NASA puts $50M into creating fusion thrusters, space robots and more

An artist’s conception shows a fusion-driven rocket powering a probe toward Mars. (MSNW / University of Washington Illustration)

Fusion-driven rockets, remote control systems for space robots, and satellites that build themselves up in orbit are among the made-in-Washington projects getting a share of $49.9 million in NASA grants.

Seven businesses in Washington state will benefit from NASA’s latest round of Small Business Innovation Research grants and Small Business Technology Transfer grants, announced today.

The two programs, known as SBIR and STTR, are aimed at encouraging the development of commercial innovations that could come in handy for NASA’s space missions.

“The SBIR and STTR program’s selection of nearly 400 proposals for further development is a testament to NASA’s support of American innovation by small businesses and research institutions,” Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for space technology at NASA Headquarters, said in today’s announcement.

In all, 399 proposals from 277 small businesses and 44 research institutions across the U.S. were chosen for Phase I funding, out of a total of 1,621 submissions.

The next step is for NASA to negotiate contracts with the winners. SBIR contracts last for six months, while STTR contracts last for 12 months, both with maximum funding of $125,000.

Ten contracts will go to the seven Washington-based teams. One of the companies, Bothell-based Tethers Unlimited, had four of its SBIR proposals accepted:

Six awards were made to these other Washington state teams:

For the full list of winning proposals and their sponsors, including a plan to design drills capable of probing the hidden oceans of icy Europa and Enceladus, check out NASA’s lists for the SBIR and STTR programs.