By Apurva Shrawan
Boston University News Service
NASA Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) announced its funding for early-stage studies on Feb. 25, which will focus on exploring space technologies that can shape the future of aeronautics and space missions. A total of $5.1 million has been awarded to 17 researchers from nine states so far.
“As we set our sights on evermore challenging destinations for exploration with humans and robots, innovative ideas and future thinking will be critical to helping us reach new milestones,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said about the initiative. “Concepts like those being studied with this new round of NIAC funding are helping us expand the scope of the possible so we can make it reality.”
With 12 projects in Phase I and five in Phase II, the early study concept is intended to aid researchers in fully developing their preliminary or early-stage projects, though the selected projects are not yet being officially considered for NASA missions. Phase I fellows will receive $175,000 for a nine-month study, and Phase II fellows will receive $600,000 each for study over two years.
Phase I projects include studies that are more focused on space vehicles, such as a new design for spacecraft to protect from radiation on a long journey, a silenced electric airplane to overcome the noise issue that is the most significant community opposition, and an idea for spacecraft that can tackle the sun’s heat to propel out of the solar system at remarkable speeds.
Sara Seager, Phase I fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, proposed an innovative concept that will help scientists study planet Venus by projecting a parachute into its atmosphere to capture the sample of gas and clouds. The sample will be brought back to Earth for scientists to then analyze signs of life on Venus.
Phase II of the program highlights projects that include a design for small climbing robots that could explore subsurface caves on Mars, new ways to use nuclear power for spacecraft, and a plan for a group of 3D-printed swimming micro-robots that are responsible for discovering water in space elements like Enceladus.
Zac Manchester, Phase II fellow from Carnegie Mellon University, will continue working on his concept of artificial gravity in space using a kilometer-size rotating structure. After launching the single rocket, the proposed structure will deploy 150 times its original size, becoming a critical rotating habitat responsible for providing artificial gravity equal to Earth’s gravity in some parts of the design.
NIAC is funded by the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), which is responsible for developing new cross-cutting space technologies while providing a hand to agencies that are working to accomplish current and future missions.
“NASA’s mission to explore the universe requires new technologies and new ways of doing things,” said Associate Administrator for STMD Jim Reuter, stressing the importance of exploring these innovative ideas.
NASA has played an essential role in shaping civil space programs and space exploration since its establishment in 1958. By investing in early studies programs, NASA continues to add to the existing conversation and innovative research surrounding science and technology.