NASA is partnering with Spirit AeroSystems and 12 other companies as part of a new space program.
The program, called “Artemis,” has a long-term goal of landing humans on Mars for the first time.
L.K. Kubendran is the head of NASA’s Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity, which selected the 13 companies that will take part in 19 different partnerships with NASA.
Kubendran said the first goal of Artemis is to get humans back on the moon by 2024 – with plans to keep them there.
“We’re talking about sustained presence on the lunar surface," Kubendran said. "That means we need more infrastructure to be in place.”
NASA plans to maintain a presence on the moon by building a station that it calls the “Gateway.” Establishing the Gateway would be essential for not only exploring the moon further, but also for the eventual manned mission to Mars.
This is not the first time that NASA has partnered with private companies. Part of NASA’s mission is to work with private companies and share technologies so all parties benefit.
“We help them develop the capabilities, which in turn, we will buy them in the future,” Kubendran said.
NASA is also partnering with companies like SpaceX and Lockheed Martin. The partnerships will each run for about two years.
Spirit now has two partnerships with NASA. The newest one will help with the development of reusable rockets that are more durable.
Ronald Jones is a welding engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. He explained that NASA has a method for creating strong, lightweight panels that make up the structures of its rockets. Unfortunately, the process is not efficient enough yet.
“What (Spirit is) proposing is a way to manufacture these panels that really, I think, is borrowed from the aircraft manufacturing side,” Jones said.
Jones said Spirit proposed a production method that would bring down costs while also maintaining the strength of the panels.
Kubendran and Jones both hope that by continuing these partnerships with private companies, the U.S. will stay ahead of other countries’ space efforts.
“We’re here to help American industry,” Jones said. “We want to advance American technologies, and so we feel like by doing that, that really helps us maintain our leadership position in space.”
Kevin Benavides is an intern in the KMUW News Lab.