NASA’s SBIR program regularly doles out cash to promising small businesses and research programs, and the lists of awardees is always interesting to sift through. Here are a dozen companies and proposals from this batch that are especially compelling or suggest new directions for missions and industry in space.
Sadly these brief descriptions are often all that is available. These things are often so early stage that there’s nothing to show but some equations and a drawing on the back of a napkin — but NASA knows promising work when it sees it. (You can learn more about how to apply for SBIR grants here.)
Martian Sky Technologies wins the backronym award with Decluttering of Earth Orbit to Repurpose for Bespoke Innovative Technologies, or DEORBIT, an effort to create an autonomous clutter-removal system for low Earth orbit. It is intended to monitor a given volume and remove any intruding items, clearing the area for construction or occupation by another craft.
Image Credits: Getty Images
There are lots of proposals for various forms of 3D printing, welding, and other things important to the emerging field of “On-orbit servicing, assembly, and manufacturing” or OSAM. One I found interesting uses ultrasonics, which is weird to me because clearly, in space, there’s no atmosphere for ultrasonic to work in (I’m going to guess they thought of that). But this kind of counterintuitive approach could lead to a truly new approach.
Doing OSAM work will likely involve coordinating multiple robotic platforms, something that’s hard enough on Earth. TRAClabs is looking into a way to “enhance perceptual feedback and decrease the cognitive load on operators” by autonomously moving robots not in use to positions where they can provide useful viewpoints of the others. It’s a simple idea and fits with the way humans tend to work — if you’re not the person doing the actual task, you automatically move out of the way and to a good position to see what’s happening.
Hall effect thrusters are a highly efficient form of electric propulsion that could be very useful in certain types of in-space maneuvering. But they’re not particularly powerful, and it seems that to build larger ones existing manufacturing techniques will not suffice. Elementum 3D aims to accomplish it by developing a new additive manufacturing technique and cobalt-iron feedstock that should let them make these things as big as they want.
Venus is a fascinating place, but its surface is extremely hostile to machines the way they’re built here on Earth. Even hardened Mars rovers like Perseverance would succumb in minutes, seconds even in the 800F heat. And among the many ways they would fail is that the batteries they use would overheat and possibly explode. TalosTech and the University of Delaware are looking into an unusual type of battery that would operate at high temperatures by using atmospheric CO2 as a reactant.
When you’re going to space, every gram and cubic centimeter counts, and once you’re out there, every milliwatt does as well. That’s why there’s always a push to switch legacy systems to low size, weight, and power (low-SWaP) alternatives. Intellisense is taking on part of the radio stack, using neuromorphic (i.e. brainlike – but not in a sci-fi way) computing to simplify and shrink the part that sorts and directs incoming signals. Every gram saved is one more spacecraft designers can put to work elsewhere, and they may get some performance gains as well.
Astrobotic is becoming a common name to see in NASA’s next few years of interplanetary missions, and its research division is looking at ways to make both spacecraft and surface vehicles like rovers smarter and safer using lidar. One proposal is a lidar system narrowly focused on imaging single small objects in a sparse scene (e.g. scanning one satellite from another against the vastness of space) for the purposes of assessment and repair. The second involves a deep learning technique applied to both lidar and traditional imagery to identify obstacles on a planet’s surface. The team for that one is currently also working on the VIPER water-hunting rover aiming for a 2023 lunar landing.
Bloomfield does automated monitoring of agriculture, but growing plants in orbit or on the surface or Mars is a little different than here on Earth. But it’s hoping to expand to Controlled Environment Agriculture, which is to say the little experimental farms we’ve used to see how plants grow under weird conditions like microgravity. They plan to use multi-spectral imaging and deep learning analysis thereof to monitor the state of plants constantly so astronauts don’t have to write “leaf 25 got bigger” every day in a notebook.
The Artemis program is all about going to the Moon “to stay,” but we haven’t quite figured out that last part. Researchers are looking into how to refuel and launch rockets from the lunar surface without bringing everything involved with them, and Exploration Architecture aims to take on a small piece of that, building a lunar launchpad literally brick by brick. It proposes an integrated system that takes lunar dust or regolith, melts it down, then bakes it into bricks to be placed wherever needed. It’s either that or bring Earth bricks, and I can tell you that’s not a good option.
Several other companies and research agencies proposed regolith-related construction and handling as well. It was one of a handful of themes, some of which are a little too in the weeds to go into.
Another theme was technologies for exploring ice worlds like Europa. Sort of like the opposite of Venus, an ice planet will be lethal to “ordinary” rovers in many ways and the conditions necessitate different approaches for power, sensing, and traversal.
NASA isn’t immune to the new trend of swarms, be they satellite or aircraft. Managing these swarms takes a lot of doing, and if they’re to act as a single distributed machine (which is the general idea) they need a robust computing architecture behind them. Numerous companies are looking into ways to accomplish this.
