Three Michigan firms get NASA grants to develop space technology

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Three Michigan companies are among 124 recipients of $104 million in NASA research funding under the federal Small Business Innovation Research program, under which federal agencies are required to set aside research dollars for small businesses.

The selected companies are previous NASA SBIR Phase I award recipients who successfully have established the feasibility of their proposed technologies. As Phase II awardees, the companies will develop, demonstrate and deliver their technologies to NASA.

The two-year grants will go to:

* Atlas Space Operations, a Traverse City company that is developing an automated system to organize the transmission of data from Earth-orbiting satellites to ground stations. Current systems frequently have to use humans to do this scheduling. Faster automated systems will only become more and more important as the number of satellites in orbit and the volume of data they’re transmitting increases, both for NASA and private spaceflight companies.

* DornerWorks Ltd., a Grand Rapids company that is working on a software development kit that’s faster and easier to learn for software developed by General Dynamics that’s part of NASA’s High Performance Spaceflight Computing program, designed for advanced space missions like rovers and landers. The software also has applications in aerospace, defense, and manufacturing.

* Soar Technology Inc., an Ann Arbor company that is developing technology that could provide astronauts with a virtual assistant aboard spacecraft. The system would be able to interact with the crew and other spacecraft systems to perform tasks, diagnose problems and brainstorm solutions without help from ground teams. The technology could be adapted for use on Earth, including by the medical industry to support patient diagnosis and treatment. (Soar Technology has also been involved with Lawrence Technological University in the development of autonomous vehicles.)

NASA annually invests in U.S. small businesses with promising new technologies – companies developing better batteries, virtual assistants, lightweight materials and more. These technologies can benefit space missions, as well as improve life on Earth.

“Small businesses offer innovative solutions that benefit every area of NASA and often find applications outside of the agency,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. “This announcement is another step forward in NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach. The agency continues to invest in and support small businesses, as they continue to mature important technologies for future missions that can also benefit us on Earth.”

The selected companies are previous NASA SBIR Phase I award recipients who successfully have established the feasibility of their proposed technologies. As Phase II awardees, the companies will develop, demonstrate and deliver their technologies to NASA.

“We are encouraged by the ingenuity and creativity we’ve seen from these companies in their Phase I work,” said Jenn Gustetic, the NASA SBIR program executive. “We have also worked hard to reduce the time selected companies wait for their first Phase II payment, knowing how critical access to capital is for our aerospace research and development firms right now. The applications of their technologies, both inside and outside of NASA, are promising, and we look forward to seeing what this next round of accelerated seed funding will do.”

The Phase II proposals were chosen according to their technical merit and feasibility, Phase I results, as well as the experience, qualifications and facilities of the submitting organization. Additional criteria included effectiveness of the proposed work plan and commercial potential.

NASA’s SBIR program encourages small businesses to develop innovative ideas that meet the specific research and development needs of the federal government. The program is conducted in three phases:

  • Phase I is the opportunity to establish the scientific, technical and commercial merit and feasibility of the proposed innovation. SBIR Phase I contracts last for six months with a maximum funding of $125,000.
  • Phase II is focused on the development, demonstration and delivery of the innovation. Phase II contracts last for 24 months with a maximum funding of $750,000. Only small businesses awarded a Phase I contract are eligible to submit a proposal for a Phase II funding agreement.
  • Phase III is the commercialization of innovative technologies, products and services resulting from either a Phase I or Phase II contract. Phase III contracts are funded from sources other than the NASA SBIR program.

The program is part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

For more information about NASA’s investment in space technology, visit https://www.nasa.gov/spacetech.

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