NASA announces new space exploration technologies partnerships

NASA is partnering with six US companies to develop technologies that have the potential to benefit the commercial space economy and future NASA missions.

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NASA (Washington, DC, US) is partnering with six US companies to develop 10 “tipping point” technologies that have the potential to significantly benefit the commercial space economy and future NASA missions, including lunar lander and deep space rocket engine technologies. 

Selections are based on the agency’s third competitive Tipping Point solicitation, and have a combined total award value of approximately $44 million – a significant investment in the US space industry. 

A technology is considered at a “tipping point” if investment in a ground or flight demonstration will result in significantly maturing the technology and improving the company’s ability to bring it to market. 

"These awards focus on technology collaborations with the commercial space sector that leverage emerging markets and capabilities to meet NASA's exploration goals," says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "While these key technologies will support NASA's science and human exploration missions in the future, these awards are yet another example of NASA’s commitment to our nation's growing commercial space industry today."

This solicitation targeted three Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) strategic technology focus areas: Expand Utilization of Space, Enable Efficient and Safe Transportation Into and Through Space, and Increase Access to Planetary Surfaces.

The selected proposals, organized by strategic technology focus areas, are as follows: 

Expand Utilization of Space

  • Blue Origin LLC (Kent, WA, US) will mature cryogenic liquid propulsion through a combination of technologies in a lunar lander-scaled integrated propulsion system.
  • Space Systems/Loral LLC (SSL, Palo Alto, CA, US) will advance satellite servicing and in-space platform propellant replenishment capabilities by developing the capability to transfer xenon in space from a servicer or tanker to an active, operational satellite. 
  • United Launch Alliance LLC (ULA, Centennial, CO, US) will work on an Integrated Vehicle Fluids (IVF) system flight demonstration. An Integrated Vehicle Fluids (IVF) system supports extended-duration cryogenic upper stage operations and has applications for lunar landers. 

Enable Efficient and Safe Transportation Into and Through Space

  • Frontier Aerospace Corporation (Simi Valley, CA, US), will advance its’s MON-25 MMH Deep Space Engine (DSE) by flight demonstration as part of the first Astrobotic Peregrine Lunar Lander mission planned for 2020. The DSE engine uses a propellant that has a lower freezing point, which provides benefits for exploration landers and deep space missions by lowering system weight and required power.
  • Paragon Space Development Corporation (Tucson, AZ) , will work on a Cryogenic Encapsulating Launch Shroud and Insulated Upper Stage (CELSIUS) system that can be installed on the surface of the cryogenic upper stage tank of a space launch vehicle to provide enhanced insulation capabilities and protection from meteoroids and debris. 
  • SSL will work to advance electric propulsion capabilities by developing a selectable “dual mode” power processing unit (PPU) capable of providing 300 or 600 volts to a 6 kW Hall thruster, increasing overall mission efficiency and flexibility. 
  • ULA will perform critical testing of the existing space launch vehicle Centaur Cryote-3 tank, seeking to prove that very low cryogenic fuel boil off is achievable and can support long duration missions.

Increase Access to Planetary Surfaces

  • Astrobotic Technology Inc. (Pittsburgh, PA, US) is working on a stand-alone sensor designed to precisely deliver robotic landers to planetary surfaces.
  • Blue Origin, will work to advance critical technologies that enable precision and soft landing on the Moon. The project team will integrate Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN), navigation doppler lidar, and altimetry sensors and conduct flight tests prior to lunar mission implementation. 
  • ULA will flight demonstrate mid-air retrieval capabilities up to 8,000 pounds, increasing current capabilities by a factor of four. Paired with the NASA Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) project, this effort will demonstrate mid-air retrieval on a vehicle returning to Earth from orbital velocity. 

For more information about the Tipping Point solicitation, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/solicitations/tipping_points