The project will study Black Box-MCAT, an integration of NSL’s Black Box EyeStar with UTRFs patent pending µSTAMPS Thruster technology
The United States Space Force recently awarded a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I grant to the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI) and NearSpace Launch (NSL) during its first-ever round of funding. This award will allow UTSI and NSL to conduct a feasibility study of Black Box-MCAT, an integration of NSL’s Black Box EyeStar communications systems technology with UTSI’s µSTAMPS Thruster technology.
Common notions of space satellites might evoke images of Sputnik, but the future of space exploration might be a little smaller – around one to 10 kilograms. Nanosatellites, or CubeSats, offer a more accessible, affordable way to explore space when compared to traditional satellites. In the last five years, the market has grown over 200%. However, current models do not have propulsion thrusters, an issue that could lead to potential issues like collisions and the creation of space debris.
µSTAMPS, pronounced MicroStamps, is a patent-pending electric micro-propulsion technology developed by UTSI researchers, including Trevor Moeller, graduate programs director and associate professor, and Lino Costa, research assistant professor. Black Box, created by NSL, attaches to CubeSats to provide an independent live feed of diagnostics and telemetry for mission success, risk mitigation and space debris. This project seeks to combine UTSI’s novel propulsion system with NSL’s Black Box technology on CubeSats to allow for precise control, positioning and correction of orbit, and potentially extend mission lifetime. If awarded a Phase II grant, the team would pursue a demonstration flight in orbit.
“To me, the impact of successful demonstration of these systems is opening up the door to a revolution in the way we approach space applications,” said Moeller. “It’s really exciting to have a successful proposal on the first round of Space Force funding. It allows us to show the sponsor that the concept will work and deserves further development that would occur in Phase II.”
“The impact of this work has great potential because CubeSats are having a huge impact on the way we access and use space. When you fuse technologies like what NSL has and UTSI is developing, you can address new issues, whether that is IoT, national security or space debris. The potential applications and impact from merging these two technologies can be very significant,” said Costa. “Trevor and I are thrilled to be part of this proposal with NSL.”
Four years ago, Moeller and Costa began developing their novel microthruster technology. UTRF filed a provisional patent application in December 2020 and an utility patent application in December 2021. UTRF also supported Moeller and Costa’s research by awarding them Maturation Grant funding for 2022.
Through the marketing effort of UTRF, Moeller and Costa were connected with Matt Voss, chief operating officer at NSL. NSL manufactures and produces small satellites and has over 700 systems and subsystems in orbit in partnership with universities, government and industry.
“We’re excited about this partnership. It’s always important to see commercial and research institutions coming together to bring the newest technologies to the forefront,” said Voss. “This partnership is great because institutions working and collaborating with organizations like ours bring the most innovative ideas to groups like Space Force and demonstrate how they can use these technologies to help our nation.”
“UTSI is propelling advances in aerospace and defense technologies and systems, including the future of space travel as we know it,” said James Simonton, associate executive director, UTSI. “We are so proud of Trevor and Lino for securing this grant to take a vital next step in commercializing their technology. We’re excited to work with NSL and advance UTSI innovation.”
“We are so proud of UTSI researchers Trevor and Lino for securing one of Space Force’s first-ever STTR Phase I grants,” said UT Tickle College of Engineering Dean Matthew Mench, the Wayne T. Davis Dean’s Chair of the college. “This announcement further highlights the high-quality, valuable research coming out of UTSI and the rest of the Tickle College of Engineering. UT researchers are revolutionizing their chosen fields.”
“We are so excited to have UTRF technology represented in Space Force’s first STTR Phase I round of funding,” said Maha Krishnamurthy, vice president of UTRF. “It has been a pleasure working with Trevor and Lino over the years, helping them advance their technology and develop valuable partnerships with organizations like NSL. We are excited about this project and the next steps for this crucial UTSI technology.”
About the UT Space Institute
The UT Space Institute is a vibrant research, education, and innovation center of excellence, located on a satellite campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT), in Tullahoma, Tennessee, adjacent to the epicenter of US aerospace ground testing at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC). UTSI is generating solutions, technologies, and systems to meet the nation’s aerospace and defense needs. Our graduates become leaders in their fields and help shape the future of the aerospace and defense sectors.
About NearSpace Launch, Inc.
NearSpace Launch, Inc. (NSL) has flown 700+ systems and subsystems in the past six years, with 100% mission success for all commercial and research missions. NSL manufactures and produces ThinSats, CubeSats, Black Boxes, and Sat to Sat enabled communication systems (EyeStar radios) for a variety of commercial, governmental, and educational applications.
NSL was founded following the successful mission of TSAT with Sat to Sat constellation. The mission proved one could effectively connect 24/7 to an NSL EyeStar radio via an established constellation. NSL has a heritage of 13 FastBus CubeSats, 180+ EyeStar radios, 90 ThinSat and additional sub-systems all excelling at their respective mission tasks. For further information please visit www.nearspacelaunch.com
About the Tickle College of Engineering
Since 1838, the Tickle College of Engineering has been committed to graduating students who are ready to thrive in and contribute to the State of Tennessee, the nation, and the world. Programs spanning most major engineering fields are offered, with several nationally ranked among the top 30 of all public institutions.
About the UT Research Foundation
The University of Tennessee Research Foundation is a 501(c)(3) Tennessee corporation established to provide assistance and resources to faculty, staff and students of the UT System campuses and institutes by: supporting UT research; protecting, managing and commercializing UT innovations; promoting an entrepreneurial culture across Tennessee; and contributing to regional economic development.