Blue Origin and Aerojet collaborate with NASA on space technology


A researcher from Aerojet Rocketdyne examines a container of a low-toxicity propellant while preparing for flight tests. Aerojet’s Redmond plant will be involved in a follow-up project to develop a new type of “green” hybrid propellant. (Photo by Aerojet Rocketdyne)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ space venture Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne operation in Redmond, Washington, are among 17 companies that have entered into agreements with NASA to develop new technologies for space missions.

The 20 collaborative projects are part of a program run by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Selected projects will be governed by unfunded space law agreements. No funds will be exchanged, but the companies will have access to NASA expertise and testing services which are worth an estimated $ 15.5 million.

“The development of space technology does not happen in a vacuum,” Jim Reuter, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology, said today in a news release. “Whether companies are pursuing their own space initiatives or maturing cutting-edge systems to one day deliver a new service to NASA, the agency is dedicated to helping bring new capabilities to market for our mutual benefit.”

Blue Origin, based in Kent, Washington, will collaborate with NASA on two projects. One involves the development of an operating system for space robots that will be based on open source software and will provide greater autonomy by reducing operating costs and improving interoperability with other space systems. NASA’s Ames Research Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, and Johnson Space Center will work with Blue Origin on this project.

The second project aims to improve rocket engine designs by incorporating metal-based additive manufacturing techniques. The 3-D printing project aims to optimize weight, energy efficiency and manufacturability while minimizing production costs. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will be Blue Origin’s partner in this project.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Redmond operation will collaborate with the Goddard Space Flight Center to develop a new hybrid liquid ion “green” and conventional hydrazine propellant for small spacecraft. Such a propellant would be less toxic than conventional propellants. The project will build on work done by NASA, the US Air Force Research Laboratory, Aerojet and other partners for the Green Propellant Infusion Mission.

Here is a summary of the other 17 projects, involving companies outside the Pacific Northwest:

Ahmic Aerospace of Oakwood, Ohio, will work with Ames to test new types of thermal protection systems designed to protect rockets and hardware from the extreme heat experienced during launch and atmospheric reentry.

AI SpaceFactory of Secaucus, NJ, will collaborate with Kennedy Space Center to develop a new material that could be used to practice 3-D printing methods for building large structures on the lunar surface.

Box Elder Innovations of Corinne, Utah, will collaborate with the Glenn Research Center to improve dielectric materials – a type of electrical insulation – for the wiring of aircraft, spacecraft and the lunar power system.

Cornerstone Research Group of Miamisburg, Ohio, will work with Ames and Johnson Space Center to evaluate a 3-D printing method that uses slurry-based thermosetting resins to fabricate thermal protection systems.

Elementum 3D by Erie, Colo., will work with Marshall to increase performance and reduce the cost of additively produced aluminum materials for aerospace and automotive applications.

Gloyer-Taylor Laboratories of Tullahoma, Tennessee, he will collaborate with Marshall to evaluate the company’s software tools for high-fidelity computational fluid dynamics processing and stabilization of propulsion system designs.

IN THE Space of West Lafayette, Ind., will collaborate with Marshall to explore the use of additive manufacturing to produce a regeneratively cooled engine chamber for IN Space’s rotary detonator engine.

Orbital Sciences Corp. (Northrop Grumman Space Systems) of Dulles, Virginia, will work with Glenn to develop an electric propulsion system for small spacecraft that offers an economical, efficient and high propellant transmission rate option.

pH Matter of Columbus, Ohio, will collaborate with Johnson and Glenn to define the compositions of lunar water contaminants and cell stack specifications for hydrogen and oxygen production on the moon for both energy storage and propellant applications. The project will capitalize on NASA’s $ 3.4 million pH Matter Tipping Point Award.

Phase four of El Segundo, California, will work with Glenn to test the radio frequency thruster for the company’s electric propulsion system. Glenn will also characterize the thruster’s plasma plume to optimize the system.

Rocket Lab USA in Long Beach, California, it will collaborate with Ames, Langley Research Center and Armstrong Flight Research Center to develop a recovery system that could be used on the first stage of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket and other spacecraft.

Sensuron of Austin, Texas, will work with Armstrong, Langley and Glenn to develop a miniature and robust temperature monitoring solution that uses a fiber optic sensing system. The technology is designed to keep cryogenic propellant tanks under control during flight.

SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, will collaborate with Langley to acquire images and thermal measurements of his Starship vehicle during orbital reentry into the Pacific Ocean. The resulting data could advance the development of a thermal protection system suitable for return missions from the Moon and Mars.

Space Systems Loral (Maxar Technologies) of Palo Alto, California, will work with Glenn on three projects:

  • Vacuum chamber test of a system that would use mechanical pulses to shake lunar dust from launch solar panels.
  • Testing of a method that uses protective coatings to prevent the erosion effects caused by the Hall-effect thruster plumes of spacecraft.
  • The simulations aimed to test a bang-bang pressure regulation system that could pave the way for high-powered electric solar propulsion missions.

Stellar Exploration, Inc. of San Luis Obispo, California, will work with Ames, Johnson and Goddard to perform qualification tests on a high-performance nanosatellite propulsion system.

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