Eight US companies will manufacture NASA’s COVID-19 ventilator

Christine Fisher
Contributing Writer
NASA JPL's VITAL Covid-19 ventilator team

Last month, the FDA rushed a NASA-designed ventilator through its fast-track Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) program in hopes that it might be used to treat COVID-19 patients. Caltech, which manages NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), offered to license the tech on a royalty-free basis during the pandemic, and it received more than 100 applications. Today, the partners named eight companies that have been selected to manufacture the device. 

VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally) is a high-pressure ventilator that offers a simpler, more affordable option for treating COVID-19 patients. JPL designed VITAL with one-seventh the parts of a traditional ventilator. Those parts are already available via existing supply chains. This means the device can be assembled and maintained more easily and for less money.

The eight manufacturers selected to produce VITAL stretch from Connecticut to California and from Minnesota to Texas. JPL did not say when the device might be ready for use. 

NASA/JPL-Caltech VITAL COVID-19 ventilator

Next, JPL is evaluating international manufacturers from countries including Brazil, India, Malaysia and Mexico. Those manufactures will also receive free licensing through Caltech.

"The VITAL team is very excited to see their technology licensed," said Leon Alkalai, a member of the VITAL leadership team. "Our hope is to have this technology reach across the world and provide an additional source of solutions to deal with the on-going COVID-19 crisis."

JPL is also testing a modified design which uses compressed air and could be used by a greater range of hospitals. That design has been submitted for a FDA EUA and is currently under review.

Since the pandemic began, several companies have proposed novel ventilator designs. We’ve seen concepts from Dyson, Fitbit, NVIDIA’s chief scientist and Tesla, as well as an adapter by Formlabs. But it has become clear that pivoting to manufacture ventilators is challenging. JPL and Caltech clearly feel these eight companies are up to the task, and with any luck VITAL will be available soon.