Through NASA's Opportunity Announcement (ACO) program, there are currently 10 companies that have 19 partnerships with NASA. Last October, NASA called on the space exploration industry to submit a proposal asking them to elaborate on the different technologies they hope to develop through ACO. Now, the selected companies will gain expertise and resources from NASA's centers to help these space technologies mature—these companies don't have to pay any price themselves.
One of the biggest winners of the plan is Jeff Bezos (Jeff Bezos) 's Blue Origin, which has established three development partnerships with NASA through ACO. The company recently unveiled the concept of a lander called the Blue Moon (Blue Moon), which is intended to bring humans to the moon's surface. Now, Blue Origin, with the help of NASA, will develop a new lunar navigation and landing system, as well as new materials that could be tested or used in lunar lander engines. The company will also try to develop a new power system to help its Blue Moon lander stay operational at night, a two-week completely dark period during which temperatures can plummet to minus 173 degrees Celsius.
At the same time, Blue Origin's competitor SpaceX is also working with NASA through the ACO program to develop technologies that are critical to the company's future Starship rockets. SpaceX is developing this vehicle to deliver goods and humans to outer space destinations. Now, the company will get help from NASA to study how to land a large rocket like a Starship on the surface of the moon, and how much dust this landing will provoke on the moon. In addition, SpaceX is seeking NASA's help to solve the problem of how to transport rocket propellants in space, which is a problem that must be solved when sending a spacecraft to a place outside the Earth. The design of the interstellar spacecraft requires the spacecraft to be "filled" with propellant as it orbits the Earth, so that it has all the fuel needed to get rid of the gravity of the Earth.
For companies other than SpaceX, developing methods for transporting propellants in space can also be revolutionary. For example, many companies want to mine the moon's water and turn it into a rocket propellant that is stored in a "refueling station" in space. In this way, the rocket can meet with these supply stations to replenish fuel and fly further. But the only viable way to do this is for engineers to develop autonomous spacecraft that can transport ultra-cold, sometimes volatile propellants in space, which is especially difficult in an environment without gravity. NASA has been studying this technology, and some spacecraft have demonstrated this capability in space. But this process is still far from mature.
Other companies such as Maxar will also work on the development of potentially critical space technologies, including new solar panels and robots that can be self-assembled during orbital flight. In addition, some teams will also study technologies related to rocket reuse, which is also a focus of SpaceX in recent years. For example, Sierra Nevada will study a method of recovering the upper part of a rocket after the rocket is launched from Earth - SpaceX has not yet tried this feat.
All of these technologies sound very exciting, and some of them are important to achieve NASA's goal of sending humans to the moon and Mars. However, these partnerships have only just begun, and it is unclear when these technologies will be operational. Ultimately, NASA hopes that by providing some help to the industry, it will avoid the high costs of developing these technologies independently – and will benefit when these technologies are fully mature.