Outer space provides rich set of opportunities for this Knoxville tech company
Ultrasonic Technology Solutions is the recipient of a rare Phase III Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award to advance one solution for NASA and negotiating a Phase II award for another need that the federal agency faces.
For Knoxville’s Ultrasonic Technology Solutions LLC (UTS), outer space has proven to provide a rich set of opportunities.
The company was founded by Ayyoub Momen, a former Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researcher who exclusively licensed a technology that he had developed. That technology is encompassed in the company’s name and refers to a process for drying that is based on the use of the high-frequency vibration of piezoelectric transducers, instead of heat, to remove water from articles.
In layperson terms, that is similar to how dogs shake themselves after getting out of a pond or other body of water.
Today, Ultrasonic Technology Solutions is the recipient of a rare Phase III Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award to advance one solution for NASA and negotiate a Phase II award for another need that the federal agency faces. Both relate to the challenges that astronauts at the International Space Station face.
As reported in this teknovation.biz article from January 2021, the company received a $760,000, two-year SBIR award from NASA to design the next generation of a space solid human waste dryer for the toilet system. Currently, solid and liquid waste on the Space Station must either be repurposed or stored until it can be transported back to Earth. While NASA has technologies that allow for the recycling and reuse of a good portion of its water, more than 1,000 gallons annually which also includes urine, there is a critical need to deal with solid excrement, particularly in removing and potentially safely reusing the liquid portion.
The latest SBIR award of $420,000 is to develop what Momen describes as a “functional machine” that integrates four key components. “It’s a challenging, intense task,” he says.
The initial work on the space toilet caused NASA to explore another challenge with Ultrasonic Technology Solutions, namely what to do about the clothing that the astronauts wear.
“They need to exercise for several hours each day,” Momen explains. Up to now, they have worn the same shirt for seven days before disposing of it.
Why? The answer is simple; there are no washers and dryers available.
So, NASA turned to Ultrasonic Technology Solutions to see if Momen and his team could make a machine that performs both functions – washing the clothing and then drying the items.
Under the Phase I SBIR award, the company developed a proof of concept design that looks much like a laptop. The Phase II award would allow Ultrasonic Technology Solutions to develop a fully functional prototype.
“We will know if it works in two years,” Momen says, adding that NASA is a niche but valuable market.
The company, which is located in West Knoxville, has grown to nine employees who are also working on five pilot projects for industrial customers.