New Space and Tech

Above Space Tests Artificial Gravity and More With NASA Funding

By Elizabeth Howell
July 20, 2023
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Above Space Tests Artificial Gravity and More With NASA Funding
Conceptual render of Pioneer Station in LEO.
Image credit: Above Space.

A small company called Above Space will be working on moon technology, including artificial gravity, with NASA funding.

The six-person company formerly known as Orbital Assembly Corporation headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama, received an Umbrella Space Act Agreement with NASA.

The five-year agreement will “enable Above to test and validate its software, technology and components that could be used in future cislunar space stations and near-term launch projects,” Rhonda Stevenson, CEO and president of Above Space, said in a recent announcement.

An Above Space spokesperson told SpaceRef in an email that at the end of the agreement with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, they will have finished “a series of hardware and software tests that will lead to a near term launch.”

One completed test series covered partial gravity control systems, through a proprietary “cold gas engine” thruster technology and related software tested in the lab. (Cold gas thrusters for these engines use pressurized gas for thrust, using less plumbing and fewer systems than conventional combustion-propelled rocket engines.)

Above Space’s gravity control system isn’t NASA’s first attempt at artificial gravity — artificial gravity has been demonstrated in space at a small scale during the space shuttle program, for example. Above Space is also working on a space station concept called Voyager that aims for a variety of markets, from space tourists to space agencies that could use it to conduct research.

To continue its own research, Marshall offered a “flat floor robotics lab” to Above Space that provides the opportunity for testing on a cushion of air that offers practically no friction, which is deemed an analog for space exploration. Recently, Above Space used the lab to test a variety of its own technology, to ensure that its partial gravity system would work after being launched into space, a company spokesperson told SpaceRef.

“Above conducted the test to validate its internally designed rocket thrusters, structure, avionics, and control algorithms to be used in maneuvering a space station that provides hybrid gravity, and was able to validate the precision of its technologies as they would function in space,” the company stated in a July 20 press release shared with SpaceRef.

“A large space station will require the ability to provide and manipulate gravity for a variety of applications – including manufacturing, research, defense, and tourism,” the release added. “The ability to spin or rotate a station creates a level of gravity, and Above was able to validate the precision of its technologies as they might function in space.”

Above Space is revenue-positive and has raised about $4.8 million so far, according to its officials. It did regulation crowdfunding (which allows companies to raise up to $5 million from the general public) and two contracts with the Department of Defense under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which totaled $2 million. The DoD contracts include a Phase 2 award for beamed energy receivers, and a Phase 1 award for thin film photovoltaics in partnership with Ascent Solar.

“Above is focused on providing rapidly deployable, versatile space platforms for automated and habitable use, scaling to larger structures with variable, artificial gravity for on-orbit applications and beyond,” a company announcement read.

The company’s technical and engineering team includes Tom Spilker, who was the principal space flight mission architect at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for nearly 22 years, and fellow JPL veteran Robert Miyake who spent decades building and launching spacecraft. These people alone have a combined 50-plus years of spaceflight experience across 30 successful missions, Above Space officials said.

“Above is well-positioned with commercial and government partners to provide more space in space, using existing, commercial off-the-shelf technologies in new and innovative ways,” officials added in a statement for SpaceRef.

“We’re taking the incremental steps to de-risk our technology and demonstrate our near-term capabilities and relevancy for our longer-term objectives: building platforms and ultimately [a] full space station where people will live, work and play.”

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