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Center Innovation Fund

The Center Innovation Fund stimulates and encourages creativity and innovation at NASA centers while addressing technology needs of NASA and the nation. There are two components to this program: the Center Innovation Fund and NASA’s Early Career Initiative.

View prior Early Career Initiative selections about Center Innovation Fund

The Center Innovation Fund distributes annual funding to each NASA center to support the development of emerging technologies and foster new center initiatives. NASA scientists and engineers lead selected center projects, but partnerships among centers and with other agencies, academia and private industry are encouraged. The Chief Technologist at each center coordinates a competitive internal review and selection process, with candidate projects approved by NASA Headquarters to prevent duplication and ensure relevance to NASA goals. Project status is periodically reviewed, and Centers deliver a comprehensive annual report on project status and accomplishments to NASA Headquarters. Successfully developed CIF technologies are captured in NASA New Technology Reports (NTRs), and CIF project summaries are publicly available through NASA TechPort. To date CIF projects have generated over 300 NTRs and 350 publications, with close to 100 U.S. patents and patent applications, over a dozen commercial licenses, and 2 spin-off companies. Projects often transition from CIF into other NASA programs, where they are further developed and matured to advance our national aerospace capabilities.

NASA’s Early Career Initiative is a unique and powerful opportunity for the best and brightest of NASA’s early career researchers to lead hands-on technology development projects. The initiative aims to invigorate NASA’s technological base and best practices by partnering early career NASA leaders with external innovators. Started as a pilot effort in 2014, the Early Career Initiative has become a wellspring of innovation to help shape NASA’s future robotic and human exploration missions, while training the next generation of NASA civil servant scientists, engineers and managers.

An annual ECI solicitation is released by NASA Headquarters each spring to the center chief technologists. As a federally funded research and development center, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is not allowed to submit or lead proposals but may participate as proposal team members. Each center works with their early career personnel to develop, review, and submit up to two proposals. An independent panel consisting of a core set of reviewers augmented by NASA subject matter experts evaluates and ranks each proposal, with final award selections made by the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) deputy associate administrator for programs. Award announcements typically occur in August, with projects starting in October. Selected projects receive up to $2.5M over a two-year period of performance and are reviewed annually, with a final report submitted at project closeout

Pending available funding, the program anticipates awarding up to five new ECI projects each year to maintain an annual portfolio of five new and five continuing ECI projects.


Prior ECI Selections Include:


  • Amanda Stark, LaRC: Modular Assembled Radiators for NEP VehicLes (MARVL)​
  • Jorge Chong​, JSC​: Project TRON: The Next Generation of Optical Navigation​
  • Holly Leopardi​, GSFC: Spaceflight Compatible Optical Atomic Strontium Ion Clock (OASIC)​
  • Andrew O’Connor​, MSFC: Lunar Assembly and Service by Autonomous Robotics (LASAR)​
  • Brian Holler​, GRC: ICE CHILL: Integrated Cryo-operable Electronics to Condition Hibernation for Improved Li-ion Longevity


  • Dan Sirbu, ARC: AstroPIC: Photonic Integrated Circuit High-Contrast Imaging for Space Astronomy
  • Meghan Bush, GRC: MAI TAI: Mitigating Arc Inception via Transformational Array Instrumentation
  • Peter Snapp, GSFC: Design of a Broad Utility, Visible-Blind, SiC, UV Spectrometer for Astrophysics, Planetary and Earth Science Applications
  • Amy Felt, KSC: Advancement of Exploration Components for In-Space Servicing (AXCIS)


  • Closing of Critical Technology Gaps for High-Efficiency Rotating Detonation Rocket Engines
    Marshall Space Flight Center
  • THSiRU: Terahertz Heterodyne Spectrometer for In Situ Resource Utilization
    Goddard Space Flight Center
  • CUTLAS: Carbon Utilization Technology for Lunar and Atmospheric Systems
    Glenn Research Center
  • Aerocapture System as an Enabling Technology for Ice Giant Missions
    Langley Research Center
  • AERACEPT: Aerosol Rapid Analysis Combined Entry Probe/sonde Technology
    Ames Research Center






FY2015 (Pilot Program):

Questions about the Center Innovation Fund program may be directed to Program Executive Mike LaPointe. Questions about specific Center Innovation Fund efforts or opportunities may be directed to NASA center chief technologists.