Entrepreneur giving shuttle truss new uses

May 15, 2013 by Steven Siceloff
Jim Fletcher packs the prototype solar power generator inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA

(Phys.org) —A truss design devised to help workers process space shuttles continues to find new uses as a space shuttle engineer-turned-entrepreneur adapts it to everything from a solar-powered electric generator to a mobile cellphone tower.

The structure, which is constantly being redesigned into smaller packages that unfold to larger sizes, is also envisioned for Mars or other space destinations where it could be deployed to connect modules for astronauts.

Jim Fletcher, who worked for United Space Alliance during the era, began working on the truss 10 years ago and started a company two years ago called CPI Technologies dedicated to produce them. The design began life as an extendable work platform that would reach over the shuttle's cargo bay.

"We were trying to come up with a way to reach out and retrieve something while the shuttle was out at the pad so we wouldn't have to roll it back to the Building (VAB)," Fletcher said.

Engineers built a truss that ultimately was put to use in the Orbiter Processing Facility spanning the cargo bay.

From there, Fletcher built a portable solar-powered electric generator that stretched two pair of 21-foot-long trusses out from the center, complete with solar panels that locked into the top. He demonstrated the concept by deploying the prototype in the VAB parking lot where it generated enough electricity to power a house, except the air conditioning.

Fletcher returned to the VAB recently, where the truss has been stored, to collect NASA's prototype for demonstrations at the Florida Solar Energy Center's building in Cocoa. The FSEC and Space Coast Energy Consortium have been working closely with Fletcher since the prototype is a using a clean and . The prototype will be made into a fully operational model and returned to NASA.

Since the first model was made, Fletcher has built a few more advanced versions that open longer and wider and produce more electricity while taking up no more folded space than the original.

The solar power generator prototype was unfolded in the Vehicle Assembly Building parking lot in 2011. Since then, the design has been modified to make a larger array set that folds up into the same amount of space. Credit: NASA

"You'd have a 16-foot array on a trailer the same size as this," Fletcher said. "It can produce 10 kilowatts of peak power."

Part of Fletcher's adjustments to the design include making the individual sections, or bays, of the truss able to unfold independent of the other sections so the truss can be varied in its size. The original design, in which all the truss sections had to be unfolded before any could lock in, met a standard requirement for space.

"In space, it's a good thing because you can use one mechanism to deploy the whole thing. On the ground, it's not necessarily an advantage," Fletcher said. "The new design makes it easier to deploy in a rough environment."

Thanks to interest from India and South Africa, Fletcher is looking to take the truss vertical. Extending 100 feet up from a six-foot-high box, the truss is strong enough to hold cell phone equipment and the solar panels to power them.

As the Earth-bound business takes shape, Fletcher has not given up on putting the concept to work in orbit or on other worlds.

"We had in mind all along deploying this thing in space, or at least a one-sixth or one-third gravity environment," Fletcher said.

With robust connections, a strong frame and the flexibility to deploy it in different ways, Fletcher said the truss is a good fit for NASA's exploration plans. The mechanism could serve as the basis for an unfolding crew module in , for example, or a frame for a small base on Mars.

At the moment, though, Fletcher and the consortium are working the business through the early stages of growth.

"It's been a good experience, it's really challenging," Fletcher said. "We're doing pretty good."

Explore further: SpaceX launches supplies to space station (Update)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Space Image: It was 40 years ago today

Jan 06, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- On Jan. 5, 1972, President Richard M. Nixon and Dr. James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, discussed the proposed Space Shuttle vehicle in San Clemente, Calif.

Auroras shine light on solar flares

Mar 11, 2013

(Phys.org) —Astrophysicists at the University of Glasgow are looking to the Northern and Southern Lights to expand our understanding of solar flares.

Discovery Set To Land Wednesday

Nov 06, 2007

The space shuttle Discovery crew is scheduled to complete a 15-day mission to the International Space Station with a landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on Wednesday, Nov. 7.

Atlantis Returns to Kennedy Space Center

Jul 03, 2007

The space shuttle Atlantis and its seven-member crew lifted off Friday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 7:38 p.m. EDT to continue construction of the International Space Station.

Space shuttle launch rescheduled

Jan 29, 2007

NASA says the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station on mission STS-117 will occur March 15 -- one day earlier than planned.

Recommended for you

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

19 hours ago

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

21 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

The importance of plumes

22 hours ago

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

Ceres and Vesta Converge in Virgo

Apr 18, 2014

Don't let them pass you by. Right now and continuing through July, the biggest and brightest asteroids will be running on nearly parallel tracks in the constellation Virgo and so close together they'll easily ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

The importance of plumes

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...