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Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday announced the issuing of fourteen small contracts totaling $43.2 million to a variety of big and small new space commercial companies, all aimed at developing technology for exploring the solar system.
The link has a detailed list, which includes Blue Origin and SpaceX, though most of the companies are relatively unknown.
NASA’s public statements in connection with these awards suggest they are support for Artemis, but that’s not true as is merely being done to sell Artemis, falsely. As designed these contracts will do more to accelerate the alternatives to Artemis. For example, the contract to SpaceX is “to develop and test coupler prototypes – or nozzles – for refueling spacecraft such as the company’s Starship vehicle.” Similarly, the contract to the small company ExoTerra will
build, test and launch a 12-unit CubeSat with a compact, high impulse solar electric propulsion module. Once flight-ready, the system will be demonstrated in-space as the CubeSat moves from low-Earth orbit to the radiation belts surrounding Earth. This small electric propulsion system could open up the inner solar system for targeted science exploration missions, using affordable spacecraft that range from 44 to 440 pounds.
Both might be applicable to Artemis, but won’t be, as NASA’s SLS, Orion, and Gateway contractors are likely uninterested in such things. Moreover, these technologies will be owned by the companies developing them, as the contracts are designed like the Space Act Agreements that fueled the Dragon and Cygnus commercial cargo capsules. The companies are to pay 25% of the cost, and then get to keep whatever is developed. NASA in turn gets access to this new technology, almost all of which appears designed to encourage alternatives to Artemis.