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NASA Announces Partnerships to Advance ‘Tipping Point’ Technologies

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 20, 2015
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WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has secured partnerships with 22 U.S. companies through two solicitations to advance the agency’s goals for robotic and human exploration of the solar system by shepherding the development of critical space technologies.

“These awards enable us to continue to foster partnerships with the commercial space sector that not only leverage capabilities to meet NASA’s strategic goals, but also focus on U.S. industry markets that are at a tipping point for commercialization and infusion,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “At NASA, technology drives exploration and partnering with the private sector in this way supports the innovation economy and creates jobs.”

Through the “Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies” solicitation, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate selected nine companies to mature technologies beyond their “tipping point” with the goal of enabling private industry to develop and qualify them for market, stimulating the commercial space industry while delivering technologies and capabilities needed for future NASA missions and commercial applications.

A technology is considered at the tipping point if an investment in a demonstration of its capabilities would result in a significant advancement of the technology’s maturation, high likelihood of infusion into a commercial space application, and significant improvement in the ability to successfully bring the technology to market.

Through the Tipping Point solicitation, NASA has selected the following nine projects and U.S. companies:

Robotic In-Space Manufacturing and Assembly of Spacecraft and Space Structures

  • Public-Private Partnership for Robotic In-Space Manufacturing and Assembly of Spacecraft and Space Structures — Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia
  • Versatile In-Space Robotic Precision Manufacturing and Assembly System — Made in Space, Inc. of Moffett Field, California
  • Dragonfly: On-Orbit Robotic Installation and Reconfiguration of Large Solid RF Reflectors — Space Systems Loral of Palo Alto, California

Low Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) Instruments for Remote Sensing Applications

  • EGO-XO: Nanosats for Advanced Gravity Mapping and Crosslink Occultation — Geo Optics LLC of Pasadena, California
  • Advanced 1.65 Micron Seed Laser for LIDAR Remote Sensing of Methane — Freedom Photonics LLC of Goleta, California

Small Spacecraft Attitude Determination and Control (ADC) Sensors and Actuators

  • Hyper-XACT, A Long Life, High Performance Attitude Determination and Control System — Blue Canyon Technologies LLC of Boulder, Colorado
  • Tipping Point Proposal for Reaction Sphere — Northrop Grumman Support Services Corporation of Millersville, Maryland

Small Spacecraft Propulsion Systems

  • HYDROS Thruster — Tethers Unlimited of Bothell, Washington
  • Enabling High Thrust High Delta-V Green Propulsion for CubeSats — Aerojet Rocketdyne, Inc. of Redmond, Washington

These fixed-priced contracts include milestone payments that require a minimum 25 percent corporate or customer contribution, though all awards are contingent on the availability of appropriated funding. The contracts range in value from $1 million to $20 million, and each have an approximate two-year performance period culminating in a system-level demonstration of the technology.

NASA also secured partnerships with 13 U.S. companies through the Announcement of Collaborative Opportunity (ACO) solicitation, “Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Emerging Space Technology System Capabilities.” Through these partnerships, NASA provides technical expertise and test facilities to aid industry partners in maturing key space technologies.

These awards will result in Non-Reimbursable Space Act Agreements between the selected companies and NASA for the following technology projects:

Nanosatellite and Suborbital Reusable Launch Systems Development

  • Technology Maturation and Flight Validation for Air Launched Liquid Rockets —  Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. of Atlanta
  • LauncherOne Collaborative Opportunity to Advance Emerging Space Capabilities — Virgin Galactic LLC of Long Beach, California
  • Spyder: A Dedicated CubeSat Launcher Project — UP Aerospace, Inc. of Littleton, Colorado
  • Advanced Design and Manufacture of Cryogenic Propellant Tanks for Air Launched Liquid Rockets — Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. of Atlanta

Thermal Protection System Materials and Systems Development

  • Validation of Fiber Optic Temperature Sensor Arrays for Thermal Protection System Materials — Intelligent Fiber Optic Systems Corp. of Santa Clara, California
  • Development and Characterization of 3D Woven Thermal Protection System via Arc Jet Testing — T.E.A.M, Inc. of Woonsocket, Rhode Island
  • Arc Jet Exposure of Ablative and Non-Oxide CMC TPS for Planetary Probe and Sample Return Applications — Boeing of Huntington Beach, California

Green Propellant Thruster Technology Qualification

  • Flight Qualification of Busek’s 5N Green Monopropellant Thruster, BGT-5 — Busek Co., Inc. of Natick, Massachusetts
  • Green Propellant Thruster Technology Qualification — Orbital ATK of Elkton, Maryland
  • GR-1 Aerojet Rocketdyne Glenn Goddard (ARGG) Collaboration — Aerojet Rocketdyne, Inc. of Redmond, Washington

Small, Affordable, High Performance Liquid Rocket Engine Development

  • Enhancement of Nanosat Launch Vehicle Booster Main Engine Using 3D Additive Manufacturing Techniques — Garvey Spacecraft Corp. of Long Beach, California
  • Hydrogen Peroxide/Kerosene Engine Development — Dynetics, Inc. of Huntsville, Alabama
  • Risk-Reduction Testing for the DESLA Upper Stage Engine — Exquadrum, Inc. of Adelanto, California

“These new partnerships between NASA and U.S. industry can accelerate the development and infusion of these emerging space system capabilities,” Jurczyk said. “Sustained technology investments must be made to mature the capabilities required to reach the challenging destinations and meet the agency’s exploration goals, such as our journey to Mars.”

