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NASA awards contracts for lunar technology and payloads for ice exploration

WASHINGTON – NASA has awarded more than $ 400 million in contracts to both demonstrate technologies needed for future lunar research and send an icebreaking payload to the moon’s south pole.

NASA announced on October 16 that it had awarded a $ 47 million task order to Intuitive Machines, one of 14 companies in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, to deliver Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment 1 (PRIME-1). ) payload to the south pole of the moon by the end of 2022.

PRIME-1 is a 40 kg payload designed to search for water ice at depths up to one meter below the moon’s surface. It will test an near-infrared spectrometer, mass spectrometer and drill that NASA plans to fly on the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission in 2023.

“We are building our in-resource resource utilization capabilities by leveraging the resources of the moon,”

; said Jim Reuter, NASA’s Assistant Director of Space Technology, at a Oct. 14 meeting of the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium, a group that brings together academia, government and industry to assess technologies needed to explore the moon’s surface. PRIME-1, he said, was one of the first experiments to support that effort.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine spoke earlier at the same meeting and also discussed the importance of both PRIME-1 and VIPER. “These missions are critically important to help us understand where we are going so we can get the best assessment of these volatiles,” he said, helping the agency identify a promising landing site for future occupied Artemis missions. .

This mission will be the second for intuitive machines under the CLPS program. In May 2019, it received one of the first CLPS mission orders for a mission scheduled for launch in late 2021. Astrobotic also received one of these first mission orders as well as one in June for the VIPER mission. The Mast Space Systems won a CLPS order in April for a mission to the south polar regions of the moon.

The announcement of the PRIME-1 launch came two days after NASA allocated a much larger sum of money to the moon’s surface technologies. The 15 awards to 14 companies made through the Agency’s Tipping Point program are intended to promote technologies approaching maturity that can support the later, “sustainable” phase of the Artemis program.

“NASA believes that this kind of business and capabilities they have developed will be transformative of how we explore space,” Bridenstine said at the consortium meeting, announcing the Tipping Point awards. “But we also believe it will take a little push from NASA.”

Of the $ 372.2 million in Tipping Point contracts, $ 256.1 million goes to four companies working on demonstrations of cryogenic liquid handling technology: Eta Space, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance. All four companies plan to hold demonstrations in space of technologies for storing and transferring propellants such as liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

“When we fly into space, we have to tell cryogenic fluids for long periods,” Bridenstine said. “How can we handle cryogenic liquids so we can perform spaceflight in ways we otherwise would not be able to?”

Eta Space will use the $ 27 million price tag to fly a small satellite called LOXSAT 1 to test liquid oxygen storage technologies. Eta Space is working with Rocket Lab, which will supply the Photon satellite bus LOXSAT 1 is based on and launch the spacecraft on its electron rocket.

Lockheed Martin won a $ 89.7 million award for testing liquid hydrogen storage technologies on a small satellite. The company is working with Momentus, which is hosting the payload on a Vigoride orbital transfer vehicle, and Relativity Space, which is launching the vehicle on its Terran 1 rocket in October 2023.

SpaceX, which has already worked with NASA to study cryogenic liquid handling technologies, won $ 53.2 million to demonstrate the transfer of 10 tons of liquid oxygen between tanks of a Starship vehicle in orbit. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, asked about orbital filling at a Mars Society conference on Oct. 16, said “we have a shot of doing it in ’22.”

The United Launch Alliance will use its $ 86.2 million prize to demonstrate a “smart propulsion cryogenic system” using the Centaur top phase of its new Vulcan rocket. This demonstration includes testing tank-to-tank transfer of propellants and “multi-week” storage.

The remaining Tipping Point funding went to 10 companies to demonstrate a range of technologies needed for landing and operation on the moon’s surface. The Mast Space Systems won two contracts with a total value of $ 12.8 million to demonstrate precision landing technologies with its Xogdor vehicle and a system that provides heat and power for payloads so they can survive the lunar night.

Other prices, ranging in value from $ 2.4 million to $ 41.6 million, cover technologies such as power systems, a payload to extract oxygen from the lunar regolith and a robotic arm. Nokia won a $ 14.1 million award for developing lunar communications systems using 4G wireless networks.

Intuitive Machines won the largest of these awards for the development of a “funnel” that can carry a payload of one kilogram up to 2.5 kilometers above the surface of the moon. “It will give us high-resolution mapping of perhaps volatile substances on the moon’s surface,” Bridenstine said. “It will help us understand how we can locate very precise landing spots on the moon’s surface.”

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