You can see the rest of NASA’s latest SBIR grants, and the technology transfer program selections too, at the dedicated site here. And if you’re curious how to get some of that federal cash yourself, read on below.
Researchers create a novel method of bioprinting neuron cells – Medical Xpress
A group of researchers including a Concordia Ph.D. student have developed a new method of bioprinting adult neuron cells. They’re using a new laser-assisted technology that maintains high levels of cell viability and functionality.
Ph.D. candidate and 2020-21 Public Scholar Hamid Orimi and his co-authors present the feasibility of a new bioprinting technology they developed in a recent paper published in the journal Micromachines. They demonstrate how the methodology they created, called Laser-Induced Side Transfer (LIST), improves on existing bioprinting techniques by using bioinks of differing viscosities, allowing for better 3D printing. Orimi, his Concordia co-supervisor Sivakumar Narayanswamy in the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science, CRHMR co-supervisor Christos Boutopoulos and co-authors at the Université de Montréal first presented the method in the Nature journal Scientific Reports in 2020.
Orimi co-wrote the newer paper with lead author Katiane Roversi, Sebastien Talbot and Boutopoulos at UdeM and Marcelo Falchetti and Edroaldo da Rocha at Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil. In it, the researchers demonstrate that the technology can be used to successfully print sensory neurons, a vital component of the peripheral nervous system. This, they say, is promising for the long-term development of bioprinting’s potential, including disease modeling, drug testing and implant fabrication.
Viable and functional
The researchers used dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons from the peripheral nervous system of mice to test their technology. The neurons were suspended in a bioink solution and loaded into a square capillary above a biocompatible substrate. Low-energy nanosecond laser pulses were focused on the middle of the capillary, generating microbubbles that expanded and ejected a cell-laden microjet onto the substrate below it. The samples were briefly incubated, then washed and re-incubated for 48 hours.
The team then ran several tests to measure the printed cells’ capacities. A viability assay found that 86 percent of the cells remained alive two days after printing. The researchers note that viability rates improved when the laser used lower energy. The thermomechanics associated with higher laser energy use was more likely to damage the cells.
Other tests measured neurite outgrowth (in which developing neurons produce new projections as they grow in response to guidance cues), neuropeptide release, calcium imaging and RNA sequencing. Overall, the results were generally encouraging, suggesting that the technique could be an important contribution to the field of bioprinting.
Good for people and animals
“In general, people often leap to conclusions when we talk about bioprinting,” Orimi says. “They think that we can now print things like human organs for transplants. While this is a long-term objective, we are very far from that point. But there are still many ways to use this technology.”
Nearest at hand is drug discovery. The team hopes to get approval to continue their research into cell grafting, which can assist greatly in drug discovery, such as for nerve recovery medicines.
Another advantage to using this technology, Orimi says, is a decrease in animal testing. This not only has a humanitarian aspect—fewer animals will be euthanized to carry out experiments meant to benefit humans—but it will also produce more accurate results, since testing will be carried out on human, not animal, tissue.
Hamid Ebrahimi Orimi et al, Drop-on-demand cell bioprinting via Laser Induced Side Transfer (LIST), Scientific Reports (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-66565-x
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Josh Richards Is Bringing Back The Woolly Mammoth – Forbes
Influencers are everywhere.
They are at the MET Gala. They are walking the red carpet at the VMAs and now they are part of a team creating de-extinction technology which will bring the woolly mammoth back to the Arctic tundra within the next six years.
Yes, you read that right. Extinction could be a thing of the past thanks to a TikToker and his friends.
Josh Richards may be known to the masses as a TikTok star with over 40 million followers across social media but he has consistently proven to be a lot more than that.
He has developed himself into a serial entrepreneur with companies ranging from Ani Energy, his energy drink which is now in Walmart, to Cross Check Studios, his production company with Mark Wahlberg, to Animal Capital, an $18 million venture capital fund that he started with his business partner Michael Gruen and former Goldman Sachs investment banker Marshall Sandman.
This week, Richards and his fund Animal Capital announced their investment and advisory position into Colossal. They are a company that is using recent breakthrough advances in CRISPR genetic engineering, a new wave of disruptive conservation and restorative biology, which will eventually make extinction a thing of the past.
The company was founded by tech entrepreneur Ben Lamm and world-renowned geneticist and serial biotech entrepreneur George Church, Ph.D. In addition to being a founder of Colossal, Church also serves as a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and is a Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard and MIT.
Lamm said, “Genetic engineering holds an endless amount of opportunity for the future of humanity: From eradicating diseases to improving our ability to survive in changing climates. It is a breakthrough technology. As an entrepreneur, I’ve routinely found myself on the cusp of breakthrough technologies because I believe they mark powerful nexus events in the future of our species. I am incredibly excited and grateful for great partners and investors like Josh Richards and Animal Capital who see our long-term vision and can help contribute to the advancement of science and genomics.”
