This Isn't Rocket Science

A free program lets entrepreneurs tap into NASA's expertise

How do you make a better bug trap? Jeffrey Brown was stumped. In 2003, his $2 million, three-person company, Nacon, was developing its Tri-Phased Array Fly Trap. It would use an ultraviolet light to lure bugs into the trap's interior, where they'd stick to adhesive strips. That's much more sanitary, Brown says, than electronic bug zappers, which blow bugs into nasty bits that people might inhale. But Brown couldn't get the reflectors quite right, so his prototype wasn't attracting enough bugs.

Enter NASA—yes, the space people. Brown heard about the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP), which connects NASA engineers with entrepreneurs. SATOP linked Brown with some of its partner engineers at Boeing, and in three weeks they successfully redesigned the reflector. Says Brown: "If we didn't get this problem solved, we would still be in research and development."

SATOP helps existing companies with tricky engineering problems, and the service is free. You can apply for help from SATOP at one of its four offices—in Florida, New York, New Mexico, and Texas—or online at If selected, SATOP will try to connect you with engineers at one of its 55 partners, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, University of New Mexico, and City University of New York. You'll have to bring your own bugs.

Edited by Jeremy Quittner

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