NASA to create first-ever space technology research institutes

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Washington | Updated: February 17, 2017 2:13:05 PM

The new STRIs created under these proposals will bring together researchers from various disciplines and organisations

Each STRI will receive up to million over the five-year period of performance. (Reuters)Each STRI will receive up to million over the five-year period of performance. (Reuters)

NASA has selected proposals for the creation of two multi-disciplinary, university-led research institutes that will focus on the development of technologies critical to extending human presence deeper into our solar system, the US space agency said today. The new Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs) created under these proposals will bring together researchers from various disciplines and organisations to collaborate on the advancement of cutting-edge technologies in bio-manufacturing and space infrastructure, with the goal of creating and maximising Earth-independent, self-sustaining exploration mission capabilities.

“NASA is establishing STRIs to research and exploit cutting-edge advances in technology with the potential for revolutionary impact on future aerospace capabilities,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. “These university-led, multi-disciplinary research programmes promote the synthesis of science, engineering and other disciplines to achieve specific research objectives with credible expected outcomes within five years.

“At the same time, these institutes will expand the US talent base in areas of research and development with broader applications beyond aerospace,” said Jurczyk. Each STRI will receive up to $15 million over the five-year period of performance. The selected new institutes are: Centre for the Utilisation of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES) and Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP). As NASA shifts its focus from low-Earth orbit to deep space missions, the agency is investing in the development of technologies that will allow long-duration mission crews to manufacture the products they need, rather than relying on the current practice of resupply missions from Earth. The CUBES institute will advance research into an integrated, multi-function, multi-organism bio-manufacturing system to produce fuel, materials, pharmaceuticals and food.

While the research goals of the CUBES institute are to benefit deep-space planetary exploration, these goals also lend themselves to practical Earth-based applications. For example, the emphasis on using carbon dioxide as the base component for materials manufacturing has relevance to carbon dioxide management on Earth.

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Affordable deep space exploration will require transformative materials for the manufacturing of next-generation transit vehicles, habitats, power systems and other exploration systems, NASA said. These building materials need to be lighter and stronger than those currently used in even the most advanced systems.

US-COMP aims to develop and deploy a carbon nanotube-based, ultra-high strength, lightweight aerospace structural material within five years. Success will mean a critical change to the design paradigm for space structures. Through collaboration with industry partners, it is anticipated that advances in laboratories could quickly translate to advances in manufacturing facilities that will yield sufficient amounts of advanced materials for use in NASA missions.

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