NASA has Joined Forces With 11 American Companies to Accelerate Lunar Innovation

By Sophia Francise

July 27, 2023

On Tuesday, NASA revealed that it had chosen 11 American firms to work on the creation of technologies that could enable long-term human exploration of the Moon and space. 

The technologies range from lunar surface power systems to in-space 3D printing equipment. 

The technologies will enable the expansion of industrial capabilities for Artemis and other NASA, governmental, and commercial missions that aim to sustain human presence on the Moon. 

“Partnering with the commercial space industry lets us at NASA harness the strength of American innovation and ingenuity. The technologies that NASA is investing in today have the potential to be the foundation of future exploration,” said Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator.

The projects selected under NASA’s sixth Tipping Point opportunity will receive joint funding from NASA and the industry partners. 

NASA plans to contribute $150 million to partnerships, with each company contributing a minimum of 10-25% of the project cost.1 

STMD will issue milestone-based funded Space Act Agreements lasting up to four years.

The subject technologies will enhance space and lunar infrastructure. Six of the selected companies are small businesses. 

The following is a list of the awarded companies, their projects, and the approximate value of NASA’s contribution:

  1. Astrobotic Technology (Pittsburgh): $34.6 millionLunaGrid-Lite: Demonstration of Tethered, Scalable Lunar Power Transmission
  2. Big Metal Additive (Denver): $5.4 million – Improving Cost and Availability of Space Habitat Structures with Additive Manufacturing
  3. Blue Origin of Kent (Washington): $34.7 millionIn-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU)-Based Power on the Moon
  4. Freedom Photonics (Santa Barbara, California): $1.6 million – Highly Efficient Watt-Class Direct Diode Lidar for Remote Sensing
  5. Lockheed Martin (Littleton, Colorado): $9.1 million – Joining Demonstrations In-Space
  6. Redwire (Jacksonville, Florida): $12.9 millionInfrastructure Manufacturing with Lunar Regolith – Mason
  7. Protoinnovations (Pittsburgh): $6.2 million – The Mobility Coordinator: An Onboard COTS (Commercial-Off-the-Shelf) Software Architecture for Sustainable, Safe, Efficient, and Effective Lunar Surface Mobility Operations
  8. Psionic (Hampton, Virginia): $3.2 million – Validating No-Light Lunar Landing Technology that Reduces Risk, SWaP (Size, Weight, and Power), and Cost
  9. United Launch Alliance (Centennial, Colorado): $25 million – ULA Vulcan Engine Reuse Scale Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator Technology Demonstration
  10. Varda Space Industries (El Segundo, California): $1.9 million – Conformal Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator Tech Transfer and Commercial Production
  11. Zeno Power Systems (Washington): $15 millionA Universal Americium-241 Radioisotope Power Supply for Artemis

How These Technologies Revolutionize Moon Exploration?

Five technologies will facilitate humanity in exploring the Moon, including habitats, power, transportation, and other infrastructure.

Two of the selected projects (Blue Origin and Redwire) will adopt so-called in-situ resource utilization, or ISRU, using surface material from the Moon to create such infrastructure.

Redwire is working on technology that might make it possible to construct highways, living foundations, and landing sites using the Moon’s regolith.

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Blue Origin’s innovation involves harvesting elements from lunar regolith to manufacture solar cells and wire that could be utilized to power operations on the Moon.

Astrobotic proposes advanced Moon surface power distribution technology, which will be tested on future missions.

They are working on a CubeRover that unreels over half a mile of a high-voltage line to transfer power from the production system to a lunar habitat or work area.

The rest of the six projects aim to enhance space exploration and Earth observation capabilities. 

For instance, Freedom Photonics will develop a laser source for a more efficient lidar system, enabling better detection of methane in the Earth’s atmosphere and improving climate change understanding.

United Launch Alliance plans to develop inflatable heat shield technology, building on the success of LOFTID. This technology could be used to return large rocket components from low Earth orbit for reuse and land heavier payloads on destinations like Mars.

“Our partnerships with industry could be a cornerstone of humanity’s return to the Moon under Artemis. By creating new opportunities for streamlined awards, we hope to push crucial technologies over the finish line so they can be used in future missions. These innovative partnerships will help advance capabilities that will enable sustainable exploration on the Moon,” said the acting associate administrator for STMD at NASA Headquarters in Washington, Dr. Prasun Desai.

References

  1. NASA, ‘NASA Partners with American Companies on Key Moon, Exploration Tech,’ 25 July 2023, https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-partners-with-american-companies-on-key-moon-exploration-tech[]
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