NASA Provides $370 Million for Breakthrough Space Technologies

NASA provided $370 million in funding for space technologies that are at a tipping point. SpaceX received $53 million for orbital refueling.

NASA believes space technology is at a tipping point if:
• An investment in a ground demonstration or flight demonstration will result in:
o a significant advancement of the technology’s maturation, and
o a significant improvement in the offerors’ ability to successfully bring the technology to market, and,
• previous investments have been made to mature the proposed technology system (e.g., venture capital, corporate investment, etc.) in preparation for commercialization, demonstrating a pre-existing plan to commercialize the technology, and,
• the proposed technology system is at a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of at least 4 at time of submission of the preliminary proposal.

Cryogenic Fluid Management Technology Demonstrations

SpaceX $53.2 million
Large-scale flight demonstration to transfer 10 metric tons of cryogenic propellant, specifically liquid oxygen, between tanks on a Starship vehicle. SpaceX will collaborate with Glenn and Marshall.

Lockheed Martin $89.7 million
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. Lockheed Martin will collaborate with Marshall and Glenn.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) $86.2 million
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. ULA will collaborate with Marshall, Kennedy, and Glenn.

Eta Space $27 million
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. The small business will collaborate with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative Technology Demonstration
NASA invested in technologies needed to advance in-situ resource utilization, surface power generation and energy storage, communications, and more. These capabilities will help humans and robots explore more of the Moon.

Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance of Houston, $22.1 million
The space science and technology evaluation facility will give small experiments access to the lunar environment to collect data and experience exposure to the ultraviolet and charged particle radiation.

Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh, $5.8 million
Mature and demonstrate a fast, wireless charging system that addresses challenges associated with using the technology on the Moon. The effort will build and deliver flight units for potential use on commercial robotic landers. Astrobotic will collaborate with Glenn.

Intuitive Machines of Houston, $41.6 million
Develop a small, deployable hopper lander capable of carrying a 2.2-pound (1-kilogram) payload more than 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers). This hopper could access lunar craters and enable high-resolution surveying of the lunar surface over a short distance.

Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, $2.8 million
Build and demonstrate a universal chemical heat and electrical power source attachment that lets payloads survive the extreme environments encountered during the lunar night and in craters.

Nokia of America Corporation of Sunnyvale, California, $14.1 million
Inspired by terrestrial technology, Nokia proposes to deploy the first LTE/4G communications system in space. The system could support lunar surface communications at greater distances, increased speeds, and provide more reliability than current standards.

pH Matter of Columbus, Ohio, $3.4 million
Develop and demonstrate a reversible, regenerative fuel cell capable of producing power and storing energy on the lunar surface. The technology could run the future infrastructure that processes water harvested on the Moon and creates propellant and other mission consumables. The small business will collaborate with Glenn.

Precision Combustion Inc. of North Haven, Connecticut, $2.4 million
Advance a cost-effective power solution for space, military, and everyday applications on Earth. The solid oxide fuel cell stack will generate power directly from methane and oxygen propellants and other in-situ resources.

Sierra Nevada Corporation of Madison, Wisconsin, $2.4 million
Develop demonstration-scale hardware that uses methane and concentrated solar energy to extract oxygen from lunar regolith. The hardware could be tested on a commercial lunar lander to prove a full-scale production plant’s viability using this process.

SSL Robotics (Maxar Technologies) of Pasadena, California, $8.7 million
Develop a lighter and less expensive robotic arm for lunar surface applications, in-orbit servicing, and terrestrial defense applications.

Teledyne Energy Systems of Hunt Valley, Maryland, $2.8 million
Advance a hydrogen electrical power system to enable a fuel cell with an operating lifetime of 10,000 hours. Teledyne will fly a test article of the water separator on a parabolic aircraft to characterize the effect of various gravities.

Closed-Loop Descent and Landing Capability Demonstration
Suborbital platforms can enable testing of integrated precision landing and hazard avoidance technologies, using lunar trajectories during descent and landing. NASA’s current investments in precision landing and hazard avoidance will benefit from analyzing flight data acquired through tests and missions in relevant environments, including those experienced during suborbital flights.

Masten, $10 million
Masten will demonstrate precision landing and hazard avoidance testing capabilities across relevant lunar trajectories. Masten will mature its Xogdor vehicle to provide researchers from government, academia, and industry with a new platform for testing space technologies.

Written by Brian Wang,

16 thoughts on “NASA Provides $370 Million for Breakthrough Space Technologies”

  1. NASA is funding SpaceX for an orbital demonstration transferring a large mass (10 tons) of cryogenic liquid propellants between two spacecraft, likely two Starships. Liquid propellants in zero g tend to accumulate against the tank wall surface due to surface tension.

  2. Agree. Refueling in space would be a game changer for interplanetary trips.

    Developing it is no trivial task, though, because current fuel transfer technologies assume there is gravity keeping the fuel in some part of the tank.

    Pressurizing the fuel is not enough, you need some g forces to keep it nice and steady for the transfer.

    I understand SpaceX was looking for using propulsive fuel transfer, so they actually should have some g forces, even if small.

  3. NASA is not giving money to smaller companies and companies working on true breakthroughs and early stage technology like the Advanced Space Propulsion grants are supposed to. The trump administration is hostile to small companies and basic research and I will be glad to see them go in January. Trump misappropriates money Congress has legislated for other purposes. Money earmarked for army bases is not supposed to be used building walls.

  4. NASA should have their budget expanded if they're expected to both support new and emerging technologies from private space industry and also support a sustained presence on the moon and Mars.

  5. Not enough at all.

    This is just my opinion, but NASA should operate more like DARPA in my opinion. In fact, I think DARPA and NASA should be combined into one research agency, and then any tech developed the US government would license it to whichever US business wants to develop it.

  6. this is great news.. now that spacex has mastered accessing space its great to see nasa starting to shift towards science advancements needed in space… I would like to see the ESA do the same

  7. I'm going to go waaay out on a limb and say that if someone presented NASA with a working and viable demonstration of divergent technology, like a warp drive, that NASA would tell that person to go home. Because they don't want to he seen as disruptive to industry. And then when that person got their tech to market and disrupted the aerospace industry, NASA would contact them, like, "Hey, wait a minute, we'd like to reconsider…"

    That's just my grievances lol. It's still an exciting time to be alive. I think we do need to have technology that will allow is to stay for extended periods on the moon. We get huge leapsbwhen larger companies put their heads together and collaborate. All the stuff on this list is very compelling, and I can't wait to see how it all gets put to use.

  8. Being able to fuel and refuel spacecraft within cis-lunar space and beyond will open up the rest of the Solar System for humanity.

    And this makes NRHO the perfect launch point for crewed interplanetary vehicles destined for Mars, Venus, and beyond since it will be substantially cheaper to provide propellant, or water to manufacture propellant, from the lunar surface rather than from the deep gravity well of the Earth.

    Plus NRHO shaves off at least 2.7 km of delta v towards any interplanetary destination relative to LEO.

  9. Conservation of engineering resources, I'd say. SpaceX is busy with Starship development, and getting Starlink up and running. Why not sic somebody else's engineers on a problem they won't need solved for a couple years, if it doesn't cost them anything?

  10. No, they haven't already solved the problems of in space cryogenic fuel transfer. They have some ideas about how to go about it, but they haven't tested them in orbit yet.

  11. Why is SpaceX colaborating with Glen and Marshall for their cryogenic fuel transfer demonstration? It would seem to me that SpaceX needs nothing from Glen and Marschall, or..? SpaceX must allready know how to handle their fuel, methane and oxygen, so why do they need Glen and Marshall?

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