NASA wants proposals from potential industry partners that can help develop technologies for resource production and processing in deep space destinations such as the Moon and Mars.
The space agency said Tuesday it aims to achieve Technology Readiness Level 5 or 6 for platforms that can extract and process oxygen, water and methane fuel in deep space locations through a technique called in-situ resource utilization (ISRU).
The readiness levels involve the final stages of technology tests and the development of a fully functional prototype.
Existing ISRU technologies are currently immature and the maturation effort would require increased scale, efficiency, reliability and lifetime to decrease cost drivers such as mass, power and volume, NASA noted.
ISRU platforms would help achieve cost savings, lessen risk and boost independence for astronauts living and working away from Earth, the agency added.
“Earth’s gravity well is so strong that a pound of cargo can require more than 80 times its weight in propellant to leave Earth,” said Jason Crusan, director of advanced exploration systems at NASA.
“We need more Earth-independent solutions in deep space for resources such as water, breathable air and even fuel as we move human exploration farther into the solar system,” Crusan added.
The solicitation will involve a three-track approach and responders may submit proposals in one, two or all three tracks.
Track one seeks trade studies; track two solicits component development and tests in a simulated space environment; and track three requests component-level development and test followed by subsystem development and test in a space environment simulation.
NASA plans to award milestone-based, firm fixed-price contracts beginning summer 2018.