Small Business to Fly to the Moon and Then on to Mars

You might not have heard the news, but America is going back to the Moon. It will take a little time, the plan is to land on the Moon by 2020, but the preparation is well underway and we are not just talking about the giants in aerospace—Lockheed Martin and Boeing—having all the fun. Small business is playing its part as well in one of the most important aspects of the mission—the spacesuits. 

The Constellation Program

Like the heady days of the Apollo Program, the vehicles in the Constellation Program will be composed of a conical command module, referred to as the Orion Crew Vehicle; a lunar excursion module, called the Altair Lunar Lander, and a multistage solid and liquid fueled rocket system, the Ares Launch Vehicle. It’s the same basic design as the Saturn rockets that first sent men to the Moon, but there have been some changes. 

The Orion is much larger than the old Apollo Command Module. It can seat up to six astronauts, is reusable and can handle different roles depending on the mission. According to NASA: 

Orion will be capable of carrying crew and cargo to the space station. It will be able to rendezvous with a lunar landing module and an Earth departure stage in low-Earth orbit to carry crews to the moon and, one day, to Mars-bound vehicles assembled in low-Earth orbit. Orion will be the Earth entry vehicle for lunar and Mars returns. Orion’s design will borrow its shape from the capsules of the past, but takes advantage of 21st century technology in computers, electronics, life support, propulsion and heat protection systems. 

Another big change is how the Orion is going to get into orbit. 

NASA’s plan doesn’t call for a behemoth like the old Saturn V launch vehicle. It calls for two: a heavy lifting rocket for cargo and for taking the Altair into low Earth orbit called the Ares V, and a smaller rocket to put the Orion into orbit. That is the Ares I. A mix of Apollo, Shuttle and more advanced existing technologies, This system of reusable rockets will be far less expensive than the current Shuttle flights. 

This is a huge project, easily as large as the original Apollo Program but with many more issues to take into account. Lockheed-Martin, the prime contractor on the Orion understood that and reached out to a small business with the skills they need to make this work. 

Cimarron Software Services Inc.

Cimarron Software Services Inc. is a small, software engineering and systems integration business. Started in 1981, their niche is real-time ground command and control center design and implementation. The company also has expertise in software engineering and information technology management. 

Working on Orion. Cimarron engineers are currently developing the requirements for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) engineering labs. The company is building the CEV Information Management Database to manage engineering data in addition to developing testing processes to ensure that the vehicle simulations meet program requirements. They are also specifying requirements for the lab network and other support tools and providing specialty engineering services. To learn more, visit www.cimarroninc.com

Clothes Make the Astronaut

Say “space” and people think of spaceships. That’s natural; the raw power of that rocket lifting off the pad and shooting into space is amazing. However, there is more to space flight than engines. One of the most important pieces of equipment that an astronaut depends on is the spacesuit. According to NASA: 

Suits and support systems will be needed for as many as four astronauts on moon voyages and as many as six space station travelers. For short trips to the moon, the suit design will support a week's worth of moon walks. The system also must be designed to support a significant number of moon walks during potential six-month lunar outpost expeditions. In addition, the spacesuit and support systems will provide contingency spacewalk capability and protection against the launch and landing environment, such as spacecraft cabin leaks. 

The prime contractor on this project is the well-respected harsh environment life support system company, Oceaneering. However, they can’t do it alone. 

Paragon Space Development Corporation

Founded in 1993, Paragon Space Development Corporation is an aerospace engineering and technology development firm. The company is a major supplier of Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) and subsystem design for the aerospace industry. They are also experts in thermal control, both for spacecraft and hyper-velocity aircraft. 

The spacesuit contract includes a basic performance period from June 2008 to September 2014 that has a value of $183.8 million. During the performance period, Oceaneering and its subcontractors will conduct design, development, test, and evaluation work culminating in the manufacture, assembly, and first flight of the suit components needed for astronauts aboard the Orion crew exploration vehicle. The basic contract also includes initial work on the suit design needed for the lunar surface. Paragon’s portion of the work will be to develop a portable life support system that will function in microgravity, on the moon and on Mars. 

Paragon is also involved with Lockheed Martin on the Orion project. They are working on vehicle-level systems integration and schematics, Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) and Active Thermal Control System (ATCS) modeling, and design and technology evaluation. Learn more at www.paragonsdc.com

The Bottom Line

Once the domain of the government and huge defense contractors, space is now opening up to businesses of all sizes. Paragon and Cimarron are just two examples. If your company has the competencies needed, there is no reason not to make your bid. Remember, it’s not too late if you have the skills. NASA is seeking input from industry experts and is developing conceptual designs for Altair today. The project plans call for hardware to be built and concepts tested between 2009 and 2011. Find out more at www.nasa.gov.