A submarine glider to explore the ocean of Europa, a solid-state air purification system and a way of making concrete out of lunar soil for Moon colonies - these are a few of the 28 proposals that NASA has selected for study and development under its NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program. Part of the larger Space Technology program, NIAC is the space agency’s way of kick-starting innovation that has the potential to improve future missions, aerospace systems and other capabilities.
Of the 28 proposals green lighted, 18 were classed as Phase I and awarded US$100,000 to fund a year of study into the feasibility and properties of the concept. A further ten were classed as Phase II, meaning they were given US$500,000 and two years to further develop last year’s most successful NIAC Phase I proposals. The areas covered by the proposals included power, propulsion systems, structures and avionics that will hopefully provide the technology needed for NASA to achieve its future goals.
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"These selections represent the best and most creative new ideas for future technologies that have the potential to radically improve how NASA missions explore new frontiers," says Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, NASA is taking the long-term view of technological investment and the advancement that is essential for accomplishing our missions. We are inventing the ways in which next-generation aircraft and spacecraft will change the world and inspiring Americans to take bold steps."
The proposals are at least of a decade away from any practical application, however, they do include some very intriguing ideas such as a robot prospector designed to hunt for mineral-bearing asteroids and establish the beginnings of an asteroid mining industry.
Other notable proposals include using nanosatellites for deep space exploration, a “landsailing” Venus rover and an anti-radiation shield generated by high-temperature superconducting magnets. There’s even a proposal for potholing missions to explore extraterrestrial caverns and a Variable Vector Countermeasures Suit, which is a sort of coveralls with gyroscopes built in to keep astronauts healthy in microgravity.
No warp drives or teleportation devices were included in the proposals ... but there’s always next year.