NASA prepares with new technologies for future space bases
NASA has selected four advanced space projects from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that will receive the grants necessary to complete the research and development of these projects. This initiative is part of NASA’s NIAC (Innovative Advanced Concepts) program.
NASA has selected four advanced space projects from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that will receive grants to complete the research and development of these projects. This initiative is part of NASA’s NIAC (Innovative Advanced Concepts) program. Through NIAC, more than a dozen researchers from the agency, industry and academia will receive NASA grants to study the feasibility of their concepts.
Future projects focus on human life in space
The futuristic space technology research selected for the final grants primarily concerns projects that could make life easier for humans in space. Perhaps in functional and well-equipped fixed bases on Mars or the Moon.
Winning ideas include a levitation track system for a future lunar base, an energy supply system for the Moon, and a method to create soil from asteroid materials. These are technologies which , in the future, could allow humans to settle on the Moon to carry out research, or which could pave the way for new missions.
However, all NIAC studies are technology development efforts in their early stages. These are basically mere ideas and they are not considered NASA missions. And some of those projects and ideas may never become NASA missions.
As Jenn Gustetic, Director of Innovations and Early Partnerships at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) put it, NIAC selectees “are known for dreaming big, coming up with technologies that may seem borderline science fiction and which are different from research funded by the programs of other agencies. We don’t expect all of them to materialize, but we recognize that providing small amounts for initial research could greatly benefit NASA in the long run. »
Phases of the NASA NIAC project
During the first phase of NIAC selection for 2021, 16 proposals were selected for fascinating and innovative projects, inventions and applications. All proposals selected in Phase I will receive a NASA grant of up to $125,000.
If the initial 9-month feasibility studies are conclusive, the projects can move on to phase II. NIAC Phase II researchers receive grants of up to $500,000 to further develop their concepts for up to two years.
Phase III, on the other hand, aims to strategically transfer NIAC concepts with the greatest potential impact to NASA, or other government agencies or commercial partners. Phase III researchers receive a real contract of up to $2 million to develop their mission concept over two years.
The four finalist projects for NASA
Among the projects selected by NIAC is the design of an infrastructure to transport goods autonomously to the Moon using magnetic robots that would levitate on a flexible track, designed by a robotics engineer from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The rails would run on the lunar surface, saving future astronauts occupying the lunar base much of the work of building roads and rails.
The same JPL engineer will also perform parallel research for another study selected by NIAC at this stage. These are ingenious micro-robots to explore the ocean depths and their lost worlds, of which we know too little.
Another project, devised by a researcher at NASA’s Langley Research Center, concerns a way to generate and distribute energy on the Moon. The system, called a “light bender”, would capture, concentrate and focus sunlight using telescope optics. A bit like we did when we were children with a magnifying glass on a sheet of paper, but much bigger!
The Trans Astronautica Corporation came up with the idea of a conceptual method to create soil that could be grown in space, using carbon-rich asteroids and fungi. According to this project, the fungi would break down the material and turn it into soil to grow food and support possible human habitats in space.
While from Carnegie Mellon University comes an assistant professor’s project that proposes a lightweight, deployable structure for the easy creation of mile-wide structures in space. This structure could be the backbone of a large rotating spacecraft capable of producing artificial gravity.
Opportunities for the future of science in space
Jason Derleth, NIAC Program Manager, welcomed the proposals received for this 2021 and said that “the number of new entrants to the program this year is huge. All but two of the selected Phase I researchers will receive first-time NIAC grants, proving that startup opportunities at NASA continue to attract new creative thinkers from all over. the country “.