Shoulda Had a TFFTB Prize

ESMD Gets Back To Basics - NASA Watch

For obvious reasons I tend to post about prizes at this blog, but today I'm posting about a NASA Request for Information (RFI) for the NASA Enabling Technology Development and Demonstration (ETDD) Program. ETDD is one part of the new Exploration Technology and Demonstrations program, which in turn is one of the new Exploration Systems lines in the 2011 NASA budget proposal intended to enable exploration of the Moon, Lagrange points, NEOs, and Mars and its moons. The other part of the Exploration Technology and Demonstrations program is the Flagship Technology Demonstrations line. This line is intended for large demonstrations for technologies like in-orbit propellant transfer and storage, lightweight/inflatable modules, automated/autonomous rendezvous and docking, closed-loop life support systems, and aerocapture/landing.

ETDD is for smaller technology development and demonstration projects. Expected subjects for ETDD include in situ resource utilization, autonomous precision landing, advanced in-space propulsion, closed-loop life support systems, advanced EVA, radiation shielding, human-robotic interfaces, efficient space power systems, EDL (entry, descent, and landing) technologies, high-performance materials and structures, and participatory exploration.

The new ETDD RFI is for several technology demonstrations. The subjects of these demonstrations include:

  • In-Situ Resource Utilization: This is to demonstrate a prototype ISRU system in a vacuum chamber that can simulate lunar temperatures and that can contain lunar simulant. Later, there would be a flight demonstration at the lunar surface on a robotic precursor mission. Of course this plan brings to mind several lunar space prizes: the Regolith Excavation Challenge, the MoonROx Challenge, and the Google Lunar X PRIZE.
  • High-Power Electric Propulsion System for human spaceflight
  • Human Exploration Telerobotics: This involves ISS-to-ground telerobotics, ground-to-ISS telerobotics, and large-scale participatory exploration
  • Fission Power Systems Technology
  • Autonomous Precision Landing: This involves demonstrations on Earth of autonomous landing and hazard avoidance technologies. The long-range plan is to use the technology on a robotic lander on the Moon or other large body. The technology "Must be capable of flying on a variety of lunar lander precursor missions". The two major parts of this demonstration are the Terrestrial Free Flyer Test Bed and the Hazard Detection System.
The Terrestrial Free Flyer Test Bed deserves special attention. This test bed needs to be able to carry 100 kg of sensor/electronics payload as well as supporting mass for other subsystems, fly up to 1 km, translate horizontally, land at various angles ending in the last 30-50 meters with vertical landing, and fly for at least 210 seconds with the payload. I didn't see anything in the RFI about propulsion, but I imagine rocket-powered vehicles would have a bit of an edge.

If only someone had started a Terrestrial Free Flyer Test Bed prize a few years ago to get multiple teams well on their way towards being able to use rocket power to fly payloads up 1 km, translate laterally, and land vertically in challenging terrain after a 210 second flight!

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