Astronauts can perform basic medical checks on the International Space Station, but crews heading to Mars may need to do more complicated medical procedures without the ability to communicate in real time with Mission Control back on Earth. A system being developed by Redmond, Wash.-based Retrocausal could serve as an AI-generated medical assistant. (NASA Photo)

NASA says it’ll fund more than 400 ideas from small businesses, aimed at creating technologies ranging from plumbing fixtures suitable for the moon to AI-based medical assistants that can provide “an extra pair of trained eyes” for crews on Mars.

The contracts will provide about $51 million to 312 small businesses in 44 states and Washington, D.C., to support the development of technologies that could come in handy for space exploration or Earth-based applications.

“NASA depends on America’s small businesses for innovative technology development that helps us achieve our wide variety of missions,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a news release. “Whether we’re landing Artemis astronauts on the Moon, sending rovers to Mars or developing next-generation aircraft, our small business partners play an important role.”

Six Washington state businesses are among the recipients of Phase I contracts under NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program, or SBIR. Two more teams, pairing up businesses and universities, will receive Phase I contracts in the Small Business Technology Transfer program, known as STTR.

Each contract is worth up to $125,000. SBIR contracts last for six months, while the STTR contracts last for 13 months. Depending on their progress, Phase I companies could be win additional support during follow-up SBIR/STTR phases.

Here are the six Washington state proposals funded through SBIR:

  • Jeeva Wireless, Seattle: Developing protocols an ultra-low-power backscatter networking platform that can synchronize timestamping on a scale of microseconds between sensors and a wireless hub/aggregator. Such a system could be used for flight test and avionics, medical monitoring and other applications where time synchronization is a prerequisite.
  • Off Planet Research, Lacey: Developing a self-cleaning, dustproof fitting that can be used for transferring gas or fluids on the moon, Mars or other worlds. Such fittings would be well-suited for use in ultra-cold, permanently shadowed regions of the Moon, or for use as leakproof plumbing fixtures for processing hazardous chemicals, oil or gas in dusty locations on Earth.
  • Okean Solutions, Seattle: Creating a compact software package with robust and reliable fault management capabilities, known as the Model-based Off-Nominal State Identification and Detection, or MONSID. The software could be used to manage the flow of propellant in cryogenic test labs or high-pressure gas facilities, or for space propulsion systems.
  • Retrocausal, Redmond: Incorporating machine learning and computer vision into a system that can automatically build computational models of a complex physical task. The system could serve as an “extra pair of trained eyes” to assist crews on Mars with medical procedures or other operations, or as a training tool for physicians or nurses when learning procedures on Earth.
  • Sequoia Scientific, Bellevue: Assessing the feasibility of a new submersible imaging device for analyzing ocean color and biogeochemistry. The hyperspectral absorption spectrophotometer could provide significantly greater accuracy and resolution than existing in-water sensors, and may provide validation for future NASA ocean-color missions such as PACE, GEO-CAPE and GLIMR.
  • Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation – Space, Seattle: Developing a next-generation insulator for nuclear thermal propulsion systems. In addition to the space propulsion application, the technology could be used in nuclear reactors used in space or in remote regions on Earth.

Here are the two Washington state proposals funded through STTR:

  • Convergent Manufacturing Technologies US, Seattle: Partnering with the University of Washington on a process simulation tool for thin-ply composites. The technology could be used to optimize the process of creating composites for a wide range of structures on Earth and in space.
  • CubCrafters, Yakima: Partnering with Oregon State University on an electric short-takeoff-and-landing (eSTOL) technology that combines leading-edge slats with a series of small electric ducted fans that accelerate the air between the slat and the airfoil. The technology could be used on CubCrafters aircraft or other STOL air vehicles.