A number of companies from the greater Valley region have received phase one Small Business Innovation Research grants from NASA to develop technology for use by the space agency. For 2021, the companies include Trans Astronautica Corp. in Lake View Terrace, Ultramet in Pacoima and Masten Space Systems in Mojave. 

The exact amount of the grants received by the companies has not been released but typically do not exceed $125,000. Phase one contracts last six months, and give companies time to establish the scientific, technical, commercial merit and feasibility of the proposed innovation. 

If successful in demonstrating the feasibility of a proposal, the companies can then receive up to $750,000 in a phase two grant. Those contracts last for two years. 

Last year, Ultramet received a phase one research grant of $125,000 from NASA to develop compact heat exchangers based on open-cell graphite foams. It did not receive a second grant to continue the research on the exchangers. In 2019, Masten received two phase two innovation research grants from NASA totaling about $1.5 million. They were for development of a method to keep spacecraft warm in shaded areas of the moon; and to understand how plume impingement from lunar landings may disturb the surface and any U.S. assets located there. The research is conducted in conjunction with the University of Central Florida

When phase two grants for 2020 were announced in May, only one area company made the cut – American GNC Corp. in Simi Valley. The grant was for a wireless communication system for avionics and sensors in space applications. 

Nationally the phase two awards totaled $105 million to businesses in 34 states and Washington, D.C. 

Jason Kessler, program executive of the Small Business Innovation Research grants, said the phase two contract period is an exciting time as small businesses put their ideas into practice and develop prototypes attractive to NASA and private investors. 

“The selected technologies have displayed great potential impacts for their respective sectors, and we are proud to continually invest in today’s booming aerospace economy through these small businesses,” Kessler said in a statement. 

Masten received its phase one grant to develop a low-energy, additive construction method for the moon and Mars. The research is being done in partnership with the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, or PISCES. 

PISCES role in the project is developing an energy-efficient technique that takes raw materials and turns them into usable products – all in the vacuum of space. Masten will subject the material to static rocket fire testing to assess their integrity as a launch and landing pad material, according to a release from the center.

Matt Kuhns, vice president of research and development at the Antelope Valley aerospace company, said that its mission is to accelerate the realization of space ecosystems on the moon, Mars and beyond. 

“Our new project with PISCES is another step towards this mission,” Kuhns said in an emailed statement to the Business Journal. “We’re testing new ways to repurpose lunar and Martian regolith for construction applications, such as landing pads and infrastructure. As one of the few commercial companies sending a lunar lander to the Moon, Masten is in a unique position to help develop, test and deliver these innovations.” 

Masten is developing its lander, the XL-1, in conjunction with NASA. It is scheduled to land with NASA and commercial payloads at the south pole of the moon in 2022.