NSF SBIR/STTR Space Topic - What You Need To Know

America’s Seed Fund powered by the National Science Foundation (NSF’s SBIR/STTR program) is soliciting proposals for the first time under a new space topic.

More information is located at https://seedfund.nsf.gov/topics/space/. Small businesses interested in participating must submit the required Project Pitch to get started.


Can my firm apply to both NASA and NSF's solicitations?

Yes! Proposers may submit overlapping proposals to different agencies, but NSF will not make awards that duplicate research funded by, or anticipated to be funded by, other agencies. It is very important to note potential overlap on the cover page of the NSF proposal. If a proposer fails to disclose that another Federal Agency has received this proposal (or an equivalent or overlapping proposal) on the proposal cover page, the proposer could be liable for administrative, civil, or criminal sanctions.

If a proposal is selected for award by both NSF and NASA, the agencies will work together to determine which agency will fund the work. Sometimes, the project scope and/or budgets will be adjusted if both projects will be funded in order to ensure that no portion of the work is double-funded. However, NSF SBIR/STTR will not co-fund a single proposal with any other agency.


Potential follow-on funding from NASA

A firm successful in an NSF SBIR/STTR may choose to later apply to NASA if they are seeking entry to the NASA market. There are also opportunities to receive sequential Phase II and Phase III awards from NASA after successful completion of an NSF Phase I award.


How do firms decide which solicitation is the best fit?

Awards made through NASA’s SBIR/STTR program are fixed-price contracts, while NSF’s SBIR/STTR program issues its awards as fixed-price grants.  The contract mechanism generally features clear agency-defined outcomes for the research, while grants are more flexible.  For companies where the government is the primary end customer or user, the NASA program will give additional structure and guidance.  For companies seeking to pursue their own commercial vision, which differs from a stated governmental need, the NSF grant-based mechanism may be preferable (though these companies may also view the government as one potential customer or user). 


NASA solicits solutions for high priority research problems and technology needs aligned with NASA interests. (For STTR, they are aligned with NASA’s Space Technology Roadmaps and the associated core competencies of the NASA centers.)

NASA is a primary customer for many SBIR/STTR technologies but the quantity is often limited (one way to say this is NASA will be a “market of 5”… “one to bake, one to break, one to shake, one to fly and one to put on the shelf”), or NASA is a secondary customer when SBIR/STTR firms become subcontractors/suppliers to aerospace primes.

When NASA evaluates Phase I proposals, technical merit is more important than commercial merit. NASA evaluates primarily the “innovation” not the "innovator," based on the evaluation criteria
in the current solicitation.

NASA’s entire solicitation is focused on aerospace and aeronautics technologies. Some technologies are of interest to both NASA and other markets/ applications. https://sbir.nasa.gov/solicit-detail/61545

The NSF SBIR/STTR program seeks to support innovative, high-risk and high-impact R&D projects with a strong case made for commercialization. The portfolio is divided into broad technology areas, which now includes a space topic; a full list is here: https://seedfund.nsf.gov/portfolio/. This list is NOT exhaustive. A small business has the freedom to pursue any technology and market area (with the exception of drug development). Phase I proposals are evaluated based on the merit review criteria listed here: https://seedfund.nsf.gov/resources/review/peer-review/. NSF's goals are to foster innovation and help create businesses and jobs in the United States, and companies seed funded by the NSF’s program have since gone on to tremendous success. NSF is not interested in buying the technology created by the companies it has funded.

Here’s what NSF looks for when determining which companies to fund:

  • Game-changing: Your innovation could make a difference to people worldwide or revolutionize an industry.
  • High-risk: Your product is based on unproven technology that needs further testing (and funding for that testing).
  • Market pull: You have evidence that your product or service could meet an important, unmet need for your customers.
  • Scale: If you successfully bring your product or service to market, it could form the foundation for a scalable business and make a large impact in your target market.

NSF’s Space Topic includes 10 subtopics. An exact fit into one of subtopics is not required.


NASA has one annual solicitation for Phase I proposals.
  • The typical annual release is in January.
NSF has two open submission windows per year for Phase I proposals. Companies must first submit a Project Pitch and receive an official request to submit a full proposal. Project Pitches are accepted at any time. Proposals are accepted any time within a submission window and reviewed as quickly as possible after submission.
  • The latest opened in March, proposals may be submitted until June 13, 2019.
  • The next will open June 14, 2019 and close December 12, 2019.


  • Any eligible firm can submit a proposal to NASA.
  • You may submit up to 10 unique proposals to each of the NASA SBIR or STTR programs (20 total) per solicitation year.
  • For NSF, firms must first submit a two- to three-page "Project Pitch" that outlines the project objectives, technical innovation and associated technical risks. NSF will provide specific feedback about whether or not the proposed project is a good fit for its program. You must be requested to submit a full proposal based on the successful Project Pitch.
  • Once requested, you may submit only ONE Phase I proposal to NSF per submission window.
  • Submission of a given project for consideration by both NSF and NASA is permitted.  However, given the different program goals and criteria, it’s likely that one agency or the other would be a much better fit for any specific project.  Therefore, we recommend that prospective applicants approach whichever agency seems to be the best fit, given the guidelines above. 
  • *Each small business can only submit one Project Pitch at a time and up to two Project Pitches per submission window. (The submission windows for 2019 are March 4-June 13 and June 14-December 12). Any small business with a pending Project Pitch must wait for a response before submitting another Project Pitch. Any small business that has received a request to submit a full proposal, or which has a full proposal under review, must wait for a resolution of the full proposal before submitting a new or revised Project Pitch.


  • NASA awards $125k Phase I Contracts with a set six-month period of performance for SBIR and a 13-month period of performance for STTR. Phase IIs are $750K for 24 months. NASA offers a variety of Post-Phase II award opportunities.
  • The average time from proposal submission to award for NASA is four months.
  • The majority of NASA SBIR/STTR awardees are repeat SBIR/STTR awardees, though the program seeks to maintain a healthy percentage of first-time awardees to NASA.
  • NASA awards roughly $170M annually to small business concerns developing technologies related to NASA’s interests.
  • NSF awards $225k Phase I Grants with a period of performance of six to 12 months. Phase II awards are $750k for 24 months. Several Phase II supplements may be available.
  • The average time from proposal submission to award for NSF is expected to be three to six months.
  • NSF’s Space topic seeks to support growth-oriented small businesses who have not previously received significant SBIR/STTR funding.  
  • The Space topic is one of 24 topics supported by NSF’s SBIR/STTR solicitation.  NSF supports all areas of technology (except drug development) and space-related technologies will be supported at a lower funding level than NASA’s overall solicitation.


Where can my firm find more information?

  • General inquiries regarding the space (SP) topic at NSF can be made to NSF Program Director Rick Schwerdtfeger (telephone: (703) 292-8353, email: rschwerd@nsf.gov) at any time. NSF does not have a blackout period.
  • Learn more about the NSF program during a webinar or at an event.
  • Small businesses can submit a Project Pitch in Step 4 on the Apply Page of seedfund.nsf.gov.



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