SpaceX’s starship wins $ 53 million from NASA for comprehensive orbital...

SpaceX’s starship wins $ 53 million from NASA for comprehensive orbital...
SpaceX’s starship wins $ 53 million from NASA for comprehensive orbital...
SpaceX’s Starship program raised $ 53 million from NASA to conduct a comprehensive test of orbital fuel transfer and take the corporate-space agency relationship on critical technology to the next level.

NASA announced the results of its fifth round of “tipping point” inquiries on October 14, announcing awards totaling more than $ 370 million to 14 separate companies. This year’s investments focused on three main categories: “Cryogenic fluid management, lunar surface [operations]and closed loop [i.e. autonomous] Demonstrations of the ability to descend and land. ”

In a fairly predictable outcome, the bulk (~ $ 176 million) went to Lockheed Martin and the United Launch Alliance (ULA), while the other half (~ $ 189 million) was split among the twelve remaining companies. In a surprise, however, SpaceX received an extensive contract for a crucial aspect of Starship’s development.

A spaceship is being refueled in orbit. (SpaceX)

Today’s Tipping Point contract is technically the second time NASA has awarded SpaceX funding to develop fuel transfer. In October 2019, almost exactly a year ago, SpaceX won $ 3 million to develop and test a cryogenic liquid coupler [prototypes] for large-scale fuel transfer in space, ”which is NASA’s first direct investment in Starship. It appears that NASA was perfectly satisfied with the results of this icebreaker test – enough to fund a full demonstration of Starship’s $ 53.2 million fuel transfer.

As Ars Technica’s Eric Berger notes, it’s a big surprise that NASA is investing eight numbers in a demonstration of SpaceX Starship’s fuel transfer – let alone $ 250 million in total at four different companies. In this way, NASA is effectively testing the tolerance of political interest groups in programs like Orion and SLS – programs that exist longer to keep jobs and support the interest groups of Congress. If some of the order (s) cheaper and more powerful solution like distributed launch and orbital refueling were demonstrated under the influence of NASA, defending heritage programs, which have been bleeding nearly 20% of the space agency’s annual budget for nearly a decade, could be demonstrated .

NASA says this round of tipping point contracts could last up to five years. Aside from a $ 41.6 million contract with Intuitive Machines to develop a moon funnel spacecraft capable of drifting around the surface of the moon, the most interesting awards focus on “Cryogenic Liquids Management”. Eta Space received $ 27 million for a “small flight demonstration of a complete cryogenic oxygen liquid management system to be integrated into Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft bus and launched by an electron rocket.

Lockheed Martin won $ 89.7 million for a “space demonstration mission with liquid hydrogen … to test more than a dozen cryogenic liquid management technologies.” ULA, which owns Lockheed Martin, received $ 86.2 million to test “precise tank pressure control, tank-to-tank transfer, and multi-week fuel storage” with a Vulcan Centaur upper stage.

SpaceX has received NASA funding to develop a custom variant of a spaceship to land astronauts on the moon. (SpaceX)

Ultimately, SpaceX won $ 53.2 million for a “large-scale flight demonstration to transfer 10 tons [liquid oxygen] between tanks in a spaceship. In particular, this seems to imply that NASA is effectively funding a single-ship orbital flight test in which a Starship prototype (most likely) attempts to transfer liquid oxygen between its main LOx tank and a smaller ‘header’ tank.

Following an April 2020 contract that saw SpaceX earn $ 135 million to develop a crewed spacecraft design optimized for moon landings, NASA is beginning to pour serious money into developing a wide range of innovative solutions that can make sustainable human beings possible Space exploration.

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