Aerospace manufacturers qualify for the research and development tax credit because they are often developing high volume and highly complex production processes and techniques where extensive experimentation is required. Even aerospace companies that do not participate in overall product design can qualify. For example, a company may not be responsible for the final component design, but there is still R&D in the creation of the process to manufacture the component that they are producing. Many aerospace manufacturers charge on a fixed-cost-per-piece price, meaning that they are shouldering the burden of their research and are only paid if a successful production process is achieved. The production and costs of prototypes, first articles, and the validation of these components also qualifies for the credit. Aerospace systems engineering encompass concept development, trade studies, feasibility assessments, requirements development and analysis, system and sub-system integration and evaluation and testing. Some aerospace companies use sophisticated flight software, high-fidelity simulations and mathematical models of spacecraft systems. All of these are crucial components of R&D activities taking place within the aerospace industry.
Qualified Research Activities for Aerospace Manufacturers
- Design and development of aircraft, aerospace and weaponry components
- Experimentation to optimize production processes to increase output, improve performance, or reduce waste
- Development of secondary operations such as surface treatment of metals
- Development and testing of new composite materials
- Development of prototypes and first articles for design and performance validation
- Design modifications for regulatory compliance
- Development of software programs to automate production equipment
- Metallurgical, tensile, gate freeze studies for product/component evaluation
- Development of tooling, dies, fixtures, for new or improved production processes
- Quality control activities for testing of new components or prototypes
R&D Case Study: Aerospace
This aerospace company is a research and analysis services firm specializing in aerospace guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) design, analysis, integration, and testing. Research and development emphasis is on rendezvous, proximity operations and capture of in-flight space flight phases including automated rendezvous and docking. The company has extensive experience in crewed and un-crewed spacecraft, encompassing automated and manual flight design with emphasis on safety and mission success.
This company must maintain state-of-the-art standards, where new technologies are constantly in a state of research and development. The projects typically originate with requirements presented by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or in partnerships with other firms providing products and services for the industry.
Projects generally are long-term with extensive, iterative research and experimentation integral to meeting all specifications, requirements and regulations related to aerospace operations. Intense research was crucial to understanding operational purposes and parameters of guidance and spacecraft flight systems that are the basis of contracts with NASA or other entities. Once researched information was processed and project requirements were assembled, the development team initiated models of spacecraft and flight operations. For example, this client built a collection of generic models of the International Space Station (ISS) and a variety of spacecraft and other vehicles. The models database was accessed and utilized in designing new models and conducting research and analyses related to each new project.
Once satisfaction with the model was achieved, it was subject to government standards review to ensure compliance with design and operational specifications. The government’s process included system definition, review, preliminary design review, critical design review, and review of operational specifics and parameters. This was a formal review process intended to eliminate uncertainties, unknown factors that may have surface, and reduced risk before proceeding with project development. Uncertainties and risks were seldom eliminated during the review process however, numerous milestones, such as engine firing or vehicle maturity, had to be reached in order to successfully arrive at a position of competing for the actual service contract. Payment was received only if a successfully designed model was delivered and endured the extensive review process.
Prototyping, modeling, and testing were iterative and continuous from the very first conceptual designs that transfered to engineering, all the way to submission for government reviews. Because of extremely rigid and complicated requirements (specifications and regulations inherent in gaining acceptance of a product or service for aerospace), failures had to be remedied before the project could progress.
RESULTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
The company has been claiming credits for several years and is able to claim total combined federal and state tax credits of nearly $75,000 annually.