NASA has selected 14 companies for contracts of more than $ 370 million to advance technology for human missions on the moon and Mars. Most of the money will support flight demonstrations by SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and other companies that could lead to in-space refueling and propellant depots for reusable lunar landers and deep transport vehicles.
Most of the “Tipping Point” awards announced Wednesday will allow NASA to pay companies to conduct space technology demonstrations, following similar awards in recent years focused on the development of ground and ground analysis.
NASA selected Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance, SpaceX and a small Florida-based company named Eta Space for the highest amount of awards focused on cryogenic fluid management, capabilities that could lead to freezing. liquid hydrogen, methane, and liquid oxygen propellants between galaxy vehicles.
Nearly $ 256 million of the $ 372 million in awards at NASA Tipping Point will support cryogenic storage and refueling technology. The rest is aimed at building strength, exact landing, communications and other systems to support future missions over the moon.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Wednesday that NASA aims to foster the development of commercial refueling technology and propotant depots to support moon exploration, and eventually human missions on Mars.
“We have the ambition to arrive on the moon with the next man and the first woman in 2024,” Bridenstine said, referring to the Artemis agency program. “We want to be sustainable by 2028. To me, that means we want to use our Human Landing Systems again in 2028, which means we are going to have to have some ability to refuel by 2028.”
Eventually, the ice water inside the moon’s polar volcanoes can be tapped to produce rocket fuel, air, water and other resources. In the near future, propellant depot and refueling technologies will rely on resources launched from Earth.
“There are many companies and academic institutions … they will know this, and, and of course NASA is ready to be a future customer,” Bridenstine said.
The space agency said Wednesday it will begin negotiations with each of the Tipping Point awardees to negotiate to issue milestone-based firm-fixed price contracts that last up to five years.
“Many of these different architectures and capabilities will depend on how the private sector evolves,” Bridenstine said at a meeting of the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium. “This is why I think it is important for NASA to partner with private industry and academia, because they will come up with solutions that are uniquely unique and diverse, and ultimately they will really push what goes into that fuel depots. , whether in orbit around the Earth, or in orbit around the moon. “
Lockheed Martin was selected for a $ 89.7 million contract to conduct an in-space demonstration using liquid hydrogen to test more than a dozen cryogen fluid management technologies, positioning them for infusion into future galaxy systems , NASA said. Hydrogen liquid is the most challenging – and most effective – cryogenic propellant to operate in space because it must be maintained at temperatures below 423 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 253 degrees Celsius) to prevent it from being converted to a gas and boiling .
NASA said Lockheed Martin will work with the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center and Glenn Research Center on the project.
The United Launch Alliance will demonstrate a “smart propulsion cryogenic system, which uses liquid oxygen and hydrogen, at an upper stage of the Vulcan Centaur,” NASA said. The ULA award is worth $ 86.2 million.
ULA’s next generation Vulcan Centaur rocket is set to make its inaugural test flight in the second half of 2021.
The company has long promoted in-space propellant depots, and has proposed a more advanced upper stage that can perform missions that last days or weeks in deep space. Centaur upper stage currently flying on ULA rockets can perform missions lasting less than six hours.
NASA says the intelligent propulsion cryogenic system will “test accurate tank-to-tank control, tank-to-tank transfer, and multi-week propellant storage.” Engineers at NASA’s Marshall, Glenn, and Kennedy Space Center will work with ULA at the demonstration.
A $ 53.2 million SpaceX reward will go to a “large-scale flight demonstration to move 10 metric tons of cryogenic propellant, specifically liquid oxygen, between tanks in a Starship spacecraft,” NASA said .
SpaceX’s Starship is designed to carry more than 100 metric tons of cargo into Earth’s low orbit. By docking a refueling tanker into Earth orbit, SpaceX can replenish a Starship with methane and liquid oxygen propellants to explode farther destinations, such as the moon or Mars.
SpaceX will work with Glenn and Marshall on a Starship propellant transfer demo, NASA said.
“When we think about companies like SpaceX and Starship, their architecture relies heavily on the ability to move cryogenics in low Earth orbit for the purpose of getting a system up to the moon,” Bridenstine said in Wednesday. “Their system, in fact, does not appear to require a fuel depot around the moon. Their system will require a fuel depot in orbit around the Earth.”
SpaceX’s Starship is one of three lunar lander concepts chosen by NASA in April to bring astronauts to and from the moon’s surface. NASA also selected commercial teams led by Blue Origin and Dynetics to work with Human Landing Systems.
A small company called Eta Space in Merritt Island, Florida, won a $ 27 million reward from NASA for a “large-scale demonstration of a complete cryogenogen oxygen fluid management system,” the space agency said. .
“As proposed, the system will be the main shipment to a Rocket Lab Photon satellite and collect critical cryogen fluid management data in orbit over nine months,” NASA said. “The small business will work with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.”
Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft platform is designed to launch on top of an electron rocket. Rocket Lab announced last month that it had successfully launched the first Photon spacecraft, designed to host Earth observation sensors, communication payloads, and scientific experiments on Earth orbit missions and more .
NASA has already contracted with Rocket Lab to fly a small research mission named CAPSTONE to orbit the moon next year using an electron rocket and Photon platform.
NASA selected Masten Space Systems to demonstrate exact landing, hazard prevention, and a universal chemical heat and power supply to help cargo survive the two-week lunar night. Masten’s two agreements totaled $ 12.8 million.
With a $ 41.6 million reward, Intuitive Machines will develop a deployable hopper lander capable of carrying a 2.2-pound (1-kilogram) cargo of more than 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) across the surface. moon, allowing exploration of craters not to reach larger, conventional rovers.
Houston’s Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance will receive approximately $ 22.1 million from NASA to build a space science and technology evaluation facility to give smal experiments access to the lunar surface, and Maxar Technologies will won $ 8.7 million in NASA funding to help develop a lighter and cheaper robotic arm for operation on the moon, in orbit, and on Earth.
Nokia will receive a NASA contract to provide $ 14.1 million to support the early stages of research into the first LTE / 4G communications network in space, which NASA said could support remote communications across the surface. months.
Sierra Nevada Corp. won $ 2.4 million to produce demonstration hardware that uses methane and concentrated solar energy to extract oxygen from the lunar ground, according to NASA.
NASA also selected Astrobotic, PH Matter, Precision Combustion, and Teledyne Energy Systems for awards focused on testing wireless wireless technology and rejuvenating fuel cells for potential lunar use.
“I think there are two things that are critically important,” Bridenstine said. “We need power systems that can last a long time on the moon, and we need shelter on the moon.”
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