CBD: NASA: Advanced Space Transportation

Status Report From: Marshall Space Flight Center
Posted: Sunday, December 16, 2001


SOL RFI-8-121201

DUE 011102

POC Marlyce E. Alexander, Contract Specialist, Phone (256) 544-8344, Fax (256) 544-6062

THIS IS NOT A NOTICE OF SOLICITATION. IT IS A REQUEST FOR INFORMATION (RFI). NASA does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this solicitation. This document is for information and planning purposes and to allow industry the opportunity to verify reasonableness and feasibility of the requirement, as well as promote competition. Prospective offerors are invited to submit information, and ideas to the point of contact below via electronic transmission or by facsimile transmission no later than January 11, 2002. In responding reference RFI-8-121201.

NASA/MSFC is seeking ideas and information from potential offerors on the development of advanced propulsion technologies in the areas of aerocapture, electric propulsion, plasma sails, solar sails, solar thermal, bimodal nuclear thermal and momentum exchange tethers via internet on or before January 11, 2002. Particular interest is information or ideas that address the challenges and issues that must be overcome to advance these technologies from their current state to Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6. This request is not intended for information concerning flight demonstrations, technologies beyond TRL 6 or at development stages less than TRL 3. To the extent possible, the potential offeror is requested to provide a self-assessment of performance, schedule, and system goals for each technology address.

Background and Submission Requirements: Research conducted by the In-Space Propulsion Investment Area is at the forefront of NASA's efforts to seek new means of enabling faster and more cost efficient missions to the outer planets. Advanced propulsion technologies are being developed to contend with NASA's unique challenges of enabling missions with fast access throughout the solar system and the ability to rendezvous with, orbit and conduct in situ exploration of planets, satellites and small bodies. The information that is being sought for each advanced propulsion technology area is as follows:

AEROCAPTURE: Future Solar System Exploration missions, which include orbiter and sample return class missions, will require a spacecraft to enter and maneuver in a planet's atmosphere to meet NASA's science objectives. Significant near-term advances in the technology readiness are required for Aerocapture technologies. The Aerocapture technology disciplines that are uniquely coupled to the outer planet missions include the following: Thermal Protection Systems (TPS), Aerothermal environments, Guidance Navigation & Control (GN&C), advanced Instrumentation, H2/He focused ground based facilities, and Aerodynamics. In addition, advancements must accommodate the unique H2/He gas composition of some planetary atmospheres and the development of entry vehicle shapes that extend beyond the current Lift-to-Drag (L/D) knowledge base. Provide innovative ideas and approaches to advancements in the above areas (specifically applicable to outer planet missions).

NEAR TERM, HIGH POWER ELECTRIC PROPULSION FOR NUCLEAR ELECTRIC PROPULSION SYSTEMS: Near-term Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NEP) has the potential to open up new opportunities for scientific exploration by providing the dual features of high-performance propulsion and sufficient power for complex payloads at any destination. Building upon what many consider current nuclear technology, the implementation of a NEP system within a decade appears quite feasible for outer planet missions. However, near-term realization of NEP's benefits will require advances in the state-of-the-art (SOA) of electric propulsion (EP) technology. These include substantial improvements in component and system lifetimes, and significant increases in Isp and power levels (will possibly require between 15 and 100 kW) over the current SOA as well as a decrease in EP system alpha. Provide approaches dealing with the logical, although innovative advancements, that will be required to support a near term implementation of an electric propulsion sub-system in a NEP propulsion system.

HIGH POWER ELECTRIC PROPULSION FOR EVOLUTIONARY, HIGH POWER NUCLEAR ELECTRIC PROPULSION SYSTEMS: Nuclear electric propulsion is currently being considered as a future candidate for mission applications ranging from near term science robotic exploration to far term human exploration. Assuming an evolutionary path for the development and utilization of fission systems for propulsion and power in space, it is realized that development of very high power (500 kW to MW power levels) electric propulsion technologies should be pursued. Provide ideas and approaches that would further the research, development, and demonstration of electric propulsion systems and components for future application in very high power nuclear electric propulsion architectures. Included should be any innovative approaches to enable the demonstration and operation of these systems in relevant, ground-based environments.

