NASA selects ‘tipping point’ partners for future moon and Mars missions

NASA is funding 14 corporations with a share of $43 million to develop tech for future space missions.

NASA recently chose 14 U.S. companies as partners whose “Tipping Point” technologies will help further the agency’s moon and Mars space exploration goals.

According to a press release, NASA distributed $43.2 million among its fourth group of Tipping Point solicitation finalists.

In the program, the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) has “prioritized funding opportunities for public-private partnerships to achieve NASA’s goals of expanding capabilities and opportunities in space.”

Blue Origin received the most money, with a $10 million award. SpaceX, which already partners with NASA through its Commercial Resupply program, received $3 million. The remaining 12 winners split roughly $30 million.

Furthering Space Exploration Goals

NASA’s monetary investment will help selected companies develop tech to support future space exploration efforts. Overall, the agency’s financial assistance could make a game-changing difference in helping important innovations become a reality.

“These promising technologies are at a ‘tipping point’ in their development, meaning NASA’s investment is likely the extra push a company needs to significantly mature a capability,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s STMD, in a statement. “These are important technologies necessary for sustained exploration of the Moon and Mars. As the agency focuses on landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 with the Artemis program, we continue to prepare for the next phase of lunar exploration that feeds forward to Mars.”

Selected Technology Categories

NASA selected proposals from companies that addressed specific areas of technology. Categories included “cryogenic propellant production and management, sustainable energy generation, storage and distribution, efficient and affordable propulsion systems, autonomous operations, rover mobility, and advanced avionics.”

Blue Origin will use its $10 million in funding to develop a ground-based demonstration of liquefying hydrogen and oxygen. After producing the liquid, the company will store it. Space travelers could ultimately create and store liquid rocket propellant on the moon with this process.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk talked about refueling a rocket in space, during a Starship presentation last weekend. The Hawthorne, California-based company will use its $3 million award to build nozzles for spacecraft refueling operations. SpaceX is teaming up with NASA’s Marshall Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama to complete that objective.

Furthermore, Connecticut-based corporation Skyre Inc. is partnering with Meta Vista USA LLC. The two will to create a system that makes propellant out of “permanently frozen” water from the moon’s poles. Skyre received $2.6 million to fund the endeavor.

Other “Tipping Point” award winners include OxEon Energy ($1.8 million), Paragon Space ($2 million), Infinity Fuel Cell and Hydrogen ($4 million), TallannQuest ($2 million), Accion Systems ($3.9 million), Blue Canyon Technologies ($4.9 million), CU Aerospace ($1.7 million), ExoTerra ($2 million), Intuitive Machines ($1.3 million), Astrobotic Technology ($2 million) and Luna Innovations ($2 million).

Other Partnerships

NASA has a history of asking various organizations to help develop different kinds of space technology.

For example, back in August, the space agency asked undergraduate and graduate students to submit proposals to its 2020 RASC-AL competition. Participants must develop new concepts for the moon and Mars in one of five different themes. These include building a moon rover, plotting a short surface stay on Mars, and more.

Overall, leveraging input, ideas, and technology from partnering organizations reinforces the collaborative, imaginative effort that it will take to advance humankind’s journey further into outer space.