DOD SBIR 24.2 Annual

Release Date
April 17th, 2024
Open Date
May 15th, 2024
Due Date(s)
June 12th, 2024
Close Date
June 12th, 2024
Topic No.


Reentry Plasma Onset and Emergence Sensor


Department of DefenseN/A


Type: SBIRPhase: BOTHYear: 2024


The Department of Defense (DOD) is seeking proposals for the topic "Reentry Plasma Onset and Emergence Sensor" as part of their SBIR 24.2 Annual solicitation. The Navy branch is specifically interested in this technology. The objective is to develop a sensor that can determine the onset and emergence of a plasma environment during ballistic reentry, where telemetry signals are blocked. The sensor should be able to characterize the environment in real-time, communicate with existing telemetry infrastructure, and survive space and ballistic reentry environments. The final product should be capable of withstanding various environmental conditions. Phase I involves demonstrating the capability to characterize a plasma environment and communicate with an external controller. Phase II focuses on building and evaluating a prototype sensor, preferably in a relevant plasma environment. Phase III aims to integrate the sensor into a Navy flight test body and enhance the transmission of data during test events. The technology has potential applications in crewed space missions and future hypersonic aircraft. The solicitation is open until June 12, 2024, and more details can be found on the DOD SBIR website.


OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Hypersonics; Nuclear; Space Technology


The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.


OBJECTIVE: Develop a sensor that can determine the onset of, and emergence from, a plasma environment which precludes the send and receipt of telemetry signals during ballistic reentry.


DESCRIPTION: Plasma environments generated by ballistic reentry conditions prevent the transmission of signals between the test article and ground receiving sites. To mitigate this, pre-flight analysis is conducted using empirical data and previous flight test observations to predict onset and emergence times, and these delays are programmed into the test article with margin on each side of the blackout window. This process artificially restricts the amount of telemetry data that can be transmitted from the test article, and is difficult to adapt to new conditions that do not match previous test conditions or otherwise violate the empirical data assumptions.


Maximizing the time telemetry is transmitted before onset of the blackout period and after emergence will have a significant impact on the total value of the test event and ability to leverage the data collected to improve the next experiment. This sensor will not only need to characterize the environments in real time, but also be capable of communicating with the existing telemetry infrastructure and surviving both space and ballistic reentry environments. Market research has not discovered a package that currently meets all of these requirements, so development will be required to fulfill the technical requirements while meeting packaging, communication, and survivability constraints. A final, test-ready product at the conclusion of Phase III should be capable of withstanding the proton environment of the South Atlantic Anomaly, shock environments of 3000 G, acceleration environments of ±80 G, and pressure environments of 75 PSIA.


Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. owned and operated with no foreign influence as defined by 32 U.S.C. § 2004.20 et seq., National Industrial Security Program Executive agent and Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) formerly Defense Security Service (DSS). The selected contractor must be able to acquire and maintain at least a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances. This will allow contractor personnel to perform on advanced phases of this project as set forth by DCSA and SSP in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material during the advanced phases of this contract IAW the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM), which can be found at Title 32, Part 2004.20 of the Code of Federal Regulations.


PHASE I: Demonstrate capability to characterize a plasma environment in real time, and the ability to communicate with an external controller at defined set points representative of blackout conditions. The concept should show a path to meeting final size, weight, and power requirements necessary for integration into a Navy flight test vehicle. Feasibility should be communicated by a combination of research white papers, bills of materials, drawings, and simulations. The Phase I Option, if exercised, will include the initial design specifications and capabilities description to build a prototype solution in Phase II.


PHASE II: Build and evaluate a prototype sensor for compatibility with Navy reentry flight test architecture. Demonstration in a relevant plasma environment is preferred, but in the case that a test facility cannot be identified during the Phase II period of performance, surrogate testing which demonstrates the proof of concept while identifying the areas where results are not representative is acceptable. The prototype will be required to measure the environment, demonstrate communication with an external controller, and send a signal to stop and restart a signal at the proper times correlated with the ability to send and receive a signal. If representative testing cannot be accomplished by the end of the Phase II period of performance, two prototype sensors will be required at the conclusion of the effort for future test opportunities.


It is probable that the work under this effort will be classified under Phase II (see Description section for details).


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: The final product should meet size, weight, and power requirements such that it is fully capable of integrating with a Navy ballistic flight test body. It will be capable of surviving launch, space, and reentry environmental requirements. In addition to fully performing the real-time plasma characterization mission, it should also fully integrate with the telemetry architecture to provide usable inputs for starting the delay process. This will be used on both developmental and surveillance Navy test reentry bodies undergoing end-to-end ballistic testing, and will greatly enhance the ability to transmit the data characterized by each test event for use in further development or in-service assessment. Once integrated into the final test capsule, the full flight test body will undergo environmental and functional testing to ensure all components are performing together as expected.


Plasma blackout conditions exist in any high temperature environment where communication between a vehicle and ground receiving sites is required. Examples of this include the reentry of crewed space missions as well as any future hypersonic aircraft exceeding Mach 10, where the rapid reacquisition of communication can play an important role.



Sawicki, Pawel. “Radio Communications Blackout.” University of Colorado Boulder Nonequilibrium Gas & Plasma Dynamics Laboratory, 2021. 31 August 2023.
Webb, Bruce and Ziolkowski, Richard. “Metamaterial-Inspired Multilayered Structures Optimized To Enable Wireless Communications Through A Plasmasonic Region.” Applied Physics Letters, Volume 118, Issue 9, 1 March 2021.
Li, Jianfei, Wang, Ying, et al. “Experimental observations of communication in blackout, topological waveguiding and Dirac zZero-index property in plasma sheath.” Nanophotonics, vol. 12, no. 10, 2023, pp. 1847-1856.


KEYWORDS: Plasma Blackout; Communications Blackout; Ballistic Reentry; Plasma Sheath; Atmospheric Reentry; Radio Blackouts; Ionization Blackouts