Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space venture, Blue Origin, has been selected to participate in three partnerships with NASA to advance technologies that could come into play for Artemis missions to the moon — and eventually for Mars missions as well.
The projects were included in a newly released list of public-private partnerships that have been forged with 13 companies under the terms of an Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity, or ACO.
NASA issued the announcement last October. The arrangement doesn’t involve the transfer of funds, but rather the sharing of expertise, facilities, hardware and software for technologies that could be the focus of future contracts.
“NASA’s proven experience and unique facilities are helping commercial companies mature their technologies at a competitive pace,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, explained today in a news release. “We’ve identified technology areas NASA needs for future missions, and these public-private partnerships will accelerate their development so we can implement them faster.”
All three of Blue Origin’s partnerships focus on its Blue Moon lander, which had its coming-out party in May and could be in operation on a timetable that’s consistent with NASA’s goal of sending astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024.
The company, based in Kent, Wash., will collaborate with NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Goddard Space Flight Center on a navigation and guidance system for landings at a variety of locations on the moon. It also will partner with Johnson and Glenn Research Center on a fuel cell system that could provide uninterrupted power for the Blue Moon lander during the two-week-long lunar night.
In its third partnership, Blue Origin will work with Marshall Space Flight Center and Langley Research Center to evaluate and mature high-temperature materials for liquid rocket engine nozzles that could be used on lunar landers.
NASA listed 16 other partnerships involving a dozen other companies:
Advanced Communications, Navigation and Avionics
- Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, will partner with Goddard to advance lunar navigation technologies. The collaboration will help mature a navigation system between Earth and the moon that could supplement NASA’s Deep Space Network and support future exploration missions.
- Vulcan Wireless of Carlsbad, California, will partner with Goddard to test a CubeSat radio transponder and its compatibility with NASA’s Space Network.
- Aerogel Technologies of Boston will work with Glenn Research Center to improve properties of flexible aerogels for rocket fairings and other aerospace applications. The material can result in 25% weight savings over soundproofing materials currently used in rocket fairings.
- Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado, will work with Langley to test materials made from metal powders using solid-state processing to improve the design of spacecraft that operate in high-temperature environments.
- Spirit AeroSystem Inc. of Wichita, Kansas, will partner with Marshall to improve the durability of low-cost reusable rockets manufactured using friction stir welding. This welding method, already being used for NASA’s Space Launch System, results in a stronger, more defect-free seal compared to traditional methods of joining materials with welding torches.
Entry, Descent and Landing
- Anasphere of Bozeman, Montana, will partner with Marshall to test a compact hydrogen generator for inflating heat shields, which could help deliver larger payloads to Mars.
- Bally Ribbon Mills of Bally, Pennsylvania, will perform thermal testing in the Arc Jet Complex at NASA’s Ames Research Center. The facility will be used to test a new seamless weave for a mechanically deployable carbon fabric heat shield.
- Sierra Nevada Corp. of Sparks, Nevada, will partner with Langley to capture infrared images of the company’s Dream Chaser space plane as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, traveling faster than the speed of sound.
- Sierra Nevada Corp. will also work with Langley to mature a method to recover the upper stage of a rocket using a deployable decelerator.
- SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, will work with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to advance their technology to land large rockets vertically on the moon. This includes advancing models to assess engine plume interaction with lunar regolith.
In-Space Manufacturing and Assembly
- Maxar Technologies of Palo Alto, California, will work with Langley to build a breadboard – a base for prototyping electronics – for a deployable, semi-rigid radio antenna. In-orbit assembly of large structures like antennas will enhance the performance of assets in space. Such capabilities could enable entirely new exploration missions that are currently size-constrained and reduce launch costs due to improved packaging.
- Maxar Technologies will test lightweight solar cells for flexible solar panels using facilities at Glenn and Marshall that mimic the environment of space. The technology could be used by future spacecraft to provide more power with a lower mass system.
- Aerojet Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, California, and Marshall will design and manufacture a lightweight rocket engine combustion chamber using innovative processes and materials. The goal of the project is to reduce manufacturing costs and make the chamber scalable for different missions. Some of Aerojet’s engine development work is done in Redmond, Wash.
- Colorado Power Electronics Inc. of Fort Collins, Colorado, will partner with Glenn to mature power processing unit technology that extends the operating range of Hall thrusters, which are primarily used on Earth-orbiting satellites and can also be used for deep-space missions. By integrating their technology with NASA and commercial Hall thrusters, the company expects to provide a propulsion system that can significantly increase mission payload or extend mission durations.
- SpaceX will work with Glenn and Marshall to advance technology needed to transfer propellant in orbit, an important step in the development of the company’s Starship space vehicle.
Other Exploration Technologies
- Lockheed Martin will partner with Kennedy to test technologies and operations for autonomous in-space plant growth systems. Integrating robotics with plant systems could help NASA harvest plants on future platforms in deep space.