Four American companies developing cryogenic fluid management technologies that can advance NASA’s Artemis mission to the Moon have been awarded a share of $370m by the space agency.
Through the “Tipping Point” solicitation, NASA sought industry-developed space technologies that can foster the development of commercial space capabilities and benefit future NASA mission.
A technology is considered at a tipping point if an investment in a demonstration will significantly mature the technology, increase the likelihood of infusion into a commercial space application and bring the technology to market for both government and commercial applications.
The majority of the $370m funding will help mature cryogenic fluid management technologies via in-space demonstrations led by small business Eta Space, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, and ULA.
Each approach is unique, ranging from small to large-scale and short-to long-term tests.
Future missions could use frozen water located at the Moon’s poles to make propellant by separating the hydrogen and oxygen.
The ability to store these super-cold liquids, whether they are launched from Earth or produced in space, for an extended period and transfer propellant from one tank to another, is crucial for establishing sustainable operations on the Moon and enabling human missions to Mars.
NASA and industry partners have developed and tested numerous technologies to enable long-term cryogenic fluid management, which is essential for establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon and enabling crewed missions to Mars.
Implementation of the technologies in operational missions requires further maturation through in-space demonstrations.
Florida-based Eta Space has been awarded $27m for a small-scale flight demonstration of a complete cryogenic oxygen fluid management system.
As proposed, the system will be the primary payload on a Rocket Lab Photon satellite and collect critical cryogenic fluid management data in orbit for nine months.
Colorado-based Lockheed Martin has been awarded $89.7m for an in-space demonstration mission using liquid hydrogen – the most challenging of the cryogenic propellants – to test more than a dozen cryogenic fluid management technologies, positioning them for infusion into future space systems.
NASA awarded SpaceX $53.2m for a large-scale flight demonstration to transfer 10 metric tons of cryogenic propellant, specifically liquid oxygen, between tanks on a Starship vehicle.
Finally, United Launch Alliance (ULA), of Colorado, was awarded $86.2m for a demonstration of a smart propulsion cryogenic system, using liquid oxygen and hydrogen, on a Vulcan Centaur upper stage.
The system will test precise tank pressure control, tank-to-tank transfer, and multi-week propellant storage.
“NASA’s significant investment in innovative technology demonstrations, led by small and large US businesses across nine states, will expand what is possible in space and on the lunar surface,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“Together, NASA and industry are building up an array of mission-ready capabilities to support a sustainable presence on the Moon and future human missions to Mars.”