NASA names U.S. companies to work on space resource collection projects

WASHINGTON. NASA has selected 10 companies to conduct studies and advance technologies -- especially those that currently exist on earth that could be converted to future space exploration capabilities at a lower cost -- to collect, process, and use space-based resources that will be used on upcoming missions to the moon and Mars.

The contract amounts are dependent on negotiations with the selectees, but NASA estimates that the combined value of all the awards, including contract options for work extending through 2021, will total approximately $10 million.

The practice of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) could increase safety and affordability of future human spaceflight missions by limiting the need to launch supplies, such as oxygen and water, from Earth up to a space mission.

NASA -- which issued Appendix D of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement in December 2017 -- was seeking three areas of work focused on producing propellant and other exploration mission consumables using water from extraterrestrial soils and carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere.

The first track NASA called for is a series of one-year studies to identify technology gaps associated with ISRU and to further define the benefits of including it in space mission architectures. The organizations selected for Track 1 are Blue Origin (Kent, Washington); United Launch Alliance (Centennial, Colorado); University of Illinois (Urbana, Illinois); and UTC Aerospace Systems (Windsor Locks, Connecticut).

For Track 2, which focuses on component-level development and testing in simulated space environments for as long as three and a half years, NASA chose BlazeTech Corporation (Woburn, Massachusetts); Paragon Space Development Corporation (Tucson, Arizona); Skyhaven Systems (Steamboat Springs, Colorado); and Teledyne Energy Systems (Hunt Valley, Maryland). The third track, which will include extensive subsystem development and testing in simulated space environments, will be worked on by Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corporation (Pasadena, California) and OxEon Energy LLC (Clearfield, Utah).

"We are continuing to learn about our Moon and the value its resources can provide for human exploration," said Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters. "If we can find smart ways to harness its resources now, those capabilities will help shape our long-term exploration goals, including partnership and commercial opportunities with and for U.S. industry. Furthermore, these capabilities will help us prepare for ISRU on Mars and other planetary bodies in deep space."