NASA Announces New Partnerships to Develop Space Exploration Technologies

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA is partnering with six U.S. companies to develop 10 “tipping point” technologies that have the potential to significantly benefit the commercial space economy and future NASA missions, including lunar lander and deep space rocket engine technologies.

Selections are based on the agency’s third competitive Tipping Point solicitation, and have a combined total award value of approximately $44 million – a significant investment in the U.S. space industry.

A technology is considered at a “tipping point” if investment in a ground or flight demonstration will result in significantly maturing the technology and improving the company’s ability to bring it to market.

“These awards focus on technology collaborations with the commercial space sector that leverage emerging markets and capabilities to meet NASA’s exploration goals,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “While these key technologies will support NASA’s science and human exploration missions in the future, these awards are yet another example of NASA’s commitment to our nation’s growing commercial space industry today.”

This solicitation targeted three Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) strategic technology focus areas: Expand Utilization of Space, Enable Efficient and Safe Transportation Into and Through Space, and Increase Access to Planetary Surfaces.

The selected proposals, organized by strategic technology focus areas, are:

Expand Utilization of Space

  • Blue Origin, L.L.C., in Kent, Washington, $10 million
    Proposal: Cryogenic Fluid Management-Enhanced Integrated Propulsion Testing for Robust Lander Services
    Blue Origin will mature cryogenic liquid propulsion through a combination of technologies in a lunar lander-scaled integrated propulsion system. The project will culminate in testing of the integrated propulsion system and a separate experiment on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle.
  • Space Systems/Loral, L.L.C., (SSL) in Palo Alto, California, $2 million
    Proposal: In-Space Xenon Transfer for Satellite, Servicer and Exploration Vehicle Replenishment and Life Extension
    This project will advance satellite servicing and in-space platform propellant replenishment capabilities by developing the capability to transfer xenon in space from a servicer or tanker to an active, operational satellite. The incremental addition of xenon transfer to existing robotic refueling payload opens new refueling opportunities. The project will demonstrate that in-space xenon transfer can be performed reliably in-space.
  • United Launch Alliance, L.L.C. (ULA) in Centennial, Colorado, $10 million
    Proposal: Integrated Vehicle Fluids Flight Demonstration
    An Integrated Vehicle Fluids (IVF) system supports extended-duration cryogenic upper stage operations and has applications for lunar landers. It takes advantage of available liquid hydrogen and oxygen to provide multiple kilowatts of power while potentially eliminating battery power, helium pressurization, and the hydrazine reaction control system. This effort includes qualification of key elements of the IVF subsystem and integration and flight on a Centaur upper stage.

Enable Efficient and Safe Transportation Into and Through Space

  • Frontier Aerospace Corporation in Simi Valley, California, $1.9 million
    Proposal: Flight Qualification of the DSE, MON-25 MMH Rocket Engine
    This project will advance Frontier’s Deep Space Engine (DSE) by flight demonstration as part of the first Astrobotic Peregrine Lunar Lander mission planned for 2020. The DSE engine uses a propellant that has a lower freezing point, which provides benefits for exploration landers and deep space missions by lowering system weight and required power.
  • Paragon Space Development Corporation in Tucson, Arizona, $1.6 million
    Proposal: Cryogenic Encapsulating Launch Shroud and Insulated Upper Stage (CELSIUS)
    CELSIUS is a system that can be installed on the surface of the cryogenic upper stage tank of a space launch vehicle to provide enhanced insulation capabilities and protection from meteoroids and debris.
  • SSL, $2 million
    Proposal: High Efficiency 6kW Dual Mode Electric Propulsion Engine for Broad Mission Applications
    This project will expand SSL’s electric propulsion capabilities by developing a selectable “dual mode” power processing unit (PPU) capable of providing 300 or 600 volts to a 6 kilowatt Hall thruster, increasing overall mission efficiency and flexibility. This provides faster, more efficient, propulsive capabilities for future NASA missions.
  • ULA, $2 million
    Proposal: Cryogenic Fluid Management Technology Demonstration
    This cryogenic fluid management (CFM) demonstration project seeks to prove that very low cryogenic fuel boil off is achievable and can support long duration missions. ULA will perform critical testing of the existing space launch vehicle Centaur Cryote-3 tank.

Increase Access to Planetary Surfaces

  • Astrobotic Technology, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, $10 million
    Proposal: Stand-Alone Sensor for High Precision Planetary Landing
    This project will culminate in a lunar technology demonstration mission, advancing a low-cost, reliable, high-performance, stand-alone Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) sensor suite. This lower-mass, lower-power, passive-optical sensor suite is designed to precisely deliver robotic landers to planetary surfaces. Demonstrating these capabilities will allow the team to assist NASA in dramatically improving the performance of lunar and planetary landing missions.
  • Blue Origin, $3 million
    Proposal: Advancing Sensor Suites to Enable Landing Anywhere on the Lunar Surface
    This project will mature critical technologies that enable precision and soft landing on the Moon. The project team will integrate Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN), navigation doppler lidar, and altimetry sensors and conduct flight tests prior to lunar mission implementation. Testing will be performed at approximately 100 km altitude on board the Blue Origin New Shepard vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) suborbital vehicle. The resulting sensor suite will enable precision landing anywhere on the lunar surface.
  • ULA, $1.9 million
    Proposal: Mid-Air Retrieval (MAR) Demonstration
    This project will flight demonstrate mid-air retrieval capabilities up to 8,000 pounds, increasing current capabilities by a factor of four. Paired with the NASA Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) project, this effort will demonstrate mid-air retrieval on a vehicle returning to Earth from orbital velocity. The project will utilize an ocean-going ship capable of transporting a helicopter to the recovery zone and the demonstration will conclude with recovery of the LOFTID reentry vehicle.

