grants lifting off

NASA doles out $98M in funding to small business innovators, including 6 Texas firms

Houston-area Ad Astra Rocket Company, which is working on a technology that could increase the speed of space travel, received fresh funding from NASA. Photo via NASA.gov

Almost 100 small businesses with aerospace technology received the greenlight from NASA on their proposals for grant funding.

NASA approved 112 proposals from 92 small businesses in April. These businesses will receive a slice of the $98 million Phase II funding from the Small Business Innovation Research program. The early-stage $850,000 SBIR grants allow awardees to build on their success from the program's first phase. The firms will have 24 months to execute on their proposals with the fresh funding.

“These Phase II awards support a breadth of technologies that have the potential to be transformational for so many different projects and missions across NASA,” says Jenn Gustetic, director of early stage innovation and partnerships for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, in a news release. “In addition, it’s important that we’re including the innovative potential of all of America’s small businesses and entrepreneurs, so we’re proud that 28% of these awards are to underrepresented small businesses and 31% are to first time SBIR Phase II awardees."

Six of the award recipients are based in Texas. Here are the companies and their proposal technology:

  • Ad Astra Rocket Company, headquartered in Webster: Improved Thermo-Mechanical Design of the VASIMR RF Coupler
  • Lunar Resources Inc., headquartered in Houston: Ultra-Electrical-Efficient Process to Perform Regolith Additive Manufacturing of Complex Structures
  • Lynntech Inc., headquartered in College Station: Miniaturized Reagent Regenerative Ion Analyzer for Elemental Analysis
  • QED Secure Solutions, headquartered in Coppell: Avionics Intrusion Detection and Attack Identification
  • Stone Aerospace Inc., headquartered in Del Valle: Sediment Sequestration for Hot Water Drilling Cryobots
  • Texas Research Institute Austin Inc., headquartered in Austin: Accelerated Creep Test Methodologies for Space Habitat Softgood Structural Materials

The Ad Astra Rocket Company's technology, the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, or VASIMR, is an electrothermal thruster that, once developed using the grant, would allow for faster space travel.

“Our program has the responsibility of supporting ideas and technologies that will have impact on NASA’s work and have strong commercial potential,” says Jason L. Kessler, program executive for NASA's SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer program, in the release. “We're always excited when we can find technologies that help our agency's missions while also having direct benefits for all."

NASA's SBIR program, which takes no equity, offers up to $1 million to selected business during the first three years. Post Phase II opportunities include up to nearly $3 million in funding. The program is a part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

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The biggest obstacle is a lack of open-mindedness and an unwillingness of people across the industry and across generations to work together. Photo via Getty Images

What’s the biggest obstacle between us and net-zero? Is it policy? Technology? Financing? All of these are important, yes, but none of them is what is really holding us back from our energy transition goals.

The biggest obstacle is a lack of open-mindedness and an unwillingness of people across the industry and across generations to work together.

In October of 2022, I was invited to speak at Energy Dialogues’s North American Gas Forum, a conference that brings together executives from across the energy industry. Over the two days of the conference, I was amazed by the forward-thinking conversations we were having on decarbonization, the future of clean energy, emissions reduction, and much more. I returned back to campus at Duke University, energized by these conversations and excited to share them. But rather than seeing the same sense of excitement, I was met with doubt, disbelief, even scorn.

There’s a fundamental distrust between generations in this industry, and it goes both ways. Experienced energy professionals often see the younger generation as irrational idealists who are too politicized to be pragmatic, while the younger generation often paints the older generation as uncaring climate denialists who want nothing to do with clean energy. Neither is true.

Over the past two years since founding Energy Terminal, I’ve met hundreds (maybe thousands) of people all across the energy industry, from CEOs of major energy companies to students just getting started on their career journey. Despite being so different on the surface, their goals are strikingly similar. Almost all can agree on three things: we want to reduce emissions, we want to expand energy access, and we want to do so while encouraging economic prosperity. The perceived barrier between generations in the energy industry is exponentially larger than the actual barrier.

For experienced professionals — take a chance to engage in conversations with young energy leaders. Understand their priorities, listen to their concerns, and find the middle ground. We are a generation passionate about impact and growth, and enabled with the right resources, we can do incredible things. The changing energy world presents unbelievable opportunities for both progress and profit, but without the next generation on board, it will never be sustainable.

For the young energy leaders of the future–listen to the experiences of the leaders that have come before us. Understand the balance between energy that is clean with energy that is secure, reliable, and affordable. We have brilliant ideas and an insatiable appetite for progress, but we won’t do it alone. Every person and every company has a valuable role to play in the energy transition, so consider how we can amplify our strengths rather than attack each other’s weaknesses.

If my co-founder, a climate activist from New York, and myself, the son of an oil and gas family from south Texas, can do it, so can you. This is a call to find the middle ground, to open up your mind to new possibilities, and to make real progress by working with each other rather than against each other.

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Michael Wood III is co-founder of Energy Terminal, a platform that aims to build the next generation of energy leaders and to bridge the gap between youth and the energy industry.

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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