This year’s Spinoff publication celebrates the important and fast-growing commercial space industry, focusing on how this sector is drawing on decades of NASA technology and experience to grow our economy and improve life on Earth. We applaud the efforts of the companies who are helping advance NASA’s mission and finding new uses for exploration technologies. In this year’s publication you can read about a number of NASA spinoffs already benefitting commercial space, and I am confident we will see many more in the future.
While NASA continues to work with our industry partners to bring launches of astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) back to American soil, we’re also pioneering the next frontier of human space exploration. Our path to Mars builds on our work aboard the ISS, the success of commercial space, and the demonstration of new technologies in deep space. This stepping-stone approach takes advantage of more than a decade of living and working aboard the station to achieve scientific breakthroughs not possible here on Earth and the continued strong progress on the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and the Orion spacecraft that will carry astronauts to new destinations such as an asteroid and Mars.
NASA will continue working with commercial partners to develop tools that will advance our space and aeronautics missions and bring our nation new capabilities. I am particularly proud of the many small businesses that have played a critical role in every major NASA undertaking. We all know that small businesses form the backbone of our nation’s economy, but they are also essential to the space program, accounting for 21 percent of our prime contract awards in fiscal year 2013—that’s more than $2.7 billion in revenue.
Small businesses also play a crucial role in transferring NASA technology to commercial and public uses. Among the 44 spinoffs in this publication, you’ll find that many prominently involve small businesses. Here are a few examples:
Under a series of NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts, a company developed a 3D printer capable of micro-precision in zero-gravity, which will soon be in operation aboard the ISS. This technology will allow customers, including NASA, to essentially email items into space, and it will revolutionize the space supply chain. This will be the first instance of supplies being manufactured in space, rather than taking up room on jarring and infrequent rides from Earth. (Go to page)
Under the Commercial Crew Development Program, NASA has been working with companies to develop privately operated spacecraft and supporting technologies. One firm is now using an air purification system that it matured under the program to design a pressurized capsule attached to a helium balloon that will send customers to the stratosphere for amazing views of Earth. (Go to page)
In order to assess the thousands of possible technologies that could be used for a human mission to Mars, the agency awarded grants to MIT to develop algorithm-based software that could highlight the most efficient, cost-effective options. A start-up company is now using the software to help home builders choose low-cost and energy-efficient design plans. (Go to page)
NASA prides itself on tackling the most ambitious program of exploration the world has ever seen, and that effort is driven by technology. We are doubly pleased when our technology also drives progress among small businesses and strengthens our economy.
I hope you enjoy the many stories in this book about how technology drives exploration at the same time as it brings benefits to each of us on Earth.