To the Moon: NASA Awards North Texas Firm $2M for ‘Tipping Point’ Technology

Apogee Semiconductor's technology could help enable the space agency’s exploration of the Moon—and beyond.

It's one of 14 U.S. companies picked in the fourth round of NASA's 'Tipping Point' partner program.

Apogee Semiconductor picked as NASA partner. The Artemis program: NASA’s “Tipping Point” technology funding is part of the space agency’s push to land humans on the moon by 2024. [Image: Screenshot/NASA.gov]

Apogee Semiconductor is one of 14 partner companies—along with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and Elon Musk’s SpaceX—whose technologies could help enable NASA’s “Moon to Mars” exploration. The space agency partners with companies to work on advanced space technologies.

The Plano-based company will be awarded $2 million to develop technology that could be used for missions to the Moon, Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and other destinations. It’s one of just three companies in Texas—and the only one in North Texas—announced in late September by NASA for its latest round of funding agreements.

The awards, which range from $1.3 million to $10 million, will help bring new technologies to market and ready them for commercial use, NASA said in a statement. It’s the fourth round in the space agency’s “Tipping Point” series, and the awards have a combined value of about $43.2 million, according to the space agency.

The funding is part of NASA’s push to land humans on the moon by 2024.

Tech solutions for harsh environments

Apogee Semiconductor, which makes technology solutions designed for harsh environments, will work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on a “radiation-hardened switching power controller” that can be configured according to a mission’s needs, NASA said in a release.

Apogee Semiconductor is the trade name for Tallannquest, which is the company’s legal name, and the one that is listed by NASA on the award, Mark Hamlyn, Chief Technology Officer of Apogee Semiconductor says.

Tallannquest grows, rebrands to Apogee Semiconductor

Imelda Donnelly Apogee is headquartered in Plano, Texas

Apogee Semiconductor Founder and CSO, Imelda Donnelly [Photo: Courtesy]

Tallannquest was founded by Emily “Imelda” Donnelly. In 2014, operating as Tallannquest, “the company received its kickstart money from the National Science Foundation to conduct research in radiation effects in semiconductors for medical applications such as imaging,” CTO Hamlyn says.

“The NSF proposal was inspired by one of Imelda’s friends who was battling breast cancer at the time,” Hamlyn told Dallas Innovates.

In 2017, Donnelly recruited Hamlyn from Texas Instruments and Anton Quiroz from Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions to grow the business. The new leaders—CTO Hamlyn and CEO Quiroz—rebranded the company to Apogee Semiconductor and, at the same time, brought in a fourth founder, VP of Engineering David Grant.

Grant was brought in “to pursue the commercial space industry, using the research conducted with the NSF grant as a springboard to where the company is today with Tipping Point,” Hamlyn says.

Apogee CTO Mark Hamlyn

Apogee Semiconductor CTO Mark Hamlyn

Founder Donnelly is chief science officer of Apogee Semiconductor.

This has been a busy year for the company. When the NASA proposal process began in Q1, the company was headquartered in Sachse. In early September, the company relocated to Plano for additional room to grow, Hamlyn says.

Apogee’s radiation-hardened technologies for space-power electronics were noted by industry publication How2Power in September.

“Many components lag the state of the art in terms of what’s available from commercial power components by 10 years or more,” Quiroz said in the publication. That’s something Apogee is working to bridge: the technology gap between commercial and “rad-hard” power components.

The company is working on building-block functions, which customers can use to implement power conversion or power management functions.

Ultimately, the company plans to use these “building blocks to create technologically up-to-date and more complex functions like controllers” for PWM—a type of digital signal—and “smart power” via a digitally enabled power converter integrated circuit (IC), according to How2Power.

Apogee’s efforts to develop rad-hard building blocks began when one of the company’s founders developed a rad-hard IC technology that could be manufactured in a standard complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor—or CMOS—foundry, the publication reported.

“Tipping point” technologies

The space agency is looking for promising technologies that are at a ‘tipping point’ in their development. 

“NASA’s investment is likely the extra push a company needs to significantly mature a capability,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

NASA is focused on landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 with its Artemis program and wants to “prepare for the next phase of lunar exploration that feeds forward to Mars,” he added. 

What is the Artemis program?

In Greek mythology, Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and the goddess of the Moon. Now for NASA, “she personifies the space agency’s path to the Moon as the name of its program,” NASA said on its website. Artemis is the first step in “the next giant leap.”

The ultimate goal? Sending humans to Mars.

Working with U.S. companies such as Apogee and many others—along with its international partners—NASA wants to lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.” 

Overall, NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program involves “sending a host of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024, and establishing a sustained presence by 2028,” the agency said in a statement.

Private partners: How it works

Through “firm-fixed-price contracts,” NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) doles out payments “over a performance period of up to 36 months.” Each of the industry partners is required to contribute a minimum percent, based on its company size, of the total cost for each project, NASA said.

The Tipping Point projects are managed by programs within STMD and, in some cases, include collaborations with NASA centers, such as Apogee Semiconductor’s anticipated work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. 

The proposals awarded in this latest round are focused around six areas of technology that are needed for sustained exploration of the Moon and Mars, NASA said.

Here are the selected companies and their awards, organized by technology focus area:

Cryogenic Propellant Production and Management 

  • Blue Origin LLC of Kent, Washington, $10 million
  • OxEon Energy LLC of North Salt Lake, Utah, $1.8 million
  • Skyre Inc. of East Hartford, Connecticut, $2.6 million
  • SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, $3 million

Sustainable Energy Generation, Storage, and Distribution

  • Infinity Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Inc. of Windsor, Connecticut, $4 million
  • Paragon Space Development Corporation of Houston, $2 million
  • TallannQuest LLC of Plano, Texas, $2 million

Efficient and Affordable Propulsion Systems

  • Accion Systems Inc. of Boston, $3.9 million
  • CU Aerospace LLC of Champaign, Illinois, $1.7 million
  • ExoTerra Resource LLC of Littleton, Colorado, $2 million

Autonomous Operations

  • Blue Canyon Technologies Inc. of Boulder, Colorado, $4.9 million

Rover Mobility

  • Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh, $2 million

Advanced Avionics

  • Intuitive Machines LLC of Houston, $1.3 million
  • Luna Innovations of Blacksburg, Virginia, $2 million

 

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