SpaceX’s Starship Achieves $53 Million From NASA For Full-fledged Orbital Refueling Test

SpaceX's Starship Achieves $53 Million From NASA For Full-fledged Orbital Refueling Test

SpaceX’s Starship program earned $53 from NASA to perform a full-fledged test of orbital propulsion movement, raising the company’s critical technological relationship with the space agency.

NASA announced the results of its 5th “Tipping Point” recruitment on October 14th, announcing that it has awarded 14 companies a total of more than $370 million in prize money. This year’s investment is “Cryogenic fluid management [operations]And closed loop [i.e. autonomous] Demonstration of descent and landing capabilities.”

With fairly predictable results, the bulk (approximately $176 million) was passed on to Lockheed Martin and the United Launch Alliance (ULA), with the other half (approximately $187 million) split into the remaining 12 companies. However, getting angry, SpaceX signed a substantive contract for an important aspect of Starship development.

The spacecraft is fueled in orbit. (SpaceX)

Today’s Tipping Point contract is technically the second NASA has funded SpaceX to develop a propellant transfer. In October 2019, almost exactly a year ago, SpaceX won $3 million to develop and test a cryogenic fluid coupler. [prototypes] For large-scale space propellant transport, “marking NASA’s first Starship direct investment. NASA appears to be completely happy with the results of its icebreaker tests. This is enough funding to fully demonstrate the Starship propellant for $53.2 million.

As noted by Ars Technica’s Eric Berger, NASA has invested eight figures in a SpaceX Starship propellant transfer demonstration. Not to mention about $250 million in total in the four individual companies. With this, NASA is effectively testing the tolerance of political stakeholders in programs like Orion and SLS (programs that exist more to preserve jobs and support congressional stakeholders). If cheaper and more capable solutions, such as distributed launch and orbital refueling, are demonstrated under NASA’s own authority, defending a legacy program that is nearly 20% of the space agency’s annual budget could be even more difficult. 10 years.

NASA says this round of Tipping Point contracts can last up to five years. In addition to the $41.6 million contract with Intuitive Machines to develop a lunar hopper spacecraft capable of propelling the lunar surface, the most interesting awards focus on “Cryogenic Fluid Management”. Eta Space received $27 million for a small flight demonstration of a complete cryogenic oxygen fluid management system integrated with Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft bus and launched from an Electron rocket.

Lockheed Martin received $8.87 million to “test in space demonstration missions using liquid hydrogen… to test more than a dozen cryogenic fluid management techniques.” ULA, a member of Lockheed Martin, received $86.2 million to test “accurate tank pressure control, tank-to-tank movement, and multi-state propellant storage” on the Vulcan Centaur upper stage.

SpaceX was funded by NASA to develop a custom spacecraft variant designed to land astronauts on the moon. (SpaceX)

Finally, SpaceX won $53.2 million in a “large-scale flight demonstration transmitting 10 metric tons.” [liquid oxygen] Among the tanks of the Starship vehicle.” Specifically, this means NASA is effectively funding a single spacecraft orbital flight test where the Starship prototype attempts to deliver liquid oxygen between the main LOx tank and a smaller’header’ tank.

Following the April 2020 contract awarding $135 million to develop SpaceX Crew de starship design optimized for lunar landing, NASA has begun to invest serious money in developing a wide range of innovative solutions that could enable sustainable human space exploration.

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