NASA has recently awarded a total of $370 million to 14 companies in different areas, in support of the agency's upcoming space missions to the Moon under the Artemis project.
In a press release on Wednesday, October 14, NASA announced the contracts awarded, grouped by their respective topic areas: Cryogenic Fluid Management Technology Demonstration, Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative Technology Demonstration, and Closed-Loop Descent and Landing Capability Demonstration.
The awarded contracts are from the agency's fifth competitive Tipping Point solicitation, optimizing its existing public-private partnerships to advance its programs.
Today we announced the selection of 14 U.S. companies as partners to mature space technologies in the areas of cryogenic fluid management, lunar surface innovations, and precision landing testing capabilities.
More about our 2020 Tipping Point awards: https://t.co/x7Ok8WrZn1 pic.twitter.com/6LQuUpagWn — NASA Technology (@NASA_Technology) October 14, 2020
Largest Contracts Awarded to Lockheed Martin, ULA, SpaceX
The largest contract, according to the breakdown presented by NASA in its press release, was awarded to Lockheed Martin, to the tune of $89.7 million. The North Bethesda, Maryland-headquartered aerospace and defense contractor is tasked to conduct an "in-space demonstration mission using liquid hydrogen," with the material being described as the most challenging among the cryogenic propellants.
Hydrogen burns with extreme intensity, reaching temperatures of 5,500 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it is notoriously difficult to store and transport, being liquefied only at extremely low temperatures - at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lockheed Martin is also expected to use their liquid hydrogen research to develop and test management technologies for the fuel with future space missions in mind. It is followed by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), set to use its Vulcan Centaur lift-launch vehicle for a smart propulsion system using a mix of liquid hydrogen and oxygen.
SpaceX, Elon Musk's aerospace manufacturing company, is tasked with "large-scale flight demonstration," essentially lifting the cryogenic propellant liquid oxygen and transferring it between tanks in a Starship launch vehicle.
Investments in Communication, Power, and Safety
Other awardees of the recent tranche of NASA five-year projects include Nokia of America Corporation. The communications manufacturer has proposed to deploy what would be the first communications system based on Long Term Evolution (LTE) and 4G technology, receiving a $14.1 million award from NASA. Based on existing terrestrial communication tech, Nokia seeks to deploy the same protocols to support future communications on the lunar systems - requiring greater transfer speeds over greater distances, with more reliability than existing technologies.
Potentially revolutionizing the power source attachments of future spacecraft, Masten Space System is set to work on a $2.8 million project that will demonstrate the potential of a "universal chemical heat and an electrical power source." If successful, it would allow payloads like rovers and landers to survive the extreme environments - like lunar nights, or the side of the moon not facing the sun - most likely awaiting astronauts on the Moon's surface.
On the other hand, the Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh is set to develop a fast and wireless charging system. Awarded a $5.8 million contract, the Pennsylvania-based space robotics firm will also create flight units that might be integrated on commercial robotic landers.
NASA has also announced that its Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is set to meet with the companies and negotiate for the generation of "milestone-based firm-fixed-price contracts" that would extend its respective contracts for up to five years.
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