Jeff Bezos' firm, 5 others to create space travel technology for NASA

Mindy Sparks
August 11, 2018

Those focus areas are the expansion of space utilization, safe and efficient transportation through space and increased access to planetary surfaces.

The investments come as the space agency partners with six U.S. companies on projects including deep space rockets, cryogenics and a lunar lander. Both will be tested on the New Shepard suborbital vehicle.

The space agency calls the projects it selected tipping point technologies, meaning they only need one investment in a ground or flight demonstration to significantly mature and improve it. The incremental addition of xenon transfer to existing robotic refueling payload opens new refueling opportunities.

One of NASA's longtime partners, United Launch Alliance, will get almost $14 million for a cryogenic upper stage system, which could be used in a lunar lander as well, and a system for mid-air retrieval on a vehicle returning to Earth from orbital velocity.

An Integrated Vehicle Fluids (IVF) system supports extended-duration cryogenic upper stage operations and has applications for lunar landers.

STMD will issue up to $10 million in milestone payments to each awardee under the firm-fixed-price contracts that have a performance period of up to three years. The hope is that by having liquid hydrogen and oxygen on tap, spacecraft will be able to do away with batteries, helium pressurization systems and the risky hydrazine used to fuel the reaction control systems.

The other five companies selected for the award are - Space Systems/Loral (SSL), United Launch Alliance (ULA), Frontier Aerospace Corp, Paragon Space Development Corp and Astrobotic Technology. This is a high-tech cladding that acts as additional insulation to upper stage cryogenic tanks while providing protection from micrometeoroids and debris strikes.

Another SSL award is US$2 million for its electric propulsion technology that uses a selectable dual-mode Power Processing Unit (PPU) to provide a six-kW Hall ion thruster with either 300 or 600 volts as required. The project will demonstrate that in-space xenon transfer can be performed reliably in space. This will increase the efficiency and flexibility of future deep space missions. Blue Origin received $13 million for a couple of deals - propulsion for landers on the Moon and sensors to help spacecraft land on any kind of surface 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.

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