NASA, Rutgers highlight Garden State innovators, scholars

Dawn Furnas//May 9, 2022

NASA, Rutgers highlight Garden State innovators, scholars

Dawn Furnas//May 9, 2022

NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program named 110 small businesses in the U.S. — three of which are here in New Jersey — to help advance the space program’s missions.

The program provided early-stage funding and other assistance to small businesses to support the aerospace industry. The new round of awards provides almost $95 million to small businesses across 123 projects.

The Garden State businesses chosen are Continuum Dynamics Inc., Ewing; Gendell Associates dba Folditure, Hoboken; and Shock Tech Inc., Mahwah.

“NASA is working toward ambitious, world-changing missions — missions that require innovative solutions from a variety of innovators, including small businesses,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said in a statement. “It’s crucial that we continue to find imaginative small businesses that have the expertise to help our agency solve our common challenges, and the SBIR program is one of the key ways we do that.”

Companies first received NASA SBIR Phase I awards for establishing the feasibility of their technologies. As Phase II awardees, each small business will now receive up to $750,000 to develop, demonstrate and deliver their technologies to NASA over two years.

The agency said among the awardees are nine women-owned small businesses and five veteran-owned small business.

“It is both a program mission and passion to increase the diversity of collaborators we’re bringing into the agency’s work,” added Gynelle Steele, deputy program executive for NASA’s SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer programs at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Gendell Associates, doing business as Folditure, was selected by NASA for its Sunflake Solar Array and Ultra Compact Tripod Tower to power future robotic and human exploration of the moon. For the Phase II stage of the program, the company, which also creates foldable, space-saving furniture for consumers, will develop the kinematics and structure of the solar array and begin its environmental testing. If successful, this new solar array could be used on NASA missions that require lightweight, portable, high-efficiency solar energy, including human landers, future lunar outposts, or orbital stations planned under Artemis, according to NASA’s announcement.

Alexander Gendell, the founder of Folditure, said although the company cannot yet share its folding solar array designs, both the Leaf chair and Cricket table, the company’s signature products, were featured on Star Trek Discovery. – FOLDITURE

Alexander Gendell, the founder of Folditure, told NJBIZ that the company’s work with NASA had a “somewhat accidental beginning.”

“During a birthday party in the summer of 2020, I was discussing my innovative furniture and other inventive work. I brought my new type of bicycle (which, of course, folded) that several kids were testing out. Someone recommended I look at NASA SBIR projects for potential funding. This was the first time I ever heard about SBIR,” Gendell wrote.

Gendell read through the Phase I solicitations, where one phrase caught his attention. It explained the deployable solar arrays that power almost all spacecraft are “too heavy and packages too inefficiently for lunar surface power.” Gendell said he realized his company could repurpose its patented folding mechanisms for a different application.

“Our mechanisms are designed to be super-compact, but also rigid, and deployable many times,” he wrote in an email. “Originally, the goal of Folditure was to create some of the world’s most compact folding furniture. But also, to develop foldable solutions with different applications. NASA provided a really important challenge, and opportunity for us to do so.” Gendell said the NASA program is important for the growth of the company and said the creations for NASA could have applications for consumers, as well.

Continuum submitted a parallelization toolkit for space weather research. According to the company’s proposal, NASA uses high performance computing models of heliophysics — or the study of the sun, planets and space environment — such as its ENLIL code.

However, Continuum proposed what it believes is a more efficient method: a domain specific language, coupled with a source-to-source translator, thereby “improving the performance, portability, and ease of maintenance of ENLIL, the proposed work will support NASA’s role under the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan, and have a beneficial impact on NASA’s space weather forecasting and mitigation capabilities.”

The company also said its technology could eventually find use in the financial, education and research industries.

Shock Tech proposed long-range optical telecommunications technology — called robust isolation for vibration abating — that is “beneficial for any sensitive instrument requiring high stability for improved performance.” The company said this technology is “designed to be suitable for all missions requiring high stability communication pointing and alignment.” The company also said the technology can be adopted for non-NASA optical communication satellites with the need for high-stability alignment.

Continuum Dynamics and Shock Tech did not respond to a request for comment.

The space agency also announced the winners of its Lunabotics Junior contest, a national competition that tasked K-12 students with designing a robot that can dig and move lunar soil from one area of the moon’s South Pole to a holding container near a future Artemis Moon base. Students needed to consider factors unique to the lunar environment when creating their designs.

Nine-year-old Lucia Grisanti from Toms River won the K-5 division of NASA’s Lunabotics Junior Contest, her solar-powered Olympus robot design. – NASA

Nine-year-old Lucia Grisanti from Toms River won the K-5 division. According to the March 29 announcement from NASA, Grisanti’s solar-powered Olympus robot was designed with spiked wheels to traverse the lunar surface and scoop the soil — or regolith, as it’s known — into a cone-shaped collector to separate large rocks from dust. Her robot was named after the home of Greek mythology’s Apollo and Artemis, which also are the names of NASA’s original and current lunar exploration programs.

Ayaansh Jain from Glen Rock was named a semifinalist in the K-5 division with the design titled DIANA (Roman Goddess of Moon).

Through its Artemis challenges, NASA is encouraging students to learn more about the mission that will pave the way to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon. According to the statement, NASA will establish a sustainable presence on the moon to prepare for missions to Mars, with the help of commercial and international partners.

“Looking at the designs these students submitted for Lunabotics Junior, it’s impossible not to be excited about the future of the Artemis Generation,” said Mike Kincaid, NASA’s associate administrator for the Office of STEM Engagement. “Their creativity and enthusiasm shine through in their ideas for a robot capable of mining lunar regolith.”

One national winner from each grade division was selected from approximately 2,300 submitted designs. Shriya Sawant, 15, of Cumming, Ga., was the winner from grades 6-12 with her RAD: Regolith Accretion Device design. The two awardees earned a virtual chat for their classrooms with Janet Petro, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Nearly 500 educators, professionals and space enthusiasts served as volunteer judges to review student submissions.

Scholars named

The fall 2022 Axiom REACH Graduate Oncology Scholars are, from left: Eva Frimpong, Mark Kaldes, Widnie Fadael and John Ogando – AXIOM REACH FOUNDATION

The Axiom REACH Foundation and Rutgers University announced the fall 2022 Axiom REACH Graduate Oncology Scholars (A.R.G.O.S.): Eva Frimpong, Mark Kaldes, Widnie Fadael and John Ogando. The four students are enrolled in Rutgers’ School of Health Professions and School of Nursing.

A.R.G.O.S. offers students tuition coverage and mentorship, learning opportunities and professional support. The program assists first-generation college students from underserved backgrounds in pursuing higher education in health care and other STEM fields.

“A.R.G.O.S allows us to address institutionalized racism by working towards narrowing the disparity gap in our communities,” Hafiz Sikder, founder and president of Axiom REACH, said in a statement. “Team Axiom is overjoyed with the announcement of these scholars that embody the REACH mission to combat public health disparities and empowering the most underserved. All four scholars have cared for family members, come from underserved backgrounds, and above all are impressive academics with track records of determination.”