NASA’s Science Mission Directorate has awarded prize funding of $100,000 each to six entrepreneurial startup companies under its pilot Entrepreneur’s Challenge program for concepts ranging from machine learning to enable exploration and other technologies to new ways to build instruments to study the universe.
NASA partnered with Starburst, the global aerospace hub, to jointly launch a pilot program to engage entrepreneurs.
The challenge’s purpose is to invite fresh ideas for development of new instruments and technologies to advance the agency’s science exploration goals and increase participation by entrepreneurial companies in the agency’s technology portfolio.
For the inaugural Entrepreneur’s Challenge, the technical focus areas were:
- Advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence for autonomous spacecraft and surface rovers, and for Earth observation and disaster management
- Advanced mass spectrometry for detection of the elements necessary for life and other science applications by using instrumentation beyond what is currently available in terms of low-power and low-mass and using cutting edge materials or components to innovate in sampling technology and processes
- Quantum sensors that enable high-precision assessments of gravity, magnetic fields, dark energy and other measurements to support NASA scientific discoveries
The competition was conducted in three rounds. In the first round, nearly 80 submissions were sent in from companies nationwide and a judging panel selected 15 ideas to advance. The next round was a virtual event held July 29, 2020, where selectees presented their ideas to a judging panel of NASA program managers. The judges selected 10 companies for awards of $20,000 each. In the final round, the participants worked to refine their concepts and gave their final presentations Oct. 22 as part of the Innovation and Opportunity Conference held by NASA’s Small Business Innovative Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program. Six of the companies received an additional $80,000 in prize funding as determined by the same panel of judges from the previous round.
“This is a program that provides companies opportunities to showcase innovative technology and inject new and creative solutions of interest to NASA and its mission,” said Paul Mahaffy, one of the challenge judges and the director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “As technologies for the mass spectrometers mature for flight, these could be game changing.”
The following companies were selected as winners of the Entrepreneur’s Challenge:
- Cognitive Space, Houston
- Evermore Intelligence, Philadelphia
- MOBILion, Chadds Fords, Pennsylvania
- Trace Matters Scientific, Somerville, Massachusetts
- Guardion Technologies, Burlington, Massachusetts
- Cold Quanta, Boulder, Colorado