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Ozark IC Wins NASA SBIR Phase II Award to Build Ultraviolet Imager

March 23rd, 2016 by Rebecca Norman

Fayetteville-based company Ozark IC has been selected for a National Aeronautics and Space Administration Small Business Innovation Research Phase II contract award to build a prototype ultraviolet imager for NASA’s programs in Earth observation and planetary exploration.

This is the first Arkansas NASA SBIR Phase II since 2010, and the 8th for an Arkansas company in the history of the NASA SBIR program. Additionally, this is Ozark IC’s first Phase II award.

Although the contract is being finalized, the award is anticipated to be approximately $750,000 for a two-year project performance period.

The Ozark IC team worked with the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center to prepare its winning Phase II proposal. “ASBTDC was an essential partner in preparing the Phase II proposal,” noted Dr. Matt Francis, Ozark IC’s CEO. “The marketing information provided was invaluable. So, (another) piece of advice: use ASBTDC often, wisely and try to give them as much time as you can.”

Ozark IC team (Pictured left to right: Dr. Ian Getreu, Director of Business Development; Dr. Matt Francis,  President and CEO; and Jim Holmes, Director of Business Development)

Ozark IC team (Pictured left to right: Dr. Ian Getreu, Director of Business Development; Dr. Matt Francis, President and CEO; and Jim Holmes, Director of Business Development)

Phase I

In Phase I, Ozark IC demonstrated the feasibility of its 2-D ultraviolet imager, or camera. UV observation of the earth provides a way to monitor ozone depletion and cloud changes. “Future missions to planets such as Venus could make use of the imager for a wide range of applications from atmospheric composition to machine vision in a future rover,” Francis said.

Ozark IC’s silicon-carbide-based (SiC) circuits are well suited to the wide temperature ranges these applications demand (the surface temperature of Venus is nearly 470 degrees Celsius, and earth-orbiting satellites can experience very low temperatures).

“Typical silicon-based integrated circuits will not survive at these very high temperatures and require special modifications to operate at very low temperatures,” said Dr. Ian Getreu, Ozark IC’s director of business development and strategic partnerships.

Phase II and the Commercial Product

“In Phase II, Ozark IC will build a prototype of the UV Imager. This prototype will be available for testing by NASA and Ozark IC in 2017. A follow-up Phase III award would be required to take the prototype into production,” said Francis.

The end product will be a SiC microchip that can capture UV images in a digital format. “This chip can be used to capture UV light emissions from terrestrial, planetary, and cosmic sources and operate with high reliability under prolonged exposure to intense UV light and extreme temperatures,” said Jim Holmes, Ozark IC’s Chief Technology Officer.

NASA Applications

Upon completion of the Phase II project, NASA can use the imager to observe areas on Earth as well as other objects in space. For Earth observations, being able to see where UV is coming from can identify ocean oil spills and volcanic activity.

“Looking outwards, UV astronomy is an important aspect of planetary and scientific research in that it helps to identify the composition of planetary objects,” said Francis. The high dynamic range of the UV imager will enable faint and distant objects to be observed.  “UV detection is also important for high-energy physics research such as the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment at Fermi Lab,” said Holmes.

Commercial Applications

Ozark IC’s UV imager will be able to address a range of commercial needs in addition to NASA applications. Getreu said, “The ability to map UV radiation in 2 dimensions at extreme temperatures will be very useful in planetary research, early oil spill detection in oceans and allowing deeper drilling in oil well exploration, among other applications.”

“Terrestrial applications also include precision inspection systems for the presence of biological agents, manufacturing defects, and water purity,” Holmes said. The team’s long-term vision for reaching commercial market will involve partnering with a manufacturer.

Advice for other SBIR Phase II Contract Applicants

“First and foremost, make sure the proposed product is core to your business,” advised Getreu. ” Make sure the proposed product meets a real need for the agency funding it.” Holmes added, “Alignment of your product with the SBIR solicitations is never 100%, but the higher the better. If the alignment is poor, don’t force-fit the proposal to a solicitation. A poorly aligned proposal will consume much more time to write and is less likely to win.”

The team had a few other valuable suggestions for prospective SBIR Phase II contract applicants:

  • Understand the risks of writing proposals. Proposal writing takes time and effort, both of which have real-dollar costs. When you write a proposal, you’re gambling with your sweat equity.
  • Make sure your proposed innovation drives commercial applications forward. As much as possible, use SBIR resources to eliminate technical barriers to as many commercial revenue streams as possible.
  • Make sure you have your engineering plans ready as well as your marketing and commercialization plans; you will need all of these to assemble the required documents.

SBIR Road Tour: Hear More from Ozark IC in Person

Dr. Francis will be a panelist at the Arkansas SBIR Road Tour. He will participate in the first afternoon session on the agenda. Be sure to stay after lunch to hear more about this team and their experiences with the SBIR program.

NASA Phase II press release