PSI & CeramOptec partner for NASA projects

SAN RAMON, CA—The San Francisco Operations of Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI; headquartered in Andover, MA) is the location for system development work that will address two $600,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts that were awarded to PSI by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA; Washington, DC).

Jun 1st, 2008

SAN RAMON, CA—The San Francisco Operations of Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI; headquartered in Andover, MA) is the location for system development work that will address two $600,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts that were awarded to PSI by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA; Washington, DC). The SBIRs are detailed in two abstracts provided by PSI’s San Ramon general manager Takashi Nakamura, who summarizes the project goals as essentially using fiber optics to insure an oxygen supply for manned moon bases, as well as to enable the eventual ability to grow plants in space. System integrator PSI is buying specialty optical fibers from CeramOptec (East Longmeadow, MA) to insure project success.

The first of two SBIRs is entitled “Multi-use Solar Thermal System for Oxygen Production from Lunar Regolith” and was awarded by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. To establish a manned base on the Moon, NASA needs a key element: oxygen. Needed for fuel as well as for life support, oxygen cannot readily be shipped from Earth in sufficient quantity. Fortunately, the Moon has its own oxygen, chemically bound into the regolith (the loose, fragmented top layer of the moon) covering the lunar surface. Extracting that oxygen requires furnaces capable of generating as much as 1800ºC, and fiber optics can help harness solar energy to power those furnaces. This project defines the overall design of a solar furnace for extracting oxygen using optical fibers and solar energy concentrators. Design requirements include high numerical aperture, radiation-resistant, and high-spectral-transmission-efficiency optical fibers. Closing date for this SBIR is March 2010.

The second SBIR, which was awarded in February 2007 by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and closes in February 2009, is entitled “Transmission and Distribution of Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) for Biomass Production in Exploration Missions.” Although being developed to support manned lunar bases, underground greenhouses also have appeal for terrestrial installations that can benefit from the protection and insulation that being buried provides. This project requires an optical fiber system that can deliver PAR to an underground growing chamber with enough intensity to support active and healthy plant growth.

“Due to the fact that we are 100% vertically integrated and were the only company who could make the product which PSI needed with a numerical aperture of 0.48 and all the “custom” specifications that were requested, CeramOptec was selected by PSI as the fiber vendor for this NASA SBIR work,” said Kevin Bakhshpour, director of sales at CeramOptec. “We are also working with PSI on the next generation of this program, which may required some 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch fused-end PowerLightGUIDES, which will be custom designed and manufactured to work in the entire wavelength spectrum from 200 nm to 2500 nm.”—Gail Overton

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