Photonics Spectra | December 1, 2005
NASA Selects Phase II Projects
Anne L. Fischer
NASA’s 2004 Small Business Innovation Research program Phase II awards are designed to help small, US-owned firms continue to work on projects that may benefit the administration’s programs and have applications in the commercial sector. The organization has selected 140 Phase II proposals, the most promising Phase I projects, for contract negotiation. The contracts will be awarded to 124 high-technology companies in 34 states, and $84 million will be distributed. The recipients, who could receive up to $600,000, have two years in which to complete development.
Boston Micromachines Corp. of Watertown, Mass., for example, has received Phase II funding to develop high-resolution silicon deformable mirrors for use in space-based imaging, optical communication and lithography. According to Paul Bierden, project manager, the company would not have been able to fund this work internally. NASA may use the mirrors in missions requiring large optical apertures. The devices could be used commercially in applications that require dynamic wavefront correction. Visidyne Inc. of Burlington, Mass., will design, construct and evaluate a hardware and software prototype of its optical landing hazard sensor. The technology generates data about possible hazards, such as changes in terrain, to help guide a spacecraft to a safe landing. Project manager Ilya Schiller said the technology also has applications in inspection and facial recognition.
Physical Optics Corp., EP Div., of Torrance, Calif., will develop a 3-D cockpit display system for improved situational awareness. According to the proposal, the display will be based on a projector and a stationary holographic optical element screen integrated with a high-speed electro-optical scanner. It will present six or more views to pilots, forming virtual 3-D images viewable over a 60° horizontal field of view. The system will be used in NASA’s synthetic vision system, and it will have applications in such areas as entertainment and engineering development.
Luna Innovations Inc. of Blacksburg, Va., will design nanostructured fiber optic cantilever arrays and sensors based on microelectromechanical systems to analyze chemical and microbial pathogens in spacecraft air and water. The technology could be used in medical screening for the early detection of some cancers and in security applications to detect chemical or biological agents.
In this dual-use technology program, NASA has an opportunity to test contractors who may meet the needs of a government or NASA mission. These relatively small contracts go to companies with 500 or fewer employees, according to W. Paul Mexcur, program manager. The vast majority of them have 10 to 30 employees, he said, indicating that to take part in this program, or what he calls “the biggest entry door into the agency,” companies need technology and brains rather than prior government experience.