NASA Selects Companies to Conduct Heavy Lift Studies


A number of legacy systems are being reviewed for their potential use in future heavy-lift launch system. Image Credit: NASA

NASA has announced the 13 companies that space the agency has selected for negotiations that could potentially lead to these businesses being awarded to study and evaluate heavy-lift launch vehicle concepts. These studies will include affordability, propulsion technologies and system concepts. 

The companies that have been chosen are: 

Aerojet General Corp., Rancho Cordova, Calif.

Analytical Mechanics Associates, Huntsville, Ala.

Andrews Space, Tukwila, Wash.

Alliant Techsystems, Huntsville, Ala.

The Boeing Co., Huntsville, Ala.

Lockheed Martin Corp., Huntsville, Ala.

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Huntsville, Ala.

Orbital Sciences Corp., Chandler, Ariz.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Canoga Park, Calif.

Science Applications International Corp., Huntsville, Ala.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, Calif.

United Launch Alliance, Centennial, Colo.

United Space Alliance, Huntsville, Ala. 

All total, these awards are approximately $7.5 million total with a maximum individual contract award of $625,000. Each of these companies will provide a final report to NASA that will help lay the groundwork for the transportation system that one day could launch humans to destinations around the solar system. Some of these include asteroids, Lagrange points, the moon and Mars. 

“These trade studies will provide a look at innovative launch vehicle concepts, propulsion technologies, and processes that should make human exploration missions more affordable,” said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “If we are to travel beyond low-Earth orbit, industry’s collaboration is essential to reduce the cost associated with our future exploration goals and approaches and make the heavy-lift vehicle affordable to build and fly.” 

While these studies will look at legacy hardware such as Saturn, shuttle and Ares-derived systems – new technology and systems will not be excluded. The reports are expected to locate and identify ‘gaps’ in propulsion technology (including propellant tanks, rocket health management systems and main propulsion systems). They will then assess the status of these systems and work to determine which combination is the most appropriate to meet various mission objectives. 

NASA will then utilize these recommendations to determine which heavy-lift vehicle concepts and propulsion technologies are best suited for future exploration missions.

Numerous variations using shuttle-derived technology have already been submitted. Image Credit: NASA


  1. This says, ok space community, come with your best ideas and we’ll see what we can do and how we can best split it up between everyone. Tough to do in my opinion.

  2. Wow! I can’t imagine Elon Musk and ATK sitting down and coming up with a plan together (they are from such different worlds). If it ever comes to that, though, I’ll bet we could see some great collaboration.For the good of the space community, however, I hope this thing doesn’t become a long drawn out contract dispute between commercial and government space. We have suffered through that long enough and it’s time to pull out all the stops and create a heavy launch vehicle quickly and efficiently. I think it’s funny that Ares 1 and V are included in the picture of “legacy” systems. I guess the legacy is from the Shuttle.

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