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Funding Opportunities for Dynamic Tensegrity Robotics Research

I’m excited to spread the word about a couple of opportunities for those interested in tensegrity robotics research — a NASA Early Career Fellowship (Grants will be funded up to $200,000 each per year, for as many as three years), a three year Fellowship for Graduate Students, and a summer internship. Please take a look, submit applications, and spread the word to those who might be interested!

Details of all three opportunities below.

NASA Early Career Fellowship:

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate is seeking proposals from accredited U.S. universities on behalf of outstanding early-career faculty members who are beginning independent research careers. The grants will sponsor research in specific high-priority areas of interest to America’s space program.

Aligned with NASA’s Space Technology Roadmaps and priorities identified by the National Research Council, the agency has identified topic areas that lend themselves to the early stage innovative approaches U.S. universities can offer for solving tough space technology challenges.

“These research grants will help NASA in the development of new space technologies needed for future science and exploration while also fueling the intellectual innovation engine of our nation, powering new discoveries for years to come,” said James Reuther, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. “Technology drives exploration and these research efforts will help us reach new heights while benefiting Earth right now.”

NASA expects to award approximately six to eight grants this fall. Grants will be funded up to $200,000 each per year, for as many as three years, based on the merit of proposals and availability of funds. Funded research will investigate unique, disruptive or transformational space technologies in areas such as dynamic tensegrity technologies for space science and exploration, high-temperature solar cells, fundamental aerothermodynamic model development and synthetic biology technologies for space exploration.

Dynamic tensegrity-based technologies have the potential to enable more capable and affordable space missions through large, reconfigurable space structures and lightweight, volume efficient landers. Tensegrity, or “tensional integrity,” uses tension and compression in skeleton structures for efficient and economic machine design. The first solicitation topic seeks dynamic tensegrity technologies for in-space, landing and surface operations applications.

Generation of power in a space environment is a challenge for all space missions. Research focused on high-temperature solar cells lead to smaller, more efficient and lower-cost solar cell size. The second topic seeks novel solar cell material combinations, cell laydown concepts, and heat rejection methods that allow solar arrays to function at reasonable levels of efficiency at higher operational temperatures.

NASA missions rely on computational simulations to predict conditions a spacecraft may experience during atmospheric entry on other planets — calculations that help experts decide the type and thickness of materials used to make thermal protection systems for spacecraft. Investment in basic aerothermal physical models and numerical methods is needed to generate revolutionary improvements to the current state of the art and enable NASA’s journey to Mars. This topic seeks innovative physical models for high speed non-equilibrium flows, novel approaches to obtain experimental validation data and improved numerical methods for the simulation of such flows.

NASA also is interested in innovative biological approaches to provide functions that traditional technologies cannot perform for future long-duration missions. Specifically, the fourth topic seeks novel synthetic biology-based approaches that can substantially improve  functionality, reliability, and efficiency in food production, biomedical applications, and in situ resource utilization.

Notices of intent to submit proposals to the Early Career Faculty Appendix of NASA’s Research Announcement “Space Technology Research, Development, Demonstration, and Infusion 2015 (SpaceTech-REDDI-2015)” are due March 20. The deadline for submitting final proposals is April 17.

For information on the solicitation, including specific technology areas of interest and how to submit notices of intent and proposals, visit:

This solicitation is issued by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is responsible for innovating, developing, testing, and flying hardware for use in future missions. For more information about the directorate and Space Technology Research Grants Program, visit:


David E. Steitz
Headquarters, Washington

Details on the Tensegrity Robotics topic in specific:

Topic 1 – Dynamic Tensegrity Technologies for Space Science and Exploration

The development of new dynamic tensegrity-based technologies has the potential to enable more capable and more affordable space missions. Recent studies indicate that tensegrity technologies may be appropriate for creating large, reconfigurable space structures (antennae, solar arrays, observatories, etc.) that can be used during in-space mission stages. In addition, tensegrity-based landers may be able to reduce mission costs because they are lightweight, packable for volume efficiency, robust to high landing loads (without the use of air bags or other landing support systems), and able to deploy, position, and move to achieve surface mission objectives.

While passive (unactuated) tensegrity structures are well understood and used in modern architectural designs, such as bridges and football stadiums, technologies for dynamic (actively controlled) tensegrity structures and robots remain at an early stage of development. The discontinuous nature of tensegrity structures challenges traditional approaches for robotic system design, including actuation, wiring, power distribution, data networking, and proprioceptive sensing. Best practices for engineering dynamic tensegrity structures are still emerging, such as modularity, cable-driven motion, distributed sensing, etc. In addition, the high compliance across a parallel structure means that dynamic tensegrity systems are not naturally damped, making state estimation and control difficult. Finally, combining flexible, compliant, non-linear components (e.g., cables) with stiff structural elements significantly increases the complexity of design, modeling, and simulation compared to conventional rigid-body mechanisms.

