Tethers Unlimited and Rocket Propulsion Systems win NASA grants for space tech

Two Seattle-area space ventures — Tethers Unlimited and Rocket Propulsion Systems — are among 124 businesses receiving $750,000 Phase II grants from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

The two-year grants, announced today, support the further development of technologies that can benefit future space missions as well as life on Earth. All of the recipients, hailing from 31 states in all, received $125,000 Phase I grants during earlier rounds of funding.

“We are encouraged by the ingenuity and creativity we’ve seen from these companies in their Phase I work,” Jenn Gustetic, NASA’s SBIR program executive said in a news release. “We have also worked hard to reduce the time selected companies wait for their first Phase II payment, knowing how critical access to capital is for our aerospace research and development firms right now.”

The technologies winning support include some that would come in handy for NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to put astronauts on the lunar surface by as early as 2024. For example, a Tennessee team has proposed a lightweight shield for small-scale nuclear power systems on the moon, while a Michigan team is working on a virtual assistant for spacecraft. Both those technologies could find applications on Earth as well.

Other ideas are more way-out: There’s a Pennsylvania company developing a robotic probe that could melt its way through the icy surface of Europa, and a New Hampshire venture designing a drone to fly through Titan’s atmosphere.

Tethers Unlimited, based in Bothell, Wash., won two separate SBIR Phase II grants. One supports further work on the company’s HyperBus Cargo platform suite, which can accommodate multiple small payloads in space or provide a base for manufacturing, assembly and servicing operations.

During the Phase I work on HyperBus, Tethers Unlimited received a contract from Boeing HorizonX to look into whether the HyperBus platform could be used with communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit, according to the proposal for Phase II.

Tethers Unlimited’s other grant will be used to continue work on ARTIE, a tool-change interface for robotic systems in space.

Rocket Propulsion Systems, based in Renton, Wash., received a Phase II grant to keep working on a novel type of injector system for rocket engines that takes advantage of 3-D printing.

“We are honored to have been selected by NASA for Phase II contract in support of NASA’s next-generation nuclear rocket propulsion development and future interplanetary transportation,” the company said in a statement. “Rocket Propulsion Systems team is excited and looking forward to continued collaboration with NASA over the next two years. We are hopeful this effort to culminate in successful technology commercialization, and invite partners to join.”

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