NASA makes it rain with $243M in contracts to institutions and small businesses

NASA is spreading the dough around like a pastry chef. Today the agency announced $50 million in grants to nearly 300 different recipients, from small engineering firms to big-time research institutions. And then it truly shelled out, awarding a $193 million contract to Universities Space Research Association in Maryland.

The smaller cash infusions are from the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. These are grant competitions, basically, and NASA received 1,278 proposals, of which it accepted 399. Each has to explain the potential benefits not just for NASA, but for everyday (or at least not space-related) applications as well.

You can read the complete lists here and here (incredibly long page warning). Try searching for cool keywords like “laser” and “robotic.”

The projects run the gamut: flight-control software for drones and landers, LIDAR and other imaging systems, autonomous air-dropped sensors and, I kid you not, a “Planetary Vacuum Cleaner.” It’s exactly what it sounds like.

These proposals get six months of funding, up to $125,000. If they seem promising in this Phase I period, the contract can be extended with a $750,000 Phase II award.

There’s a better chance of that happening with these projects, by the way, than with the Innovative Advanced Concepts awards, which were for stuff like repurposing an asteroid into a huge cosmic engine. The SBIR and STTR ideas are the kind of things that get bought up by aerospace giants for millions — but without much fanfare.

The $193 million is for “project support” from USRA, which is one of these huge organizations that quietly does all kinds of basic research and testing. USRA will be helping out with everything from science to field testing to recruitment. Considering the amount involved, the NASA press release is incredibly spare.

Got an idea you think NASA might like? Maybe you should submit it! Consult the FAQ.