NASA awards Eta Space contract for gas stations in space
(29 April 2021 - Eta Space) Eta Space signed a $25M contract on April 27 with NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate under the Technology Demonstration Missions (TDM) Program to demonstrate critical Cryogenic Fluid Management (CFM) technologies in low Earth orbit.
Headquartered in Rockledge, Florida, Eta Space was the only small business awarded one of NASA's STMD “Tipping Point” contracts for a CFM project within the TDM Program. This contract, along with a separate 2019 Tipping Point award to develop cryogenic propellant depots on the Lunar surface, solidifies Eta Space as the new space industry leader in commercial cryogenic propellant servicing.
LOXSAT 1 in 500 km SSO (courtesy: Eta Space)
“The ability to refuel in space is critical to meeting NASA’s goals of sustainable space exploration,” says Dr. William Notardonato, CEO of Eta Space, “but propellant depots have always had an economic ’chicken and egg’ problem. Rockets and spacecraft aren’t designed to be refueled in space since there are no propellant depots, but neither are depots being built because there are no vehicles that can currently use that capability.” Enter NASA’s Tipping Point program. NASA is developing public/private partnerships to fund critical technologies to the economic tipping point at which point the private sector can then take over.
Eta Space developed the LOXSAT mission as a small, low-cost payload to test a dozen critical cryogenic storage and transfer technologies in orbit. After launch in late 2023, the nine-month LOXSAT 1 mission will fully demonstrate the capability of in-space cryogenic storage and transfer. Anticipating successful mission results, Eta Space will use private funding to develop a truly commercial depot intended to serve multiple customers.
The contract includes funding for the initial design of LOXSAT 2, a full-scale operational depot intended for launch in 2025. LOXSAT 2 will provide liquid oxygen and RP-1 to refuel the upper stages of multiple small launch vehicles. “We are working with several launch providers to develop standardized interfaces, promote orbital refueling into mission profiles, and develop supply and demand projections for this new market,” said Dr. Notardonato. “This capability will then be used to open the inner solar system to exploration by small satellites at reduced costs.”
About Eta Space
Eta Space was founded in 2019 by former NASA and contractor personnel with over 130 years of combined experience in CFM. The company is looking to leverage this experience to develop in-space propellant depots to enable the next phase of commercial space exploration. Eta Space is also actively developing several other cryogenic energy systems, including LOX/LH2 depots in orbit and on the Moon, lunar mobility systems, cryogenic ground support equipment for launch applications, and hydrogen energy systems for Earth applications.