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NASA Empowers Workforce to Advance Deep Space Technologies

Press Release From: NASA HQ
Posted: Monday, September 20, 2021

NASA has selected 10 proposals led by early-career employees across the agency for two-year projects that will support the development of new capabilities for deep space human exploration.

These proposals were selected under Project Polaris, a new initiative to support the NASA workforce in efforts to meet the challenges of sending humans to the Moon and Mars. Project Polaris seeks to fill high-priority capability gaps on deep space missions like those planned under Artemis and introduce new technologies into human exploration flight programs. The project also aims to create opportunities for early-career employees across NASA centers to gain experience building and testing flight hardware while developing technologies and reducing risk for future human exploration missions.

The selected projects involve early-career employees from 8 of the 10 NASA centers. Read more about the selected projects:

Radiation Assessment During Exposure and Long Duration Spaceflight

Lead Center: Ames Research Center

Long-duration spaceflight missions pose a high risk of radiation exposure to crew members, potentially increasing the likelihood of cancer and degenerative diseases. NASA currently uses physical dosimetry, or, measured biological responses devices, to measure radiation exposure, which determines the dose of radiation, but not individual physiological responses. By understanding each person’s effective dose through radiation, biodosimetry will reduce risk by guiding countermeasures or alterations in duty.

This team will develop fast, easy-to-use, end-to-end radiation biodosimetry technology sensitive to levels expected of a solar particle event. This system will go from whole blood to quantitative, personalized results with less crew time and training than current heritage polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods currently used on the International Space Station.

Enabling Full Scale Laser Processed Condensing Heat Exchanger (LP-CHX) Manufacturing

Lead Center: Glenn Research Center

Current Condensing Heat Exchanger (CHX) technology relies on a coating that makes the system more susceptible to water carryover and early refurbishment. In response, this team is developing a novel electroplating process that streamlines manufacturing complexities, ultimately reducing manufacturing time by 18 months and cost by more than $1 million.

Deliverables of this project will be one to three full-scale, electroplated packets, microbial test, and a detailed manufacturing plan.

Multifunctional Nanosensor Platform for Environmental Monitoring

Lead Center: Goddard Space Flight Center

The team recognized a need for a major constituent and trace contaminant gas monitoring system. This system will allow for real-time environmental monitoring of enclosed areas of space habitats and pressurized rovers, as well as monitoring of external environments, to ensure the safety of crew and proper operation of space assets.

The objective of the project is to develop a small, lightweight, low power instrument-on-a-chip for environmental monitoring. The chip will be equipped with printed components with unique and automated micro- and nano-printing techniques.

Joint Augmented Reality Visual Informatics System (JARVIS) for Spacesuit Displays and Controls 

Lead Center: Johnson Space Center

This team has proposed the JARVIS project, in which they will develop a heads-in display system for the informatic displays and controls component of spacesuits. Heads-in displays are wearable computers that will allow astronauts to gather critical information for a mission, whether that’s work instructions, hazardous gas information, detecting hot and cold, or anything that allows a task at hand to be safer and more efficient.

A functioning JARVIS solution will help minimize cost and schedule impacts for the extravehicular activity, or spacewalk, program and its future commercial spacesuit procurement JARVIS is also innovating radiation mitigation and optical elements for Augmented Reality displays.

Displays for Sustained Lunar Spacecraft Missions

Lead Center: Johnson Space Center

Crew displays, or digital interfaces for astronauts, are essential to successful human spaceflight missions. They’re also the centerpiece of the crew’s interface to spacecraft systems, providing access to critical mission data, robotics, emergency response tools, training, and other assets.

As NASA makes plans for long-duration missions, NASA and industry partners will need displays showing known reliability in the radiation environment. This project will take steps towards producing radiation-tolerant displays for sustained human spaceflight missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

Spaceflight Autonomous Multigenerational Microbial Sequencer

Lead Center: Kennedy Space Center

This team will build and test a multigenerational microbial growth system. They will demonstrate 14 days of autonomous operation while accounting for data transmission.

This capability will enable the monitoring of microbes relevant to plant production and water purification processes or in-situ resource utilization under spaceflight conditions, including increased radiation and reduced gravity. This technology could help provide advanced life support during future deep space missions.

Truss Autonomously Assembled in the Lunar Environment (TAALE)

Lead Center: Langley Research Center

TAALE is a compact, lightweight, and portable, low-power self-erecting tower for use on landers, exploration rovers, and robotic lunar surface operations. Because the lunar tower is multi-functional and autonomous, it can help close two capability gaps: over horizon communications; and landing within 50 meters of a specified landing site on the Moon.

This project aims to demonstrate autonomous erection of a fixed lunar infrastructure, develop systems to improve the lunar towers to support payloads, demonstrate the creation of a local WiFi network for data transfer from the top of the tower to the bottom, and demonstrate a stable platform with power and data routing for landing site survey payloads.

Bioremediation of Microgravity Biofilms and Water Processor Health

Lead Center: Marshall Space Flight Center

Robust life support systems, especially those that operate without the need for component replacement during a mission, are necessary for continued human space exploration. However, two of the primary concerns are biofouling, defined as the accumulation of microorganisms on submerged surfaces, and clogging.

Similar to the gene drive approaches to stop the spread of the Zika virus, this project proposes developing methods that cause the splitting of essential genes for biofilm formation, which begins when free-floating microorganisms such as bacteria come in contact with an appropriate surface and begin to “put down roots,” so to speak. Results from ground testing will be compared to results in microgravity, and then compared to other technologies. This technology can be implemented in life support systems, emphasizing the need for ground testing to microgravity comparisons.

The Data Planning and Control Tool (DPAC)

Lead Center: Marshall Space Flight Center

As NASA missions and technologies evolve, ground operations will move away from 24-hour manual support, emphasizing the importance of autonomy in ground operations.

The DPAC tool will automate planning by merging telemetry, flight control, and procedures into a seamless interface for Mission Operators. DPAC will also reduce workload, lower the risk for human errors, and provide modularity across programs such as Gateway and lunar surface operations.

Autonomous Satellite Technology for Resilient Applications (ASTRA)

Lead Center: Stennis Space Center

ASTRA provides flight heritage for an autonomous system development platform that can support multiple missions and projects and reduces capability gaps.

The team will infuse and validate autonomy software called NASA Platform for Autonomous Systems (NPAS) via on-orbit autonomous operation of satellite imaging functions, evaluate the performance of NPAS in space by monitoring system behavior and conducting stress test experiments; and build the expertise of early-career employees to support future human exploration missions. ​​​​​​​


​​​​​​​Project Polaris is funded by the Advanced Exploration Systems division within the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.



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