NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program has advanced to its second phase, green-lighting a series of futuristic technological concepts for further agency-backed development. The program's chief objective is to foster clever ideas that help shape future aerospace exploration and, with interstellar submarines and swarms of tiny satellites, it offers a mind boggling picture of what future space travel might look like.
Phase I of this year's program required applicants to successfully demonstrate the feasibility of their concepts, along with the benefits they would bring. NASA announced the Phase I winners back in May presenting a mix of 15 proposals, some scientifically practical and others quite literally out of this world. Sending a robotic squid to explore Jupiter's moon Europa and melting asteroids with beams of sunlight for water were just a couple to catch our eye.
The field has now been narrowed down to seven. One of these we have looked at previously, an audacious bid by researchers at NASA's Glenn Research Center to send a submarine to Saturn's largest moon Titan. Here it would take to the liquid hydrocarbon depths of Kraken Mare, Titan's largest lake, looking to learn about its composition.
Also in the mix are a couple of concepts aimed at powering space exploration missions in environments where sunlight is inaccessible.
The first looks to adapt a technology called Stored Chemical Energy Power Systems (SCEPS), which is traditionally used in US Navy torpedoes, for interstellar missions that cannot be powered by sunlight. The technology is high-energy-density and high-power, and a team from Pennsylvania State University has developed a conceptual mission it says would see it power a lander on the surface of Venus.
Another concept is simply dubbed TransFormer and would see heliostats used to strategically reflect sunlight to areas of the moon typically left in the dark. The work of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, this would allow robots operating in dark areas to be powered by the sun. This could prove particularly useful in the Shackleton crater at the lunar South Pole, where armies of rovers could perform excavations and lab analyses, culminating in what the team imagines as the "largest off-Earth producer of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for fuelling inter-planetary trips."
In advancing to Phase II of the program, the seven teams will be funded to further develop their concepts, refine their designs and actually look at ways their technology could be implemented. The agency says most are still about 10 years or more from being used on a NASA mission.
A full list of the Phase II concepts can be viewed via the source link below.