As NASA advances to the moon – and eventually to Mars – the agency hopes to get some help from the commercial space industry. Today, NASA has announced new partnerships with various space organizations, aimed at promoting technologies related to landing on other planets, navigating the lunar surface, transferring propellant gas into space, and more – all crucial for future missions.
Ten companies now have a total of 19 partnerships with NASA via the announcement of Collaborative Opportunity initiative from the agency or ACO. In October, NASA issued a call for proposals from the industry, asking them to detail the various technologies they wanted to develop through the program. Now the selected companies will receive expertise and resources from various NASA centers to help develop these space technologies – at no cost to the companies themselves.
One of the big winners of the initiative is Blue Bezos from Jeff Bezos, who has three development partnerships with NASA through the program. The company recently unveiled a lander concept called Blue Moon to bring people to the surface of the moon. Now, Blue Origin will develop a new system for navigating and landing on the moon using NASA, as well as testing new materials that can be used on the moon lander's engine. The company will also try to develop a new power system that can help keep its Blue Moon lander & # 39; in operation overnight – a two-week period of total darkness in which temperatures can drop -280 degrees Fahrenheit (-173 degrees Celsius).
Meanwhile, Blue Origin's competitor SpaceX is also working with NASA through the ACO program to develop technologies that are vital to the company's future rocket. The vehicle is currently being developed at SpaceX to take cargo and people to faraway destinations. SpaceX will now get help from the agency to find out how large rockets like Starship land on the surface of the moon, and the company will also study how much moon dust these landings incur. In addition, SpaceX is getting help from NASA to figure out how to move rocket propellants into space, which is needed to steer Starship outside of the immediate vicinity of Earth. The design of the Starship requires that the vehicle be "filled" with propellant gas while it is in orbit around the Earth, so that it has all the fuel it needs to break free from the gravity of our planet.
Developing ways to transfer propellant gas into space can also be a game changer for other companies outside of SpaceX. For example, many companies hope to extract the moon's water and turn it into rocket propellant that can be stored in so-called "depots" in space. That way, rockets could meet and refuel these depots to cover greater distances. But the only way this concept works is if engineers can develop autonomous spacecraft that can transfer super-cold and sometimes volatile propellants into space, something that is particularly difficult in an environment without gravity. NASA has been working on this technology and a few spacecraft have already demonstrated this possibility in space. But the process is far from mature.
Other companies such as Maxar will also work on developing a number of potentially important space technologies, including new types of solar panels and robots that can assemble themselves in orbit. And some groups will work on technologies related to rocket reuse, something that SpaceX has focused on in recent years. Sierra Nevada, for example, will be working on a method for restoring the upper part of a rocket after it has been launched from Earth – a performance SpaceX has not yet tried.
All of these technologies sound very exciting, and some are crucial to achieving NASA's goal of sending people to the moon and Mars. However, these partnerships have only just begun and it is unclear when one of these technologies will reach operational status. Ultimately, NASA hopes that by offering some help to the industry, the agency can avoid the high costs of independently developing these capabilities and then reap the benefits of these technologies when they are fully grown.