NASA Tech One Step Closer to Launch on Next Falcon Heavy


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A new kind of atomic clock, non-toxic propellant system and missions to characterize how space weather interferes with satellites and communication transmissions are one step closer to liftoff. With the second-ever SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch complete, these NASA technologies await the powerful rocket’s next flight.

“We are pleased with the success of yesterday’s Falcon Heavy launch and first-stage landings,” said Acting Associate Administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate Jim Reuter. “We have important technologies that are ready to fly, and this success helps put us on that path.”

The NASA technologies include two twin CubeSats, one small satellite and several payloads. Each has a unique set of objectives, but they have a common goal: improve future spacecraft design and performance, no matter the destination.

The Enhanced Tandem Beacon Experiment, or E-TBEx, CubeSats measure how radio signals can be distorted by large bubbles that form naturally in Earth’s charged upper atmosphere. Such distortions can significantly interfere with communications and GPS in large regions near Earth’s magnetic equator. The more we understand about the fundamental processes causing such disruptive bubbles, the more we can ultimately forecast and mitigate these disturbances.

The Green Propellant Infusion Mission demonstrates an alternative to conventional chemical propulsion systems. The new technology could improve overall spacecraft performance and reduce our reliance on the highly toxic fuel hydrazine.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock will be the first-ever ion clock in space and potentially the most stable space clock – taking nine million years to drift by a second. The technology offers a new way for spacecraft to navigate autonomously and explore deep space.

The Space Environment Testbeds mission studies how to protect satellites by assessing how the space environment near Earth affects hardware performance. Such information can be used to improve spacecraft design, engineering and operations in order to protect them from harmful radiation driven by the Sun.

The technologies are part of the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) multi-manifest mission. Over the next few months, SpaceX and the Air Force will ready the mission for launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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