NASA launches private partnerships for space exploration

Contracts with 22 U.S. tech companies will further NASA’s goals for robotic and manned space exploration.

As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration gears up for a manned mission to Mars, it announced yesterday the formation of 22 public-private partnerships that will yield technology critical for enabling long-term human and robotic exploration of the solar system.

Nine of the companies were selected through NASA’s “Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies” contract solicitation, designed to advance existing technologies past their “tipping point,” which NASA defines as marked by “high likelihood of infusion into a commercial space application and significant improvement in the ability to successfully bring the technology to market.”

“These new partnerships between NASA and U.S. industry can accelerate the development and infusion of these emerging space system capabilities,” Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA, said in a statement. “Sustained technology investments must be made to mature the capabilities required to reach the challenging destinations and meet the agency’s exploration goals, such as our journey to Mars.”

The technologies include thruster and propulsion systems, nano satellites, sensors, thermal protection sheaths and even robots to complete the in-space manufacturing of spacecraft and orbital structures. Contracts range from $1 million to $20 million, and will be fulfilled over a two-year period. After that, the companies will demonstrate the new technologies, which may be used in future spaceflights.


The contracted companies span the breadth of the U.S. and include niche operations like Busek Space and Propulsion Systems as well as aerospace powerhouses Boeing and Virgin Galactic.

“These awards enable us to continue to foster partnerships with the commercial space sector that not only leverage capabilities to meet NASA’s strategic goals, but also focus on U.S. industry markets that are at a tipping point for commercialization and infusion,” Jurczyk said. “At NASA, technology drives exploration and partnering with the private sector in this way supports the innovation economy and creates jobs.”

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