Maria Montero

Max Q: NASA Underwrites New Launch Delivery Ventures …

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There were plenty of highlights in the space industry last week (although a rocket launch that was supposed to happen now has been delayed until Monday) The biggest news for commercial space could be that NASA signed five new companies into its list of approved providers for lunar cargo delivery services, bringing the total pool to 14.

Spacex is among them, and Musk’s company had a fair amount of news this week too: some good, some bad. One thing is for sure: even before the last week of November, there is still a lot of news to come in this industry before the year is out.

  1. NASA selects five new providers for commercial lunar cargo

An artist’s rendering of the Blue Moon lander from Blue Origin.

All five include Blue Origin, SpaceX, Ceres Robotics, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all or any of these companies will actually fly anything to the Moon on behalf of NASA, but it does mean that they can officially bid on the opportunity. Along with 9 other companies previously selected by NASA, their offers will be considered by NASA based on cost, feasibility, and other factors.

  1. SpaceX spacecraft prototype blows its lid

Here’s the bad news I referred to earlier: SpaceX’s Starship Mk1 prototype in Texas blew up a bit during cryo testing. This test is designed to simulate extreme cold conditions that the spacecraft could withstand during flight, and it clearly did not. But Elon Musk was optimistic, saying right after the incident that they will move to a more advanced design immediately.

  1. Sierra Nevada Corporation details expendable cargo container for its Dream Chaser spacecraft

SNC Shooting Star module. Credit: SNC.

One of the companies that is now included in NASA’s list of lunar cargo service providers is Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). They are currently developing and building their Dream Chaser spacecraft, which is reusable and lands like the space shuttle. At an event at Cape Canaveral in Florida, they unveiled what they call the “Shooting Star,” a single-use ejectable cargo container for the Dream Chaser that can really add to your versatility.

  1. Nanoracks to launch a test ship that can turn old spacecraft into orbital habitats

This demo mission is just a start, but the technology that Nanoracks is launching aboard a future SpaceX launch will be able to cut metal in space, marking the first time a robotic team has done so. The ultimate goal is to use this technology to bring the upper stages of spent spacecraft and give them new life, as research platforms, satellites, or even orbiting habitats.

  1. NASA’s JPL is using Antarctica to test a rover for a trip to Enceladus

That’s one of Saturn’s moons, and it’s made up of icy oceans. Normally that’s not an optimal place for a rover to move, but the agency’s lab has been testing a design in the coldest oceans on Earth to see how viable it will be, and now they’re going to use Antarctica, which is where you will test it for months at a time.

  1. Tesla’s Cybertruck is made of Starship steel

Elon Musk revealed Tesla’s crazy, beautiful, ugly, weird Cybertruck pickup last week, and you noticed that the stainless steel alloy that makes up its skin is the same material SpaceX is developing and using in its new Starship spacecraft. Sometimes being the CEO of an auto company and a space company at the same time really pays off.

  1. Space inspires new types of startups

Many large companies outsource at least some of their innovation management and design, and with the rise of the space, there is a new opportunity for companies to emerge that specialize in helping those same large companies figure out where they fit in this new frontier. Luna is one of those partners, putting together the pieces of the puzzle for healthcare technology companies.