NASA gave an encouraging nod to a Goleta small business Tuesday when administrators took a tour of Deployable Space Systems, viewing solar array technology designed to compete with work from major national contractors.
The morning tour marked the first public glimpse of DSS’ large, high-powered solar array system — Roll Out Solar Array (ROSA) — and advanced, more affordable technology that could create a roadmap to get humans to Mars and beyond by the 2030s.
NASA awarded DSS a $4.7 million contract in 2012 to develop a system that supports solar electric propulsion, and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden checked on the progress Tuesday, along with Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and other NASA representatives.
DSS President Brian Spence, who founded the company in 2008, was flanked by his white-coat-clad technicians and members of the media as he led the excursion and asked NASA to consider DSS’ ROSA 25 kW Class Solar Array Wing and larger Mega-ROSA.
The ROSA system features a “roll out” design that uses composite booms to structure and deploy the solar panels without the aid of motors, making it lighter and less expensive than current solar array designs.
If NASA likes what DSS comes up with, the company could compete for a second round of funding to test the arrays in a harsh space environment, battling it out with fellow Goleta business ATK Space Systems, Boeing and more.
“The profile, the shape is very desirable, too,” Spence said of the array that could be strapped to satellites. “You can pack a lot of power into a given space.”
Bolden asked questions about class sizes and solar array wing proportion while watching videos demonstrating tests.
“What happens if one side snags?” Bolden asked during the tour.
“One side can’t roll faster than the other,” Spence answered, referring to a coupled design.
Technician directors outlined DSS-conducted tests for wing levels, launch vibration and acoustics.
Spence noted the ROSA arrays would be much more expensive than those on regular people’s rooftops.
DSS also designed the solar electric power system to be mass manufactured in a fully automated robotic assembly, which could slash the price of production by half.
Spence concluded the tour by highlighting the Mega-ROSA, which integrates multiple high-voltage ROSA modular “winglets” into a deployable backbone structure, featuring a flex-blanket solar array configuration conducive to providing higher power levels.
“This is really important to us,” Bolden said of developing technology to explore Mars. “We constantly have to answer the question ‘why?’ My fear is that if we don’t do it, humans will miss out on a chance of a lifetime.”
He said private industry plays a key role in NASA, which is merely a facilitator for future pioneers.
DSS will continue configuring its solar array system to support an International Space Station spaceflight experiment in early 2016.