NASA plans to invest $45 million in funding to more than 200 small businesses to develop new technologies designed to protect the health of astronauts, and lower the risk of collision damage to spacecraft, the US space agency has said.

The new awards from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programme invest in a diverse portfolio of American small businesses and research institutions to support NASA’s future missions.

For first-round funding, NASA selected 300 proposals from 249 small businesses and 39 research institutions.

Each proposal team will receive $150,000 to establish the merit and feasibility of their innovations, for a total agency investment of $45 million, the agency said in a statement.

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.

“NASA has a key role to play in growing the aerospace ecosystem in our country,” said Jenn Gustetic, director of early-stage innovation and partnerships for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, in the statement.

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“Through these early-stage small business awards, we are inviting more innovators into this growing arena and helping them mature their technologies for not only NASA’s use but for commercial impact,” he added.

About 30 per cent of the companies selected are first-time NASA SBIR/STTR recipients, while more than a quarter of the selected companies are women-owned, veteran-owned, disadvantaged, and/or HUBZone small businesses.

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The businesses include Nou Systems, a woman-owned small business based in Alabama, selected to further develop their technology that will help in microbial monitoring of spacecraft environments.

The closed and unique environment of spacecraft makes microbial monitoring of utmost importance to astronauts’ health.

Another is a veteran-owned HyBrid Space Systems company based in Washington. The two-person company was selected for an SBIR award to help NASA in its efforts to mitigate the potential risk of damage to its spaceflight programmes from orbital debris — human-made objects in Earth orbit that no longer serve a useful purpose.

“We are proud to work alongside the small businesses and research institutions in need of government investment,” said Gynelle Steele, deputy programme executive for NASA’s SBIR/STTR programme at NASA Headquarters.

“This programme enables NASA to nurture pioneering ideas from a diversity of innovators across the country that may not attract the initial private industry funding needed to thrive,a Steele said.