ORLANDO, Fla., July 30 (UPI) -- NASA on Tuesday announced new contracts with 10 companies to help send people back to the moon by 2024, as well as to Mars afterward.
The landing contracts, which include new deals with SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, Sierra Nevada and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, will see each of the companies work with NASA to accomplish both space exploration goals.
NASA, as part of the deals, provides expertise, facilities, hardware and software at no cost. The public-private partnerships and the way they are structured are vital to accelerating space exploration, NASA said in a news release.
At Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a partnership with SpaceX will study how rockets can best land on the moon -- specifically how the rocket exhaust, or plume, interacts with moon rocks and pebbles. That could be important to keeping the rocket stable and standing upright.
Also working with Kennedy, Lockheed Martin will test robotic systems for growing plants and crops in space. NASA said robotic space farming could be a key to developing space stations, or platforms.
Sierra Nevada Corporation, of Sparks, Nev., will work with NASA on two entry, descent and landing projects. For example, they will capture infrared images of their Dream Chaser spacecraft as it re-enters Earth's atmosphere traveling faster than the speed of sound.
All of NASA's major space centers are being tapped for projects. SpaceX also will work on transfer of rocket fuel in orbit, an important step in the development of the company's Starship space vehicle.
Blue Origin will test materials for rocket engine nozzles for lunar landers, and on a new fuel cell power system for the company's Blue Moon lander. The system would be aimed at providing uninterrupted power during the lunar night, which lasts for about two weeks in most locations, according to NASA.
NASA centers will partner with the companies, which range from small businesses with fewer than a dozen employees to large aerospace organizations, to provide expertise, facilities, hardware and software at no cost. The partnerships will advance the commercial space sector and help bring new capabilities to market that could benefit future NASA missions.
The companies signed non-reimbursable Space Act Agreements, requiring them to stick to projects NASA has deemed important to the nation's Moon-to-Mars exploration approach.
Examples of additional contracts announced Tuesday:
Lightweight soundproofing materials will be tested for use in rocket nosecones in a partnership between Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and Aerogel Technologies of Boston.
Lockheed, in a partnership with NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., will also work on perfecting new techniques for metal construction of spacecraft that operate in extreme heat, such as solid-state processing that uses friction or impact to fuse metal types together -- rather than traditional forging and melting.
The testing of a compact hydrogen generator for inflatable heat shields, which could help deliver larger payloads to Mars, comes in a deal with Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and Anasphere Inc. of Bozeman, Mont.
Another heat shield test will feature a new seamless weave for a carbon fabric shield, with Bally Ribbon Mills of Bally, Pa., and Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.