NASA is full of brilliant minds attempting to solve all the problems that stand in the way of exploring deep space, visiting Mars, and maybe one day even living on other planets. But there’s only so much time in the day and so many people the agency can employ, so NASA also runs the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
Through SBIR, NASA is able to select and help fund research and development of innovative technologies by small businesses that could ultimately benefit the agency. And 133 of those projects from 112 businesses have just been selected to receive Phase II SBIR funding, thought to be worth in the region of $100 million.
The SBIR program consists of three phases. Phase I establishes the feasibility of an idea over the course of six months with up to $125,000 of funding. Phase II allows Phase I projects to be further developed over the course of two years with up to $750,000 of funding. Phase III sees successful Phase II projects commercialized and funding provided from sources outside of the SBIR program.
These 133 selected projects made it through the Phase I feasibility process and now have a real chance to be turned into commercial products. Projects highlighted by NASA from those selected to receive Phase II funding include:
- A method for creating very lightweight metallic materials for advanced structures used in deep space missions and for the aeronautics industry.
- Advanced 3D LIDAR (light detection and ranging) system for autonomous aircraft and spacecraft that’s much smaller and lighter than existing solutions.
- A 3D printer that integrates dry-heat sterilization and plastic recycling capable of printing food and medical-grade devices.
- A technology solution for the precise control of satellites flying in formations which also enables autonomous docking.
As the lightweight materials technology highlighted above demonstrates, although these projects are focused on benefiting NASA, they also hold the potential to improve other on-Earth industries such as aircraft design.
With Phase II projects receiving two years of support, we’ll now have to wait until 2019 to find out how many of the 133 make it and get turned into commercial and space-ready products.