NASA SBIR/STTR Program Solicitation Details | 1. Program Description

1. Program Description

1.1 Introduction

This document includes instructions for two NASA program solicitations with separate subtopics under which small business concerns (SBCs) are invited to submit proposals: the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. While the SBIR and STTR subtopics appear in an integrated list in Chapter 9, each subtopic will indicate its program of origin. Program background information, eligibility requirements for participants, information on the three program phases, and information for submitting responsive proposals are contained herein. The fiscal year 2021 solicitation period for Phase I proposals begins on November 9, 2020, and ends at 5 p.m. ET on January 8, 2021. 

Note: The NASA SBIR/STTR program does not allow switching from STTR to SBIR, or vice versa, after proposal submission, during the award period of performance, or between Phase I and Phase II.

The NASA SBIR and STTR programs do not fund proposals solely directed toward system studies, market research, routine engineering, development of existing product(s), proven concepts, or modifications of existing products without substantive innovation. 

It is anticipated that some SBIR and STTR Phase I proposals will be selected for negotiation of firm-fixed-price contracts approximately during the month of March 2021. Historically, 24 percent of SBIR Phase I proposal submissions receive awards, while 35 percent of STTR Phase I proposals receive awards. About 41 percent of the completed Phase I projects receive funding for Phase II development. 

Under this solicitation, NASA will not accept more than 10 proposals to each program from any one firm (20 total) in order to ensure the broadest participation of the small business community. NASA does not plan to award more than 5 SBIR contracts and 2 STTR contracts (7 total) to any offeror. See section 3.1.


Offerors may only submit one Phase II proposal per Phase I award. See section 3.4.1.

 Proposals, including all relevant documentation, must be submitted online via the Proposal Submissions Electronic Handbook at Unsolicited proposals will not be accepted.

1.2 Program Management and Alignment

The Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) provides overall policy direction for implementation of the NASA SBIR/STTR programs. The NASA SBIR/STTR Program Management Office (PMO), which operates the programs in conjunction with NASA mission directorates and centers, is hosted at the NASA Ames Research Center. NASA Shared Services Center (NSSC) provides the overall procurement management for the programs.  

For the SBIR program, NASA research and technology areas to be solicited are identified annually by the Agency’s mission directorates. The directorates identify high-priority research problems and technology needs for their respective programs and projects. The range of problems and technologies is broad, and the list of topics and subtopics varies in content from year to year to maintain alignment with current interests.

The STTR program is aligned with the priorities of NASA’s 2020 NASA Technology Taxonomy and the NASA Strategic Technology Integration Framework as well as the associated core competencies of the NASA centers. Again, the range of technologies is broad, and the list of topics and subtopics varies in content from year to year to maintain alignment with current interests.

For information regarding the mission directorates and the NASA centers, see section 7.1.

For details on the research subtopic descriptions by Focus Area, see section 9.

1.3 Three-Phase Program

Both the SBIR and STTR programs are divided into three funding and development stages. These three phases are described in detail on the NASA SBIR/STTR website:

Phase I and II

Maximum value and period of performance for Phase I and Phase II contracts:

Phase I Contracts



Maximum Contract Value



Period of Performance

6 months

13 months

Phase II Contracts



Maximum Contract Value



Maximum Period of Performance

24 months

24 months


Post-Phase II Opportunities for Continued Technology Development

The NASA SBIR/STTR program has two initiatives for supporting its small business partners beyond the basic Phase II award. These are the Phase II Extended (Phase II-E) contract option and the Civilian Commercialization Readiness Pilot Program (CCRPP) contract. 

Please refer to for eligibility, application deadlines, matching requirements and further information.

Phase III

Phase III is the commercialization of innovative technologies, products, and services resulting from either a Phase I or Phase II contract. This includes further development of technologies for transition into NASA programs, other Government agencies, or the private sector. Phase III contracts are funded from sources other than the SBIR and STTR programs and may be awarded without further competition.

Please refer to for Phase III information.

