NASA SBIR 2008 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 08-1 S3.05-9861
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Balloon Technology, Terrestrial and Planetary
PROPOSAL TITLE: Shielded Mars Balloon Launcher (SMBL)

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation
9950 Wakeman Drive
Manassas, VA 20110 - 2702
(703) 369-3633

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Joseph Parrish
1 Broadway, 12th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02142 - 1189
(617) 500-0248

Expected Technology Readiness Level (TRL) upon completion of contract: 3 to 4

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
Aurora Flight Sciences, along with its partner Vertigo Industries, proposes a novel approach to deployment of balloon-based payloads into the Martian atmosphere. Balloon-based Mars exploration has the capability to cover a larger portion of the Martian surface than is accessible via a rover and to provide better resolution than is available from satellites. Due to the low density of the Martian atmosphere, the balloon envelope for even a small payload is quite large (tens of meters in diameter); therefore, balloon deployment is a major challenge for a Mars balloon. A ground launched balloon, as compared to descent launched, allows a longer time constant for deployment, more control over the timing of the deployment, and, if coupled with a rover, also allows more control over the location of deployment. A challenge to ground deployment is the possibility of the envelope being damaged during deployment by winds, surrounding rocks, or parts of the associated lander. Aurora's Shielded Mars Balloon Launcher (SMBL) concept addresses this challenge by using inflatable structures to provide a safe environment for balloon inflation and deployment. The proposed SMBL system has a 15 kg mass and packed volume of 0.15 m^3, and is therefore feasible as a secondary payload on existing Mars exploration missions.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
The SMBL system is intended for use on Mars exploratory missions. Aurora believes the SMBL system has the potential to be light and scientifically valuable enough to be included on multiple missions. For example a SMBL system could be included on both landers of sister missions such as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. In addition the concept could be applied to surface exploration of other planets with additional design work.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
The SMBL concept is also marketable in terrestrial applications where autonomous exploration is valuable. Examples of such an application include on demand weather balloon deployment and autonomous surveying of difficult terrain. There are also potentially military applications for a autonomously launched balloon payload, such as providing aerial video or atmospheric sampling data in response to seismic disturbances.

NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.

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