The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has awarded US$106 million in funding to 142 proposals from 129 US small businesses across 28 states and the District of Columbia as part of the second phase of its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, the agency said on 14 May.
Selected projects include solar panels that deploy like venetian blinds that can be used as a surface power source for crewed missions to the moon and Mars; sensor technology for autonomous entry, descent and precision landing on planetary surfaces; and a type of permanent magnet that creates a bonding force between two halves with no moving parts, enabling in-space assembly of large platforms.
NASA said it selected the successful proposals “based on a range of criteria, including technical merit and feasibility, as well as the organizations’ experience, qualifications, and facilities” as well as “effectiveness of proposed work plans and the commercial potential of the technologies”.
“Small businesses play an important role in our science and exploration endeavors,” Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement. “NASA’s diverse community of partners, including small businesses across the country, helps us achieve our mission and cultivate the U.S. economy.
“Their innovations will help America land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024, establish a sustainable presence on the lunar surface a few years later, and pursue exciting opportunities for going to Mars and beyond,” he added.
The SBIR is a three phase program with phase one work and results providing a “sound basis for the continued development, demonstration and delivery” of the “proposed innovation” in phase two and follow-up efforts. Only small businesses awarded phase one contracts are eligible to apply for phase two.
Phase two is focused on the actual “development, demonstration and delivery” of the products selected in phase one, and the contracts awarded in this phase last for 24 months with maximum funding of US$750,000 available. NASA said that the contracts are “chosen as a result of competitive evaluations and based on selection criteria”. Phase three is the “commercialization of innovative technologies, products and services” resulting from phase one or two contract.
The SBIR and its sister program, the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR), are intended to “encourage small businesses and research institutions to develop innovative ideas that meet the specific research and development needs of the federal government”.
The two programs aim to “stimulate technological innovation in the private sector, increase the commercial application of research results, and encourage participation of socially and economically disadvantaged companies and women-owned small businesses”.
NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SBIR and STTR programs for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). The STMD is responsible for developing the “cross-cutting, pioneering new technologies and capabilities” needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.