NIA-News Release 2017-10: Top 10 NASA iTech Cycle 3 Finalists Announced

NIA-News Release 2017-10: Top 10 NASA iTech Cycle 3 Finalists Announced

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                              December 18, 2017

Harla Sherwood
National Institute of Aerospace, Hampton, Va.

Gina Anderson
NASA Headquarters, Washington

NIA Release: 2017-10

Top 10 NASA iTech Cycle 3 Finalists Announced

The top 10 entries in NASA iTech’s latest call for ideas have been selected and the innovators behind those ideas are invited to participate as finalists in the NASA iTech Forum. NASA iTech is a collaborative effort to find and foster innovative solutions that aim to solve challenges on Earth and also have the potential to solve some of NASA’s challenges agency-wide.

The top 10 finalists’ presentations are scheduled on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at the culmination of the NASA iTech Forum, which will be held at Canon U.S.A., Inc. in Melville, New York. Representatives from NASA, other federal agencies, industry, the investment community, and others from across the U.S. will be on hand as the finalists for NASA iTech share their innovative ideas.

“NASA iTech is an innovation incubator that brings together the right people to the right place and time, giving entrepreneurs an opportunity to present their technologies as a future commercial market product solution for both Earth and NASA,” said Kira Blackwell, program executive for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The entrepreneurs who participate in NASA iTech are required to address both terrestrial and extraterrestrial challenges, providing the opportunity for the government to easily become a future ’off the shelf’ consumer.”

Leaders from NASA and prospective stakeholders will evaluate the most promising ideas submitted in the following focus areas: Augmented Reality Advancement, Medical Breakthrough, and X-Factor Innovation. The X-Factor Innovation category allows for entries that may not fit within a specific focus area, but clearly demonstrate the potential to fill a critical need for NASA and humans on Earth.

Teams representing the top three entries­ selected at the end of the forum will receive special recognition during a nonmonetary awards ceremony on Feb. 1 and will be available for press opportunities after the awards are announced.

“Over the last 12 months, many of the top 18 companies that have participated in NASA iTech have reported to have raised more than $50 million in private investments to further develop their technologies,” said Blackwell.

Registration for the NASA iTech Cycle 3 Forum is now open at Media interested in covering the Forum should contact Gina Anderson at  by Jan. 21 to preregister.

The top 10 NASA iTech Cycle 3 finalists are (in alphabetical order):

BioVirtua – San Francisco
Innovation: BioVirtua: Humanizing Telehealth in Four Dimensions
Challenge Area: Augmented Reality Advancement

FGC Plasma Solutions – Argonne, Illinois
Innovation: Novel Fuel Injectors to Enable Clean, Compact Propulsion
Challenge Area: X-Factor Innovation

Germfalcon – Los Angeles
Innovation: Germfalcon – Germicidal UVC Emitting Robot for Commercial Aircraft
Challenge Area: Medical Breakthrough

H2 Energy Now – Boalsburg, Pennsylvania
Innovation: New Technology for H2 Generation from Water in Space by Use of Electromagnetic Waves
Challenge Area: X-Factor Innovation

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies – Los Angeles
Innovation: Augmented Voyage
Challenge Area: Augmented Reality Advancement

iFirst Medical Technologies – Honolulu
Innovation: The iFirst Analyzer: Handheld Laboratory-grade Diagnostics Platform for Extreme Environments
Challenge Area: Medical Breakthrough

Million Concepts – Lemont, Pennsylvania
Innovation: The Arisian Lens: A Novel Solution for Low-cost, Lightweight Microscopy
Challenge Area: Medical Breakthrough

New Frontier Aerospace – Livermore, California
Innovation: Affordable, Powered Recovery for Small Launch Vehicles
Challenge Area: X-Factor Innovation

Rice Technology – Milwaukee
Innovation: Smart Real-Time Multipurpose Sensor – Dissolved and Suspended Solids, Bacteria, Phosphorus and Viruses
Challenge Area: X-Factor Innovation

Somatic Labs – Phoenix
Innovation: Tactile Interfaces for Augmented Reality to Enhance Communication
Challenge Area: Augmented Reality Advancement


NASA iTech is an initiative by the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton, Virginia.


For information about the NASA iTech initiative, visit:

For information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit:

NIA-News Release 2017-09: NASA and NIA Announce 2018 BIG Idea Challenge Finalists

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                     December 15, 2017

Harla Sherwood
National Institute of Aerospace, Hampton, Va.

NIA Release: 2017-09

NASA and NIA Announce 2018 BIG Idea Challenge Finalists

NASA, in partnership with the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), has whittled down to five finalist teams its selections for the final phase of the 2018 Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge.

Teams were asked to develop concepts for a reliable operating power source that could be put in place on Mars ahead of the arrival of the first humans. The challenge sought concepts for unique designs, installation and sustainable operation of a large solar-power system. Teams could address:

  • Novel packaging, deployment, retraction and dust-abatement concepts.
  • Lightweight, compact components including booms, ribs, substrates and mechanisms.
  • Optimized use of advanced ultra-light-weight materials and high-efficiency solar cells.
  • Validated modeling, analysis and simulation techniques.
  • High-fidelity, functioning laboratory models and test methods.

Norwich University offers the Norwich Inflatable Mars Solar Array (NIMSA) using Mars’ CO2 to fill inflatable channels that extend from a central boom to deploy eight, large rectangular solar panels.

