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NASA Enhances Aerospace Innovation with New SBIR Ignite Phase I Awards
This continued investment in small businesses and innovation represents NASA's dedication to not only advancing space exploration but also nurturing the growth of the aerospace industry and its contributions to solving global challenges.
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NASA Enhances Aerospace Innovation with New SBIR Ignite Phase I Awards
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Dec 21, 2023

NASA has recently announced the second round of Phase I awards under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Ignite program. This initiative reflects NASA's commitment to fostering innovation and supporting American small businesses in advancing aerospace technologies.

A total of ten small businesses have been selected for these awards, each receiving up to $150,000. This funding is aimed at helping these companies establish the merit and feasibility of their proposed innovations within a six-month period, paralleling the program's main SBIR Phase I awards.

Among the awardees, Astral Forge, LLC, based in Palo Alto, California, stands out with its novel project of developing a high-temperature (>1200 C) crystal growth furnace. This technology is targeted for semiconductor in-space production applications in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), with potential terrestrial applications. Another noteworthy recipient is Astrobotic Technology Inc. of Pittsburgh, which is working on a photon counting sensor designed for in-space debris detection.

The list of awardees also includes Benchmark Space Systems from Burlington, Vermont, developing the Resilient Independent Propulsive Controlled On-orbit Recovery Device (RIPCORD). Brayton Energy, LLC, in Hampton, New Hampshire, is focusing on a high-efficiency solid oxide fuel cell/turbogenerator hybrid electric propulsion system. From Miami, Channel-Logistics LLC, doing business as Space-Eyes, is creating Fire Watch, an AI/ML-based system for predicting and detecting wildfires.

Further adding to this impressive lineup, GeoVisual Analytics from Westminster, Colorado, is working on decision support tools for water management in agriculture. Lunar Resources, Inc., in Houston, is exploring silicon and iron regolith extraction on the Moon. Space Lab Technologies, LLC, in Boulder, Colorado, is developing EcoMine, a bioregenerative mineral mining system for lunar regolith. Space Tango, based in Lexington, Kentucky, is working on TangoBox, a new infrastructure for in-space production on commercial space stations. Lastly, VerdeGo Aero from De Leon Springs, Florida, is creating the VH-3 Hybrid Electric Powerplant.

Jason L. Kessler, the program executive for the NASA SBIR program, highlighted the importance of these investments. "The investments we're able to offer through SBIR Ignite give us the ability to de-risk technologies that have a strong commercial pull, making them more attractive to outside investors, customers, and partners," Kessler noted. He also emphasized the goal of increasing private-sector commercialization of innovations derived from federal research and development funding.

Unique to the SBIR Ignite program is its focus on commercialization. Unlike traditional solicitations that primarily target NASA's specific needs, SBIR Ignite is aimed at product-driven companies seeking to commercialize products, not just targeting NASA as a primary customer. This approach is a significant shift, focusing on emerging commercial markets in aerospace.

A key topic in the 2023 SBIR Ignite Phase I solicitation was accelerating in-space production applications in LEO. Astral Forge, a women-owned small business and first-time SBIR recipient, is a prime example of this focus. Their project on developing a high-temperature crystal growth furnace for semiconductor production in space is particularly significant. This furnace could pave the way for efficient and scalable synthesis of semiconductor materials, with an initial focus on Gallium Nitride (GaN). GaN is emerging as a promising next-generation semiconductor compound, known for its superior performance characteristics, especially in power efficiency and thermal tolerance, compared to traditional silicon technology.

The NASA SBIR Ignite initiative and its parent program, NASA SBIR, are integral parts of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. Managed by the agency's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, these programs play a crucial role in advancing space technology and stimulating the commercial space sector.

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