NASA chooses ultra-lightweight material proposals for future missions

Three proposals have been selected for further funding and development.
By Andrew McDonald | Apr 10, 2015
According to a NASA statement, the agency has chosen three proposals for ultra-lightweight materials to be developed and used in future missions. When used in future spacecraft and structures, it is projected that they will reduce the weight of such hardware by as much as 40 percent.

The chosen proposals are from HRL Laboratories LLC of Malibu, California (Ultralight Micro-truss Cores for Space Launch Systems); ATK Space Systems LLC of Magna, Utah (Game Changing Technology Development Program Ultra-Light Weight Core Materials for Efficient Load Bearing Composite Sandwich Structures); and Dynetics Inc. of Huntsville, Alabama (Ultra-Lightweight Core Materials for Efficient Load-Bearing Composite Sandwich Structures). NASA received proposals from commercial companies, universities, and its own NASA research centers.

The chosen proposals will be assessed in two phases. Phase 1 grants $550,000 over 13 months to fabricate 12-by-12-by-1-inch core panels composed of the ultra-lightweight material. In Phase 2, NASA will grant $2 million to each awardee over 18 months to fabricate 2-feet by 2-feet by 1-inch panels, and eventually 10-feet by 11-feet by 1-inch panels.

The ultra-lightweight materials are composite sandwich structures manufactured by encasing a lightweight core in two thinner skins. The new materials under development will represent a great improvement on the current materials, which use either honeycomb or foam cores.

"Lightweight and multifunctional materials and structures are one of NASA's top focus areas capable of having the greatest impact on future NASA missions in human and robotic exploration," said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. "These advanced technologies are necessary for us to be able to launch stronger, yet lighter, spacecraft and components as we look to explore an asteroid and eventually Mars."

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