NASA awarded a $53.2 million contract to SpaceX October 14 to develop on-orbit propellant transfer capabilities for the launch providers next-generation Starship vehicle.
The $53.2 million award was part of the fifth Tipping Point solicitation that awarded a combined $370 million to more than a dozen companies. NASA utilises Tipping Point funding to push the development of key space capabilities to market for both government and commercial applications.
According to NASA, the SpaceX Tipping Point award will be used to develop technology for a “large-scale flight demonstration to transfer 10 metric tons of cryogenic propellant.”
The demonstration will be performed aboard a Starship launch vehicle and will involve the transfer of propellant between the vehicle’s header and main tanks.
The SpaceX Starship vehicle is currently under development at the company’s Boca Chica facility in Texas. Work began with the small Starhopper test vehicle in January 2019. Since then, several larger Starship prototypes have been built for flight and cryogenic pressure testing.
Work on the most recent prototype, SN8 is nearing completion with static fire tests expected in the coming weeks. The Starship SN8 prototype is the first to be fitted with three of SpaceX’s next-generation methalox Raptor engines. The prototype is also the first to feature the vehicle’s upper and lower body flaps.
Following a series of static fire tests, the SN8 prototype will be launched to an altitude of 15 kilometers. According to SpaceX founder and CEO, the main objectives of this flight will be to test the body flaps and confirm propellant is being drawn from the vehicle’s header tanks and not the main tank.
In addition to SpaceX, more than a dozen other companies both large and small received Tipping Point contracts. The largest was an $89.7 million Lockheed Martin contract to develop on-orbit cryogenic fluid management technologies.