NASA Spurs Tech Research and Development with Small Business AwardsEric Olson | March 13, 2018
NASA will fund a number of American small businesses to advance research and technology in support of NASA’s future space exploration missions. A total of 128 proposals were selected from among those submitted by private industry as part of Phase II of NASA’s 2017 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The winning companies will receive awards totaling $96 million.
The proposals will support development of technologies in a broad range of areas, including aeronautics, human space exploration and operations, science and space technology. The technologies are distributed amongst 22 focus areas, including propulsion technologies, power energy and storage, robotic systems, life support and habitation systems, in-space manufacturing and air vehicle technology.
Among the proposals selected are:
- Active flow control system using synthetic jet actuators to improve the aerodynamics of flying vehicles. The system would improve the fuel efficiency and maneuverability of aircraft, rockets, missiles, UAVs and landing payloads and could even be used to enhance the cooling of computers and power electronics.
- Power conversion system that converts thermal energy from a radioisotope generator to electricity. The Linear Acoustic Nuclear Conversion Engine (LANCE) uses reliable linear motors and alternators in an engine based on the Stirling cycle to provide over ten years of continuous power for future space exploration missions, including to planetary surfaces.
- Small spacecraft propulsion system that enables cis-lunar and deep space missions, including large orbit transfers and inclination changes, for CubeSats and other small satellites. The Fiber-fed Advanced Pulsed Plasma Thruster (FPPT) feeds a resistojet thrust chamber with PTFE propellant fiber, an inherently safe, non-pressurized, non-toxic, inert propellant.
- 3D memory module hardened against radiation to improve the computing capabilities onboard spacecraft. The high-bandwidth, high-capacity memory – along with in-development CPU advances – will enable effective execution of data-intensive operations like terrain relative navigation, hazard detection and science data processing.
- Low-power, ultra-fast, deep-learning neuromorphic computer chips designed for unmanned aircraft systems such as delivery drones. Neuromorphic computer chips can analyze, in real-time, big data streams coming from cameras, sensors and avionics, helping to achieve better navigation and collision avoidance.
- Solid-state oxygen concentrator and compressor designed to minimize hardware mass, volume and power footprint, while still performing at the required capabilities. This technology will provide the required concentration of oxygen to crew members within future crewed space environments, while minimizing weight.
- Sensors and camera to help scientists detect, count and track near-Earth asteroids. These asteroids are mostly dark, small and cold and are best detected in the very long-wave infrared wavelengths greater than 12 microns, where they glow brightest.
- New wheel concept for enhanced surface mobility to emulate the behavior of a variable pressure tire without the need or risk of an inflation system. This wheel can benefit future NASA planetary exploration missions to the Moon and Mars by enhancing the mobility and controllability of surface exploration rovers and future vehicles.
Focused on further development, demonstration and delivery of innovations fostered in Phase I, Phase II contracts last for 24 months with a maximum funding of $750,000. Proposals for Phase II funding are only available to small businesses that received a Phase I contract.
“We look forward to working with these promising small businesses to further advance NASA’s missions,” said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), in a press release. “NASA is proud of our investment in the success of small businesses and its long-term impact on our economy.”
NASA’s SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are designed to benefit the U.S. economy by stimulating technological innovation in the private sector and increasing the commercial application of research results. The programs award funding to American small businesses to perform research and development aligned with the needs of the federal government.
A full list of all 128 proposals selected for funding, sorted by focus area, is located here.