How NASA is investing in small businesses to further the mission

NASA Glenn is reaching beyond its gates in search of technological advances that will benefit the public.

CLEVELAND — The Artemis 1 mission to the moon is the result of multiple space agencies and private companies working collaboratively, something NASA Glenn has been doing for years with local industries.

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Engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center are among the brightest in their fields. And they’re also smart enough to know that they don’t have all the answers.

“So it’s important that NASA look outside its gates for advanced technology to solicit some novel ideas to help advance our missions,” said Amy Hitabidel, NASA Glenn technology manager.

That’s where the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program comes in. NASA Wants and Needs Research. Companies with the right things can apply for funding to turn their ideas into reality. Maxell Briggs leads NASA’s Ignite request within SBIR, which has a specific area of ​​investigation.

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“Either they want to reach NASA missions, or they want to reach commercial markets in aeronautics or emerging space,” said Briggs, NASA’s Glenn SBIR Program Manager.

N&R Engineering in Parma Heights had an idea to improve the performance of an aircraft’s jet engine.

“Efficiency increases whenever lightweight, higher-strength, high-temperature tolerant materials can be used,” said Vinod Nagpal, president of N&R Engineering.

Using SBIR funds, the company developed software to virtually test a ceramic matrix composite. The advantage of this material is that it is lighter in weight and can potentially replace heavier metal parts in jet engines. The software that N&R developed had results in weeks compared to years it would have taken before this type of testing.

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“It allows us to reduce the weight of aircraft engines and can be directly linked to fuel efficiency and increased payload capacity,” Hitbidel said.

These materials could generate massive savings for an industry that uses billions of gallons of fuel each year. 13.8 billion gallons were used in 2021, according to Statista.

“A quarter percent increase in engine efficiency can save millions and millions of dollars for the aviation industry around the world,” Nagpal said.

NASA pumps more than $200 million in funding annually into the SBIR program. It’s a victory for the agency as more progress is made. And it’s also a win for small businesses like N&R.

“The vast majority of our awards are given to companies that have 10 or fewer employees,” says Briggs.

SBIR offers businesses other benefits.

“You get the right to single source government contracts without competition. That’s a huge benefit for those looking to sell products to the government,” Briggs said.

And meetings with NASA researchers and access to laboratories.

“They are tremendously helpful, and the people at NASA are very talented. Extraordinary people, so you always learn from them,” said Nagpal.

Live up to the mission of research and technology for the benefit of all.

“Every time we launch a rover to Mars, you have multiple moments for the technology that started the SBIR program,” said Briggs.

“We are here to support the industry and may the industry support us,” Hitabidel said.

Since 2019, NASA Glenn has funded 29 different projects led by Ohio companies. For advances in batteries, 3D printing in space, recycling materials, etc.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The video above previously aired on 3News on June 19, 2022.

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