Boulder, Fort Collins firms partnering with NASA

Illustration of a human landing system and crew on the lunar surface with Earth near the horizon

Illustration of a human landing system and crew on the lunar surface with Earth near the horizon

The newest announcement calls for companies to push the boundaries of current technology to support the next generation of lunar landers that can land heavier payloads on the surface of the Moon, including the South Pole, as part of the agency's Artemis program, which will send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024, setting the stage for future human exploration of Mars. Now, SpaceX will be getting help from the agency to figure out how to land large rockets like Starship on the surface of the Moon, and the company will also study how much lunar dust these landings kick up.

Blue Origins would be working on "maturing" navigation and guidance systems, fuel cell power systems, and on high-temperature materials for liquid rocket engine nozzles for the moon lander. It will also work with the Johnson Center and the NASA Glenn Research Center in OH to develop a fuel cell power system for Blue Origin's Blue Moon lander.

"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.

Even during the Apollo moon landings, NASA had worked extensively with the private sector.

The new agreements add to the extensive portfolio of Space Act Agreements the two companies have with NASA.

Lightweight soundproofing materials will be tested for use in rocket nosecones in a partnership between Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and Aerogel Technologies of Boston. For example, they will capture infrared images of their Dream Chaser spacecraft as it re-enters Earth's atmosphere traveling faster than the speed of sound.

Anasphere of Bozeman, Mont., will partner with Marshall to test a compact hydrogen generator for inflating heat shields, which could help deliver larger payloads to Mars. For instance, Sierra Nevada will work on a method for recovering the upper portion of a rocket after it launches from Earth - a feat that SpaceX hasn't attempted yet.

Summertime weather continues... watching the tropics
Conditions could become marginally conducive for more development late this week when the disturbance moves near Florida. The National Hurricane Center says the tropical wave way out in the Atlantic will continue moving west.

Blue Origin and SpaceX have secured multiple agreements with NASA meant to support the development of technologies for launch vehicles and lunar landers.

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.

The final design spec will then be used to provide a source of power that can last through the lunar night, or up to two weeks without sunlight in some locations.

Colorado Power Electronics Inc. of Fort Collins, Colo., 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.

Developing ways to transfer propellant in space could also be a game changer for other companies beyond SpaceX.

Other companies involved in the partnership include Lockheed Martin, which is tasked to develop an autonomous plant growth system in space, and 10 other smaller companies specializing in space exploration-related fields.

"We are dedicated to developing technologies that will take us forward to the Moon and to Mars, and working with commercial partners such as SpaceX will make these missions possible", said Rob Mueller, senior technologist for advanced projects development in Kennedy's Exploration Research and Technology Programs. Integrating robotics with plant systems could help NASA harvest plants on future platforms in deep space.

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