1.4 Availability of Funds

All Phase I, Phase II, and post-Phase II awards are subject to availability of funds. NASA has no obligation to make any specific number of awards based on this solicitation and may elect to make several or no awards in any specific technical topic or subtopic.

1.5 Eligibility Requirements

1.5.1 Small Business Concern (SBC) 

To receive SBIR/STTR funds, each awardee of a Phase I or Phase II award must qualify as an SBC at the time of award and at any other time set forth in SBA’s regulations at 13 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 121.701-121.705.

Each Phase I and Phase II awardee must submit a certification stating that it meets the size, ownership and other requirements of the SBIR or STTR program at the time of proposal submission, award, and at any other time set forth in SBA’s regulations at 13 CFR 121.701-121.705. Socially and economically disadvantaged and women-owned SBCs are particularly encouraged to propose.

1.5.2 Place of Performance

Research/Research & Development (R/R&D) must be performed in the United States (see However, based on a rare and unique circumstance (for example, if a supply, material, or other item or project requirement is not available in the United States), NASA may allow a particular portion of the research or R&D work to be performed or obtained in a country outside of the United States. Proposals must clearly indicate if any work will be performed outside the United States, including subcontractor performance, and justification must be provided. Prior to award, approval by the Contracting Officer for such specific condition(s) must be in writing.

Note: NASA will not approve purchases from or work with countries that appear on the list of Designated Countries. For reference, please see 

1.5.3 Principal Investigator (PI) Employment Requirement

The primary employment of the Principal Investigator (PI) shall be with the SBC under the SBIR program, while under the STTR program, either the SBC or Research Institution (RI) shall employ the PI. Primary employment means that more than 50 percent of the PI’s total employed time (including all concurrent employers, consulting, and self-employed time) is spent with the SBC or RI at time of award and during the entire period of performance. Primary employment with an SBC precludes full-time employment at another organization. If the PI does not currently meet these primary employment requirements, then the offeror must explain how these requirements will be met if the proposal is selected for contract negotiations that may lead to an award. Co-Principal Investigators are not allowed.

Note: NASA considers a full-time workweek to be nominally 40 hours and considers a 19.9-hour or more workweek elsewhere to be in conflict with this rule. In rare occasions, minor deviations from this requirement may be necessary; however, any minor deviation must be approved in writing by the Contracting Officer after consultation with the NASA SBIR/STTR Program Manager/Business Manager.




Primary Employment

PI shall be primarily employed with the SBC

PI shall be primarily employed with the RI or SBC



The offeror must certify in the proposal that the primary employment of the PI will be with the SBC at the time of award and during the conduct of the project

The offeror must certify in the proposal that the primary employment of the PI will be with the SBC or the RI at the time of award and during the conduct of the project


Not allowed

Not allowed

Misrepresentation of Qualifications

Shall result in rejection of the proposal or termination of the contract

Shall result in rejection of the proposal or termination of the contract

Substitution of PIs

Requires a prior approval from NASA

Requires a prior approval from NASA


 1.5.4 Restrictions on Venture-Capital-Owned Businesses

At the current time, small businesses owned in majority part by multiple venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms are not eligible to submit proposals to the NASA SBIR/STTR solicitation.

1.5.5 Joint Ventures and Limited Partnerships

Both joint ventures and limited partnerships are permitted, provided the entity created qualifies as an SBC in accordance with the definition of an SBC here:  A statement of how the workload will be distributed, managed and charged should be included in the proposal. A copy or comprehensive summary of the joint venture agreement or partnership agreement should be included on the Technical Proposal upload page.

1.5.6 Required Benchmark Transition Rate

The Phase I to Phase II transition rate requirement applies only to SBIR and STTR Phase I applicants that have received more than 20 (21 or more) Phase I awards over the past 5 fiscal years, excluding the most recent year.  These companies must meet the required benchmark rate of transition from Phase I to Phase II.  The current transition rate requirement, agreed upon and established by all 11 SBIR agencies and published for public comment at 77 FR 63410 in October 2012 and amended at 78 FR 30951 in May 2013, is that an awardee must have received an average of one Phase II for every four Phase I awards received during the most recent 5-year time period (which excludes the most recently-completed fiscal year) to be eligible to submit a proposal for a new Phase I (or Direct-to-Phase II) award.  That is, the ratio of Phase II to Phase I awards must be at least 0.25.

