In a move similar to Lockheed Martin & Boeing, NASA is contracting out work to many small businesses. This year alone, NASA has already surpassed their annual small-business contracting goal by 28%, spending $2.6 billion on small-business contracts.
“By contracting to small business we can get it a little bit cheaper, a little bit faster, and a little bit more creative,” said Glenn Delgado, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Office of Small Business.
In order to attract more small businesses, NASA created a Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) which rewards small businesses developing concepts or prototypes in areas of space technology.
Honeybee Robotics, a company of about 40 employees based in Manhattan is one example of a small business working with NASA. One product they’ve developed is already in use, a storage system/robotic lab assistant for the Mars Curiosity Rover, which landed in August.
When asked why NASA chose them over bigger and more established companies, Honeybee President Kiel Davis said, “We have a very lightweight overhead system that allows us to be agile, flexible and maneuver quickly to customer needs. The behemoths that get the bulk of NASA contracts are very expensive. They’re slow, and there’s a lot of bureaucracy.”
While NASA has surpassed its small-business contracting goal for two years in a row, the administration still lags in contracting goals for areas including women-owned businesses and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses. And many critics feel their small business program is not enough to change the status quo. Delgado acknowledges the high barrier to entry that small businesses face in the space contracting business, but he also believes it can be lowered by programs such as SBIR.
“We’re just trying to make sure they’re exposed to our world, and our world is exposed to their world,” he says.
David Weaver, NASA spokesman, said relationships with small businesses is a win on both sides.
“[Any money we save] we plow back into the ambitious programs that we’re implementing.”