NASA partners with SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Blue Origin and others for test flights and research

NASA has announced 20 new partnerships with commercial space outfits, among them collaborations with SpaceX, Blue Origin and Rocket Lab. While no money will change hands, NASA will dedicate millions in personnel and other support to these test launches and developing technologies.

The partnerships are NASA’s Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity selections for 2020. These agreements are unlike the SBIR or NIAC programs in that NASA doesn’t just send some money out and say “let us know how you’re getting on in six months or so.”

Instead, the space agency offers open access to its facilities and experts, some of which are the most advanced in the world. It’s a true public-private partnership, for which reason it is still a competitive process to get a project approved — and the list of 17 companies includes several large ones.

SpaceX will be working with Langley to monitor and perform thermal measurements of its Starship launch vehicle and spacecraft during reentry operations over the Pacific.

Rocket Lab, similarly, will partner with Langley, Ames and Armstrong to do analysis of its Electron launch vehicle as it migrates the hardware toward reusability. The company recently moved up the date it would attempt a full booster recovery to just a week from now, but it’s unclear whether this is an operation in which NASA will be involved.

Blue Origin, meanwhile, has two separate partnerships. One is another multi-center effort in which the company will be helping develop a “space robot operating system.” This sounds grand, but is probably more of an integration effort, bringing together multiple open source and NASA-developed frameworks to work together, reducing costs and improving interoperability.

The other is regarding using 3D printing to improve engine designs; perhaps they regret letting Tim Ellis run away and start Relativity Space — he cut his teeth doing just this kind of work at Blue Origin and now it appears the company is going to have to play catch-up.

The rest of the partnerships, from artificial lunar regolith to radio-frequency propulsion, can be read about at this NASA post.