An upstart Space Coast company that specializes in aerospace cryogenics was one of several selected under new NASA lunar contracts designed to push emerging technologies into the mainstream.

Eta Space, which has operations in Merritt Island and Rockledge, joined a list of 13 other American companies selected for NASA’s “Tipping Point” contracts, all of which combined are worth some $370 million. The program is designed to find technologies on the verge of maturity and help push them past their tipping points.

Wednesday’s contracts mostly targeted cryogenic technologies, or the storage and distribution of super-cold propellants in space. NASA expects these to be crucial not only for missions originating from Earth, but also for the conversion of water ice on the moon into fuels for long-term lunar operations and possibly even trips to Mars.

Eta Space, which focuses on cryogenics, secured a total of $27 million, making it the fifth-highest in the group. Co-founder Bill Notardonato said the company was established by three former NASA employees, himself included, and plans on expanding to other parts of the Space Coast in the near future.

Notardonato said Eta Space is planning a more detailed post-contract announcement and description of its operations next week.

“The majority of the funding will help mature cryogenic fluid management technologies via in-space demonstrations led by small business Eta Space, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, and ULA,” NASA said Wednesday. “Each approach is unique, ranging from small- to large-scale and short- to long-term tests.”

A 13-foot diameter cryogenic storage test tank is seen at NASA's Glenn Research Center near Cleveland, Ohio.

Aside from cyrogenic fluids, the contracts were also awarded to companies involved in lunar surface operations and descent and landing demonstrations.

The 14 companies selected, in order of award value, were:

  • Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado, $89.7 million
  • United Launch Alliance (ULA) of Centennial, Colorado, $86.2 million
  • SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, $53.2 million
  • Intuitive Machines of Houston, $41.6 million
  • Eta Space of Merritt Island, Florida, $27 million
  • Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance of Houston, $22.1 million
  • Nokia of America Corporation of Sunnyvale, California, $14.1 million
  • SSL Robotics of Pasadena, California, $8.7 million
  • Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh, $5.8 million
  • pH Matter of Columbus, Ohio, $3.4 million
  • Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, $10 million, $2.8 million
  • Teledyne Energy Systems of Hunt Valley, Maryland, $2.8 million
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Madison, Wisconsin, $2.4 million
  • Precision Combustion Inc. of North Haven, Connecticut, $2.4 million

If schedules hold, NASA plans on test firing its Artemis program rocket, the Space Launch System, in mid-November at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. That will pave the way for its first uncrewed test flight as soon as late 2021, followed by more tests until a planned landing of two astronauts on the moon in 2024.

Contact Emre Kelly at aekelly@floridatoday.com or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly. Support space journalism by subscribing at floridatoday.com/specialoffer/.

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