The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program announced its 2014 awards. NIAC has selected twelve new NIAC Phase I awards. These proposals have been selected based on the potential of their concepts to transform future aerospace missions, enable new capabilities, or significantly alter and improve current approaches.
Each Phase I study will receive approximately $100,000 for 9 months to one year, and each Phase II study will receive approximately $500,000 for approximately two years. These studies will advance numerous innovative aerospace concepts, and help NASA achieve future goals
A new mission architecture for telescopes in space will shatter the cost barrier for large, diffraction-limited optics. The diagram in the summary chart shows a conventional telescope pointed at an opaque disk along an axis to a distant target. Rather than block the view, the disk boosts the resolution of the system with no loss of collecting area. This architecture, dubbed the “Aragoscope” in honor of the scientist who first detected the diffracted waves, can be used to achieve the diffraction limit based on the size of the low cost disk, rather than the high cost telescope mirror. One can envision affordable telescopes that could provide 7cm resolution of the ground from geosynchronous orbit or images of the sky with one thousand times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope.
To enable capture and manipulation of asteroids and space debris while minimizing risk to the primary spacecraft, Tethers Unlimited, Inc (TUI) proposes the use of a nanosatellite-scale sub-satellite, called the Weightless Rendezvous And Net Grapple to Limit Excess Rotation (WRANGLER) System, which will capture and de-spin the space object. WRANGLER will accomplish these functions by combining two innovative technologies that have been developed by TUI: the GRASP deployable net capture device, and the SpinCASTER tether deployer/winch mechanism. Successful testing of both technologies in a microgravity environment has established these technology components at mid-TRL maturity. The leverage offered by using a tether to extract angular momentum from a rotating space object enables a very small nanosatellite system to de-spin a very massive asteroid or large spacecraft. The WRANGLER system is suitable for an incremental development program that will validate the technology through an affordable test flight in which a nanosatellite launched on a rideshare opportunity would capture and de-spin the upper state used to launch it.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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