NASA’s human spaceflight program took big strides in 2020 with the official kick-off of the commercial crew program with SpaceX, and on plans to return humans to the surface of the Moon via the Artemis program. NASA Associate Administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate Kathryn Lueders has been there for it all, and actually rose to her current position from previously serving as Commercial Crew Program Manager, so there’s no one better to speak to the agency’s achievements and goals around putting humans in space.
Lueders will join us at TC Sessions: Space this year, which is happening December 16 and 17. It’s a fully virtual event, featuring all-star programming from across the space industry, public sector, and of course the startup scene. Associate Administrator Lueders will be joined on stage by moderator Emily Calandrelli, scientist, engineer, and host of the hit Netflix show Emily’s Wonder Lab.
We’ll be talking to Lueders about NASA’s historic certification of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Dragon human launch system, which ends the U.S. reliance on Russia’s Soyuz for transportation to and from the International Space Station – and becomes the first commercial spacecraft certified for human flight ever.
Dragon will make history yet again with its first-ever operational crew mission, set to take three NASA astronauts and one JAXA astronaut to the ISS this weekend.
Associate Administrator Lueders will also be able to talk us through the ongoing effort to gain a second commercial crew mission provider with Boeing, which is still in the process of certifying their Starliner spacecraft, and NASA’s work toward putting the next American man and the first American woman on the surface of the Moon with Artemis. She’s also the perfect person to talk about the agency’s future with commercial and startup partners when it comes to human spaceflight.
The space agency is almost always accepting applications for at least one of its many grant and contract programs, and Tipping Point is directly aimed at commercial space capabilities that need a bit of a boost. According to the program description, “a technology is considered at a tipping point if an investment in a demonstration will significantly mature the technology, increase the likelihood of infusion into a commercial space application, and bring the technology to market for both government and commercial applications.”
In this year’s awards, which take the form of multi-year contracts with multiple milestones, the focus was on two main areas: cryogenics and lunar surface tech. Note that the amounts provided are not necessarily the cost of developing the tech, but rather the sums deemed necessary to advance it to the next stage. Here’s a brief summary of each award:
Eta Space, $27M: In-space demonstration of a complete cryogenic oxygen management system
Lockheed Martin, $89.7M: In-space demonstration of liquid hydrogen in over a dozen cryogenic applications
SpaceX, $53.2M: Flight demonstration transferring 10 tons of liquid oxygen between tanks in Starship
ULA, $86.2M: Demonstration of a smart propulsion cryogenic system on a Vulcan Centaur upper stage
Lunar surface innovation
Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance, $22.1M: Develop a small tech and science platform for lunar surface testing
Astrobotic, $5.8M: “Mature” a fast wireless charging system for use on the lunar surface
Intuitive Machines, $41.6M: Develop a hopper lander with a 2.2-pound payload capacity and 1.5-mile range
Masten Space Systems, $2.8M: Demonstrate a universal chemical heat and power source for lunar nights and craters
Masten Space Systems, $10M: Demonstrate precision landing an hazard avoidance on its Xogdor vehicle (Separate award under “descent and landing” heading)
Nokia of America, $14.1M: Deploy the first LTE network in space for lunar surface communications
pH Matter, $3.4M: Demonstrate a fuel cell for producing and storing energy on the lunar surface
Precision Compustion, $2.4M: Advance a cheap oxide fuel stack to generate power from propellants
Sierra Nevada, $2.4M: Demonstrate a device using solar energy to extract oxygen from lunar regolith
SSL Robotics, $8.7M: Develop a lighter, cheaper robotic arm for surface, orbital, and “terrestrial defense” applications
Teledyne Energy Systems, $2.8M: Develop a hydrogen fuel cell power system with a 10,000-hour battery life