WASHINGTON – NASA has awarded more than $ 400 million in contracts to both demonstrate the technologies needed for future lunar exploration and to send an ice-drilling payload to the southern pole of the moon.
NASA announced on October 16 that it had awarded a $ 47 million work order to Intuitive Machines, one of 14 companies in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, to deliver the Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment. 1 (PRIME-1) cargo on the south pole of the month at the end of 2022.
PRIME-1 is a 40-kilogram cargo designed to search for ice water at depths up to one meter below the moon’s surface. It will test NASA’s near-infrared spectrometer, mass spectrometer and drill plan to fly the mission of the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) in 2023.
“We are developing our capabilities for using in-situ resources, using moon resources,”; said Jim Reuter, NASA associate associate for space technology, at a October 14 meeting of the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium , a team that brings together academia, government and industry to assess the technologies needed for moon surface exploration. PRIME-1, he said, was one of the first experiments to support that effort.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, speaking earlier at the same meeting, also discussed the importance of both PRIME-1 and VIPER. “These missions are critically important to help us understand where we need to go to get the best analysis of those volatile ones,” he said, helping the agency identify promising landing sites for future missions. of Artemis.
This mission will be the second for Intuitive Machines under the CLPS program. It received in May 2019 one of the first CLPS work orders, for a mission scheduled for launch in late 2021. Astrobotic also received one of the first task orders, as well as one in June for the VIPER mission. Masten Space Systems won a CLPS order in April for a mission in the southern polar regions of the moon.
The announcement of the launch of PRIME-1 came two days after NASA awarded a larger amount of money for lunar surface technologies. The 15 awards to 14 companies, produced through the agency’s Tipping Point program, are intended to advance near-term technologies that could support the later, “sustainable” phase of Artemis ’program.
“NASA believes these types of companies, and the capabilities they have developed, will be transformational for how we explore space,” Bridenstine said at a consortium meeting, where he announced Tipping awards. Point. “But we also believe it will take a little push from NASA.”
Of the $ 372.2 million in Tipping Point contracts, $ 256.1 million will go to four companies working on demonstrations of cryogen fluid management technology: Eta Space, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. All four companies plan to conduct demonstrations in space for technologies for the storage and transfer of propellants such as liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.
“When we fly in space, we have to talk about cryogenic liquids for a long time,” Bridenstine said. “How can we handle cryogenic liquids so we can make spaceflight in ways we can’t?”
Eta Space will use this $ 27 million award to fly a small satellite called LOXSAT 1 to test liquid oxygen storage technologies. Eta Space is working on Rocket Lab, which will provide the Photon satellite bus LOXSAT 1 is based on and launch the spacecraft on its electron rocket.
Lockheed Martin won a $ 89.7 million prize for testing liquid hydrogen storage technologies on a small satellite. The company is working with Momentus, which will host the cargo on a Vigoride orbital transfer vehicle, and Relatividad Space, which will launch the vehicle on its Terran 1 rocket in October 2023.
SpaceX, which is already working with NASA to study cryogen fluid management technologies, won $ 53.2 million to demonstrate the transfer of 10 tons of liquid oxygen between tanks in a Starship orbit. ChiefX Chief Executive Elon Musk, who asked about orbital refueling at a Mars Society conference on October 16, said “we got the shot at doing it in ’22.”
The United Launch Alliance will use its $ 86.2 million reward to demonstrate a “smart propulsion cryogenic system” using Centaur’s top stage of its new Vulcan rocket. That demonstration included a “multi-week” propellant and storage tank-to-tank transition test.
The remaining Tipping Point funding went to 10 companies to demonstrate a range of technologies needed for landing and operating over the moon. Masten Space Systems has won two contracts, totaling $ 12.8 million, to demonstrate accurate landing technologies with this Xogdor vehicle and a system to provide heat and energy for freight to allow they survive the lunar night.
Other awards, ranging from $ 2.4 million to $ 41.6 million, cover technologies such as power systems, a freight to fetch oxygen from the lunar regolith, and a robotic arm. Nokia has won a $ 14.1 million award for developing lunar communication systems using the 4G wireless network.
Intuitive Machines won the largest of those awards for the development of a “hopper” that could carry a pound of payload up to 2.5 kilometers across the lunar surface. “That would give us high resolution mapping of perhaps volatile ones over the moon,” Bridenstine said. “This will help us understand how to determine very precise landing spots on the moon’s surface.”