BIMODAL NUCLEAR THERMAL ROCKETS: The Nuclear Thermal Rocket (NTR) technology provides a unique combination of high Isp (when compared to today's state of the art Chemical propulsion) and high thrust capability. When operated in a bimodal configuration this technology can provide, in addition to propulsion, power at the destination for both robotic and human exploration and science. Much has been accomplished in the past with the development efforts of programs such as Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Applications (NERVA) including successful ground demonstrations (not easily repeated in today's political and budgetary environments). Provide innovative concepts and approaches to investigating and demonstrating the feasibility of the NTR concept under bimodal operation. Inputs should take into account that approaches provided must not contain nuclear ground testing.

SOLAR THERMAL: Solar thermal propulsion systems are being investigated and studied by NASA and the Department Of Defense, for orbital transfer and maneuvering transportation systems. In addition to primary propulsion, solar thermal technologies also have the potential of providing power to the payload. This technology has potential for primary propulsion in earth orbital applications as well as serving as a transport stage through earth's gravity well for payloads going beyond earth's orbit. As with Nuclear thermal propulsion, solar thermal propulsion offers unique combinations of Isp and thrust. Keys to furthering this technology include advancements in high temperature materials, inflatable structures, demonstration and testing of the sub-system and system level technology in a relevant ground based environment, and management of cryogenic fuels. Provide concepts as well as approaches that address the technology challenges.

SOLAR SAILS: Solar sails are being studied for a variety of NASA missions and may provide low-cost propellant less propulsion, reduced trip times, and access to unstable orbits that cannot be reached with other means of propulsion. Candidate missions for solar sails include a Solar Polar Imager, missions to small bodies, the outer planets, and the edge of the Solar System, spacecraft stationed on the Earth-Sun line to provide advance warning of geomagnetic storms, and spacecraft stationed over the Earth's poles for communications and remote sensing. Provide development approaches that will advance today's state of the art in this technology area without requiring a flight validation or which would be in a critical path prior to a flight demonstration.

PLASMA SAILS: Recent laboratory experiments and computer simulations have shown that plasma sails are a viable technology candidate as a propulsion system for many of the candidate Outer Planet missions. Advancement of three crucial technology focus areas is needed for the advancement of the plasma sail technology readiness level. These area are: (A) Computational studies of plasma sail fundamental interactions, processes; and performance; (B) proof of concept of sub-systems for near-term technology development; and (C) long-term technology development. Provide concepts and approaches focused on the above-mentioned areas.

MOMENTUM EXCHANGE ELECTRODYNAMIC REBOOST (MXER) TETHER SYSTEMS: The MXER tether technology has the capability to provide propellant less propulsion from a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to either a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) or a lunar transfer orbit. Advancement of four crucial technology focus areas is needed for the advancement of the MXER technology readiness level. These area are: (A) Orbital propagation of large dynamic structures; (B) lightweight tether/payload catch mechanisms and analysis; (C) Electrodynamic spin-up and orbital boost; and (D) Plasma contractor technology. Provide concepts and approaches focused on technology advances in the above-mentioned areas. Only United States companies/citizens are requested to respond to this announcement. Interested parties should submit information not to exceed three pages and a maximum of two resumes (not to exceed two pages each). The format is at the discretion of the potential offeror. All proprietary information should be marked as such. Responses will be handled accordingly. Information, resume, ideas, and comments may be forwarded to Marlyce Alexander via electronic transmission or by facsimile transmission.

This solicitation/synopsis is not to be construed as a commitment by the Government, nor will the Government pay for the information solicited. Respondents will not be notified of the results of the review. Any questions regarding this announcement should be directed to the identified point of contact. The solicitation and any documents related to this procurement will be available over the Internet. These documents will be in Microsoft Office 97 format and will reside on a World Wide Web (WWW) server, which may be accessed using a WWW browser application. The Internet site, or URL, for the NASA/MSFC Business Opportunities home page is


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Posted 12/12/01 (D-SN5149Y7). (0346)

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