For more information about STMD’s continued investments in space technology development, demonstration and infusion, visit:

14 responses to “NASA Announces Partnerships to Advance ‘Tipping Point’ Technologies”

  1. P.K. Sink says:

    ‘These fixed-priced contracts include milestone payments that require a minimum 25 percent corporate or customer contribution’

    Wow. How beautiful is this? Let the future begin here and now.

  2. P.K. Sink says:

    Like a wise man once told me: Patience, Grasshopper.

  3. P.K. Sink says:

    I defer to your much deeper experience. But these guys are throwing their own dough into the kitty with the expectation that they can actually produce something that someone might want to buy. Am I a naive little debutante?

  4. P.K. Sink says:

    Thanks. I read your paper on inflatable habitation spheres, by the way. Very cool.

  5. Vladislaw says:

    I find myself in agreement with you on a lot of issues. We hit a fork in the road on this one. I agree about the past and NASA’s history of funding research, but do not keep funding it to bring the technology readiness level (TRL) up to where it can be actually utilized or shelving the patents for a slow unheralded death.

    This time I believe it is just a bit different of a senerio. There are now a lot of things in place, both at NASA and in the legislative/regulatory fields that will make this different.

    This is just a copy and paste comment I made on another thread:

    “The Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984
    The Commercial Space Act of 1998
    Commercial Space Launch Ammedments Act of 2004

    Dereguation, was VERY long in coming but the executive branch slowly hammered congress enough to get the laws put in place, allowing capital to flow there.”

    I believe that since contractors have some of their own “skin in the game” versus traditional NASA contracting they might be less likely to scrap the technology like they have in the past. There are now more potential customers, it is no longer just NASA.
    The push for more commerical space is bringing it’s own seperate pressure. still small but growing. The Space Act of 1958 that was modified to include “seek and encourage the maximum use of commercial space” seems to be gaining traction and from the look at this tech list, it could go into the private sector a lot easier than in the past and there is are now more angel investors and venture capital firms and crowd funding willing to put capital at risk for space ventures.

    • P.K. Sink says:

      ‘This time I believe it is just a bit different of a senerio. There are now a lot of things in place, both at NASA and in the legislative/regulatory fields that will make this different.’

      A lot of us are sure hoping that is the case.

      • Vladislaw says:

        Well I have dragged out the dead horse so often it more like a fossil remains rather than a corpse but for the real item on the agenda that needs to take place for the floodgates to open is that 800 pound gorilla in the room, property rights. That will be the biggest issue going forward. I believe we are moving in a positive direction on a lot of fronts but will be a big one.

        I have also talked alot about the three legs of the stool:

        1) Commerical cargo transportation services to LEO.
        2) Commerical passenger transportation services to LEO.
        3) Commerical habitat destination services in LEO.

        I think of Archimedes and the word “Eureka” it comes from the Ancient Greek word εὕρηκα heúrēka, meaning “I have found (it)”,

        Space stations are Archimedes’s “bathtub” for the future. The more minds we can put into LEO to just THINK the better we will be in attacking the problems of this new frontier.

        There is a lot of criticism of the International Space Station and granted it cost way to much to build, it is already a dinosaur in some respects and research it produces is not cost effective and the program bleeds to much funding from other endevors. For me it was still a bargin in that we are gaining more and more pure researchers having “space time” over just the test pilot mentality of the start of the space race.

        Once the three legs are in place, more minds actually visit space we open humanity up to those “netscape” moments. Someone will have a eureka moment and the American capital markets will open like a floodgate and any company with “space” in their name will boom like what happened in the dot com boom or any of the other “booms” that have happened in America.

        • P.K. Sink says:

          I gotta hand it to Charlie again. He’s given us Cygnus, Cargo Dragon, Crew Dragon, Starliner and Beam. His heart may be with Orion/SLS, but his legacy will be with citizens of the world in space. (Maybe he can even raise your horse from the dead…maybe even Dream Chaser.)

    • ThomasLMatula says:

      The real driver was external events, not the Administrations. The Act of 1984 was passed as a result of the first commercial launch in Sept. 1982. The 1988 Act followed NASA banning commercial satellites from the shuttle after the Challenger, creating a market for commercial launches now that NASA was banned from providing them to firms.

  6. P.K. Sink says:

    Is that a shot across the bow at Louis Friedman?

  7. Vladislaw says:

    What is your main soundbite … or link?

  8. P.K. Sink says:

    OK, I just found and read your Ceres piece. (Do you prefer the term paper or article?) All has become clear. That was very enjoyable and informative. I’ll keep digging into your other stuff as time permits. (That would really lend itself to some cool space art but, alas, I’m neither talanted as an engineer nor an artist.)

  9. P.K. Sink says:

    ‘The primary benefit of Ceres though is the fact that it could also possibly defuse some nuclear tensions here.’


  10. Michael Vaicaitis says:

    I’m still not liking the use of upper stage propellent tanks as habs. The genuinely viable future of human space flight elluded to throughout this thread requires that the economics of space launch be solved first. This is the seat on Vladislaw’s stool to which the legs are attached. The upper/second stage must return to Earth for repeated and “cheap” reuse.

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