid, Mars and beyond."

The project will take place in two phases, the agency said. During the first, DSS and ATK will reach have 18 months to design, analyze, and test solar array system technology that can generate more than 30kW of power, as well as identify the risks associated with extending their builds to a minimum of 250kW of power.

Successful completion of Phase 1 will result in awards ranging from $5 million to $7 million, and advancement to Phase 2, in which the firms will compete for an award to demonstrate their technology in space.