A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon spacecraft prepares for a launch.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon spacecraft prepares for a launch. Photo by NASA/Joel Kowsky

Three local aerospace companies will partner with NASA on key projects, the space agency announced Nov. 9.

Hawthorne-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Long Beach-based Rocket Lab USA Inc. and El Segundo-based Phase Four Inc. were among 17 companies selected for partnerships with the agency.


Each will have the opportunity to collaborate with NASA scientists and to make use of the agency’s facilities while working on specific projects related to space exploration.
According to NASA, it will partner with SpaceX to “capture imagery and thermal measurements” of the company’s Starship spacecraft as it reenters Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX has been testing prototypes of the Starship but has not yet launched one of the rockets into space.


The massive spacecraft dwarfs the Falcon 9 rockets that SpaceX now routinely launches and is designed for longer and more ambitious missions to the moon and Mars. NASA’s collaboration with SpaceX is aimed at supporting the company’s efforts to develop a reusable thermal protection system for the Starship.


The space agency is working with Rocket Lab to improve technology that allows parts of a rocket to be reused after a launch. In an announcement, NASA said the partnership will focus on development of software and decelerator design that supports the company’s plans to begin recovering first-stage boosters following successful rocket launches.


Phase Four will test a new propulsion engine designed for “long-duration small spacecraft missions.” The tests could give the company insight into how long the engine can be used in space.


These companies have been partnering with NASA on several projects.


SpaceX is slated to launch a second manned mission to the International Space Station on behalf of the agency in November. Meanwhile, both SpaceX and Rocket Lab are working on NASA’s Artemis Program, a project aimed at landing the first woman on the moon by 2024.

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