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February 1, 2013

NASA chief technologist visits Mojave innovators

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Raphael Jaffe
Staff writer

NASA Dryden engineer and project manager Jerry Budd shows off the recently completed 1/3-scale Twin Ventus glider center section that would be used to flight validate the aerodynamics of his Towed Glider Air-Launch concept to NASA chief technologist Mason Peck and deputy chief technologist Jim Adams as Dryden’s technology chief David Voracek looks on.

Dr. Mason Peck, NASA Chef Technologist, visited NASAís Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., the centerís facilities in Palmdale, Calif., and three Mojave Air and Space Port firms Jan. 23.

The group included Peck, his deputy Jim Adams; Dr. Lagududva Lubenddran, Flight Opportunities program executive; David Voracek, Drydenís chief technologist; John Kelley, Dryden Flght Opportunities program manager; and Karen Thompson, Kennedyís chief technologist.

The visitors were introduced to a range of Dryden technologies including fiber-optic sensor work, Space Launch System controls and adaptive controls technology. They also learned about the Multi-Disciplinary Hypersonic Trajectory Analysis and Optimization Research, an altitude compensating engine nozzle and flight research projects focused on enabling next-generation aircraft and spacecraft systems.

Peck also spoke about Dryden’s technology having impacts beyond NASA that could “achieve a spark for other kinds of goods and services” by transferring the technology to industry for commercialization.

Masten Space Systems’ Sean Mahoney outlines features of the firm’s Xaero-B suborbital space-access rocket now under development at the firm’s Mojave facility for NASA chief technologist Mason Peck

Work such as the automatic ground collision avoidance system has applications that could have broad appeal, Peck said. Concepts for a self-driving car are one example where the technology could be transferred to industry for use.

“Dryden will fly and test the technologies that will make the future possible,” he added.

To make that future possible, Peck encouraged Dryden staff to continue seeking partnerships with industry, academia and other federal agencies.
After his technology tour at NASA Dryden and an all-hands session with Dryden employees, the group moved to Mojave.

Three companies at Mojave, Masten Space Systems, XCOR Aerospace and Firestar Engineering, hold contracts under the NASA Flight Opportunities Program and the Small Business Innovation Research program. Peck was impressed by what he observed and declared ìthis has been a great day for me.

The group witnessed a proficiency test firing of the Masten XAERO craft.

It was tethered from a crane, but rose from the launch pad, gimbaled its rocket engine nozzle and then descended.

The tour group shields their ears from the noise as an XCOR Aerospace technician test fires a small rocket engine with an experimental nozzle.

After seeing the test the group toured Mastenís fab and development shop and saw the XAERO-B which is being assembled. XAERO-B is designed to attain an altitude of 5 kilometers. Further developments will reach 20 kilometers above the earth. The rocket uses LOX and alcohol fuel. Masten will fly commercial suborbital payloads for the Flight Opportunities program, and has completed a test flight of the MIT Lincoln Lab guidance system.

A previously unannounced Masten-funded development program is the SEUX This is aimed at converting an expended second stage lunar rocket shell to a personal lunar shelter. Four Masten engines mounted on the aft end of the second stage shell would nudge the stage to a horizontal landing on the moon. United Launch Alliance has contributed such an empty shell to Masten for its research Masten founder and CTO Dave Masten, COO Sean Mahoney, and Business Opportunities manager Nathan OíKonek briefed the NASA visitors.

The visitors witnessed a one second test of a 40-pound thrust XCOR engine.

The demonstration engine uses gaseous oxygen and a proprietary XCOR fuel mixture. XCOR President James Greason and program manager Khaki Rodway showed NASA the Lynx space plane being assembled at Mojave. Several components, such as wings and flight shell are being fabricated by composite fabricators. Lynx I will bring a passenger or research instrumentation to 61 kilometer altitude. It takes off and lands on a conventional runway. Some 200 persons have signed up for the $95,000 experience above the earth. There are several commercial suborbital research flights scheduled.

Firestar Technologies CEO Greg Mungas details features of the nozzle of a small rocket engine that burns environmentally friendly monopropellant the firm is developing to Peck and Adams.

Heart of the Lynx is its proven restartable rocket engine. There are four engines and two reciprocating pump sets. Nominal thrust for all four is about 11,000 pounds. XCOR has a contract to wet lease Lynx II to Space Expeditions Curacao, which is backed by KLM airlines. XCOR feels it can achieve a two hour total turnaround time for Lynx, which allows Space Expeditions to plan on four flights per day, from the island nationís space port.

Firestar Engineering founder and president Greg Mungas briefed the visitors on their activities.

Their proprietary nitrogen oxides monopropellant fuel and engine has passed Technical Readiness Level 6. A 100-pound thrust NOFBXô engine was tested in 2011. It features a carbon-carbon nozzle, and has been vacuum tested, and has passed scaling validation.

The engine is regenerativly cooled. Firestar uses techniques borrowed from circuit board preparation methods to etch small flow passages in thin metal plates. Firestar and its affiliate, Innovative Space Propulsion Systems, has NASA contract to provide an NOFBXô propulsion experiment for flight on ISS.
Firestar is actively pursuing several commercial spin-off products.

NASA’s Space Technology Program is building, testing and flying the technologies needed for future missions.

NASA’s Chief Technologist serves as the NASA Administrator’s principal advisor and advocate on matters concerning agency-wide technology policy and programs.
The Office of the Chief Technologist is responsible for direct management of NASA’s Space Technology programs and for coordination and tracking of all technology investments across the agency.

Under the OCT, the Space Technology Program at NASA has been re-invigorated. By investing in high payoff, disruptive technology that industry cannot tackle today, the STP matures the technology required for NASA’s future missions in science and exploration while proving the capabilities and lowering the cost for other government agencies and commercial space activities.

Peck commented that NASAís charge is to increase access to space, i.e. make it cheaper, and this would move the nation to a point where space fight is routine. We are now at ground zero of the effort. The Flight Operations Program is brokering, to provide both the supply and demand of suborbital research flight activity. He feels that commercial space activities are now integral to NASA.




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