Native Mississippian and Nobel laureate William Faulkner once described the Mississippi Gulf Coast as an area in which "The pines and moss-hung live oaks give way to grassy marshes so flat, low, and treeless that they seem less of Earth than water. More of a beginning to the sea than an end to the land." Faulkner's prose may not represent the heartiest of endorsements for the area selected as the future home of the John C. Stennis Space Center, but nonetheless, beginning in 1963, roads were built, buildings were constructed, and massive test facilities were erected, at an initial cost of $200 million.
Today, Stennis has evolved into a multidisciplinary, multiagency Federal facility whose primary mission includes rocket engine testing and Earth science application activities integral to the Center's Technology Transfer program. Traditionally, the Office of Technology Transfer provided support in the areas of intellectual property management, licensing activities, contracting or partnering efforts, and development of success stories. But just as Stennis evolved from its humble beginnings, the Office of Technology Transfer's focus was changed to meet the future needs and requirements of NASA.
Stennis implemented a technology development and integration initiative to support the specific new technology needs of its Propulsion Test and Earth Science Applications directorates. A Technology Development Pipeline was established to utilize Inreach program activities, Dual-Use partnerships, and the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to accomplish the task. Inreach establishes new lines of communication and strengthens existing ones to identify future NASA technological needs. Dual-Use and SBIR contracting activities yield products that meet the technological requirements identified by each directorate. Results include commercially available products meeting NASA mission needs, and an increase in partnerships, licenses, and success stories, demonstrating the Office of Technology Transfer's relevance to Stennis' directorates.
Inreach activities also provide the necessary communication process to identify future NASA technological needs or to fill the pipeline. Referred to as a "contact sport" by Kirk Sharp, Stennis' Office of Technology Transfer manager, Inreach activities present an opportunity for interaction between the Technology Transfer Office, directorate personnel, and other researchers to identify future technology needs and requirements. This investment in time and energy provides the critical starting point from which new products are developed to support the Propulsion Test and Earth Science Applications directorates. Without these initial interactions, or filling of the pipeline, the Office of Technology Transfer's new direction efforts would slowly sink into the proverbial swamps that surround the Center.Actively pursued by Stennis for over a decade, the SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs were redirected toward more specific and higher priority Propulsion Test and Earth Science Applications technologies. These highly competitive multiphase programs provide small U.S. businesses with Federal funds reserved for conducting innovative research and development. Through this new strategy of focus and relevance, the programs are now providing innovations matching specific NASA technology needs.
For example, a color hydrogen flame imaging system manufactured by Duncan Technologies, Inc., in response to NASA's need for a hydrogen flame detection system, is being implemented in the E complex test facilities. Stennis uses the prototype system, developed to monitor hydrogen flame stacks invisible to the naked eye, during turbopump and other rocket component testing at its E-2 facility. Stennis also purchased six systems to conduct testing of hybrid rocket motors, turbomachinery, and small rocket engines at its E-1 facility. Bud Nail, NASA's technical systems lead engineer at the time, stated that his job would be made safer by using the system. "There's simply nothing else on the market that performs the way this system does," Nail said. "It takes the guess work out of identifying a hydrogen fire."
Though Stennis' Dual-Use program is relatively new with a history of only 2 years, new technology products are already available to directorate users. Product development partnerships are based on the sharing of costs, risks, and successes between the Government and its partner. In these projects, NASA contributes technology development, unique facilities and expertise, engineering resources, and in some cases, partial funding. In return, the commercial partner contributes its unique resources, facilities, manufacturing, and marketing capabilities. The result is a flexible approach that draws upon the capabilities of both parties. NASA maximizes benefit, reduces risks and costs, and receives a product with a specific NASA application, while the partner earns an opportunity to establish credibility, diversify its existing product line, and increase overall market visibility.
Recently, Earth science applications users benefited from a partnership with World Precision Instruments (WPI), Inc., that produced an innovative instrument to accurately measure color dissolved organic matter absorption while testing offshore. Stennis' Dr. Richard Miller of the Earth Science Applications Directorate partnered with WPI scientists Dr. Mathias Belz and Dr. Suyi Liu to develop an instrument that would meet the needs of both NASA and the general scientific community. This successful collaboration culminated in an exciting new device, UltraPath,TM now commercially available from the company.
The Propulsion Test Directorate also directly benefited through a critical redesign of a valve actuator. In partnership with BAFCO, Inc., an existing commercial product's size and weight were reworked, reducing cost and delivery time. The benefit to NASA on the 31 units already purchased was a cost saving of over $260 thou-sand. The redesigned product is commercially available, and the company is experiencing successful profit margins.
Technology Development Pipeline provides
Stennis' Office of Technology Transfer with
the unique opportunity of fulfilling NASA's mandate by lending "mission critical" support
through product and technology development.
Maximum benefit at reduced cost and risk is being achieved through
partnerships with the private sector in support of NASA mission needs.
Working together, the Propulsion Test Directorate, the Earth Science
Applications Directorate, and the Office of Technology Transfer are
answering questions and solving problems critical to NASA's future.
As the Agency moves forward to fulfill its mission, the challenges
continue to grow, and Stennis is moving to meet those challenges.
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