Customer Stories

NASA Kevlar

Finding solutions from across the globe and outside the industry

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the US federal government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and space research. Established in 1958, NASA has led most US space exploration efforts, including the Apollo Moon landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. NASA’s vision is to discover and expand scientific knowledge and understanding for the benefit of humanity. 

Inflatable structures are being researched as a means for long-duration living in space. The research program at NASA hit a roadblock in testing a key material: Kevlar. A range of testing methods had been tried but none suited all scenarios. After many internal attempts, NASA came to InnoCentive. By focusing problem solvers, from outside the industry, directly at the problem, we were able to deliver a range of solutions and new possibilities. 

This Challenge allowed the team to continue on with other priorities; they do not have time to stop.
// Tom Jones Deputy Project Manager, Research Lunar Surface Systems

The Challenge

  • The research team suffered from a 3-year-old problem for how to test Kevlar webbing for its durability in the trying conditions in space.
  • No existing method of testing works for all scenarios, since the best available method would fail at high temperatures.
  • Due to competing priorities, the team no longer had enough resources to give the problem the time and attention it needed.

The Solutions

  • Seeking outside help from the crowd, the team at NASA offered a $20,000 award for a suitable solution.
  • The award was shared between two US citizens and a Serbian national.
  • Of these, one worked at a medical college, and had no formal background in materials science — his winning insight came from testing samples under stringent conditions.

The Results

  • With at least two winning solutions from places that they would never normally look, NASA found new possibilities to work with, ending a 3-year roadblock.
  • The force multiplier of the crowd helped to save invaluable time for an over-stretched team.
  • The winning solutions were quick, simple and easy to test.

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