NASA, in its latest press release, announced that they would be awarding 14 companies contracts totaling to more than $40 million to develop technologies that can support the space agency’s long-term exploration plans.
The awards, with a total value of $43.2 million, are the fourth in a series of “Tipping Point” contracts from NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) that support work for up to three years on technologies ranging from propellant production to avionics.
STMD develops transformative space technologies to enable future missions. Programs within STMD manage tipping Point projects and in some cases include collaborations with NASA centers.
“These promising technologies are at a ‘tipping point’ in their development, meaning NASA’s investment is likely the extra push a company needs to significantly mature a capability,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s STMD.
“These are important technologies necessary for the sustained exploration of the Moon and Mars. As the agency focuses on landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 with the Artemis program, we continue to prepare for the next phase of lunar exploration that feeds forward to Mars.”
According to NASA, STMD will make milestone payments throughout the 3-year contract. Additionally, each industry partner is required to contribute a minimum percent, based on the company’s size, of the total cost for each project.
Notably, the new contracts are intended for NASA’s Artemis program where it aims to conduct lunar exploration missions that include sending a suite of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024, and establishing a sustained presence by 2028.
The companies participating in NASA’s contracts will develop necessary technologies that will enable the space agency to achieve its goal in a timely fashion.
Of the 14 awarded contracts, Blue Origin significantly received the largest award, which received $10 million to carry out a ground demonstration of technology to liquefy and store hydrogen and oxygen. Such technology, NASA said, could eventually be used on a propellant production plant on the moon, converting water ice found there into liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for use by lunar landers, like Blue Origin’s proposed Blue Moon lander.
Blue Canyon Technologies Inc. of Boulder, Colorado, meanwhile received $4.9 million to develop autonomous operations technologies. According to NASA, Blue Canyon will be developing on-ground tracking solutions for the various SmallSats and CubeSats that will be sent out to space. The contract also includes and an in-space demonstration, that “will mature an autonomous navigation software solution” so these satellites can traverse space without “talking” to Earth.
Three companies received contracts to demonstrate satellite propulsion technologies for CubeSats. Accion Systems, which is developing ion electrospray thrusters, won $3.9 million to develop thrusters with the same performance as cold-gas thrusters used on NASA’s MarCO CubeSats that flew past Mars last year, but with less mass and power. CU Aerospace will use a $1.7 million award to fly a CubeSat with two different propulsion systems. ExoTerra Resource received $2 million for demonstrating a high-impulse solar-electric propulsion system on a CubeSat.
SpaceX, on the other hand, received a $3 million contract to work with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on “coupler prototypes” for in-space refueling. SpaceX recently discussed in a conference regarding a Starship development update, where founder Elon Musk told his new spacecraft will start using in-space refueling, with tankers launched from Earth, to enable missions to the moon and Mars.
Two companies that are part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program also received awards. Astrobotic won $2 million to work with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Kennedy Space Center to continue work on small rovers. Intuitive Machines received $1.3 million for a spacecraft vision processing computer and software system.
Other contracts were also awarded for NASA’sSustainable Energy Generation, Storage and Distribution plans starting Infinity Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Inc., which received $4 million to collaborate with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to develop a scalable, modular and flexible power and energy product that utilizes new manufacturing methods to reduce cost and improve reliability. The technology could be used for lunar rovers, surface equipment, and habitats.
Paragon Space Development Corporation of Houston, received $2 million to work with Johnson and NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland to develop an environmental control and life support system as well as a thermal control system for lunar missions that maintain acceptable operating temperatures throughout the Moon’s day and night cycle.
Lastly, TallannQuest LLC received $2 million to work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop a flexible, radiation-hardened switching power controller capable of being configured based on a mission’s power needs. This technology could be used for purposes to the Moon, Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and other destinations
The Tipping Point contracts are the second set of agreements NASA has made with industry on exploration technologies in the last two months. In July, NASA announced Space Act Agreements with 13 companies to support the development of technologies on a no-cost basis.