NASA to Partner with US Companies to Develop ‘tipping point’ Technologies

NASA is partnering with US companies to develop “tipping point” technologies that have the potential to significantly benefit the commercial space economy and future NASA missions, including lunar lander and deep space rocket engine technologies. Several of these partnerships involve cryogenics.

A technology is considered at a “tipping point” if investment in a ground or flight demonstration will result in significantly maturing the technology and improving the company’s ability to bring it to market.

This solicitation targeted three Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) strategic technology focus areas: expand utilization of space, enable efficient and safe transportation into and through space, and increase access to planetary surfaces.

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards CA will collaborate with United Launch Alliance on two selected proposals.

ULA will receive $2 million for the Cryogenic Fluid Management Technology Demonstration proposal that focuses on enabling efficient and safe transportation in to and through space. Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Marshall Space Flight Center will support the project along with Armstrong. This cryogenic fluid management demonstration project seeks to prove that very low cryogenic fuel boil off is achievable and can support long duration missions. ULA will perform critical testing of the existing space launch vehicle Centaur Cryote-3 tank.

The second Armstrong/ULA project focuses on increasing access to planetary surfaces. ULA will receive $1.9 million for a mid-air retrieval demonstration. This project will flight demonstrate mid-air retrieval capabilities up to 8,000 pounds, increasing current capabilities by a factor of four. Paired with NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) project, this effort will demonstrate mid-air retrieval on a vehicle returning to Earth from orbital velocity. The project will utilize an ocean-going ship capable of transporting a helicopter to the recovery zone and the demonstration will conclude with recovery of the LOFTID reentry vehicle.

Another ULA proposal, Integrated Vehicle Fluids Flight Demonstration, will receive $10 million. An IVF system supports extended-duration cryogenic upper stage operations and has applications for lunar landers. It takes advantage of available liquid hydrogen and oxygen to provide multiple kilowatts of power while potentially eliminating battery power, helium pressurization, and the hydrazine reaction control system. This effort includes qualification of key elements of the IVF subsystem and integration and flight on a Centaur upper stage.

Blue Origin, LLC, in Kent WA will receive $10 million for the Cryogenic Fluid Management-Enhanced Integrated Propulsion Testing for Robust Lander Services proposal. The company will mature cryogenic liquid propulsion through a combination of technologies in a lunar lander-scaled integrated propulsion system. The project will culminate in testing of the integrated propulsion system and a separate experiment on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle.

Paragon Space Development Corporation in Tucson AZ will receive $1.6 million for its Cryogenic Encapsulating Launch Shroud and Insulated Upper Stage (CELSIUS) proposal. CELSIUS is a system that can be installed on the surface of the cryogenic upper stage tank of a space launch vehicle to provide enhanced insulation capabilities and protection from meteoroids and debris. ■