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Lightweight Spacecraft Materials and Structures


The SBIR topic area of Lightweight Spacecraft Materials and Structures centers on developing lightweight inflatable structures, advanced manufacturing technologies for metallic and composite materials, structural sensoring techniques, and in-situ non-destructive evaluation systems. Applications are expected to include space exploration vehicles including launch vehicles, crewed vehicles, and surface and habitat systems. The area of expandable structures solicits innovative concepts to support the development of lightweight-structure technologies that would be viable solutions to high packaging efficiency and increasing the usable primary pressurized volume in habitats, airlocks, and other crewed vessels. Technologies are needed to minimize launch mass, size and costs, while maintaining the required structural performance for loads and environments. Advanced fabrication and manufacturing of lightweight structures focuses on the development of metallic alloys and hybrid materials, processing and fabrication technologies related to near-net shape forming. The goal is to reduce structural weight, assembly steps, and minimize welds, resulting in increased reliability and reduced cost. Research should evaluate material compatibility with forming methods and establish fundamental microstructure/processing/property correlations to guide full-scale fabrication. Laboratory scale test methods are needed to accurately simulate the deformation modes experienced in large-scale manufacturing. Polymer matrix composite (PMC) materials have been identified as a critical need for launch and in-space vehicles. The reduction of structural mass translates directly to additional performance, increased payload mass and reduced cost. PMC materials are also critical for other structures, such as cryogenic propellant tanks. Advances in PMC materials, automated manufacturing processes, non-autoclave curing methods, advances in damage-tolerant/repairable structures, and PMC materials with high resistance to microcracking at cryogenic temperatures are sought. The objective is to advance technology readiness levels of PMC materials and manufacturing for launch vehicle and in-space applications resulting in structures having affordable, reliable, and predictable performance. Practical modular structural sensor systems and NDE technologies are sought for spaceflight missions. Smart, lightweight, low-volume, and stand-alone sensor systems should reduce the complexities of standard wires and connectors and enable sensing in locations not normally accessible. NDE sensor system technology should include modular, low-volume systems and have the ability to perform inspections with minimal human interaction. Systems need to provide the location and extent of damage with the minimal data transfer between the flight system and Earth. Mission application areas include space transportation vehicles, pressure vessels, ISS modules, inflatable structures, EVA suits, MMOD shields, and thermal protection structures. Research under this topic should be conducted to demonstrate technical feasibility during Phase I and show a path toward a Phase II hardware demonstration, and when possible, deliver a full-scale demonstration unit for functional and environmental testing at the completion of the Phase II contract.

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