NASA Patents

NASA patents refers to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) patents.  Many of these have recently been released to the public domain. This means that everyone has free and ready access to these patents (both current and expired).

The released information included 56 patents and a database containing many expired patents. The administration’s work and research has played a role in many improvements in the world, including the development of biopsies and the advancement of artificial limbs. In fact, all of the 1,000 expired NASA patents are located in a database that can be searched at their website.

Categories of NASA Patents

While the work of NASA is far-reaching, there are some categories that are commonly used for their patents. The category of patents can be searched through easily and effectively. Examples of the categories are:

  • Biotechnology
  • Propulsion
  • Medicine
  • Environment
  • Electronics
  • Materials
  • Software Communications
  • Robotics

While most of the initial patents were developed for the exploration of space, they have a much broader use. This led NASA to think about releasing their patents for use by American industry.

Why Would NASA Release Patents?

Executives at the administration say that this move fosters entrepreneurship, which will help the U.S. to return to the front of competitiveness for high-tech design, manufacturing, and commercialization. 

NASA technology and manufacturing patents can spark all of this. At one time, NASA even made thousands of its patented technologies available to small businesses for no cost or royalty-free, and for larger businesses, made them available for licensing. 

Now, the patents in the public domain are free for everyone.

How Were Patents Selected for Release?

The selection of the patents released boiled down to the patents that had the most applications for commercially viable products. The administration did not select the patents that are for things like spacecraft or other patents which would require a lot of additional development before they could be commercially viable.

Rockets, manufacturing processes, and other advanced patents are all included on the final list of NASA’s patent releases. Some of the patents spark the imagination just reading the basic descriptions. 

Some of the most interesting are a high-voltage purification system for water, a process for making carbon nanotubes more cheaply, and even a hypersonic vehicle that flies.

Engineering issues that can be cured by these patents are things like making rocket engines more efficient, development of aerogel that is tougher, and capturing comet dust with a new material. Even something as simple as a new nozzle design which makes turbine engines more efficient is notable because of its application to commercial aircraft.

These patents are obviously a benefit to private companies who work in the aerospace industry. Bigelow Aerospace bought a patent for an inflatable space module called TransHab. Now Bigelow is using the technology contained in the patent (which it purchased for $17.8 M) to design an expandable habitat for space use.

Helping Advance Space Exploration

The theory is that these patents being available improves the advances in space exploration.

SpaceX, a U.S. manufacturer of aerospace technologies and products, will benefit from the NASA patents released. Elon Musk, their celebrated founder, is pushing for private space travel. SpaceX would like to land a spacecraft on Mars as early as 2018.

The ties between NASA and SpaceX are strong. SpaceX has been contracted by NASA to make supply drops to the International Space Station. These newly released patents by NASA will help SpaceX meet their goals in a more efficient and cost-effective way.

These patents assist with the development of products that answer several questions like: If human beings are going to work and live in space, then how can the gases they emit be safely dissipated? Or how can hypersonic flight be helped or improved by the advancement of injection systems and improved airflow around the vehicle?

These released patents can help with advancement of all technologies around space travel. For example, both a tougher aerogel and a cheaper way to produce nanotubes have been achieved.

Advances in Other Areas

When you think of NASA, you may think that only space-related technology and products are affected. However, widespread products like memory-foam mattresses, enriched baby food, cordless vacuums, and many everyday products can trace their origins back to NASA’s research and patents.

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