DAYTON, OH—The Department of the Air Force (DAF) is creating the first Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) led University Affiliated Research Center (UARC). This is also the first DAF UARC. The UARC’s core competencies will focus on advancing the deployment of tactical autonomy for DAF missions. The success of this effort is built on a strong partnership between the DAF, USD(R&E), USD(A&S) and USD(P&R) under the overarching guidance of the Secretary of Defense.
BACKGROUND OF THE PROGRAM
HBCUs graduate 30 percent of African American STEM professionals, but receive less than .05 percent of DOD research funding. HBCUs consistently produce high caliber STEM talent able to compete for advanced degrees at top academic programs. More than one third of African American STEM PhD holders earned a bachelor’s degree from an HBCU while 88 percent of these PhD holders receive PhDs from non HBCUs.
(Left) Courtesy photo: Department of Education
This is clear evidence that untapped potential to address National Security imperatives resides at HBCUs but it is unavailable to the DAF due to historical inequities.
INTENT OF THE PROGRAM
This initiative will enable the DAF to establish and maintain essential research and development capabilities to advance the field of Autonomy and deliver operationally relevant autonomy for national security requirements. Desired outcomes are to:
Advance the field of Autonomy by focusing on key DAF operational imperatives.
Grow and diversify the available pool of Scientists and Engineers to support the DAF and grow organic technical excellence.
Increase capacity accessible to the DAF by fostering HBCU R1 Research Classification.
Seed a unique ecosystem of small and large businesses around the UARC to further the above outcomes.
The UARC will be competitively selected through a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) made available soon to industry and academia. It will be based on a consortium model with a Lead HBCU Institution and additional performer institutions, serving under a consortium framework. The DAF Chief Scientist (AF/ST) will be the UARC sponsor with a Management Office responsible for UARC implementation and oversite; and an Executive Steering Board (ESB) which will be populated with members from DoD community partners. The UARC award period will be 5 years with 5 option years at $12M per year. The DAF is leading the investment with $8M per year with additional annual contributions of $2M yearly each from USD(R&E) and USD(A&S).
— Source and cover photo: Air Force Research Laboratory
WASHINGTON—NASA has selected hundreds of small businesses and dozens of research institutions to develop technology to help drive the future of space exploration, ranging from novel sensors and electronics to new types of software and cutting-edge materials. The newly awarded projects under the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program also include a high-power electric rocket and a coating to make solar panels more efficient that could be used both in space and here on Earth.
The awards total nearly $50 million, with investments spread out over 39 states and Washington, D.C. Under the selection, 333 proposals from 257 small businesses and 41 research institutions – including 10 Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) – will be awarded first-round funding for technology development. View the full lists of SBIR awardees and STTR awardees online.
NASA investments in American small businesses and research institutions help provide the innovations needed for the exciting and ambitious missions on the agency’s horizon and foster robust commercial space and technology sectors.
“NASA is working on ambitious, groundbreaking missions that require innovative solutions from a variety of sources – especially our small businesses,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. “Small businesses have the creative edge and expertise needed to help our agency solve our common and complex challenges, and they are crucial to maintaining NASA’s leadership in space. The SBIR program is one of the key ways we do that as well as creating jobs in a growing, sustainable space economy.”
Each proposal team will receive $150,000 – a 20% increase over previous years’ funding – to establish the merit and feasibility of their innovations. Phase I SBIR contracts are awarded to small businesses and last for six months, while Phase I STTR contracts are awarded to small businesses in partnership with a research institution and last for 13 months.
“The selections span a breadth of areas to empower the agency’s work in human exploration, space technology, science, and aeronautics,” said Jenn Gustetic, director of early-stage innovation and partnerships for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “We’re excited about the uses for these technologies for Artemis and other missions, as well as their potential use in the commercial space industry and people’s everyday lives.”
About 30% of the awards will go to first-time NASA SBIR/STTR recipients. This includes Ad Astra Rocket Company based in Webster, Texas. With its Phase I award, the company will develop a new way of manufacturing part of its Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, or VASIMR, engine – a high-power electric rocket engine the company has been working on with NASA for 25 years. In the engine, powerful radiofrequency waves are launched by special antennas, called couplers. The waves ionize gas into plasma, which is then accelerated to provide rocket thrust. The Phase I funding will be used to manufacture couplers in a way that increases the engine’s power limit. This innovation will help move the entire engine closer to commercialization, where it could be used for high-maneuverability satellites, lunar settlement cargo delivery, and more.