On June 1 of each year, the SBA assesses SBIR/STTR awardees using SBIR and STTR award information across all Federal agencies reported on to determine if they meet the benchmark requirements. Companies that failed to meet the transition rate benchmark on June 1, 2020, are not eligible to submit a Phase I proposal during the period June 1, 2020, through May 31, 2021.  Companies were notified by the SBA if they failed to meet the benchmark and can find their status at any time on .

More information on the transition rate requirements is available at

1.6 NASA Technology Available (TAV) for SBIR/STTR Use

Offerors have the option of using technology developed by NASA (Technology Available (TAV)) related to the subtopic to which they are proposing. NASA has over 1,400 patents available for licensing in its portfolio, including many patents related to sensors and materials. NASA has over 1,000 available software codes/tools listed in its Software Catalog ( While NASA scientists and engineers conduct breakthrough research that leads to innovations, the range of NASA's effort does not extend to commercial product development in any of its intramural research areas. Additional work is often necessary to exploit these NASA technologies (TAVs) for either infusion or commercial viability and likely requires innovation on behalf of the private sector. These technologies can be searched via the NASA Technology Transfer Portal,, and may be a NASA-owned patent and/or computer software. Use of a TAV requires a patent license or Software Usage Agreement (SUA) from NASA. TAVs are available for use during both Phase I and Phase II award periods, including any extensions. NASA provides these technologies "as is" and makes no representation or guarantee that additional effort will result in infusion or commercial viability.

Whether or not a firm proposes the use of a NASA patent or computer software within its proposed effort will not in any way be a factor in the selection for award.

Use of NASA Software

If an offeror intends to use NASA software, a Software Usage Agreement (SUA), on a nonexclusive, royalty-free basis, is necessary, and the clause at 48 C.F.R. 1852.227-88, Government-Furnished Computer Software and Related Technical Data, will apply to the contract. The SUA shall be requested from the appropriate NASA Center Software Release Authority (SRA), after contract award.

Use of NASA Patent

All offerors submitting proposals that include the use of a NASA patent must submit an application for a nonexclusive, royalty-free evaluation license. After firms have identified a patent to license in the NASA patent portfolio (, a link on the patent webpage (“Apply Now to License this Technology”) will direct them to NASA’s Automated Licensing System (ATLAS) to finalize their license with the appropriate field center technology transfer office. The completed evaluation license application must be uploaded on the Electronic Handbook (EHB) Proposal Certifications page. Such grant of nonexclusive evaluation license will be set forth in the successful offeror’s SBIR/STTR contract. The evaluation license will automatically terminate at the end of the SBIR/STTR contract. License applications will be treated in accordance with Federal patent licensing regulations as provided in 37 CFR Part 404.

In addition to an evaluation license, if the proposed work includes the making, using, or selling of products or services incorporating a NASA patent, successful awardees will be given the opportunity to negotiate a nonexclusive commercialization license or, if available, an exclusive commercialization license to the NASA patent. Commercialization licenses are also provided in accordance with 37 CFR Part 404. 

An SBIR/STTR awardee that has been granted a nonexclusive, royalty-free evaluation license to use a NASA patent under the SBIR/STTR award may, if available and on a noninterference basis, also have access to NASA personnel knowledgeable about the NASA patent. Licensing Executives located at the appropriate NASA field center will be available to assist awardees requesting information about a patent that was identified in the SBIR/STTR contract and, if available and on a noninterference basis, provide access to the inventor or surrogate for the purpose of knowledge transfer.

Note: Access to the inventor for the purpose of knowledge transfer will require the requestor to enter into a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) or other agreement, such as a Space Act Agreement. The awardee may be required to reimburse NASA for knowledge transfer activities. For Phase I proposals, this is a time-consuming process and is not recommended.

