NASA has formally awarded “Tipping Point” contracts worth a total of US$370 million to 14 firms to demonstrate new technologies for lunar and Mars exploration. Possibly due to criticism that cryogenic storage and refueling technology would not be ready to make a human landing attempt by the White House imposed deadline of 2024, most of the “Tipping Point” money has been given to companies involved in demonstrating in-orbit storage and refueling technologies for cryogenic propellants.

The main contracts were awarded to ULA, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Eta Space for demonstrations in cooperation with NASA.

The Boeing/Lockheed Martin owned United Launch Alliance (ULA) won a US$86.2 million contract to demonstrate its Liquid Hydrogen/LOx (Liquid Oxygen) powered Centaur-5 upper stage used by the Vulcan rocket, including tank to tank transfer and in space storage for longer range missions.

Lockheed Martin is to receive a US$89.7 million contract to use a small satellite to demonstrate cryogenic management technologies for liquid hydrogen with the aim of limiting boil off.

SpaceX has a contract worth US$53.2 million for an in-orbit demonstration of a cyrogenic propellant transfer technique that transfers 10 metric tons of liquid oxygen between tanks on a single Starship vehicle. This may later be expanded to a transfer between two Starship spacecraft.

Eta Space is being given a similar US$27 million demonstration contract involving its LOXSat, which uses the Rocket Lab Photon satellite bus to demonstrate fluid management in orbit.

While NASA is funding a cryogenic propellant transfer demo on a single Starship, eventually the technique is expected to be used two Starships. Courtesy: SpaceX

In addition to the above, other technologies have been funded including a US$12.8 million contract to Masten Space Systems for precision landing systems using its Xogdor lander and a thermal system for lunar night survival, and a US$41.6 million contract to Intuitive Machines to demonstrate a hopper rover. Separately, Intuitive Machines has received a US$47 million contract in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programme to build and deliver the 40 kg lunar ice hunting Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment 1 (PRIME-1) landing craft to the south pole of the Moon by the end of 2022.