NASA spin-off publication sheds light on Marshall technology
Products and services that benefit life on Earth put a new twist on technology developed for space. This includes inventions from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
NASA engineers and scientists often develop new technologies during their mission. And while the origin of technology is often to help explore the solar system and beyond, NASA’s technology transfer program brings them back to Earth by licensing them to companies and entrepreneurs. The licensees then create new products and services, called “spinoffs”, which benefit the economy, protect the environment and even save lives.
There are more than 2,000 spinoffs from NASA, with cellphone cameras, infant formula, and airplane fins among the most common.
NASA’s technology transfer program has more than 1,200 technologies available for licensing. Prospective licensees can browse the entire portfolio online, where they are organized by categories such as communications, medical, environmental, manufacturing and more. Inventors also share royalties if the product is licensed.
“In technology transfer, we have the opportunity to work with NASA engineers and scientists, who are some of the most innovative people you will meet, and then we transfer their technologies to industry,” said said Sammy Nabors, acting chief technology officer. Transfer branch to Marshall.
The 2022 edition of NASA’s Spinoff publication features 46 companies in 21 states in manufacturing, public safety, consumer products, and more. It also highlights two examples of technologies available for license from Marshall – a more robust infrared camera and a stronger, less polluting concrete manufacturing process.
The Rugged Camera is a space camera that meets NASA specifications for vibration and radiation resistance and heat removal. Today’s budget commercial cameras cannot survive launch conditions. NASA will use the technology for hardened camera imaging systems aboard the Space Launch System on future Artemis missions.
Members of the Marshall team developing the technology included Brent Beabout, Jarret Bone, Jeremy Myers and Jonathan Pryor. They developed modifications to a separate patent, the Visible Spectrum Camera, to allow it to be used in space. Marshall patented the invention, licensed it to Imperx Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida, and assisted with commercialization efforts.
This same team developed modifications to the infrared camera, allowing it to survive launch conditions and conduct heat away. In addition to its use for imaging systems in satellites and spacecraft, other practical uses of the technology include:
- Aeronautics: on-board cameras for monitoring and thermal analysis of aircraft engines.
- First Responders: Night vision and enhanced imaging capability in fog, rain and smoke for search and rescue, firefighting, threat detection and surveillance.
- Automotive: vision systems for autonomous vehicles.
Marshall innovators have also developed a new cement composition and manufacturing method that reduces carbon emissions while making it stronger.
Businesses and consumers can use the carbonated cement process in cement plants, reducing the carbon footprint, and in quick-mix cement kits. The cement industry is one of the largest producers of CO2 in the world.
The idea for the new manufacturing method was first built around the problem of CO2 reduction aboard NASA missions. Drawing on their expertise in life support oxygen control systems for spacecraft, Marshall’s Morgan Abney and James Alleman, a professor at Iowa State University, have created a process that reduces the carbon emitted during the production of cement, converting the carbon into a solid form. The carbon is then added to the cement product, making it more durable for building materials.
Nabors said Marshall set a NASA center record with 50 licenses executed last year, most of them research licenses that could eventually turn into a commercial deal. Across the agency, Nabors said a record 211 licenses were executed.
“There are many different reasons why companies are interested in NASA inventions. The NASA name also means a lot,” Nabors said. “Our goal is to ensure that NASA technologies are widely available to the public, which maximizes the benefits to our nation.”