NASA collaborates with small businesses throughout the country through the Small Business Innovative Research program to leverage the creativity and know-how of small businesses to benefit space exploration.
The ISRU Technology Development Project works closely with the SBIR program to define technology needs that can be provided by small businesses and many innovations have come from such partnerships.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of examples of technologies developed by small businesses to help advance NASA's ability to exploit space resources.
Pneumatic Regolith Feed System (Honeybee Robotics).
Through a collaboration with NASA Kennedy Space Center, Honeybee Robotics developed a pneumatic feed system that moves regolith from ground level to a hopper feeding a carbothermic reactor. The key elements of a closed-loop system were demonstrated at an ISRU Technology Field test where Hawaiian tephra was conveyed 1.6m above the ground into the reactor. It was performed as an SBIR Phase 3 effort using Innovative Partnership Program (IPP) funds with cost-sharing from Honeybee.
JSC1A lunar basalt simulant
Orbitec has developed and produced several regolith simulant materials for sale to technology developers and the public. JSC1A is a simulant for lunar Mare basalts developed on requirements from the Lunar Regolith Simulant Development and Characterization project at Marshall Space Flight Center. It has also developed a unique technique to produce embedded nano-phase iron spheres in glass agglutinates of lunar simulant materials.
Solar Energy Collection and Delivery Module (Physical Sciences Inc.)
Using an array of focusing mirrors to increase the density of incoming solar light into optical fibers, PSI has developed full-scale concentrator prototypes capable of achieving direct heating of regolith on the order of 1500°C. This technology called the Solar Collection and Delivery Module has been tested in NASA ISRU Technology Field Tests to deliver 600 – 700W of energy into a carbothermic reactor.