NASA Funds Early-Stage Exploration of Concepts for Future Missions

A total of $5.1 million is being awarded for exploratory studies for the evaluation of technologies that could be developed for supporting space and aeronautics missions of the future. The award, going out to 17 researchers in 9 states, is being made by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program that supports early-stage exploration.

Pam Melroy, NASA Deputy Administrator of NASA, explains: “As we set our sights on ever more challenging destinations for exploration with humans and robots, innovative ideas and future thinking will be critical to helping us reach new milestones. 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.”

A sum of $175,000 each is being awarded to 12 projects for a Phase I study. These projects are expected to last 9 months each.

$600,000 each is being awarded to 5 projects for a Phase II study. While the initial study has been completed, these projects are still considered to be in their early stages and are being extended to enable them to reach a stage where they can be considered as official NASA missions. This funding is expected to facilitate studies and development over a two-year period.

“NASA’s mission to explore the universe requires new technologies and new ways of doing things. Studying these creative ideas is the first step to turn science fiction into science fact.” Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) said, at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

What are some of the exciting new concepts the Phase I projects are working on?

One is a spacecraft designed for greater protection from radiation for the crew. Another is an electric aircraft that is completely silent. And another one is working on a spacecraft that can be propelled out of the Solar System at unimaginable speeds, by harnessing the heat of the Sun.

Also in the fray is a concept proposed by Nobel laureate and astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, John Mather. Mather’s proposal is a concept for enabling study of distant, Earth-like exoplanets. His concept involves the setting up of a ‘starshade’ in space which will block out the light from distant stars, enabling Earth-based astronomers with aligned telescopes to search for signs of life in the atmospheres of stars in other star systems in a distraction free environment.

As a result of these initiatives, what seems like science fiction today may soon become a reality. Imagine an astronaut walking on Mars in a custom-fitted spacesuit, having stepped into a body scanner just hours earlier. What is more, breathing oxygen extracted from the Martian atmosphere. Imagine an inflatable drone swooping down from the skies to study the atmosphere on Venus.

Thanks to the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program and its support of early-stage exploration.


Joy Pace

Joy is passionate about business and technology. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and worked in the private sector for 20 years before finding her passion for research and writing. For the last five years, Joy has written about breaking trends in business and tech. She covers both business and technology for Contact her at [email protected]

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