To address these challenges, this solicitation topic specifically seeks proposals to develop and evaluate dynamic tensegrity technologies that address one or more of the following three research areas:

1) New components for actuation, sensing, power generation/distribution, etc., such as twisted-string actuation, multi-function carbon nanotube wiring, and systems of modular tensegrity rods with integrated cable actuation.

2) New perception and control methods including algorithms for state estimation, navigation, and positioning (for shape control, mobility, and payload placement).

3) Modeling of tensegrity dynamics, workspaces, and reliability (for requirementdriven design of dynamic tensegrity structures and mechanisms).

Proposals should focus on creating and evaluating (via analysis and/or systematic testing) new technology rather than simply making incremental enhancements to the current state of the art.

Moreover, proposals should describe how technical advances in the above areas could be applied to specific future space missions (scientific, exploration, or commercial). In particular, proposals must describe how the tensegrity technology would enable missions that: (1) reach targets (gullies, steep cliffs, dense ejecta fields, etc.) considered too risky for current technology, or (2) involve significant and dynamic structural reconfiguration beyond the current state of the art.

Additionally, proposals should describe how the proposed technology is relevant for at least one of the following space mission stages:

In-space  Describe how the technology enables reorientation, retraction, gimballing, or pointing of large aperture structures. Use cases might include large-scale observatories, starshades, structural elements of large systems, etc.

Landing Describe how the technology can enable new entry, descent, and landing systems, such as deployable aerodynamic structures and lifting bodies, deployable and multifunction landing systems, etc.

Surface operations Describe how the technology can enable more capable, or more affordable, planetary missions requiring surface activity and/or mobility to the Moon, Mars, Europa, etc.

Proposals that contribute to the open-source NASA Tensegrity Robotics Toolkit (NTRT) and/or result in mission concept demonstrations with hardware prototypes are particularly encouraged.


The fellowship award includes tuition offset, student stipend, and funding for an annual Center Based Research Experience (CBRE), resulting in an annual award of up to $50,000 for a student pursuing a Masters’ degree/ $55,000 for a student pursuing a Doctoral degree. Fellowships awards are made in the form of training grants to academic institutions and are for a duration of no more than three academic years. Proposals are due May 4, 2015.

NSPIRES site with more info and submission info

Detailed research opportunities document, the Tensegrity Opportunity is “arc-005” on page 9.

Program Details:

Note, this is a MUREP funded fellowship, so it is primarily geared towards minority students. From the above link:


– Financially support and advance individuals early in their careers in NASA-related disciplines, who demonstrate the potential to contribute to NASA’s mission and future STEM workforce, through the use of innovative research ideas;

– Increase the number of historically underrepresented and underserved populations, such as women, minorities, persons with disabilities, and veterans, who are pursuing advanced degrees in STEM disciplines;

– Develop a highly trained quadrate of researchers and scientists whose skills and competencies directly contribute to the nation’s STEM work force.

 Dynamic Tensegrity Robotics summer Internship

The “Dynamic Tensegrity Robotics project” (Summer 2015) is now listed on the web site.

This should be a direct link to the internship:

If that does work:

go to

Select undergraduate or graduate internship.  This will take you to the OSSI website.

Search opportunities, you can leave most of the answers blank, select ames and summer 2015, and keyword “Tensegrity”

Project Description:

The Dynamic Tensegrity Robotics project is looking for interns interested in the design, construction, control, and physics-based simulation of compliant tensegrity robots. This novel form of robot is being explored for planetary exploration purposes and challenges many of the traditional approaches to robotics. Of particular interest is the parallel to how biological systems also utilize tensegrity properties, so we are also exploring bio-mimetic flexible tensegrity spines, and a wide range of neuroscience inspired control approaches, such as Central Pattern Generators. The intern will work closely with NASA researchers and engineers. Very strong emphasis is placed on: (1) incorporating and integrating the intern’s research into IRG’s on-going projects; and (2) performing research suitable for publication.

Notes and Funding:

Anyone who is interested in tensegrity research should apply.

Funding:  ultimately it is the education division that will fund the student, and they have less funding than existing opportunities, so even if you are the perfect match for the project, the position may simply not get funded. Currently the ames education office only has funding for a couple of interns from minority institutions, though this may change with time. If you are interested, it is worth applying in case funding opens up, and if you know anyone who might be interested at a minority institution, please forward to them!

Posted in Robots, Tensegrity.

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