85.7 F
San Fernando
Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

NASA Gives Lift to Aerospace Product Developers, Makers

In Thousand Oaks, Peter Jardine is creating a device made from foam that can be used to lift objects in space or in aircraft wings. Meanwhile, in the east San Fernando Valley shop of Ultramet, development takes place on a new manufacturing process for composite materials that can replace a timely and costly process using chemicals. “We are talking days instead of months in terms of manufacturing time,” said Andrew Duffy, president of Pacoima-based Ultramet. Both Ultramet and Jardine’s Shape Change Technologies can move ahead with these projects thanks in part to funding from the latest round of the Small Business Innovation Research program. The two were among eight companies in the San Fernando, Conejo and Simi valleys receiving contracts from NASA to develop technologies for the space agency and any commercial applications that may follow. NASA is just one of 10 federal departments or agencies taking part in the program that give small businesses not just the funding that might not otherwise come their way but also a foot in the door to the massive and complex government bureaucracy while eliminating filing multiple applications with multiple agencies. Through SBIR, these business see their proposals put in front of any federal department or agency that may have use for their ideas be it NASA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy or National Institutes of Health. “They can leverage research dollars and not fall in a hole where they have no funding at all,” said Kimberly Hines, SBIR Technology Infusion Manager at NASA Ames Research Center in northern California. NASA allocates 2.5 percent of its research and development budget for SBIR and 0.3 percent for the Small Business Technology Transfer program that works with both business and universities. Phase one contracts such as those given to Ultramet and Shape Change are for $100,000 to formulate ideas within six months. Phase two contracts vary between $600,000 and $750,000 for companies to come up with a physical prototype within two years. A third phase brings a product to market, although no federal money is made available to accomplish that. Ultramet has been particularly successful with the program, having participated since 1983, the year after Congress established it. Three technologies developed with the government money coated powders; advanced material truss chambers used in propulsion systems; and a bone implant device were spun off to separate companies. Jardine has yet to commercialize any of the products developed at Shape Change although some are getting close. A pediatric heart valve, for instance, still needs to undergo clinical trials. The foam torque tubes he proposed for the NASA contract are light devices capable of lifting a lot of weight. They can be used in spacecraft to unfurl satellite booms and panels. Terrestrial uses include windmills, turbines and lift devices for the disabled. Jardine likes that NASA takes the responsibility of funding his research, whereas otherwise he would have to seek money from other sources or do it on his own dime. “I get, essentially, unrestricted venture capital,” Jardine said. “I get money coming in and don’t have to give any of the company away for that.” Alan Hersh, of Hersh Acoustical Engineering in Calabasas, is a past recipient of SBIR contracts and received another in November for development of modeling software used to make acoustical liners to absorb sound from jet engines. The high speeds and swirling gases of the engines make for a complicated environment so the liners need to meet constraints of fitting into a small space, being lightweight, and having a long lifespan. The spillover, though, makes the liners applicable to heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, space heaters, and even small hairdryers. “It even has a potential for high speed trains if they use a turbine,” Hersh said Whether other small companies will get the same chance as Hersh Acoustical and Ultramet to be part of the research program is now up to Congress where a reauthorization bill is pending. A Senate version of the bill would extend the program until 2022 and increase set-asides to allow departments or agencies to allocate 3.5 percent of their research and development budgets to SBIR contracts by 2019. If the program isn’t renewed by the end of March it will end under a sunset clause and be closed out, said NASA’s Hines. Companies Received Small Business Innovation Research Contracts: American GNC Corporation , Simi Valley Hersh Acoustical Engineering Inc. , Calabasas MATECH Advanced Materials , Westlake Village Optical Physics Company , Calabasas Shape Change Technologies , Thousand Oaks SySense Inc. , Burbank Ultramet , Pacoima Whittinghill Aerospace LLC , Camarillo

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Featured Articles

Related Articles