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Extreme Environments Technology


Scope Title:

Extreme Environments Technology

Scope Description:

NASA's missions support a diversity of environments with extreme conditions that are not observed on Earth. Traditional approaches for building a spacecraft for these environments call for the use of environmental protective housings to keep the instruments and other hardware in Earth-like conditions. These environmental protective housings are mass and power intensive. To eliminate the need for these environmental protective housings with large size, weight and power (SWaP), this subtopic develops technologies for producing space systems and instruments that can directly operate in the extreme environments of NASA missions.


This subtopic addresses NASA's need to develop space technologies and systems that can operate without environmental protection housing in the extreme environments of NASA missions. Key performance parameters of interest are survivability and operation under one of the following conditions:

  1. Very low temperature environments (as low as -240 °C) (e.g., temperatures at the surfaces of Titan and of other ocean worlds, and in permanently shadowed craters on the Moon).
  2. Combination of low-temperature and high-radiation environments (-180 °C with 2.9 Mrad of radiation) (e.g., surface conditions of Europa).
  3. Very high temperature and high pressure and chemically corrosive environments (480 °C, 90 bar) (e.g., Venus surface conditions).


NASA is interested in expanding its ability to explore the deep atmospheres and surfaces of planets, asteroids, and comets through the use of long-lived (>10 days) balloons, rovers, and landers. Survivability in extreme high temperatures and high pressures is also required for deep-atmospheric probes to the giant planets. Proposals are sought for technologies that are suitable for remote-sensing applications at cryogenic temperatures and in situ atmospheric and surface explorations in the high-temperature, high-pressure environment at the Venusian surface or in low-temperature environments such as those of Titan, Europa, Ganymede, Mars, the Moon, asteroids, comets, and other small bodies. In addition, proposals are sought for technologies that enable NASA's long-duration missions to environments with wide temperature swings and high cosmic radiation. High reliability, ease of maintenance, low size, weight, and power (SWaP), and low outgassing characteristics are highly desirable. Special interest lies in the development of the following technologies that are suitable for the environments discussed above:

  • Wide-temperature-range precision mechanisms: for example, beam-steering, scanner, linear, and tilting multi-axis mechanisms.
  • Radiation-tolerant/radiation-hardened low-power, low-noise, mixed-signal  control electronics for precision actuators and sensors.
  • Wide-temperature-range, radiation-hard sensors and actuators for autonomous robotic missions.
  • Wide-temperature-range feedback sensors with subarcsecond/nanometer precision.
  • Long-life, long-stroke, low-power, and high-torque force actuators with subarcsecond/nanometer precision.
  • Long-life bearings/tribological surfaces/lubricants.
  • High-temperature analog and digital electronics, electronic components, and in-circuit energy storage (capacitors, inductors, etc.) elements.
  • High-temperature actuators and gearboxes for robotic arms and other mechanisms.
  • Low-power and wide-operating-temperature radiation-tolerant/radiation-hardened radio-frequency (RF) electronics.
  • Radiation-tolerant/radiation-hardened, low-power/ultralow-power, wide-operating-temperature, low-noise mixed-signal electronics for spaceborne systems such as guidance and navigation avionics and instruments.
  • Radiation-tolerant/radiation-hardened, wide-operating-temperature power electronics.
  • Radiation-tolerant/radiation-hardened electronic packaging (including shielding, passives, connectors, wiring harness, and materials used in advanced electronics assembly).

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 3 to 5

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 08 Sensors and Instruments
  • Level 2 08.X Other Sensors and Instruments

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Prototype
  • Hardware
  • Research
  • Analysis

Desired Deliverables Description:

Provide research results and analysis for Phase I as a final report. Deliverables for Phase II should include proof-of-concept working prototypes that demonstrate the innovations defined in the proposal and enable direct operation in extreme environments. 


Research and technology development work 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 demonstration unit for functional and environmental testing at the completion of the Phase II contract.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

Future NASA missions to high-priority targets in our solar system will require systems that have to operate at extreme environmental conditions. Current state-of-practice for development of space systems is to place the hardware developed with conventional technologies into bulky and power-inefficient environmentally protective housings. The use of environmental-protection housing will severely increase the mass of the space system and limit the life of the mission and the corresponding science return. More recently, researchers have worked on technologies that are tolerant to extreme environments. Example of such technologies include sensor and electronic platforms in silicon carbide, silicon germanium, and III-nitrides. However, these developments are still at the early stages and need to be advanced to higher technology readiness levels (TRLs) to be applicable to NASA missions. This solicitation seeks to change the state of the practice by supporting technologies that will enable development of low-SWaP, highly efficient systems that can readily survive and operate in these extreme environments without the need for the environmental protection systems.


All proposals relevant to the scope described above would be eligible to be considered for award. This year a preference will be given to those proposals that would benefit in situ studies of planets with extreme environments. Specific examples include techniques that would be beneficial to systems that will descend through kilometers of cryogenic ice in ocean worlds, acquire and communicate scientific observations during descent, and sample and concentrate meltwater and interior oceans.

Relevance / Science Traceability:

Relevance to SMD (Science Mission Directorate) is high.


Low-temperature survivability is required for surface missions to Titan (-180 °C), Europa (-220 °C), Ganymede (-200 °C), small bodies, and comets. Mars diurnal temperatures range from -120 °C to +20 °C. For the Europa Clipper baseline concept with a mission life of 10 years, the radiation environment is estimated at 2.9 Mrad TID (total ionizing dose) behind 0.1-in-thick aluminum. Lunar equatorial region temperatures swing from -180 °C to +130 °C during the lunar day/night cycle, and shadowed lunar pole temperatures can drop to -240 °C.


Advanced technologies for high-temperature systems (electronic, electromechanical, and mechanical) and pressure vessels are needed to ensure NASA can meet its long-duration (days instead of hours) life target for its science missions that operate in high-temperature and high-pressure environments.


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