Satnews Daily
September 2nd, 2016

From Grain To Smallsats, NASA's Phase II Future Missions Technology Proposals Are Selected

A total of 21 research and technology proposals from 41 American small businesses and research institutions in 20 states have been selected by NASA to enable the agency's future missions into the solar system and beyond, all the while benefiting America's technology-driven economy on Earth.

The Phase II selectees of NASA's Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program are permitted to enter into negotiations for possible contract awards worth a combined total of approximately $15.8 million. A sampling of proposals from the selected small businesses and research institutions demonstrates the breadth of research these awards will fund, including technology developments and advancements in the following areas:

  • Autonomous communications systems
  • Gas sensing technology advancements for spacesuits
  • Space weather prediction
  • Technologies for planetary compositional analysis and mapping
  • Information technologies for intelligent and adaptive space robotics
  • Advanced propulsion system ground test and launch technology


One study will explore the use of a fuel grain as propellant.  The proposed green propellant system offers significant advantages over competing technologies in the areas of cost, safety and mission capability. This effort will build on the successful studies, design, and testing activities completed during Phase I research. The resulting technology will fulfill the ever-growing mission demands of the extensive small satellite market, including smallsats, by enabling dedicated launch for CubeSat-scale payloads. Comparable launch vehicle stages in this size class currently are not commercially available.

A second study involves a new generation of CubeSats that take advantage of in-situ resources—living off the land—while exploring space. The proposal combines existing CubeSat technology with 3-D printing technology and an in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) water extraction system. The 3-D printing technology enables development of steam thrusters, as well as tanks that fit within the available space within the CubeSat. The ISRU module captures and extracts water, and takes advantage of the heat generated by the CubeSat electronics system, with supplemental power from solar charged batteries.

NASA's STTR Program uses a highly competitive, three-phase award system that provides collaborative opportunities between qualified small businesses, including women-owned and disadvantaged firms, and research institutions, to address specific technology gaps in NASA programs. Selected projects provide a foundation for future technology developments and are complementary to other NASA research investments.

STTR Phase II projects will expand on the results of recently completed Phase I projects, which received six-month contracts valued as much as $125,000. Phase II projects will last up to two years and receive contracts valued as much as $750,000 per award. Phase III, the commercialization of an innovation, may occur after successful completion of Phase II. Selection criteria for these awards included technical merit and feasibility, along with experience, qualifications and facilities. Also, selectees must meet requirements of effectiveness of the work plan, and commercial potential and feasibility.

NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, manages both the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and STTR Programs for STMD, with individual project oversight from across the agency's 10 field centers.

According to Steve Jurczyk, the Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington, just as small businesses are driving our economy, technology is driving exploration. These selected proposals demonstrate the creativity of American entrepreneurs and, along with the agency's other technology investments, will contribute to ensuring the US remains a leader in technology development and space exploration."

For more information about NASA's SBIR and STTR Programs, and a list of selected proposals, please visit