Flat-panel antennas that are tiny enough to fit on a nanosatellite and a 3-D printer that can recycle space station trash are among the Seattle-area projects that have won seed money in NASA’s latest round of grant-making.
They’re just a couple of the 133 proposals selected for contracts of up to $750,000 under NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program, or SBIR. But what’s notable about Kymeta’s mini-antennas and Tethers Unlimited Inc.’s ERASMUS plastics recycler and 3-D printer is that they could spawn products for use on Earth as well as in space.
Take ERASMUS, for example: The device under development Bothell-based Tethers Unlimited is designed to melt down and sterilize plastic waste and parts, turn the stuff into printer filament, and use it in a 3-D printer to create food utensils, medical devices and other gadgets.
That capability would clearly come in handy on the International Space Station or inside a habitat on the moon or Mars. But Tethers Unlimited says there are also potential terrestrial applications.
“TUI expects that the ability to create food-contact-safe sterilized materials will be ideal for the DoD [Department of Defense] to support soldiers in remote locations where resupply is limited,” the company says in its description of the project. “We also anticipate this technology to be a game-changer for medical service providers with limited access to water.”
Redmond-based Kymeta, meanwhile, plans to use its NASA grant to develop low-power, flat-panel, electronically steerable Ka-band antennas that would fit on a type of satellite known as a 3U CubeSat. Such satellites measure just 4 by 4 by 10 inches, and they’re becoming increasingly popular for space applications.
“This antenna is appropriate for a variety of applications that require high data rate communications but do not have the funding or the weight budget to allow a phased array antenna, including university CubeSat teams, commercial companies, and government entities,” Kymeta says.