STENNIS SPACE CENTER, MS — NASA will award funding to more than 200 small business teams to develop new technologies designed to protect the health of astronauts, lower risk of collision damage to spacecraft and more. The new awards from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer program invest in American small businesses and research institutions to support NASA’s future missions.
NASA selected 300 proposals from 249 small businesses and 39 research institutions – including eight Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) – for first-round funding. Each proposal team will receive $150,000 to establish the merit and feasibility of their innovations, for a total agency investment of $45 million. Phase I SBIR contracts are awarded to small businesses and last for six months, while Phase I STTR contracts are awarded to small businesses in partnership with a research institution and last for 13 months.
The selections include seven projects managed by NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi – three in the SBIR program and four in the STTR program. The full lists of this year’s SBIR awardees and STTR awardees are available online.
“NASA has a key role to play in growing the aerospace ecosystem in our country,” said Jenn Gustetic, director of early stage innovation and partnerships for Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Through these early-stage small business awards, we are inviting more innovators into this growing arena and helping them mature their technologies for not only NASA’s use, but for commercial impact.”
About 30% of the companies selected are first-time NASA SBIR/STTR recipients, including nou Systems, Inc., a women-owned small business based in Huntsville, Alabama. The first-time NASA SBIR recipient was selected to further develop their technology that will help in microbial monitoring of spacecraft environments. The closed and unique environment on spacecraft make microbial monitoring of utmost importance to astronauts’ health. Specifically, nou Systems has proposed a novel approach to automate the DNA monitoring of microbes, helping quickly identify those which might pose a threat to astronauts. This technology could first find use as part of the International Space Station’s biological testing equipment.
“We are proud to work alongside the small businesses and research institutions in need of government investment,” said Gynelle Steele, deputy program executive for NASA’s SBIR/STTR program at NASA Headquarters. “This program enables NASA to nurture pioneering ideas from a diversity of innovators across the country that may not attract the initial private industry funding needed to thrive.”
More than a quarter of the selected companies are women-owned, veteran-owned, disadvantaged, and/or HUBzone small businesses. For example, veteran-owned HyBird Space Systems LLC, a two-person company based in Spanaway, Washington, was selected for an SBIR award to help NASA in its efforts to mitigate the potential risk of damage to its spaceflight programs from orbital debris – humanmade objects in Earth orbit that no longer serve a useful purpose. Their proposed retrobraking propulsion system, named RT-5X, will focus initially on deorbit of spacecraft in low Earth orbit. The company hopes their technology becomes a low-cost, preventative debris solution that also provides controlled re-entry, and may be beneficial for other small satellite developers.
Four STTR awardees previously received NASA M-STTR planning grants – now part of Minority University Research and Education Project Partnership Annual Notification (MPLAN) – which were created to incentivize partnerships between MSIs and small businesses.
“These grants provide funding and mentorship to stimulate creative engagements between MSIs and small businesses and help spur mutually beneficial relationships that result in technologies supporting NASA mission and commercial market development,” said Steele. “We are pleased that MPLAN continues to help increase the number of skilled research teams that are better prepared to take their ideas from lab to market and strengthen the STTR program through their contribution.”
The new SBIR/STTR investments will be spread out over 38 states and Washington. This includes a cross country STTR Phase I team with 2pi Microwave Inc., based in Milpitas, California, partnering with the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. Together, they will begin to develop a lightweight, compact, and high-performance lidar – a system like radar, but using light waves instead of radio waves, making it faster and more efficient for many applications spanning science missions, space exploration systems, and aeronautics. The team’s lidar system would have unprecedented ultrawide field-of-view, low loss, and a high frame rate.
NASA Stennis will manage the following SBIR projects selected for Phase 1 awards:
- “Ultra-High Pressure Variable Flow Control Valve – 8-inch Floating Piston Valve,” developed by C-Suite Services LLC in Metairie, Louisiana. Variable control valves are used in propulsion testing, agricultural, industrial, and mobile industries for precise fluid control. The primary benefit of such valves is the ability to control difficult-to-handle, high-pressure gaseous fluids. the C-Suite project seeks to develop a prototype to meet such challenges at minimal cost.
- “Intelligent Fiber Optic Sensor Suite for Advanced Propulsion Ground Testing,” developed by Intelligent Fiber Optic Systems Corporation in San Jose, California. Fiber optic are a critical element for advanced propulsion systems. The selected project seeks to simplify design, reduce size, and expand sensing capability for advanced propulsion systems such as the Space Launch System rocket.
- “Capacitance Based Combined Single- and Two-Phase Mass Flow Meter for Cryogenic Hydrogen,” developed by Tech4Imaging LLC in Columbus, Ohio. The project seeks to develop an accurate flow meter for use with most cryogenic propellants. The technology is designed to improve performance and minimize time, cost, and risk.
The four STTR projects that were selected for Phase 1 awards to be managed by NASA Stennis are:
- “Distributed Optical Nerves for Rocket Propulsion Ground Testing,” developed by Intelligent Fiber Optic Systems Corporation in San Jose, California. The project seeks to develop instrumentation to improve measurement and analysis of propulsion systems performance. In addition to propulsion testing, the proposed development could benefit commercial and defense aviation, as well as the wind turbine industry.
- “An Intelligent and Wireless Communication Enabled Plasma Probe for Full Scale Rocket Testing,” developed by Spectral Energies LLC in Dayton, Ohio, and academic partners from the University of Notre Dame. Full-scale propulsion testing requires efficient collection of performance data. This selected project seeks to develop a plasma-based package that can transmit test data and sensor hardware health information with minimal human involvement.
- “An Intelligent, Real Time Fluid Composition Sensor for Monitoring of Helium Purge Processes,” developed by Sporian Microsystems Inc. from Lafayette, Colorado, and academic partners from the University of Central Florida. The project aims to address a need identified by NASA Stennis for intelligent sensors that measure and monitor hydrogen concentrations in helium during engine purging and testing processes. The project is designed to reduce helium use and cost.
- “Wireless Cylindrical Piezoelectric Pressure/Temperature Sensor for Fuel Tank Monitoring at Cryogenic Environment,” developed by X-wave Innovations Inc. in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and academic partners from the University of North Texas. In an effort to develop advanced sensor capabilities needed for propulsion testing and activity, the selected project seeks to provide a highly flexible instrumentation solution capable of monitoring remote or inaccessible measurement locations.
NASA selected Phase I proposals to receive funding by judging their technical merit and commercial potential. Based on their progress during Phase I, companies may submit proposals for $850,000 in Phase II funding to develop a prototype, as well as subsequent SBIR/STTR Post Phase II opportunities. The NASA SBIR/STTR program is part of STMD and is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.