NASA Selects Six Small Businesses to Develop Tech for Orbital Debris and Surface Dust

NASA Selects Six Small Businesses to Develop Tech for Orbital Debris and Surface Dust

NASA has selected six U.S. small businesses to receive nearly $20 million in total to advance technologies to address two challenges in space exploration: orbital debris and surface dust. During their contracts, the companies will produce prototypes to be demonstrated or used in spaceflight.

The six awards build on the companies’ prior work with NASA's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. NASA invests nearly $180 million annually in SBIR awards to American companies with less than 500 employees. Recognizing that it takes a long time to mature technology, NASA dedicates a portion of its SBIR funding to post-Phase II initiatives – such as these Sequential Phase II awards – that support small businesses to continue the work they did with Phase I and Phase II funding. This is the fourth year NASA has provided Sequential funding for the accelerated development of enabling technologies that address key NASA and national needs. Each of this year's selected companies has fewer than 60 employees.

“Our missions require innovative solutions to overcome the complex challenges of spaceflight," said Jenn Gustetic, director of early-stage innovation and partnerships for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington. “These small business projects could make big impacts toward solving some of the space industry’s longstanding obstacles.”

The U.S. economy depends on space for critical infrastructure, from communications and financial exchanges to national security, transportation, and climate monitoring. Debris in low Earth orbit (LEO) – created by abandoned vehicle stages, non-functional satellites, and fragments of launched materials – increases costs by forcing spacecraft to maneuver around debris, threatens the safety of astronauts and satellites, and potentially renders entire orbits unusable.

Four technologies were selected to address this congestion, through novel deorbiting techniques or commercial services to remediate or repurpose debris:

  • Busek (Natick, Massachusetts): High Total Impulse BET-MAX System for Small-Sat Deorbiting – $3.4 million. The company will develop improved propulsive impulse capability and autonomous de-orbit functionality for small satellites using a non-toxic propellant.
  • CU Aerospace (Champaign, Illinois): Fiber-fed Pulsed Plasma Thruster (FPPT) for Active Debris Removal – $2.6 million. The company will develop its thruster for small satellite applications, allowing a debris capture mission to make multiple trips, dropping off multiple payloads (up to 180kg) within a five-year timespan.
  • Flight Works (Irvine, California): Green Propulsion System for Multi-Object Removal/Recovery System – $4 million. The company will transition its technology with built-in refueling capability to Rendezvous and Proximity Operations for active debris removal and space object retrieval.
  • Vestigo Aerospace (La Canada Flintridge, California): Flight Demonstration of Spinnaker Dragsails for SmallSat Deorbit – $3.8 million. The company will demonstrate their Spinnaker drag sails, integrated with a host vehicle using a simple bolt-on mechanical interface and a single electrical connection, to validate reliable deployment up to five years on orbit.

“At NASA we know innovating for space and improving life on Earth go hand-in-hand,” said Jason L. Kessler, program executive for NASA's SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs at NASA Headquarters. “I’m excited that four of this year’s Sequential Phase II technologies focus on efforts to safeguard access to low Earth orbits and the space-based technology we all depend on in our everyday lives.”

NASA's future exploration will include robots navigating the surfaces of other worlds and crewed missions to the Moon and Mars. These missions rely on technologies that allow rovers, landers, and their components to function when exposed to highly adhesive and abrasive dust from the surfaces of these worlds, which can shorten the lifespan of equipment and threaten the success of surface science investigations. The harsh dust also poses a risk to mechanical systems and sealing surfaces which will be vital when astronauts visit the lunar surface on future Artemis missions. 

Two technologies were selected to address dust mitigation:

  • Applied Material Systems Engineering, Inc. (Streamwood, Illinois): Integration of Dust Resisting Secondary Emission Engineered Passive Thermal Control Material Systems (TCMS) Coating – $2.6 million. The company will demonstrate, through simulated space environments, the insertion of its dust-shedding coating technology, which has cross-cut commercial applications.
  •  ATSP Innovations (Houston, Texas): Extreme Environment Tribological Characterization of Advanced Bearing Materials – $3.2 million. The company will fabricate a prototype of bearing material solutions to meet the demanding conditions of extreme temperatures, pressures, and dust environments on the surface of planetary bodies, moons, asteroids, and comets. This technology could enhance high-temperature structural composite challenges faced in the commercial aerospace and automobile markets.

The NASA SBIR/STTR program is part of STMD and is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

Click here to learn more about NASA's SBIR and STTR programs.

Publisher: SatNow

GNSS Constellations - A list of all GNSS satellites by constellations


Satellite NameOrbit Date
BeiDou-3 G4Geostationary Orbit (GEO)17 May, 2023
BeiDou-3 G2Geostationary Orbit (GEO)09 Mar, 2020
Compass-IGSO7Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)09 Feb, 2020
BeiDou-3 M19Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M20Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M21Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M22Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 I3Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M23Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019
BeiDou-3 M24Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019


Satellite NameOrbit Date
GSAT0223MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0224MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0219MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0220MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0221MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0222MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0215MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0216MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0217MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0218MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017


Satellite NameOrbit Date
Kosmos 2569--07 Aug, 2023
Kosmos 2564--28 Nov, 2022
Kosmos 2559--10 Oct, 2022
Kosmos 2557--07 Jul, 2022
Kosmos 2547--25 Oct, 2020
Kosmos 2545--16 Mar, 2020
Kosmos 2544--11 Dec, 2019
Kosmos 2534--27 May, 2019
Kosmos 2529--03 Nov, 2018
Kosmos 2527--16 Jun, 2018


Satellite NameOrbit Date
Navstar 82Medium Earth Orbit19 Jan, 2023
Navstar 81Medium Earth Orbit17 Jun, 2021
Navstar 78Medium Earth Orbit22 Aug, 2019
Navstar 77Medium Earth Orbit23 Dec, 2018
Navstar 76Medium Earth Orbit05 Feb, 2016
Navstar 75Medium Earth Orbit31 Oct, 2015
Navstar 74Medium Earth Orbit15 Jul, 2015
Navstar 73Medium Earth Orbit25 Mar, 2015
Navstar 72Medium Earth Orbit29 Oct, 2014
Navstar 71Medium Earth Orbit02 Aug, 2014


Satellite NameOrbit Date
NVS-01Geostationary Orbit (GEO)29 May, 2023
IRNSS-1IInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)12 Apr, 2018
IRNSS-1HSub Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (Sub-GTO)31 Aug, 2017
IRNSS-1GGeostationary Orbit (GEO)28 Apr, 2016
IRNSS-1FGeostationary Orbit (GEO)10 Mar, 2016
IRNSS-1EGeosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)20 Jan, 2016
IRNSS-1DInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)28 Mar, 2015
IRNSS-1CGeostationary Orbit (GEO)16 Oct, 2014
IRNSS-1BInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Apr, 2014
IRNSS-1AInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)01 Jul, 2013