Demonstration of Enabling Communications Technologies for Future Low-Cost Small Earth Return Vehicles

PI: Dominic DePasquale, Edward Fallon (Co-I), Terminal Velocity Aerospace LLC

Terminal Velocity Aerospace, LLC (TVA) proposes to develop an sRLV space technology payload that demonstrates entry, descent, and landing (EDL) technologies. The technology development and subsequent flight test will demonstrate mission-enabling Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and Iridium communications and tracking technologies in flight conditions representative of those of actual EDL. In order to match these flight conditions during a suborbital drop test, the communications systems will be integrated into a capsule-shaped suborbital test vehicle (STV). The communications technology demonstration has broad applicability to EDL of small and large Earth return vehicles in general, while the integrated STV verifies functionality of a representative small return vehicle that embodies several low-cost features essential for enabling NASA and commercial missions.

June 4, 2017: RED-Data2’s Activated and Installed on Cygnus in Prep for Reentry Mission
July 15, 2016: Terminal Velocity Aerospace awarded NASA Phase III SBIR for low-cost small reentry devices to enhance space commerce and ISS utilization

Technology Areas (?)
  • TA05 Communication and Navigation
Problem Statement

Utilization of ADS-B technology is mission enabling for small return vehicles in terms of cost reduction and operational flexibility. In the case of a small Earth return vehicle, GPS location and velocity transmission via ADS-B may eliminate reliance on ground-based radar tracking of the reentering vehicle, thus significantly reducing mission support costs and enabling recovery in areas without ground assets, including mid-air retrieval over open water. The Iridium global satellite network offers a low-cost transmission channel for location and telemetry data during Earth entry, descent, and landing. For reentries where the ground track passes over remote areas, Iridium could serve as a secondary location identifier to ADS-B. In order to transmit radio frequency (RF) communications from within a reentry vehicle, the heat shield materials must be RF transparent. RF transparent heat shield materials also offer the advantage of allowing for transmission without deploying an antenna.

Technology Maturation

A new formulation of Silica-based conformable TPS materials have been developed at NASA Ames that are attractive for small reentry vehicle applications due to low manufacturing cost. As part of the proposed technology demonstration, TVA will demonstrate communication through these new heat shield materials, both on the ground and during suborbital flight test.

Future Customers

The communications technologies and low-cost components of the STV are applicable to nearly any small Earth return vehicle. Such a vehicle could be employed for small payload return from ISS or other orbiting facility, upper atmosphere testing, or serve in itself as a TPS and electronics test platform. Space-capable ADS-B is also applicable to larger orbital reentry vehicles including crewed capsules.

Technology Details

  • Selection Date
    NRA-2-APP-E (Aug 2013)
  • Program Status
  • Current TRL (?)
    TRL 5
    Successful FOP Flights
  • 1 Balloon

Development Team

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