NASA will work with SpaceX on orbital refueling tech to get to the moon and Mars

NASA has tapped Elon Musk’s SpaceX to figure out a way to allow ships to refuel in orbit, the space agency announced Tuesday.

According to a news release, SpaceX will help to advance propulsion technology — specifically, NASA has tasked SpaceX to solve the problem of in-space refueling, which would be groundbreaking since it’s never been done before. 

SpaceX will also work with the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the advancement of the technology needed to vertically land large rockets on the surface of the moon. 

Thirteen companies were chosen for 19 partnerships with NASA to advance commercial space and future NASA missions. 

“NASA’s proven experience and unique facilities are helping commercial companies mature their technologies at a competitive pace,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), in the press release. “We’ve identified technology areas NASA needs for future missions, and these public-private partnerships will accelerate their development so we can implement them faster.”

The release said that the partnerships and their focuses will be critical for NASA’s plan to land humans on the moon by 2024. NASA hopes to use that moon mission as a stepping stone for a crewed mission to Mars

There’s seven specific focus areas that NASA divided companies into. These include advanced communications, advanced materials, entry/descent/landing, in-space manufacturing and assembly, power, propulsion, and other exploration technologies. 

Aside from SpaceX, other notable companies chosen for partnerships include Blue Origin, Maxar Technologies, Langley, and Lockheed Martin. 

NASA and SpaceX have worked together extensively in recent years. In 2014, NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing to work with its Commercial Crew Program. NASA tasked the two companies to create spacecrafts, rockets, and systems to carry astronauts to the space station for missions. 

On July 26, SpaceX successfully launched its test rocket, known as Starhopper. Starhopper is the prototype to Starship, which SpaceX hopes to be used as a commercial spacecraft that will be able to take off and land again, like an airplane. The hope is to have Starship ready for commercial flights by 2021.

In response to the partnership, a SpaceX spokesperson told Digital Trends, “We believe SpaceX’s fleet of advanced rockets and spacecraft, including Falcon Heavy and Starship, are integral to accelerating NASA’s lunar and Mars plans.”

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