Arizona companies brought in about $135 million in NASA grants and contracts in the last fiscal year, up about $20 million from the previous fiscal year.
Not including awards to the University of Arizona, Tucson companies received around $6 million in NASA contracts for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
NP Photonics, a maker of fiber-optic lasers and other optics, received the most in Tucson, with $1.44 million in NASA awards.
"We have had a long-term relationship with NASA Goddard and NASA Langley and have been awarded multiple SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) projects over the years," said Terry Hannon, president and CEO of NP Photonics. "This has given us the opportunity to demonstrate our unique capabilities to NASA."
NP Photonics designs and creates fiber lasers, which NASA is using to study and measure the carbon dioxide and oxygen content in the atmosphere, Hannon said. The lasers can be land-based or mounted on aircraft - and also will be put into space.
"One benefit from many of these programs is the determination of global weather patterns that ultimately will determine what faces us in the future with global warming," Hannon said. "The other thing that is important is the possible quantification of atmospheric pollution, particularly CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions. An accurate quantification could impact the carbon trading market."
NP Photonics was founded by chairman Nasser Peyghambarian, a University of Arizona optics professor and UA chair of photonics and lasers.
Ridgetop Group, an electronics firm based in Marana, received the second-most in NASA awards in Tucson with $1.22 million.
A few of its contracts were Phase II awards, which fund the commercialization of projects that received Phase I awards the previous year.
"Our NASA contracts are very important for development of innovative technologies for advancement of state of the art technologies," said Milena Thompson, vice president of administration at Ridgetop. "And also for creating jobs in the Tucson community."
Ridgetop's projects include helicopter technologies and improving the ways that other companies use diagnostic technology to check the remaining life span in machines.
"It's different than the traditional ways for maintenance," said Sonia Vohnout, business-development manager at Ridgetop. "Manufacturers tell you when you have to repair, but with prognostics you can extend the life of a system because in reality it doesn't need to be repaired or replaced."
Paragon Space Development received $670,027 from NASA. Paragon was founded on developing space technologies and working with space exploration, said Barry Finger, director of business development. The company has helped develop a new spacesuit and is working on an air-quality control system for spacecraft.
Paragon has used its space research to start developing products for other uses, including a dive suit for the U.S. Navy that is an extension of its space suit project.
Apart from the for-profit business contractors, the University of Arizona is the biggest beneficiary of NASA contracts. The UA Lunar and Planetary Lab alone brought in $26.5 million last year.
The non-profit Planetary Science Institute had about $5.3 million in NASA contracts last year.
About 97 percent of the Planetary Science Institute's funding comes from NASA, said Mark Sykes, CEO and director of the institute.
"But we've been growing 20 percent a year, and given the tough economic times we're living in, to grow at more than 20 percent a year is something. ... "We bring in millions of dollars a year and that's money they can use to grow the community," Sykes said.
Michelle A. Monroe is a University of Arizona journalism student and a NASA Space Grant intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: An earlier version of this story understated the amount of contracts received by the Planetary Science Institute.