Nearly 25% of the selected companies are women-owned, veteran-owned, disadvantaged, and/or HUBzone small businesses. For example, D2K Technologies, a women- and minority-owned small business based in Oceanside, California, will create a monitoring and advisory system for health management of solenoid operated valves (SOV) used in industrial applications with its Phase I award. This technology could find use in many of NASA’s research centers, testing centers, and launch sites, since SOVs are basic components of most fluid systems. And, with the widespread use of SOVs in industrial applications, the system could be useful to oil and gas, nuclear, manufacturing, power generation, chemical, food, and pharmaceutical companies. This eight-person company is also a first-time NASA SBIR awardee.
“Finding and building a diverse community of entrepreneurs is a central part of our program’s outreach, and the efforts to reach them can start even before Phase I,” said Gynelle Steele, deputy program executive for NASA’s SBIR/STTR program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “For example, working in partnership with NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project, we started offering M-STTR planning grants last year, which incentivized partnerships between MSIs and small businesses and prepared them to submit a STTR Phase I proposal in 2022.”
M-STTR awardee Oakwood University, a historically Black university (HBCU) based in Huntsville, Alabama, will continue working alongside SSS Optical Technologies, a small business also based in Huntsville, using their Phase I award to develop a new type of coating for photovoltaic (PV) cells embedded in solar sails. The coating could generate extra electricity and improve the overall PV conversion efficiency, which could advance solar sailing and other power and energy conversion needs for space exploration. This technology could improve the efficiency of commercial solar panels.
NASA selected Phase I proposals to receive funding by judging their technical merit and commercial potential. Based on their progress during Phase I, companies may submit proposals for $850,000 in Phase II funding to develop a prototype, as well as subsequent SBIR/STTR Post Phase II opportunities. The NASA SBIR/STTR program is part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate and is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.
To learn more about NASA’s SBIR/STTR program and apply to future opportunities, visit: https://sbir.nasa.gov/.
WASHINGTON — Representative Mark Walker (R-N.C.) hosted the fourth annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Fly-In event with U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) This annual Fly-In represented nearly 40 HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) across the country.
The Fly-In event featured two panels with members of Congress. One in the morning with Scott, Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Walker hosted the second panel, which included guests U.S. Representative French Hill (R-A.R) and U.S. Representative Andy Barr (R-K.Y).
Among topics discussed were funding sources and the passage of the FUTURE Act, legislation Walker led to provide permanent resources for HBCUs and MSIs. Walker and Scott also led a robust session on the benefit of Opportunity Zones and economic policies to bridge economic and educational divides across minority communities.
Scott and Fly-In attendees honored Walker with a framed photo at the conclusion of the conference to thank him for his relentless dedication to HBCUs over the past six years. His district also includes the largest HBCU in the United States, North Carolina A&T State University.
Walker has been a champion of HBCUs and MSIs from the very beginning of his time in Congress, fighting for the funding and recognition they deserve. Walker also delivered welcoming remarks this week at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s (TMCF) Fly-In.
U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) (above, center) moderates a panel with Senate colleagues (seated L-R) Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC). Senator Scott and Congressman Mark Walker (R-NC) co-hosted the Fourth Annual 2020 HBCU Fly-In in Washington, D.C. This annual event featured a bipartisan, bicameral coalition of Members of Congress to celebrate America’s more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Related funding discussions with both chambers of Congress, both sides of the aisle, Professional Staff, and event follow-up requests for HBCU/MSI inclusion include, but are not limited to:
Increasing HBCU/MSI research and development (R&D) participation
Upgrading HBCU/MSI infrastructures
Developing and upgrading HBCU/MSI super-computing facilities, capabilities, training, and staffing
Increasing HBCU/MSI pipelines with robust High School and JROTC computer, cyber, robotics, and drone training with competitions from as early as 7th or 8th grades
Funding requests were submitted this quarter to the House and Senate’s respective professional staff on Appropriations, Armed Services, or select Committees on Intelligence for the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to fund legislative incentives to broaden mission-partnerships and increase subcontracts for HBCU/MSIs with Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) and University Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs). FFRDCs and UARCs are not-for-profit entities sponsored and primarily funded by the U.S. government to address technical needs that cannot be met as effectively by existing government or contractor resources.
Similar funding requests for HBCU/MSIs also apply to the Department of Transportation (DOT) which invests in the future of transportation and “SMART Cities” through its University Transportation Centers (UTC) Program. The UTC program awards and administers grants to consortia of colleges and universities across the United States.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), including Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), who chairs the CBC and serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Congressman Anthony Brown (D-MD), who serves as Vice Chair of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) and on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, also participated.
— Sources and photos courtesy BDPA-DC and the offices
of Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Mark Walker