Michigan Companies Meet With NASA For New Business

Posted on December 9, 2011

More than 80 companies met with NASA officials Tuesday and Wednesday as the Detroit Regional Chamber hosted a NASA Partnerships Forum.

The space agency is looking for potential future suppliers and partners, as well as companies interested in commercializing NASA technology.

“We’re not here for procurement, we’re here for partnerships and collaborations,”said Ted Mecum, technology manager for the innovative partnerships program office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Echoed Rheal P. Turcotte, strategic relationships office partnership manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.: “We’re not here to buy parts, we’re here to find partners — potential co-developers of technologies.”

Three NASA centers were represented at the event:

*Goddard Space Flight Center, founded in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight center, studies astrophysics (what’s beyond the solar system), heliophysics (what’s going on with our sun) and geophisics (what’s going on with the Earth). To answer those questions, it builds and manages satellites and information.

* Langley Research Center, which was founded in 1915 and was the nation’s first aeronautics center. It studies aerodynamics and aircraft and spacecraft structures — how aircraft fly in the atmosphere, and how space vehicles leave and re-enter the atmosphere and fly in space.

* Glenn Research Center in suburban Cleveland, which studies aircraft and spacecraft propulsion systems.

The meeting was organized by Connection Point, a Detroit chamber initiative founded in October 2010 with a federal grant. It’s designed to help Michigan companies diversify into new industries.

Trevor Pawl, Connection Point program director, said he got the idea of bringing NASA to Detroit after meeting Mecum at an advanced materials show in California.

Pawl said 81 companies were represented at a breakfast Tuesday in which NASA’s broad technology needs and opportunities were presented. Of those companies, 23 companies asked for one-on-one meetings with NASA Tuesday, and another 10 companies asked for one-on-one meetings with NASA Wednesday.

“We’re here to open dialogue with companies we didn’t know about in the past … with capabilities NASA can use, or who want to license NASA technologies,” Mecum said. “This is NASA’s first foray into Michigan. We think there are some very good matches … We have found several companies that offer products and capabilities that will match what we’re doing.”

Among them might be Nextek Power Systems, an advanced direct current power systems company based in Detroit’s NextEnergy renewable and alternative energy business incubator.

Jeff Daudert, key account manager for Nextek, said his company is both hoping to sell NASA technology that will boost the energyefficiency of their buildings, and get involved in helping power NASA spacecraft, which use direct current, or DC, electricity. Daudert pointed out that the modern office and home contain appliances that consume DC electricity — computers, printers, monitors, TVs. And renewable energy systems like wind and solar produce DC. But under the current grid, that DC must be converted to AC for distribution, then converted back to DC at the point of use. That does nothing but waste power and generate unwanted heat, Daudert said.

“We’re hopeful that if anybody would ‘get’ a DC power system, it would be NASA,” Daudert said. “DC power systems have been employed in space since the beginning.”

To listen to a podcast interview with Daudert, click here.

Another candidate that’s actually already doing business with NASA is Dexter-based Dexter Research Center. This company, founded by a Wayne State University grad, builds heat and infrared light detectors that are used in a variety of applications. Wayne Baer, director of R&D at Dexter, said the company currently has infrared detectors in an experiment on the International Space Station to determine how fire behaves in space.

To listen to a podcast interview with Baer, click here.

Michigan companies came all the way from the Upper Peninsula to the event, Pawl said.