NASA advanced innovations funds 22 new visionary space concepts

NASA is preparing for a future that could include soft robotic spacecraft with flexible surfaces that can anchor to an asteroid, and an artificial gravity device for long-duration, deep space missions, along with other technologies that so far has been limited to the realm of science fiction.

The agency is investing in 22 early-stage technology proposals that have the potential to transform future human and robotic exploration missions, introduce new exploration capabilities, and significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.

The 2017 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) portfolio of Phase I concepts cover a wide range of innovations selected for their potential to revolutionize future space exploration. Phase I awards are valued at approximately $125,000, for nine months, to support initial definition and analysis of their concepts. If these basic feasibility studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards.

The selected 2017 Phase I proposals are:

A Synthetic Biology Architecture to Detoxify and Enrich Mars Soil for Agriculture, Adam Arkin, University of California, Berkeley
A Breakthrough Propulsion Architecture for Interstellar Precursor Missions, John Brophy, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California
Evacuated Airship for Mars Missions, John-Paul Clarke, Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta
Mach Effects for In Space Propulsion: Interstellar Mission, Heidi Fearn, Space Studies Institute in Mojave, California
Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump, Benjamin Goldman, Global Aerospace Corporation in Irwindale, California
Turbolift, Jason Gruber, Innovative Medical Solutions Group in Tampa, Florida
Phobos L1 Operational Tether Experiment, Kevin Kempton, NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia
Gradient Field Imploding Liner Fusion Propulsion System, Michael LaPointe, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Massively Expanded NEA Accessibility via Microwave-Sintered Aerobrakes, John Lewis, Deep Space Industries, Inc., in Moffett Field, California
Dismantling Rubble Pile Asteroids with Area-of-Effect Soft-bots, Jay McMahon, University of Colorado, Boulder
Continuous Electrode Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion, Raymond Sedwick, University of Maryland, College Park
Sutter: Breakthrough Telescope Innovation for Asteroid Survey Missions to Start a Gold Rush in Space, Joel Sercel, TransAstra in Lake View Terrace, California
Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission, Slava Turyshev, JPL
Solar Surfing, Robert Youngquist, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida
A Direct Probe of Dark Energy Interactions with a Solar System Laboratory, Nan Yu, JPL

Awards under Phase II of the NIAC program can be worth as much as $500,000, for two-year studies, and allow proposers to further develop Phase I concepts that successfully demonstrated initial feasibility and benefit.

The selected 2017 Phase II proposals are:

Venus Interior Probe Using In-situ Power and Propulsion, Ratnakumar Bugga, JPL
Remote Laser Evaporative Molecular Absorption Spectroscopy Sensor System, Gary Hughes, California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo
Brane Craft Phase II, Siegfried Janson, The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California
Stellar Echo Imaging of Exoplanets, Chris Mann, Nanohmics, Inc., Austin, Texas
Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments, Jonathan Sauder, JPL
Optical Mining of Asteroids, Moons, and Planets to Enable Sustainable Human Exploration and Space Industrialization, Joel Sercel, TransAstra Corp.
Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander, Stephanie Thomas, Princeton Satellite Systems, Inc., in Plainsboro, New Jersey


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