NASA is investing $44m (£34m) to develop 10 “tipping point” technologies which could benefit space exploration in the future.
The investments come as the space agency partners with six US companies on projects including deep space rockets, cryogenics and a lunar lander.
NASA considers a technology at the “tipping point” if an investment in a ground or flight demonstration would result in significantly improving its design, and helping the company bring the product to market.
“These awards focus on technology collaborations with the commercial space sector that leverage emerging markets and capabilities to meet NASA’s exploration goals,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“While these key technologies will support NASA’s science and human exploration missions in the future, these awards are yet another example of NASA’s commitment to our nation’s growing commercial space industry today.”
This solicitation targeted three strategic areas for NASA: expanding the uses of space, enabling efficient and safe transportation into a trough space; and increasing access to planetary surfaces.
The funded projects seem to include much investment on lunar landings, including $23m between Blue Origin and the United Launch Alliance to test using cryogenic liquid as a method of propulsion for a lunar lander system.
Space Systems also received $1m to test the ability to transfer xenon in-space from a tanker to an active satellite.
NASA says the incremental addition of xenon transfer to robotic refuelling payloads offers new refuelling opportunities.
Satellites use xenon gas to power their ion thrusters as they change course in their orbits.
NASA said the public-private partnerships will help it achieve its goals of expanding capabilities and opportunities in space.
“NASA’s investments in industry partnerships can accelerate the availability of, and reduce costs for the development and infusion of, these emerging space system capabilities.
“While developing the technology to enable NASA’s next generation of science and human exploration missions, we will grow the economy and strengthen the nation’s economic competitiveness,” the agency stated.