Enabling Low-Cost, Autonomous Recovery of Small Payloads from Low Earth Orbit

PI: Tyler Kunsa, SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc., Benjamin Leon (Co-I), Earthly Dynamics LLC

Increasing frequency of orbital missions—particularly for space-based manufacturing—will drive the need for Enabling Low-Cost Autonomous Recovery of Small Payloads from Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). Researchers from SpaceWorks Enterprises are addressing the challenge with an orbital re-entry/recovery system for on board autonomous control and spatial awareness for precise navigation. The innovation aims to enable high-frequency microgravity research for science payloads and provide rapid sample return for LEO manufacturing.

Technology Areas (?)
  • NA
Problem Statement

Technologies that allow for the transportation of goods manufactured on-orbit are needed to realize NASA’s strategic goal of fostering the expansion of space commerce. This is driving the need for autonomous, on-demand re-entry for small payloads. Novel space-based manufacturing and other activities are expected to lead to rapid growth in the use of the LEO environment for space commerce, but the current state of the art for small payload return is not sufficient to support the full potential of these activities.

Technology Maturation

Researchers aim to advance a guided-recovery atmospheric re-entry device (RED-GR) design to TRL 6 by validating its autonomous return capabilities to a specified target from a 100,000-ft altitude balloon release, including autonomous altitude detection, recovery system deployment, precision landing, and g-force dampening of a specified payload. A guided parafoil recovery system will utilize novel air actuator technology to generate power-efficient turn rates and glide slopes.

Future Customers

•NASA SmallSat experiments
•Space-based manufacturing
•Biological, life sciences, pharmaceuticals research

Technology Details

  • Selection Date
    TechFlights20 (Sep 2020)
  • Program Status
  • Current TRL (?)
    Successful FOP Flights
  • 2 Balloon

Development Team

  • PI
    Tyler Kunsa
  • PI Organization
    SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc.
  • Co-I
    Benjamin Leon
  • Co-I Organization
    Earthly Dynamics LLC
  • Sponsor
  • Partners
    Earthly DynamicsCorp., Georgia Tech Space Systems Design Lab

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