How Alabama Launchpad is helping a rocket scientist’s Mars mission

When I was a child, my parents often spoke with a reverent tone about the rocket scientists in Alabama.  It was a source of pride for Alabamians even though most of us had never met any of them.  I personally did not meet one until 2014, when Dr. Edwin Ethridge was nominated for one of the Alabama Innovation Awards.  Through that process, Dr. Ethridge learned about a wider array of Alabama Launchpad programs to support entrepreneurs.  Dr. Ethridge entered the Alabama Launchpad Startup Competition in 2015.   Although his company, Space Resources Extraction Technology, Inc. (SRET), did not win Launchpad competition funding, it did win a highly competitive NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I award from the federal government to develop and test microwave technology for extracting water from planetary permafrost.

Dr. Edwin Ethridge's company, Space Resources Extraction Technology, Inc. (SRET), received accounting compliance assistance.

Dr. Edwin Ethridge’s company, Space Resources Extraction Technology, Inc. (SRET), received accounting compliance assistance.

Dr. Ethridge came to Alabama Launchpad, a program of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, again and applied for and was awarded a Phase 0 SBIR accounting compliance grant through the Alabama Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Support (SBIR/STTR) Program.  Many companies struggle to understand federal accounting compliance rules.  Alabama Launchpad Phase 0 accounting compliance award is designed to make the accounting work easier and reduce the risk of an auditor finding mistakes.  Working with a local accounting firm experienced with Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) accounting practices, a compliant QuickBooks system was setup along with other required practices such as federally compliant timesheets.  According to Dr. Ethridge, SRET is still too small to have an internal accountant, and the product is still several years away from commercialization.  SBIR funding is vitally important.  Dr. Ethridge wants to perform on a high level, with both the science and the administration of the grant.  He has gone back to NASA and applied for a larger Phase II SBIR grant.  According to Dr. Ethridge, “The Launchpad assistance will reduce the risk of making an error in contract administration, and I am grateful for this help.”

Through conversations with Dr. Ethridge, we  learned how expensive it is to take resources into space.  NASA is very interested in technologies that promote the use of “in-space” resources.  Water is very heavy to carry into space and is needed for human habitation as well as for generating rocket propellant (oxygen) to ascent from the moon.  Dr. Ethridge envisions a day when a manned mission to Mars will be possible and believes this will require the use of Martian water for habitation (for water and oxygen), and for producing the propellant for ascent from Mars.

It has been a privilege to get to know Dr. Ethridge.  We look forward to a long term relationship  and to his success creating a technology that makes a manned flight to Mars a reality.

Interested in learning more about the SBIR program and application process? Please visit the Alabama Launchpad website  or contact Mary Hope Garmon at 205-943-4727 or email mgarmon@edpa.org.