WASHINGTON – NASA has signed contracts worth more than $ 400 million to demonstrate the technology needed for future lunar exploration and to direct the ice drilling payload to the moon’s south pole.
NASA announced on October 16 that it awarded a $ 47 million order to Intuitive Machines, one of 14 companies in the commercial lunar load service (CLPS) program, to deliver the Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment 1 (PRIME-1) south pole to the end of the moon. 2022.
PRIME-1 is a 40-kilogram cargo designed to search for water ice at depths of up to one meter below the lunar surface. It is testing a near-infrared spectrometer, mass spectrometer and training that NASA plans to carry out on the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission in 2023.
“We are building our capacity to use resources on the ground by using resources on the moon,”; said Jim Reuters, NASA’s Associate Administrator of Space Technology, on October 14 at the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium, a group that brings together academia, government and industry. to evaluate the technologies needed to study the lunar surface. According to him, PRIME-1 was one of the first experiments to support these efforts.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein, speaking earlier at the same meeting, also discussed the importance of PRIME-1 and VIPER. “These missions are extremely important to help us understand where we need to go so that we can get the best estimate of these volatile substances,” he said, adding that he could help the agency determine the future landing site for future Artemis missions.
This mission will be the second for intuitive machines under the CLPS program. In May 2019, it received one of the first orders for the CLPS mission for a mission scheduled to launch in late 2021. Astrobotic also received one of these first task orders, as well as one in June for the VIPER mission. In April, Masten Space Systems won a CLPS order for a mission to the polar regions of the moon.
The announcement of the launch of PRIME-1 came two days after NASA awarded a much larger sum of money for lunar surface technology. The 15 awards awarded to 14 companies under the Tipping Point program are designed to promote technologies that are approaching maturity that could support the next, “sustainable” phase of the Artemis program.
“NASA believes that such companies and the capabilities they have developed will be transformative for the way we explore space,” Bridenstein said at a consortium meeting where he announced the Tipping Point Awards. “But we also think it will take a little push from NASA.”
Of the $ 372.2 million under Tipping Point contracts, $ 256.1 million will go to four companies working to demonstrate cryogenic fluid management technologies: Eta Space, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance. All four companies plan to demonstrate in space technologies for storage and transfer of fuels such as liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.
“When we fly into space, we have to talk about cryogenic liquids for a long period of time,” Bridenstein said. “How can we control cryogenic fluids so that we can perform space flights the way we otherwise can’t?”
Eta Space will use its $ 27 million award to fly a small satellite called LOXSAT 1 to test liquid oxygen storage technology. Eta Space is working with Rocket Lab, which will provide the Photon LOXSAT 1 satellite tire and launch the spacecraft on its Electron rocket.
Lockheed Martin won a $ 89.7 million award for testing liquid hydrogen storage technology on a small satellite. The company is working with Momentus, which will place the payload on the Vigoride orbital portable vehicle, and Relativity Space, which will launch the car on its Terran 1 rocket in October 2023.
SpaceX, which has already worked with NASA to study cryogenic fluid management technologies, won $ 53.2 million to demonstrate the transfer of 10 tons of liquid oxygen between tanks on the Starship spacecraft in orbit. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, when asked about refueling in orbit at the Martian Society conference on October 16, said: “We did it in 22.”
The United Launch Alliance will use its $ 86.2 million award to demonstrate a “smart cryogenic propulsion system” using the top stage of the new Centaur Volcano rocket. This demonstration includes fuel transfer tests between tanks and “weeks” of storage.
The remaining Tipping Point funding went to 10 companies to demonstrate a range of technologies needed to land and operate on the lunar surface. Masten Space Systems has won two contracts worth a total of $ 12.8 million to demonstrate precision landing technology with its Xogdor and heat and energy payload systems that will allow them to survive a moonlit night.
Other awards, ranging from $ 2.4 million to $ 41.6 million, cover technologies such as power systems, payloads to extract oxygen from lunar regolith and a robotic arm. Nokia won $ 14.1 million for the development of monthly communication systems using 4G wireless networks.
Intuitive machines have won the largest of those awards for the development of a “bunker” that can carry a kilogram of cargo up to 2.5 kilometers on the lunar surface. “It will give us high-resolution maps, possibly of volatile matter on the moon’s surface,” Bridenstein said. “This will help us understand how to pinpoint very precise landings on the moon’s surface.”