Aerospace AMAM for Space

Seven US companies collaborate with NASA to advance space capabilities including AM

List includes heavy AM adopters and service providers such as VAST, ThinkOrbital, SpaceX and Blue Origin

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Through unfunded Space Act Agreements, the second Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities-2 initiative (CCSC-2) is designed to advance commercial space-related efforts through NASA contributions of technical expertise, assessments, lessons learned, technologies, and data. Structured sharing of NASA expertise demands minimal government resources but fosters the development of capabilities that can be crucial to the development of a robust low-Earth orbit economy.

The companies selected for the Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities-2 are:

  • Blue Origin, Kent, Washington
  • Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation, Dulles, Virginia
  • Sierra Space Corporation, Broomfield, Colorado
  • Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, Hawthorne, California
  • Special Aerospace Services, Boulder, Colorado
  • ThinkOrbital Inc., Lafayette, Colorado
  • Vast Space LLC, Long Beach, California
Artist’s concept of Northrop Grumman’s Persistent Platform concept in low Earth orbit. Credits: Northrop Grumman

“It is great to see companies invest their own capital toward innovative commercial space capabilities, and we’ve seen how these types of partnerships benefit both the private sector and NASA,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “The companies can leverage NASA’s vast knowledge and experience, and the agency can be a customer for the capabilities included in the agreements in the future. Ultimately, these agreements will foster more competition for services and more providers for innovative space capabilities.”

NASA selected these proposals based on an evaluation of their relevance to achieving the agency’s goals and its ability to provide the requested resources, as well as the feasibility of the company’s business and technical approach. Each party bears the cost of its participation through the agreements.

Seven US companies collaborate with NASA, including VAST, ThinkOrbital, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Sierra Space
Artist’s concept of Sierra Space’s crewed Dream Chaser spaceplane docking to the company’s LIFE habitat. Credits: Sierra Space

Projects

Blue Origin, a heavy user of AM for rocket engines and modules, is collaborating with NASA to develop an integrated commercial space transportation capability that ensures safe, affordable, and high-frequency US access to orbit for crew and other missions.

Northrop Grumman, also a user of AM (the company recently joined the AM Forward program pushed by President Biden), is collaborating with NASA on the company’s Persistent Platform to provide autonomous and robotic capabilities for commercial science research and manufacturing capabilities in low Earth orbit

Sierra Space is collaborating with NASA for the development of the company’s commercial low Earth orbit ecosystem, including next-generation space transportation, in-space infrastructure, and expandable and tailorable space facilities providing a human presence in low Earth orbit.

Seven US companies collaborate with NASA, including VAST, ThinkOrbital, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Sierra Space
Blue Origin’s launch and manufacturing complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credits: Blue Origin

SpaceX is an early user of AM and one of the first companies to demonstrate the use of AM for rocket engine production. SpaceX is collaborating with NASA on an integrated low Earth orbit architecture to provide a growing portfolio of technology with near-term Dragon evolution and concurrent Starship development. This architecture includes Starship as a transportation and in-space low-Earth orbit destination element supported by Super Heavy, Dragon, and Starlink, and constituent capabilities including crew and cargo transportation, communications, and operational and ground support.

Seven US companies collaborate with NASA, including VAST, ThinkOrbital, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Sierra Space
SpaceX’s Starship rocket sits on a launch pad at the company’s Starbase in Texas. Credits: SpaceX

Special Aerospace Services is collaborating with NASA on an in-space servicing technology, propulsion, and robotic technology called the Autonomous Maneuvering Unit (AMU) and the Astronaut Assist-AMU for commercial in-space servicing and mobility applications intended for safer assembly of commercial low Earth orbit destinations, servicing, retrieval, and inspection of in-space systems.

ThinkOrbital is collaborating with NASA on the development of ThinkPlatforms and CONTESA (Construction Technologies for Space Applications). ThinkPlatforms are self-assembling, single-launch, large-scale orbital platforms that facilitate a wide array of applications in low Earth orbit, including in-space research, manufacturing, and astronaut missions. CONTESA features welding, cutting, inspection, and additive manufacturing technologies, and aids in large-scale in-space fabrication.

Seven US companies collaborate with NASA, including VAST, ThinkOrbital, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Sierra Space
A Special Aerospace Services engineer tests the company’s Autonomous Maneuvering Unit. Credits: Special Aerospace Services

Vast recently acquired Launcher, one of the companies that put AM at the center of its manufacturing strategy. Vast is collaborating with NASA on technologies and operations required for its microgravity and artificial gravity stations. This includes the Haven-1 commercial destination, which will provide a microgravity environment for crew, research, and in-space manufacturing, and the first crewed mission, called Vast-1, to the platform. Development activities for larger space station modules will also take place under the Space Act Agreement.


Artist’s concept of Vast’s Haven-1 commercial space station in low Earth orbit. Credits: Vast

NASA’s support for a robust low-Earth orbit economy is intended to boost education and job growth in science and engineering and to spur economic growth through the creation of new space markets. The first Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities selections in 2014 supported the development of four collaborations associated commercial rockets, spacecraft, and spacesuits.

For decades, NASA has supported a continuous U.S. human presence in low Earth orbit with astronauts living and working aboard the International Space Station. In 2019, NASA adopted a strategy to help achieve the agency’s goal of a low Earth orbit marketplace where NASA is one of many customers and the private sector leads the way. This strategy will enable NASA to continue using low Earth orbit to foster scientific discovery and technology development that both improves life on Earth and advances human exploration into deep space.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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