Managing pilotless aircraft and solar panels that could help humans live on the Moon and Mars are among the technologies NASA is looking to develop with small business awards totaling $106 million. In all, NASA has selected 142 proposals from 129 U.S. small businesses from 28 states and the District of Columbia to receive Phase II contracts as part the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
“Small businesses play an important role in our science and exploration endeavors,” said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “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.”
NASA selected the proposals based on a range of criteria, including technical merit and feasibility, as well as the organizations’ experience, qualifications, and facilities. Additional criteria included effectiveness of proposed work plans and the commercial potential of the technologies.
The selected proposals will support the development of technologies in the areas of human exploration and operations, space technology, science, and aeronautics. The proposals offer a breadth of applications, including:
- Solar panels that deploy like venetian blinds. The technology behind these panels can be used as a surface power source for crewed missions on the Moon and Mars. It offers benefits such as efficient power generation, lower procurement costs and reduced mass and stowed volume.
- Sensor technology for autonomous entry, descent and precision landing on planetary surfaces — a critical advancement for next generation human lunar landers.
- A type of permanent magnet that creates a bonding force between two halves with no moving parts, enabling in-space assembly of large platforms.
- A high-resolution X-ray instrument to analyze surface rocks and core samples on planets and asteroids. This technology could advance our understanding of the Moon, Mars and even Earth by providing unique analysis and reconstruction of samples.
- A suite of technologies for managing autonomous aircraft. The proposed solution aims to have a single dispatcher simultaneously monitor multiple flights, leading the way for future airspace and vehicle concepts.
Only small businesses awarded a Phase I contract are eligible to submit a proposal for a Phase II funding agreement. Phase II is focused on the development, demonstration, and delivery of the innovations previously selected during Phase I. These projects are chosen as a result of competitive evaluations and based on selection criteria provided in the solicitation. Phase II contracts last for 24 months, with a maximum funding of $750,000.
The SBIR program is a three-phase program. Phase I work and results provide a sound basis for the continued development, demonstration and delivery of the proposed innovation in Phase II and follow-on efforts. Phase III is the commercialization of innovative technologies, products and services resulting from either a Phase I or Phase II contract.
The SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs encourage small businesses and research institutions to develop innovative ideas that meet the specific research and development needs of the federal government. The programs are intended 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. Since the 1970s, small businesses have created approximately 55 percent of all jobs in the United States.
NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SBIR and STTR programs for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). STMD is responsible for developing the cross-cutting, pioneering new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.