Image source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Space agency NASA has selected 14 American companies as commercial partners whose technologies will help enable the agency’s Moon to Mars exploration programmes.
The awards are worth a combined $43.2 million, with varied funding commitments ranging from $1.3 million to $10 million. The agency’s mission is to land humans on the Moon again by 2024 with the Artemis program, and to eventually land on Mars.
Blue Origin, founded by the world’s richest person and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, won the biggest share of funding with a $10 million agreement. In contrast, Tesla billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX received $3 million to test coupler prototypes for refueling spacecraft such as the company’s Starship vehicle. The Hawthorne-based aerospace company is known for its reusable rockets and is valued at more than $20 billion. Each of the 14 companies are required to fund at least 25% of the program costs in the public-private Tipping Point agreements.
"This time, when we go to the Moon, we will stay, and then we will use what we learn on the Moon to take the next giant leap—sending astronauts to Mars," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, which carried humans to the Moon for the first time.
These awards mark the fourth set of funding agreements in NASA’s series of “Tipping Point” solicitations published earlier this year, which address six focus areas: cryogenic propellant production and management; sustainable energy generation, storage and distribution; efficient and affordable propulsion systems; autonomous operations; rover mobility; and advanced avionics. These solicitations increase focus on collaborations with the commercial space sector that not only leverage emerging markets and capabilities to meet NASA's strategic goals but also focus on industry needs.