NASA and NextSTEP to partner for deep-space exploration

The US space agency has chosen 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) to develop the exploration capabilities necessary to enable industrial endeavors in human exploration to deep-space destinations such as Mars.

Through these public-private partnerships, chosen firms can prepare idea studies and technology development projects in the areas of advanced propulsion, habitation and tiny satellites.

William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA headquarters in Washington DC said, “Commercial partners were chosen for their technical ability to mature key technologies and their commitment to the potential applications of both government and private sector uses.”

This work can ultimately inform the strategy to maneuver human presence further into the solar system.

The outcomes of these studies and hardware of the art developments will help define the role for international partner involvement by full exploration of domestic capabilities, and for Orion and Space Launch Systems missions in cis-lunar space, the space around the moon.

NASA said in a statement that this work can advance system understanding and outline a requirement for more testing habitation systems and mechanisms on the International Space Station (ISS).

Selected advanced electricity projects can develop propulsion technology systems within the 50-300 kilowatt range to meet the needs of a variety of deep-space mission notions.

Highly sophisticated electric propulsion technology currently used by NASA, produces less than five kilowatts, and systems being developed for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is in the 40-kilowatt range.

Three NextSTEP advanced propulsion projects, which cost $400,000 to $3.5 million annually, will require a three-year performance period.

The seven NextSTEP habitat projects will have preliminary performance periods of up to 12 months, at a worth of $400,000 to $1 million for its learning and developmental efforts, and the potential for follow-on phases to be drawn throughout the initial phase.

The last two NextSTEP CubeSat projects can have fixed-price contracts.

Jason Crusan from NASA’s human exploration and operations mission directorate in Washington, DC, added, “This form of public-private partnership helps NASA stimulate the US space industry while expanding the frontiers of knowledge, capabilities and opportunities in space,” added


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