NASA puts $44 million toward cryogenics and mid-air spacecraft retrieval

NASA has announced a set of public-private partnerships with several U.S. space companies, totaling an impressive $44 million. Blue Origin, Astrobotic Technology, United Launch Alliance and more are the recipients of up to $10 million each for a variety of projects aimed at exploring and utilizing space safely and efficiently.

The 10 awards are for “tipping point” technologies, as NASA calls them, that are highly promising but need funding for a ground or flight demonstration — in other words, to get it out of the lab.

ULA is the big winner here, taking home $13.9 million split between three projects — $10 million will go to looking into a cryogenic vehicle fluid management system that could simplify and improve lunar landers. The rest of the money is split between another cryogenic fluid project for missions with long durations, and a project to “demonstrate mid-air retrieval capabilities up to 8,000 pounds… on a vehicle returning to Earth from orbital velocity.” Really, that last one is the cheapest?

Blue Origin has $13 million coming its way, primarily for… yet another cryogenic fluid management system for lunar landers. You can see where NASA’s priorities are — putting boots on the regolith. The remainder goes to testing a suite of advanced sensors that could make lunar landings easier. The company will be testing both these systems on its New Shepard vehicle from as high as 100km.

The other big $10 million prize goes to Astrobotic Technology, which will, like Blue Origin, be working on a sensor suite for Terrain Relative Navigation. It’s basically adding intelligence to a craft’s landing apparatus so it can autonomously change its touchdown location, implement safety measures and so on, based on the actual local observed conditions.

The Mars 2020 Rover will be using its own TRN system, and the ones funded here will be different and presumably more advanced, but this gif from NASA does a good job illustrating the tech:

Several other endeavors were selected by NASA for funding, and you can find them — and more technical details for the ones mentioned above — at the partnership announcement page.

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The New York City Council voted Wednesday to put a ceiling on the number of ride-hailing cars on city streets—namely, Uber and Lyft. It is believed to be the first American city to impose such a measure.

“We’ve seen a race to the bottom in terms of wages and in terms of the livelihoods of these drivers, not just in the for-hire vehicle sector but in the yellow cab sector as well,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on NY1, a local news television channel on Wednesday.

“So the Uber business model is ‘flood the market with as many cars and drivers as possible, gain more market share, and to hell with what happens to those drivers or anybody else involved.’ And in the end, what that has created is the kind of race to the bottom that has literally driven down wages below minimum-wage level for a lot of Uber drivers and even for other drivers.”

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