Princeton University’s origami-inspired solar array design is called Horus, named after the Egyptian god for sunlight.  It merges innovative design and sound engineering to deploy a large monolithic array from a tiny stowed volume.

Texas A&M’s Applied Photovoltaic Power Array (APPA) system concept includes four 18-meter diameter solar array “umbrellas” using tethered telescoping booms.

The University of Colorado, Boulder proposes the Mars Autonomous and Foldable Solar Array (MAFSA) which utilizes flexible booms wrapped around a central hub to support four circular photovoltaic array segments.

The University of Virginia’s concept includes two large, carbon-dioxide filled balloons that utilize the top-surface for flexible solar array blankets that maximize solar input and minimize dust accumulation.

Judges chose the finalists based on a review of competitive proposals from universities around the nation.

“I am really impressed by the number of proposals and the diversity of ideas,” said Lee Mason, principal technologist for power and energy storage in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “I can honestly say that the proposals introduced new and innovative ideas for solar array packaging that we haven’t thought about before.”

Over the next three months, teams will refine their proposed concepts into a 15-page technical paper, complete with original engineering and analysis. On March 6, 2018, they will convene at the 2018 BIG Idea Forum hosted at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, to present their concepts in an evaluative design review.

For the five teams, the stakes are high. They are competing for a prize that could change their lives, as winning team members will receive offers to participate in paid summer internships with NASA.

“Harvesting the sun’s power for life, exploration and work on Mars is a critical hurdle in our journey to becoming a two-planet species,” said Shelley Spears, director of education and outreach at the NIA. “Engaging and challenging the next generation of bright minds to tackle this important technology gap moves us closer and closer to this goal. The excitement and enthusiasm the students bring to the opportunity is infectious and inspiring, and we are eager to see their final innovative engineering designs in March.”

The BIG Idea Challenge falls under the purview of NASA’s Game Changing Development Program under the Space Technology Mission Directorate.


For more information about the challenge, and details on how to apply, visit the BIG Idea Challenge website at


For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, go to:




Shelley Spears
National Institute of Aerospace, Hampton, Va.


Joe Atkinson
NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia


NIA-News Release 2017-08: NASA and NIA Announce Finalists in the 2018 Mars Ice Challenge

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                             December 4, 2017

Harla Sherwood
National Institute of Aerospace, Hampton, Va.


NIA Release: 2017-08

NASA and NIA Announce Finalists in the 2018 Mars Ice Challenge

NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace, or NIA, have selected the 10 university teams to participate in NASA’s 2nd RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge.  The finalists will design, build, and test prototype systems capable of extracting water from simulated Martian subsurface ice.

Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage, or RASC-AL, is a portfolio of university-level engineering design competitions sponsored by NASA and managed by NIA, to engage students and faculty in relevant, real-world aerospace work.  The RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge is a technology demonstration competition specifically targeting novel methods for accessing water frozen under the surface of Mars.

Finalists were chosen through a competitive review of robust proposals.  The selected teams will come to NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., June 6-8, 2018, to represent their universities in the 2018 Mars Ice Challenge.  While at NASA, teams will participate in an on-site technology demonstration and water extraction competition.

The following teams are finalists for the 2018 Mars Ice Challenge:  Alfred University, Alfred, N.Y., with their project, Sub-Surface Archimedes Screw (SASS); Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburg, Pa., with their project, Tartan Ice Drilling System (TIDS); Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Co., with their project, Team MINERS (Martian Ice New-age Extraction and Recovery System); Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Ma., with their project, High Yield Dihydrogen-monoxide Retrieval Assembly (HYDRA); Northeastern University, Boston, Ma., with their project, Northeastern University Planetary Articulating Water Extraction System; Rowan University, Glassboro, N.J., with their project, Drill-based Retractable Subterranean Extraction and Unified Separation System (DRSEUSS); University of Tennessee Knoxville, Knoxville, Tn., with their project, This Is Not A Drill (TINAD); Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va., with their project, Virginia Tech Ice Extractor (V-TIE);  and two teams from West Virginia University, Morgantown, W. Va., with their projects, The VULCAN Drilling System and Development of the Second Generation Mountaineer Ice Drilling Automated System (MIDAS II).

“Due to strong hydrogen signatures, Mars appears to be rich in water frozen under the Marian surface, making the Red Planet a viable destination for us.” says Melvin Ferebee, Director of the Systems Analysis and Concepts Division at NASA Langley. “Water is there, but it is buried.  It is absolutely crucial that we figure out a way to effectively and efficiently access that water.  And the Mars Ice Challenge provides us with a variety of potential options to start solving that problem.”

The teams now have 6 months before coming to NASA to build, integrate, and test their prototype water extraction systems.  Final scoring will be based on their ability to drill through each layer of the simulated subsurface to extract and collect the water found in the ice.

Teams must adhere to specific requirements and must submit both a technical paper, capturing innovations and design, and a technical poster, detailing the team’s “path-to-flight” explanation for how their Earth-based system would be modified for the Martian environment.

Shelley Spears, Director of Education and Outreach at NIA, says “Mars is hard AND doable! This competition squares off one the most important hurdles we face in becoming a two-planet

species – harvesting water – with top university student talent from around the nation.  It is very exciting to offer this opportunity to them and witness both the passion and innovation they bring to advancing our journey.”


For information about NASA’s RASC-AL Mars Ice Challenge, visit:

Christopher Jones
NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.

Shelley Spears
National Institute of Aerospace, Hampton, Va.



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