A new Cooperative Agreement between NASA and the Energy Department

Both NASA and the Department of Energy have been striving to expand cooperation. That’s probably why the memorandum of understanding (MOU) announced on October 20 did not come as a surprise to many. After all, it is not the fast measure that the agencies have taken to achieve their goal.

The signees representing the two parties were Jim Bridenstine and Dan Brouillette, serving as NASA Administrator and Secretary of Energy.  Its announcement was during the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board’s meeting. It aims to see the cooperation between the two agencies to go beyond space nuclear power. Instead, it should also cover other science and engineering topics.

According to Brouillette, the process began after he and Bridenstine had a meeting earlier this year. Before NASA launched its Mars 2020 mission on July 30, the two agents through representatives held a meeting in Florida. Department of Energy offered a plutonium’s power source, radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG).

Most collaborations between NASA and the Energy Department have been about different nuclear power sources, such as RTGs. For the time being, the duo is working on nuclear propulsion and new nuclear power systems that will come in handy during various Mars Exploration missions in the future. The MOU includes all that but also includes other topics that would see the collaboration expand.

The MOU proposes three groups: space science and innovation, lunar surface infrastructure, and space nuclear power and propulsion. They will be working together, but before that, they would come up with on-page reports. The reports would outline activities that would help develop infrastructure for a lunar base later. That would include the lunar base’s power systems, Mars’ nuclear propulsion systems, space situational awareness support, planetary defense, and space weather.

For the implementation of the agreement, there was a need to create an executive committee. It would have to meet regularly, and both deputy secretary of energy and NASA’s deputy administrator would chair it jointly.

Bridenstine said that the cooperation would help the duo create strategic plans for Moon and Mars collaborations, among other related President Trump’s initiatives. According to Norm Augustine, former chief executive at Lockheed Martin and one of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board working group focused on space science chair; it was a formality. After all, a collaboration between the two agencies has been in existence for quite a while. 

The efforts by the Department of Energy to make a mark in the space industry keeps getting more explicit. Before that, it joined the National Space Council. There is also a meeting with Bridenstine on nuclear power as well as other technologies. Equally important, it is reaching out to the space industry’s companies for collaborations in technology development.