Richards has been involved in the Animal Capital since its inception a year ago and his stamp is felt throughout the company. He, Gruen and Sandman brought on billionaire movie and technology mogul, Thomas Tull, to lead the round of funding. They brought Paramount Pictures President, Michael Ireland, and Billboard president, Julian Holguin, on as advisors. They got the billionaire Winklevoss twins to invest, as well as others. They’ve also been heavily involved in the company’s rollout and media strategy.
Josh Richards said, “It is mind boggling that a 19-year-old kid from a small town in Ontario could be a part of a team that will change the world. To be involved in a company like this, that will change the world for the better, and allow my kids’ kids to have a better life, is truly an honor. My generation is the generation tasked with combatting climate change and creating a better world as we are the generation set to inherit the Earth.”
Sandman, the managing partner of Animal Capital, said, “The opportunity to invest in Colossal really speaks to the reason we originally started Animal Capital. Ben, George and the entire team are on a path to change the world and we are proud to be along for the journey”
Animal Capital’s other investments, include: Mental health technology, Whoop, crypto startup, WonderFi, which went public on the NEO two weeks ago and calendar-based social media platform, Saturn.
So, who knows, maybe we’ll see Josh Richards making a TikTok on a wooly mammoth. soon. Stay tuned.
SpaceX set to launch first all-civilian crew into orbit. Here’s what you should know – Globalnews.ca
The latest in a recent line of billionaire space enthusiasts prepared for liftoff on Wednesday along with three other private citizens aboard a SpaceX rocket ship, aiming to become the first all-civilian crew launched into Earth orbit.
The quartet of amateur space travelers, led by the American founder and chief executive of e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments Inc Jared Isaacman, were due for blastoff as early as 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The flight, with no professional astronauts accompanying SpaceX’s paying customers, is expected to last about three days from liftoff to splashdown in the Atlantic.
“Everything is go for launch,” SpaceX principal integration engineer John Insprucker declared about 3 1/2 hours before launch time in a SpaceX webcast of pre-liftoff activities.
A short time earlier, Isaacman, 38, and his crewmates – Sian Proctor, 51, Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and Chris Sembroski, 42 – strolled out of a SpaceX hangar waiving to cheering crowds of family, friends and well-wishers.
From there they were driven in two automobiles across the space center complex to a support building, where they donned the black-and-white spacesuits they will wear for liftoff.
They then headed to the launch pad to board a gleaming white SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, perched atop one of the company’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets and fitted with a special observation dome in place of the usual docking hatch.
Video shows SpaceX debris lighting up B.C. skies
This marks the debut flight of SpaceX owner Elon Musk’s new orbital tourism business, and a leap ahead of competitors likewise offering rides on rocket ships to customers willing to pay a small fortune for the exhilaration – and bragging rights – of spaceflight.
Isaacman has paid an undisclosed sum to fellow billionaire Musk to send himself and his three crewmates aloft. Time magazine has put the ticket price for all four seats at $200 million.
The mission, called Inspiration4, was conceived by Isaacman mainly to raise awareness and support for one of his favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer center in Memphis, Tennessee.
Inspiration4 is aiming for an orbital altitude of 360 miles (575 km) above Earth, higher than the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope. At that height, the Crew Dragon will circle the globe once every 90 minutes at a speed of some 17,000 miles per hour (27,360 kph), or roughly 22 times the speed of sound.
Leap ahead of rivals
Rival companies Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin inaugurated their own private-astronaut services this summer, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, each going along for the ride.
Those suborbital flights, lasting a matter of minutes, were short hops compared with Inspiration4’s spaceflight profile.
SpaceX already ranks as the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA. Two of its Dragon capsules are docked there already.
The Inspiration4 crew will have no part to play in flying the spacecraft, which will be operated by ground-based flight teams and onboard guidance systems, even though two crew members are licensed pilots.
Isaacman, who is rated to fly commercial and military jets, has assumed the role of mission “commander,” while Proctor, a geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate, has been designated as the mission “pilot.”
Rounding out the crew are “chief medical officer” Arceneaux, a bone cancer survivor turned St. Jude physician assistant, and mission “specialist” Sembroski, a U.S. Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer.
The four crewmates have spent five months in rigorous preparations, including altitude fitness, centrifuge (G-force), microgravity and simulator training, emergency drills, classroom work and medical exams.
Inspiration4 officials have said the mission is more than a joyride.
Once in orbit, the crew will perform a series of medical experiments with “potential applications for human health on Earth and during future spaceflights,” the group said in media materials.
Biomedical data and biological samples, including ultrasound scans, will also be collected from crew members before, during and after the flight.
“The crew of Inspiration4 is eager to use our mission to help make a better future for those who will launch in the years and decades to come,” Isaacman said in a statement.
— Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles
© 2021 Reuters
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