NASA picks 13 companies to help build its next big space rocket

NASA will spend $7.5M to begin developing next heavy lift rocket

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NASA today said it will spread $7.5 million across 13 companies to research the systems needed for it next heavy launch space rocket.

NASA said it will use the recommendations from these companies to evaluate heavy-lift launch vehicle concepts and propulsion technologies that will help lay the groundwork for the rocket that could launch humans to asteroids, Lagrange points, the moon and Mars.

"These trade studies will provide a look at innovative launch vehicle concepts, propulsion technologies, and processes that should make human exploration missions more affordable," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in a statement.  "If we are to travel beyond low-Earth orbit, industry's collaboration is essential to reduce the cost associated with our future exploration goals and approaches and make the heavy-lift vehicle affordable to build and fly."

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The studies could include technology from the shuttle and now defunct Ares rocket, as well as alternative architectures and identify propulsion technology gaps including main propulsion elements, propellant tanks and rocket health management systems, NASA stated.  The reports will include assessments of various heavy-lift launch vehicle and in-space vehicle that use different propulsion combinations.

NASA began its search in May when it said new procurement activities are intended to find affordable options for a heavy-lift vehicle that could be achieved earlier than 2015 - the earliest date that the new rocket would fly.

With that goal in mind, NASA began the long process to build a "new US developed chemical propulsion engine for a multi-use Heavy Launch Vehicle.  NASA said it was looking for a "demonstration of in-space chemical propulsion capabilities; and significant advancement in space launch propulsion technologies. The ultimate objective is to develop chemical propulsion technologies to support a more affordable and robust space transportation industry including human space exploration."

The space agency said it will look for features that will reduce launch systems manufacturing, production, and operating costs.

As part of the May announcement, NASA said it will initiate development and flight testing of in-space engines. Areas of focus will include low-cost liquid oxygen/methane and liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen engines and will perform research in chemical propulsion technologies in areas such as new or largely untested propellants, advanced propulsion materials and manufacturing techniques, combustion processes, and engine health monitoring and safety.

NASA said the new heavy lift system should help the US  explore  multiple potential destinations, including the Moon, asteroids, Lagrange points, and Mars and its environs in the most cost effective and safe manner. At the same time, NASA desires to develop liquid chemical propulsion technologies to support a more affordable and robust space transportation industry.

The selected companies are:

  • Aerojet General
  • Analytical Mechanics Associates
  • Andrews Space
  • Alliant Techsystems
  • Boeing
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Northrop Grumman Systems
  • Orbital Sciences
  • Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne
  • Science Applications International
  • Space Exploration Technologies
  • United Launch Alliance
  • United Space Alliance

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