NASA to invest $370m in ‘tipping-point’ space-exploration tech

15 Oct 2020

A 13-foot diameter cryogenic storage test tank at NASA. Image: NASA

NASA has chosen 14 US companies to help advance its Artemis mission to the moon and future human explorations of Mars.

NASA has revealed the winners of its latest Tipping Point competition. Now in its fifth year, the programme funds US companies developing cutting-edge technologies for space exploration.

This year’s selections will partner with NASA to develop technologies for the Artemis programme, which is aiming to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024. Through Artemis, NASA also plans to establish a “sustainable presence” on the moon by the end of the decade.

To be qualified as ‘tipping-point technology’ by NASA, the tech must be at a level where funding will significantly advance it, give a better chance of incorporating it into a commercial space application, and bring the technology to market for both government and commercial applications.

In total, 14 US companies from nine states have now been chosen as partners. They span three areas: cryogenic fluid management, lunar surface, and closed-loop descent and landing capability demonstrations. NASA expects to channel a combined $370m into the projects.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, said that the investment in “innovative technology demonstrations” will fund both small and large businesses.

“[It] will expand what is possible in space and on the lunar surface,” he said. “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.”

Associate administrator for space technology at NASA, Jim Reuter, added that this year saw the highest number of Tipping Point proposals selected at once, as well as the largest collective award value.

Most of the Tipping Point funding will go towards mature cryogenic fluid-management technologies, led by Eta Space, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and ULA. The long-term plan is to collect frozen water from the moon’s poles and separate the hydrogen and oxygen to make propellant. This will be crucial in enabling human missions to Mars in the future, NASA said.

The remainder of the funding will go towards projects in surface power generation, precision landing, energy storage, communications, high-resolution lunar surveying and a facility that could help researchers learn which materials can be sustained on the moon.

Lisa Ardill was careers editor at Silicon Republic until June 2021