NASA, US tech firms team up for Moon exploration initiative

NASA has chosen eleven American companies to help the US space agency develop cutting-edge technologies – all to advance long-term exploration on the Moon and in space.

The leading technologies – ranging from lunar surface power systems to tools for in-space 3D printing – will expand industry capabilities for a sustained human presence on the Moon, NASA said Tuesday.

"Partnering with the commercial space industry lets us at NASA harness the strength of American innovation and ingenuity," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

"The technologies that NASA is investing in today have the potential to be the foundation of future exploration,” Nelson said.

That future exploration will support NASA’s current Artemis lunar program, as well as other NASA, government, and commercial missions.

The Artemis three-part mission will help prepare NASA for the eventual human exploration of Mars by establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon in preparation for future expeditions to the Red Planet.

The eleven companies, including six small businesses, were selected through NASA’s Tipping Point opportunity program.

The application process, which required the firms to submit partnership proposals to the agency by its November 2022 cut-off, is in its sixth iteration.

The chosen projects will be funded over four years under a Space Act Agreement (STMD) between NASA and industry partners.

"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 Dr. Prasun Desai, acting associate administrator for STMD at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Moon exploration
Image by NASA

NASA will provide $150 million dollars in funding for the chosen projects, while each industry partner will fund a minimum of at least 10-25% – based on the company size and the total project cost.

The selected technologies are expected to support infrastructure and capabilities in space and at the Moon.

"Our partnerships with industry could be a cornerstone of humanity's return to the Moon under Artemis," Dr. Desai said.

For example, five of the technologies will help humanity explore the Moon, two of the selected projects will use the Moon’s own surface material to create such infrastructure, and another project will advance technology to distribute power on the Moon’s surface to be tested during future Moon missions.

Other projects will help create new capabilities in other areas of space exploration and Earth observation, including the development of novel laser sources used for measuring elements in the Earth’s atmosphere to improve scientists’ understanding of climate change.

NASA's chosen companies are listed as follows: Astrobotic Technology, Big Metal Additive, Freedom Photonics, Redwire, Protoinnovations, Psionic, Varda Space Industries, Zeno Power Systems, and more well-known companies such as Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

United Launch Alliance is the spacecraft engineering company providing the Vulcan Centaur rocket for the spaceflight memorial company Celestis.

The rocket is set to launch the remains of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, his wife Majel, and four other series cast members into deep space to permanently orbit the Sun as their final resting place in 2024.

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