NASA Engineers Bring Technology to the Private Sector

Bob Payne, SATOP program manager
Bob Payne, SATOP program manager

A program designed to speed the transfer of NASA technology into the private sector offers expertise for technical challenges. Houston Public Radio Business Reporter Ed Mayberry tells us that advice comes from some of the most highly-qualified engineers in the world, actual rocket scientists.

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The Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program offers free help from NASA engineers for inventors to get over technical hurdles in getting their products ready for market.

"Any technical challenge related to materials, structures, electronics, robotics within our alliance partner community we have and engineer thats a specialist in that area that can help a requester."

Bob Payne is program manager for the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program, administered through the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.

"A really neat thing for the requester is the problem they're trying to solve an engineer may have solved thirty years ago or thirty days ago."

There is no fee to get into the program. The government is interested in speeding the technology into the private sector.

"Taxpayers already paid for the technology being developed at NASA so their objective is to use this as a way to help a small businessperson launch their business."

Rene Armstrong approached SATOP to determine the type of plastic needed to optimize a medical device she invented.

Rene Armstrong and Abnostrainer

"As a result of my second cancer surgery, I couldn't get up and out of bed by myself and so I developed an assistive aid to help you to sit up and lay back down after you have had abdominal surgery. So what this does is it's a series of handles webbing and side release buckle that allows you to manually pull yourself up by using your upper body strength. He reviewed the design and he came back and made suggestions. I was able to approach the manufacturers that were referred to me by the SATOP program here."

Armstrong says the engineers she worked with--David Braun and Shermann Fetzer--helped her with the technical side of her invention--the Abnostrain.

"It was the actual properties of the material, the soft part of my handle that I needed a tacky but not sticky. I needed for him to actually feel and touch the pipe and then he knew immediately what I was talking about. He, you know, he began to cite why it is the way that it is."

Over 450 Texas companies have been helped since the program began providing free engineering assistance in 1999, and Payne says the engineers love to participate.

"They get personal satisfaction from this. I worked for Lockheed Martin for 35 years before I came to work for SATOP and I got to see first hand the reaction of the engineers of having the satisfaction of helping, so the engineers that work in the program really like the program."

More information is available at Ed Mayberry, Houston Public Radio News.


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