1.7 I-Corps™

The National Science Foundation (NSF) created the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) (hereinafter I-Corps) program to develop and nurture a national innovation ecosystem that builds upon fundamental research to guide the output of scientific discoveries closer to the development of technologies, products, and processes that benefit society. NSF's I-Corps training is designed to lower the market risk inherent in bringing a product or innovation to market, thereby improving the chances for a viable business.

The goals of the SBIR/STTR and the I-Corps programs overlap by encouraging the innovation and entrepreneurship of small businesses and enabling those businesses to commercialize their innovations. NASA's SBIR/STTR program releases solicitations for research and development that are of interest to NASA's mission directorates with the goal that the selected technologies will become a success by being transitioned, or infused, into a NASA program, or by commercial success outside of NASA and the Federal Government.

With this goal in mind, NASA, through the SBIR/STTR program, worked with NSF to implement a NASA-specific SBIR/STTR I-Corps program. The NASA I-Corps program enables small businesses, including startup firms, to increase the odds of accelerating the process of developing their SBIR/STTR technologies into a repeatable and scalable business model. The program accomplishes this by putting the firms through a version of the Lean Launchpad/I-Corps process, which includes:

    • Developing their business model hypotheses using the Business Model Canvas.
    • Testing those hypotheses through the Customer Development Interview process.

The intended results of I-Corps are to enable firms to conduct customer discovery to learn their customers' needs, to obtain a better understanding of their company's value proposition as it relates to those customer needs, and to develop an outline of a business plan for moving forward. For more information on the NASA I-Corps program, see Offerors who are selected for Phase I contract negotiations will be provided the opportunity to participate in the NASA SBIR/STTR I-Corps program as indicated in section 3.3.6. I‑Corps awards will be made separately from the Phase I contract as a training grant. 

NASA will conduct an abbreviated competition for I-Corps after Phase I offerors are selected for Phase I SBIR and STTR contracts. NASA anticipates awarding a total of approximately 35 grants to SBIR and STTR Phase I awardees. The distribution is expected to be approximately 10 STTR teams and 25 SBIR teams. The amount of funding is up to $10,000 for the shortened version for SBIR firms, and $25,000 for the full I-Corps program for STTR firms.

The I-Corps program may be extended and offered to firms applying for SBIR/STTR Post-Phase II opportunities. Please refer to the NASA SBIR/STTR website to stay up to date on latest details:

1.8 Technical and Business Assistance (TABA)

The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 permits SBIR and STTR Phase I and II awardees to enter into agreements with one or more vendors to provide Technical and Business Assistance (TABA). TABA allows an additional supplement to the award ($6,500 for Phase I awards and $50,000 for Phase II awards) and is aimed at improving the commercialization success of SBIR awardees. TABA may be obtained from entities such as public or private organizations, including an entity established or funded by a U.S. state that facilitates or accelerates the commercialization of technologies or assists in the creation and growth of private enterprises that are commercializing technology. 

In accordance with the Small Business Act, NASA may authorize the recipient of a NASA Phase I or Phase II SBIR/STTR award to purchase technical and business assistance services through one or more outside vendors. These services may, as determined appropriate, include access to a network of non-NASA scientists and engineers engaged in a wide range of technologies, assistance with product sales, intellectual property protections, market research, market validation, and development of regulatory plans and manufacturing plans, or access to technical and business literature available through online databases, for the purpose of assisting such concerns in

  1. Making better technical decisions concerning such projects;
  2. Solving technical problems that arise during the conduct of such projects;
  3. Minimizing technical risks associated with such projects; or
  4. Commercializing new commercial products and processes resulting from such projects, including intellectual property protections.

For information on how to request TABA, please see sections 3.3.13 (Phase I) and 3.4.14 (Phase II), Request for Use of Technical and Business Assistance Funds. Technical and business assistance does not count toward the maximum award amount of your Phase I or Phase II contract. Approval of technical and business assistance is not guaranteed and is subject to review by the Contracting Officer. A description of any technical and business assistance obtained under this section and the benefits and results of the technical or business assistance provided will be a required deliverable of your contract.

