Johnson Space Center partners with Houston-based small business to produce space station flight hardware
In the fall of 2015, the engineering staff from a Houston small business called National K Works (NKW) visited Johnson seeking out opportunities for collaboration. During their visit, the staff met with the JSC Industry Assistance Office, Center Technical Advisor and the Small Business technical coordinator from the Engineering Directorate to discuss the capabilities of their company.
NKW is known in the oil, gas and energy sector for manufacturing rugged, durable, high-temperature/high-pressure-rated downhole tools and sensor housings. After some discussion, it was determined that NKW had the equipment and skilled technicians to develop precision-drilled hardware. It took a creative mindset to realize that the same tooling and techniques NKW used to create oil pipeline equipment could also create high-quality spaceflight hardware.
With the small business imperative to look for opportunities to collaborate outside of the aerospace industry, embrace best practices for streamlined development and highlight cost-savings techniques, the Small Business team at JSC embarked on a partnership to formalize the relationship between JSC and NKW.
JSC determined that the fabrication of hardware for an upcoming space station science experiment would be an ideal project for the new partnership. One of the experiments selected for this initiative was the Water Monitoring Suite, a collection of three instruments that measure different water-quality properties. One part of the Water Monitoring Suite, called the Organic Water Module, needed specially built equipment. The Organic Water Module is a gas chromatograph that can detect volatilized organics in water samples. The technology existed in a bench-top unit, but needed to be designed for space launch and operation aboard the International Space Station. This updated design required manufacturing an intricately drilled stainless steel manifold block featuring 20 holes, many intersecting, and all almost-impossibly small. This manifold replaced a slew of intersecting lines and enabled the size of the unit be reduced to 25 percent of its original volume.
After a site survey by NASA engineers Rachel Edgerly, Stuart Pensinger and Shawn Schumacher, NKW was tasked with drilling a test block as a capabilities qualification. The test article was delivered on time, on budget and within NASA’s exacting specifications in January 2016. NKW was then tasked to manufacture and deliver two manifold blocks. These manifold blocks were delivered in early February. NKW completed a task that other vendors could not complete.
“Finding a company, especially a small business that has never produced spaceflight hardware, that takes a highly specialized component and manufactures it to meet the technical requirements, is a testament to some of the capabilities of small businesses,” said Chuck Williams, lead small business specialist and JSC technical advisor.
This is a true success story. In under six months NKW went from a private business to becoming a certified government contractor, and then finalized a complex project to produce spaceflight hardware.
The Water Monitoring Suite is scheduled to launch to the space station on an upcoming commercial cargo vehicle in late 2016.
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For more information on the Water Monitoring Suite, click here
From left: NKW team members Bill Cox, Brian Cruickshank and Alec Wolk with NASA engineer Rachel Edgerly. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Stafford.
Jay Bolden and Ric Slater
NASA Johnson Space Center
From left: Brian Cruickshank, Bill Cox and Alec Wolk of NKW. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Stafford
The stainless steel manifold produced for the space station's Organic Water Module. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Stafford