NASA Small Spacecraft Technology (SST) Program


Christopher E. Baker

Program Executive

SMALL SPACECRAFT TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM AND FLIGHT OPPORTUNITIES PROGRAM

Justin V. Treptow

Deputy Program Executive (Acting)

SMALL SPACECRAFT TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM AND FLIGHT OPPORTUNITIES PROGRAM

Roger C. Hunter

Program Manager

SMALL SPACECRAFT TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM


Elwood F. Agasid

Deputy Program Manager

SMALL SPACECRAFT TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM

About NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program

The Small Spacecraft Technology (SST) program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, expands the ability to execute unique missions through rapid development and demonstration of capabilities for small spacecraft applicable to exploration, science and the commercial space sector. Through targeted development and frequent in space testing, the program:

  • Enables execution of missions at much lower cost than previously possible.
  • Substantially reduces the time required for development of spacecraft.
  • Enables new mission architectures through the use of small spacecraft.
  • Expands the reach of small spacecraft to new destinations and challenging new environments.
  • Enables the augmentation of existing assets and future missions with supporting small spacecraft.

Small Spacecraft Technology Missions

A microwave oven–sized CubeSat weighing just 55 pounds will serve as the first spacecraft to test a unique, elliptical lunar orbit as part of NASA’s CAPSTONE mission. As a precursor for Gateway, a Moon-orbiting outpost that is part of NASA’s Artemis program, CAPSTONE will help reduce risk for future spacecraft by validating innovative navigation technologies and verifying the dynamics of this halo-shaped orbit. CAPSTONE is expected to launch in May 2022.

The CPOD mission will demonstrate rendezvous, proximity operations and docking (RPOD) using two CubeSats. This flight demonstration will validate and characterize many new miniature low-power proximity operations technologies applicable to future missions. The two CPOD satellites are anticipated for a mid-2022 launch to low-Earth orbit.

NASA’s Starling mission is advancing the readiness of various technologies for cooperative groups of spacecraft – also known as distributed missions, clusters, or swarms. Starling will demonstrate technologies to enable multipoint science data collection by several small spacecraft flying in swarms. The six-month mission will use four CubeSats in low-Earth orbit to test four technologies that let spacecraft operate in a synchronized manner without resources from the ground. The Starling mission will test whether the technologies work as expected, what their limitations are, and what developments are still needed for CubeSat swarms to be successful. Starling is planned for launch in 2022.

NASA is developing new deployable structures and materials technologies for solar sail propulsion systems destined for future low-cost deep space missions. Just as a sailboat is powered by wind in a sail, solar sails employ the pressure of sunlight for propulsion, eliminating the need for conventional rocket propellant. NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System, or ACS3, mission uses composite materials – or a combination of materials with different properties, in its novel, lightweight booms that deploy from a CubeSat. The ACS3 mission is expected to launch in late 2022.

New small spacecraft technologies could transform future deep space mission capabilities and bring down mission costs. NASA’s Payload Accelerator for CubeSat Endeavors, or PACE, initiative is finding ways to speed up the process of getting small spacecraft technologies ready for prime time. PACE’s goal is to mature technology payloads, from early-stage proof-of-concept models to flight qualification for an operational space mission, all while shortening technology testing timelines.

  • Issued as an Appendix to the Space Technology Research, Development, Demonstration, and Infusion (SpaceTech-REDDI) NASA Research Announcement (NRA), the Flight Opportunities Tech Flights solicitation awards funding for promising space-based innovations that may meet NASA mission needs. Awardees receive a grant or cooperative agreement allowing them to purchase flights directly from any eligible U.S. commercial flight provider that best suits their technology demonstration.
  • Open to: Researchers from U.S.-based industry, academia, and other non-NASA organizations (both for-profit and non-profit)
  • Current solicitation: 2022 solicitation to be released soon. Read the synopsis on SAM.gov

The CLICK mission will demonstrate technology to advance the state of the art in communications between small spacecraft as well as the capability to gauge their relative distance and location. CLICK is comprised of two sequential missions. The first mission, CLICK A, will test out elements of an optical (laser) communications system with a single 3-unit (3U) spacecraft. The goal of CLICK B/C, the second mission, is to demonstrate full-duplex (send and receive) optical communications crosslink between two 3U small spacecraft, in low-Earth-orbit. CLICK A and CLICK B/C are anticipated to launch in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

The PTD project will benefit future missions by demonstrating the operation of new subsystem technologies on orbit. These include propulsion systems that provide the capability to maneuver small science platforms and send small spacecraft to deep space; novel technologies to generate more electrical power for deep space small spacecraft missions; and laser communications systems that will greatly increase the amount of data that can be transmitted from the spacecraft to the ground. The first PTD mission, PTD-1, launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on January 24, 2021. The second PTD mission, PTD-3, is expected to launch in mid-2022.

Roughly the size of a briefcase, Lunar Flashlight aims to detect naturally occurring surface ice believed to be at the bottom of craters on the Moon that have never seen sunlight. The observations made by the low-cost mission will provide unambiguous information about the presence of water ice deposits inside craters that would be a valuable in-situ resource for future Artemis missions to the lunar surface. Lunar Flashlight is expected to launch in early 2023.

NASA is funding designers of small spacecraft at The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, to develop a technology demonstration of an evolutionary alternative to the CubeSat standard that maintains the benefits of that platform while overcoming key limitations. DiskSat is a plate-shaped satellite 40 inches in diameter and an inch thick that could offer more power and surface area for instruments, providing more opportunities for NASA to expand upon target mission objectives for small spacecraft. This first DiskSat demonstration is anticipated to launch in 2024.

Through the “Tipping Point” solicitation, NASA seeks industry-developed space technologies that can foster the development of commercial space capabilities and benefit future NASA missions. A technology is considered at a tipping point if an investment in a demonstration will significantly mature the technology, increase the likelihood of infusion into a commercial space application, and bring the technology to market for both government and commercial applications.

Tipping Point 2019 Class
  • Dual Propulsion Experiment (DUPLEX)  – Public-private partnership with CU Aerospace to flight test two fiber fueled CubeSat propulsion systems
  • Courier Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) Demonstration – Public-private partnership with ExoTerra Resource to flight test a micro Hall effect thruster, power system, and solar arrays for a micro SEP system
  • Tiled Ionic Liquid Electrospray (TILE) Propulsion Demonstration – Public-private partnership with Accion to flight test an extremely compact modular electric propulsion system that uses non-volatile ionic salt propellant.
  • X-NAV Autonomous Navigation Demonstration – Public-private partnership with Blue Canyon Technologies for a CubeSat autonomous navigation solution to reduce need for navigational aid from ground stations on Earth.

Please visit the Small Spacecraft Technology program website for more information, or email Julianna.L.Fishman@nasa.gov.

 

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