1.9 NASA Mentor-Protégé Program (MPP)

The purpose of the NASA Mentor-Protégé Program (MPP) is to provide incentives to NASA contractors, performing under at least one active approved subcontracting plan negotiated with NASA, to assist protégés in enhancing their capabilities to satisfy NASA and other contract and subcontract requirements. The NASA MPP, established under the authority of Title 42, United States Code (U.S.C.) 2473(c)(1) and managed by the Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP), includes an Award Fee Pilot Program. Under the Award Fee Pilot Program, a mentor is eligible to receive an award fee at the end of the agreement period based upon the mentor’s performance of providing developmental assistance to an active SBIR/STTR Phase II contractor in a NASA Mentor-Protégé agreement (MPA).

The evaluation criterion is based on the amount and quality of technology transfer and business development skills that will increase the protégé’s Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs). TRLs measure technology readiness on a scale of 1 to 9. A mentor should attempt to raise the TRL of the protégé and outline the goals and objectives in the MPA and the award fee plan. A separate award fee review panel set up by NASA OSBP will use the semiannual reports, annual reviews, and the award fee plan in order to determine the amount of award fee given at the end of the performance period of the agreement.

For more information on the Mentor-Protégé Program, please visit

1.10 Intern Supplement Pilot (at Phase II)

NASA is planning to pilot an Intern Supplement program with the goal of supporting workforce development for technology companies. This will be accomplished through student internships paid for by the SBIR program during the period of performance of Phase II awards. Firms will have the opportunity to indicate interest as part of their 2021 SBIR Phase II proposal. The pool of interns will be provided by NASA, and firms that choose to opt in will be encouraged to support intern diversity, including military veterans.

1.11 NASA Procurement Ombudsman Program

The NASA Procurement Ombudsman Program is available under this solicitation as a procedure for addressing concerns and disagreements concerning the terms of solicitation, the processes used for evaluation of proposals, or any other aspect of the SBIR/STTR procurement. The clause at NASA Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Supplement (NFS) 1852.215-84 (“Ombudsman”) is incorporated into this solicitation.

The cognizant ombudsman is: 

William Roets
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Procurement
Office of Procurement
NASA Headquarters
Washington, DC 20546-0001
Telephone:  202-358-4483
Fax:  202-358-3082

Offerors are advised that, in accordance with NFS 1852.215-84, the ombudsman does not participate in any way with the evaluation of proposals, the source selection process, or the adjudication of formal contract disputes. Therefore, before consulting with the ombudsman, offerors must first address their concerns, issues, disagreements, and/or recommendations to the Contracting Officer for resolution. Offerors are further advised that the process set forth in this solicitation provision (and codified at NFS 1852.215-84) does not augment their right to file a bid protest or otherwise toll or elongate the period in which to timely file such a protest.

1.12 General Information

1.12.1 Means of Contacting NASA SBIR/STTR Program 

  1. NASA SBIR/STTR website:
  2. Help Desk: The NASA SBIR/STTR Help Desk can answer any questions regarding clarification of proposal instructions and any administrative matters. Please contact the NASA SBIR/STTR Helpdesk at
    • The requestor must provide the name and telephone number of the person to contact, the organization name and address, and the specific questions or requests.

1.12.2 Questions About This Solicitation  

To ensure fairness, questions relating to the intent and/or content of research topics in this solicitation cannot be addressed during the open solicitation period. Only questions requesting clarification of proposal instructions and administrative matters will be addressed. 

The cutoff date and time for receipt of Phase I solicitation procurement-related questions and answers is January 1, 2021, at 5:00 p.m. ET.  

The cutoff date and time for receipt of Phase II solicitation procurement-related questions and answers is 7 calendar days prior to the end of the Phase I contract.

1.12.3 NASA Electronic Handbook (EHB)

NASA uses the EHB for all proposal submissions. See section 6 for more information.

1.13 Definitions

A comprehensive list of definitions related to the SBIR and STTR programs is available at These definitions include those from the SBIR and STTR policy directives as well as terms specific to NASA. Offerors are strongly encouraged to review these prior to submitting a proposal.