Envisioned NASA missions over the coming decades involve ambitious destinations such as near-earth asteroids, the Moon, and Mars, and activities such as sample return and deep space exploration. These missions will require a new paradigm of very large, yet lightweight, structural systems for deployable components such as solar arrays, antennas, instrument booms, solar sails, trusses, and inflatable habitats. Qualifying these unprecedented structures will require new testing approaches, such as the proposed gravity offloading system which could be used in deployment, structural dynamics, and durability testing. The need for this technology is imminent as NASA has recently selected SEP spacecraft concepts for further study in adapting them to the agency's Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM). The NASA Technology Demonstration Missions SEP Project is currently seeking information from potential vendors regarding the development of 25 kW advanced, flexible-blanket solar array systems for SEP flight demonstration missions. The envisioned technology demonstrator, which will first be evaluated aboard the International Space Station (ISS), must also be extensible to power levels greater than 100 kW. Examples of planned NASA missions and activities that could also benefit from the technology include Starshade, Sunjammer, activity simulation in sub-g extraterrestrial environments, and astronaut training as a potential replacement for underwater training.
A significant commercial market exists for the proposed gravity offloading technology in the qualification of non-NASA spacecraft. Most notably, U.S. military reconnaissance satellites (SIGINT/COMINT) are believed to require extremely large antenna arrays to conduct their missions. We believe that, as with NASA's future lightweight deployable structures, Department of Defense and commercial spacecraft will also push the limits of current ground test capabilities and stand to benefit from a capability to simulate 0-g conditions during qualification testing. ATA has significant experience in the analysis and testing of these components and has experienced the challenges associated with dynamic testing using conventional gravity offloading technology first hand.