Solar Eclipse 2017: Bringing NASA Technology Down to Earth

The total solar eclipse finished its U.S. journey just yesterday. Whether or not you were fortunate enough to live in - or travel to - the 70-mile wide path of totality running Northwest to Southeast across the country, the fanfare for the solar showcase was warranted. The 38-year wait caused people to take to social media and the streets to witness the phenomena. 

While many of us don’t keep our eyes to the skies on a daily basis, NASA does. But space activity doesn’t (always) happen in a vacuum. Many of their technologies can be applied to industries ranging from health and medicine, information technology, industrial engineering, transportation and more. There have been so many commercial technologies with origins in NASA missions or research that the agency created NASA Spinoff in 1976, which publishes profiles for an average of 50 specific technology transfer projects per year.

In honor of yesterday’s total solar eclipse and Spinoff’s tagline “bringing NASA technology down to earth,” we rounded up some of NASA’s 2017 B2B enterprise technologies that we think are changing business for the best.

Flight Tracking

A collaboration between NASA and Florida-based Harris Corporation, enabled the creation of a space-based air tracking system that ensures no plane can fly out of radar range. Reconfigurable radios with higher frequencies and more bandwidth let engineers adjust to changing mission or environmental requirements. Without the constraints of land-based radar systems, airlines can optimize air traffic control patterns and take more direct routes.

Earthquake Proofing

Initially, NASA sought to decrease acoustic resonance, or natural vibrations, in a rocket booster at takeoff. The solution they ultimately discovered was: liquid, or as they call it a mass damper. Because liquid’s frequency acts independent of whatever device it’s affiliated with – a rocket or a building – it decreases resonant response. The NASA team partnered with NYC-based engineering and design firm Thornton Tomasetti to adapt the technology to decrease swaying in bridges and buildings.

Chemistry and Mineralogy Testing

Originally created to sift through soil and rocks on Mars, CheMin (aka Chemistry and Mineralogy) lets scientists test for minerals and organic matter in space and on Earth using X-ray powder diffraction (XRD). XRD usually requires a larger quantity of tiny samples – not a great combo for space testing. Then NASA realized they could vibrate a bed of grains allowing them to see different orientations and collect richer data points with fewer grains. In industry, this meant a mineral analyzer that was smaller, easy to use, rugged, and much less expensive. Today, it is used in directional drilling for shale gas as well as in testing drug composition in pharmaceuticals.

NASA’s world-class scientists and engineers primarily solve outer space’s toughest challenges, but many of those tech solutions apply to business opportunities on earth too.