Through firm-fixed-price contracts, STMD will make milestone payments that cover as much as $10 million per award, over a performance period of up to 36 months. Each industry partner is required to contribute a minimum of 25 percent of total cost for each project.

STMD is responsible for developing the crosscutting, pioneering technologies and capabilities needed to achieve NASA missions. Projects resulting from the Tipping Point solicitation will enable public-private partnerships managed by programs within STMD.

For more information about the Tipping Point solicitation, visit:

  • envy

    Multiple proposals here for in-space cryogenics management and for propellant transfer. I like it, that’s exactly what we need for flexible deep space missions.

  • P.K. Sink

    …“While these key technologies will support NASA’s science and human exploration missions in the future, these awards are yet another example of NASA’s commitment to our nation’s growing commercial space industry today.”…

    Space sure is getting fun under this administration.

  • windbourne

    nobody is trying to stop or to destroy other groups.
    That makes a HUGE difference.

    BTW, lots of this went on under Bolden. Same stuff, different day.

  • P.K. Sink

    Yup…I’m a fan of Charlie. But the pace does seem to be picking up.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    Yes it is a long climb from TRL 2 to TRL 8. These technologies will soon be ready for their space flight.

  • windbourne

    thats true. Hppefully we will see a lot more of this. It is long past time for our feds to start helping private businesses again. Just about every other nation does it, and we seem to have stopped some of the most important investments of all.

  • Paul_Scutts

    SpaceX should take notes re. ULA’s MAR Demonstration, as, IMO, that is the approach that they should be employing to (reliably) recover their Falcon fairing halves.

  • ThomasLMatula

    But the neither the Obama Administration or Administrator Bolden seemed to have any interest in supporting it. Unlike VP Pence, VP Biden showed no interest in space except when he was campaigning in Florida for votes.

  • windbourne

    Bolden and O had to fight with the GOP constantly to keep money flowing to this kind of stuff. The GOP wanted it all to go to SLS/Orion.
    They gutted HSF, as well as money for new space.

  • windbourne

    I keep thinking that I should submit for a grant.
    One idea is for automation of farming, esp. tree and vine farming. Both of these are difficult for automated machines, but, there is another way to do this.

    Basically, take a single ‘train track’ if you will and spiral it with equi distance wider than the tree or vines between the outer and the inner (i.e say 10 m). Now a cart runs down it using an outer and inner track. However, the X-bars can be lifted higher than the tree/vegi. From above, it is easier to care for the plant(s). Initial planting is done via the cart, but then as it goes up and down the track, it looks for pests, both plants and bugs. Upon finding, it sprays tiny amount of pesticide directly on the pest or even uses a laser to kill it. Can water. Can prune. Can even harvest easier (coming from above or the side, depending on item).

    To really live on Mars, this would be needed. It is also needed in America.

  • Vladislaw

    I believe the farmers will be more “hands on” in the beginning. It is the difference between a commercial vineyard and an estate vineyard. For an estate vineyard they walk the rows and tend to individual plants .. even going so far as to move a leaf to cause shade on the grapes for different times of the day.

    IF food is a life or death ..I can not believe the horticulturalists will not be totally hands on those first years… You seem to be describing a more industrial farming ..

  • ronsmytheiii

    You can’t pin this on one party. Both Senators Shelby and Nelson, Republican and Democrat respectively, have fought against commercial solutions and for big government programs going back to the Bush admin. In this issue, the partisanship isn’t on party lines.

  • windbourne

    O and Bolden were absolutely big backers of new space. GOP, esp house GOP, not so much Senate, kept gutting CC Dev, but O/Bolden/garver kept fighting them for 5-6 long years.

    As to Biden, yeah, he appears about as interested in it as trump. Both of them really did/do not see the value of new space, esp deep space.

  • windbourne

    I don’t think so. The more automated, the better. This is what drove industrial revolution in America. Basically, a lack of labor. And yeah, that was even with the slaves the Europeans brought to America.

    Though, I would bet that first gardens will be carefully watched by horticulturest/farmers.

  • windbourne

    Wrong. Other than the woman in maryland, the Dems did not fight against new space. The Dems backed both new space and sls..
    Heck, you righties all ways claim that lefties never saw a program they want killed ( which has element of truth except when applied to nuke power ).
    No, even when Congress forced NASA to cut CCdev , the GOP, including my GOP rep, sent a letter to NASA pretty much threatening Bolden if he did not cut space.

  • Vladislaw

    Going back to the Kennedy Administration.

  • Vladislaw

    I always find it so laughable when they say President Obama didn’t fight for this or that.. How many fillibuster and fillbuster threats 1000? Every time Obama opened his mouth McConnell was screaming fillibuster. Obama was watching the economy fall off a cliff losing almost a million jobs a month and the republicans refused and fillibustered a 1 billion dollar jobs bill for returning vets.. It was their OWN BILL and they fillibustered it.

  • Vladislaw
  • windbourne

    that was a real cluster. Sadly, I know that if the dems win congress, that Trump will go through same thing until he is taken out.

  • Vladislaw

    No .. trump is a coward .. he ALWAYS has been a coward .. to many people know him personally have stated it before . .he is a typical bully and coward. So he will just give the democrats anything thing they want if it mean’t not having to resign .. he will sign what ever is placed in front of him because he won’t read it anyway..