Categories
GeekWire

Way-out technologies win NASA’s support

NASA’s latest crop of space technology grants will fund work on projects ranging from power-beaming lasers for lunar missions to high-temperature testing of components for nuclear-powered rockets.

Those are just a couple of the 365 concepts attracting a total of $45 million in grants from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs, also known as SBIR and STTR.

Jim Reuter, associate administrator for the space agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said the release of the SBIR/STTR Phase I solicitation was accelerated by two months to help small-scale tech ventures cope with the COVID-19 crisis.

“At NASA, we recognize that small businesses are facing unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic. … We hope the expedited funding helps provide a near-term boost for future success,” Reuter said today in a news release.

This year’s batch of SBIR/STTR Phase I grants will go to 289 small businesses and 47 research institutions across the country. More than 30% of the awards are going to first-time NASA SBIR/STTR recipients.

Categories
GeekWire

PowerLight hits its targets with laser power beaming

Wireless power transmission has been the stuff of science fiction for more than a century, but now PowerLight Technologies is turning it into science fact … with frickin’ laser beams.

“Laser power is closer than you think,” PowerLight CEO Richard Gustafson told me this week.

This is much more than a lab experiment: Gustafson said his company, which is headquartered in Kent, Wash., is wrapping up a $9.5 million demonstration project for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

In 2019, PowerLight showed that its power-beaming system can transmit 400 watts of power — enough to fire up an array of lights, laptops and a coffeemaker. In 2020, it followed up with a demonstration of a lightweight power receiver suitable for drones. The project proved to the Navy’s satisfaction that PowerLight’s laser system could be operated safely without endangering people who get in the beam’s way.

Categories
GeekWire

First Mode gets in on Psyche mission to asteroid

Seattle-based First Mode has been awarded a $1.8 million subcontract from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to build flight hardware for NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, which is due to conduct the first-ever up-close study of a metal-rich asteroid.

Under the terms of the firm, fixed-price contract, First Mode is to deliver a deployable aperture cover that will shield Psyche’s Deep Space Optical Communications system, or DSOC, from contamination and debris during launch. The contract calls for the hardware to be delivered in early 2021.

Psyche is set for launch in 2022, and after a years-long cruise that includes a Mars flyby in 2023, it’s scheduled to arrive at the asteroid Psyche in the main asteroid belt in early 2026.

This won’t be the first visit to an asteroid, but it will be the first visit to an asteroid that’s primarily made of nickel and iron rather than rubble, rock or ice. Scientists say the 140-mile-wide hunk of metal could be the exposed core of a protoplanet that was stripped of its rocky mantle early in the solar system’s history.

In addition to studying the asteroid Psyche, the spacecraft will test laser-based communications with Earth from deep space. The DSOC system’s aperture cover is designed to open early in the mission to kick off the technology demonstration.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

LaserMotive stealthily raises $1.5 million

LaserMotive executives
LaserMotive’s David Bashford and Tom Nugent monitor an experiment. (LaserMotive via YouTube)

LaserMotive, a stealthy pioneer in laser-based power transmission that’s based in Kent, Wash., has raised more than $1.5 million in an equity offering, according to documents filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Investments totaling $1,515,733 have been registered over the past year, according to the filing. The investors’ identities have not yet been made public, and LaserMotive did not immediately respond to GeekWire’s inquiries today.

The company’s co-founder, president and CEO, Tom Nugent, told GeekWire in a January email exchange that LaserMotive has “continued to be in stealth mode over the last couple of years, and we’re not ready to go into too many details yet on where we are.”

LaserMotive focuses on laser applications for transmitting power. In 2009, the company won a $900,000 NASA prize in a competition for laser-powered robot climbers. In 2012, it kept a drone flying for 48 hours straight during a beamed-power demonstration for Lockheed Martin. And in 2013, it unveiled a commercial product to transmit electrical power over fiber-optic cables.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Coast Guard copter hit by laser flash

Image: Laser flash
Laser strikes on pilots have risen dramatically. (Coast Guard photo by Stephen Lehmann)

The U.S. Coast Guard says it had to cut a helicopter training mission short on Monday night after the airborne crew was targeted by someone with a laser near Port Angeles, Wash.

The laser was directed at the MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at around 6:30 p.m., forcing the crew to abort the flight and return to Air Station Port Angeles. “No injuries were reported, but all crew members are grounded until they are cleared by medical personnel, as laser strikes can cause permanent eye damage,” the Coast Guard said today in a statement.

The Coast Guard said it was working with local law-enforcement officials to investigate the incident.

Get the full story on GeekWire.