NASA has booked help from a Roanoke company to perfect housing for scientists on the surface of the moon and maybe eventually Mars.
Luna Innovations joined the space agency’s “Moon to Mars” initiative, a multibillion-dollar project to revisit the moon and later land on Mars.
Luna, which was founded in Blacksburg, will “contribute to the future of Mars and lunar exploration,” according to a prepared statement by CEO Scott Graeff.
The government intends to rely on partnerships with private companies assisting with spacecraft and ground rovers — including their life support systems, energy and navigation — with the initial goal of a 2024 moon landing. Luna, in return for $2 million compensation announced Sept. 27, will develop certain aspects of a live-in structure usable in orbit or on planet surfaces.
Specifically, “Luna’s fiber optic sensors will be embedded within inflatable space habitats to monitor their structural health and safety,” the firm’s release said. The risks include debris, pressure build-up and structural fatigue.
Luna’s partners include Sierra Nevada Corp. of Nevada, which has built a prototype to demonstrate how astronauts could live and work aboard a future spaceship called the Gateway that will orbit the moon, NASA said. Sierra Nevada’s prototype inflatable, at 27 feet across, is called the Large Inflatable Fabric Environment.
Small versions of habitats have also been built and tested at Luna, said Allison Woody, director of administration at the company.
Luna specializes in fiber-optic sensing products for automotive, aerospace, energy and infrastructure industries and fiber-optic test products for telecommunications .
Inflatable space lodges found favor with NASA because spaceships can carry them aloft in compressed form and inflate them in space. The International Space Station coupled in 2016 with an experimental inflatable structure built by Bigelow Aerospace of Nevada.
On the heels of the NASA announcement, Luna posted profits of $1.2 million on revenue of $18.4 million for the July-September quarter, according a release issued Tuesday. It was what the company called “the eighth consecutive quarter of double-digit, year-over-year growth in revenues.”
Luna has acquired two companies in the past year and integrated them both, officials said.
Luna also cheered its stock price recently rising to $5.16 or higher for 30 consecutive trading days.
That mid-September milestone ended an obligation to pay dividends after Sept. 30 on preferred stock held by Carilion Clinic, a longtime investor in Luna. Carilion converted its shares to common stock in response.
Carilion CEO Nancy Agee credited Luna with doing “an excellent job of generating return for shareholders,” a prepared release said.
Shares of Luna Innovations closed Friday at $6.50, unchanged from the previous day.