The Silicon Valley-based team will collaborate with the University of Central Florida to explore the use of space-based geological materials in future NASA missions.

Deep Space Industries has announced that two of its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) proposals have been selected by NASA. Each project concerns research and innovations in the production of space-based geological materials to enable future NASA missions into deep space.

Both SBIR projects are a collaboration with the University of Central Florida. Dr. Dan Britt, physics professor and well-known meteorite expert, and Dr. Phil Metzger, planetary scientist at the Florida Space Institute and former lunar simulants scientist at NASA’s “Swamp Works” facility, will lead the effort at UCF. The proposal selections are also attributable, in part, to the leadership and reputation of DSI’s chief scientist, Dr. John S. Lewis, the Principle Investigator for both projects.

The first proposal, announced March 15, is a Phase II project to develop task-specific asteroid “simulants” meant for ground testing (a Phase II project expands on recently completed Phase I projects for NASA).

The project will produce at least four types of asteroid simulants at a moderate cost. This initial library of pedigreed asteroid simulants will enable researchers and technology developers to compare their results with others using the library.

The Phase II selection was a consequence of a highly successful DSI and UCF Phase I project which delivered more than one kilogram of a prototype simulant of a carbonaceous chondrite asteroid to NASA. The Phase I simulant project demonstrated that their approaches could successfully replicate the chemistry and morphology of an asteroid.

NASA needs a large amount of asteroid simulants to test instruments, technologies, and procedures for future scientific asteroid missions, including the Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM). The Phase II project will deliver five tons of selected asteroid simulants to NASA over the next two years.

The second and most recent selected SBIR proposal is a Phase I project to further explore the use of clay-based regolith (soil) in producing construction materials in space.

The concept was born from an intriguing property the team discovered while working on asteroid simulants for the earlier project. They found that simple air or vacuum drying of certain minerals can make the clay in regolith easily hard enough for construction in the space environment.

This project will explore construction in space using local materials in an effort to reduce the cost of NASA’s space exploration, provide material for spares and repairs while in space, and make missions more flexible and effective.

“With these two projects, we will be expanding our lab and office space at the Central Florida Research Park adjacent to UCF,” announced Stephen D. Covey, Director of Research & Development at DSI. “It also means that DSI will be bringing at least four UCF students on board to assist with the projects.”

As part of their share of the contracts, UCF will provide research expertise from both Dr. Britt and Dr. Metzger plus at least two additional graduate students who will also work in the DSI Regolith Laboratory.

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