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NASA funding 18 ‘revolutionary’ space tech concepts

Louis Dillon
NASA funding 18 ‘revolutionary’ space tech concepts

NASA has selected 18 studies for further research as part of their NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which aims to “change what’s possible in space”.

There are two "phases" for selection into the NIAC program, with each Phase I award valued at $125,000 to help "researchers define and analyse their proposed concepts over nine months".

If the initial studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards.

"Our NIAC program nurtures visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions by investing in revolutionary technologies," said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate.


"We look to America's innovators to help us push the boundaries of space exploration with new technology".

Selections for Phase I are as follows:

  • Bioinspired Ray for Extreme Environments and Zonal Exploration (BREEZE): Combines inflatable structures with bio-inspired kinematics to explore and study the atmosphere of Venus - Javid Bayandor, State University of New York, Buffalo
  • Power Beaming for Long Life Venus Surface Missions: New approach to support a Venus surface mission with power beaming - Erik Brandon, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California
  • SmartSuit: An intelligent spacesuit design with soft-robotics, self-healing skin and data collection for extravehicular activity in extreme environments that allows for greater mobility for exploration missions - Ana Diaz Artiles, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, College Station
  • Dual Use Exoplanet Telescope (DUET): A novel telescope design to find and characterise planetary systems outside the solar system - Tom Ditto, 3DeWitt LLC, Ancramdale, New York
  • Micro-Probes Propelled and Powered by Planetary Atmospheric Electricity (MP4AE): Similar to the ballooning capabilities of spiders, these floating microprobes use electrostatic lift to study planetary atmospheres -Yu Gu, West Virginia University, Morgantown
  • Swarm-Probe Enabled ATEG Reactor (SPEAR) Probe: An ultra-lightweight nuclear electric propulsion probe for deep space exploration, designed to keep mass and volume low for commercial launch - Troy Howe, Howe Industries LLC, Tempe, Arizona
  • Ripcord Innovative Power System (RIPS): An investigation of a drag using ripcord unspooling power system for descent probes into planets with atmospheres, such as Saturn - Noam Izenberg, Johns Hopkins University, Laurel, Maryland
  • Power for Interstellar Fly-by: Power harvesting from ultra-miniature probes to enable interstellar missions - Geoffrey Landis, NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Cleveland
  • Lunar-polar Propellant Mining Outpost (LPMO): Affordable lunar pole ice mining for propellant production - Joel Serce, TransAstra Corporation, Lake View Terrace, California
  • Crosscutting High Apogee Refueling Orbital Navigator (CHARON): Novel system for small space debris mitigation - John Slough, MSNW LLC, Redmond, Washington 
  • Thermal Mining of Ices on Cold Solar System Bodies: Proposes using a unique heat application on frozen volatiles and other materials for resource extraction - George Sowers, Colorado School of Mines, Golden
  • Low-Cost SmallSats to Explore to Our Solar System's Boundaries: A design for a low-cost, small satellite heliophysics mission to the outer solar system - Robert Staehle, JPL

Phase II studies allow researchers to "further develop concepts, refine designs and start considering how the new technology would be implemented", and awards can be worth as much as $500,000 for two-year studies.

The 2019 Phase II selections are listed below:

  • The High Étendue Multiple Object Spectrographic Telescope (THE MOST): A new, flexible optical telescope design that can be a deployed in a cylindrical roll and installed upon delivery, on a 3D printed structure - Tom Ditto, 3DeWitt LLC, Ancramdale, New York

  • Rotary-Motion-Extended Array Synthesis (R-MXAS): A geostationary synthetic aperture imaging radiometer with a rotating tethered antenna - John Kendra, Leidos, Inc., Reston, Virginia

  • Self-Guided Beamed Propulsion for Breakthrough Interstellar Missions: An effort to advance self-guided beamed propulsion technology - Chris Limbach, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, College Station

  • Astrophysics and Technical Lab Studies of a Solar Neutrino Spacecraft Detector: A small-scale neutrino detector study to advance detector technology for future probe missions - Nickolas Solomey, Wichita State University, Kansas

  • Diffractive LightSails: A study to design and advance passive and electro-optically active diffractive films for missions in low-Earth orbit, inner solar orbits and to distant stars - Grover Swartzlander, Rochester Institute of Technology, New York

  • Solar Surfing: A materials-science study to determine the best protective materials to enable heliophysics missions closer to the Sun - Doug Willard, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida

The proposals selected for Phase I and II are done through a peer-review process, which places focus on innovativeness and technical viability.

NASA also confirmed that the NIAC Program will select one proposal for Phase III research studies, with the award worth up to $2 million for up to two years.

“NIAC is about going to the edge of science fiction, but not over,” said Jason Derleth, NIAC Program executive.

“We are supporting high impact technology concepts that could change how we explore within the solar system and beyond.”

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