NASA Greenlights Hundreds of Millions in Advanced Space Tech Demonstrations

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Among the awards is a proposal to bring 4G connectivity to space.

NASA on Wednesday named 14 U.S. companies set to collectively receive more than $370 million to produce and refine game-changing space technologies—including a light and cheap robotic arm for in-orbit servicing and what could be the first LTE/4G network beyond planet Earth—to help pave the way for sustainable missions on the moon by the end of the 2020s.

Through its ambitious Artemis program, America’s space agency aims to land the first woman and next man on the moon in 2024, and establish a sustainable presence there to get ready to send humans to Mars a little further down the line. Unveiled during a Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium meeting, these newly announced awards support that ultimate effort, and they are a result of the agency's fifth competitive Tipping Point solicitation, released in January. 

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement Wednesday that the agency and industry “are building up an array of mission-ready capabilities,” to advance those broader Artemis-driven goals, and he also added that the weighty investment is intended to “expand what is possible in space and on the lunar surface.”

Through Tipping Point contracts, the agency financially backs industry-built technologies that hold promise to help strengthen its own mission, as well as capabilities across the commercial space. Tech solutions, according to NASA, are “considered at a tipping point if an investment in a demonstration will significantly mature the technology, increase the likelihood of infusion into a commercial space application, and bring [it] to market for both government and commercial applications.” 

The overall total worth hundreds of millions is a rough estimate of what’s to be awarded from this latest round of the solicitation. Negotiations will unfold between NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and the selected companies to lay out milestone-based, firm-fixed price contracts that’ll proceed for up to five years.

“This is the most Tipping Point proposals NASA has selected at once and by far the largest collective award value,” NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Technology Jim Reuter noted in the release.

The list of businesses selected and their approximate award values, provided by the agency, includes: 

  • Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance of Houston, $22.1 million
  • Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh, $5.8 million
  • Eta Space of Merritt Island, Florida, $27 million
  • Intuitive Machines of Houston, $41.6 million
  • Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado, $89.7 million
  • Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, $10 million, $2.8 million
  • Nokia of America Corporation of Sunnyvale, California, $14.1 million
  • pH Matter of Columbus, Ohio, $3.4 million
  • Precision Combustion Inc. of North Haven, Connecticut, $2.4 million
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Madison, Wisconsin, $2.4 million
  • SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, $53.2 million
  • SSL Robotics of Pasadena, California, $8.7 million
  • Teledyne Energy Systems of Hunt Valley, Maryland, $2.8 million
  • United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado, $86.2 million

In a separate publication, NASA also offered a brief glimpse into each of the selected solutions, which span across three solicitation topic areas.

SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance and small business Eta Space were tapped to demonstrate Cryogenic Fluid Management Technologies, which hone in on phenomena at very low temperatures and saw the most funding this cycle. 

“Future missions could use frozen water located at the Moon’s poles to make propellant by separating the hydrogen and oxygen,” NASA notes. “The ability to store these super-cold liquids, whether they are launched from Earth or produced in space, for an extended period and transfer propellant from one tank to another, is crucial for establishing sustainable operations on the moon and enabling human missions to Mars.”

The agency tapped 10 companies to participate in Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative Technology Demonstration, and develop tools that could eventually enable astronauts and robots to investigate more of the moon. Of those, Nokia plans to deploy “the first LTE/4G communications system in space,” which NASA said “could support lunar surface communications at greater distances, increased speeds, and provide more reliability than current standards.”

Masten Space Systems was also selected to demonstrate technology in that realm, as well as in the final topic of Closed-Loop Descent and Landing Capability Demonstration, through which it will offer up a space vehicle and suborbital platform to supply public, private and academic researchers with a new means for testing out space technologies.