NASA has announced funding for research into 17 science fiction-esque projects aimed to advance the possibilities of space exploration, including drones to explore Venus, asteroid destroying technology, and more.
The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) programme is funding 12 brand new and five ongoing projects.
The 12 new projects that have received funding are below:
- Cryospheric Rydberg Radar, a new type of quantum radar that could theoretically be used in virtually every setting.
- Silent, Solid-State Propulsion for Advanced Air Mobility Vehicles, designed to get around the field’s biggest obstacle of community opposition to noise.
- Combined Heat Shield and Solar Thermal Propulsion System for an Oberth Manuever, a spacecraft that uses solar light to travel at unprecedented speeds.
- CREW HaT: Cosmic Radiation Extended Warding using the Halbach Torus, a device that produces a magnetic field to protect astronauts from radiation in space.
- The Spacesuit Digital Thread: 4.0, which scans astronauts and creates custom spacesuits for them using the carbon-dioxide rich atmosphere on Mars.
- Breathing Mars Air: Stationary and Portable O2 Generation, a device used to generate oxygen from the Mars atmosphere ten times more effectively than current technology.
- Pi – Terminal Defense for Humanity – essentially an asteroid destroyer.
- Hybrid Observatory for Earth-like Exoplanets (HOEE), a football field-sized starshade used to block glare from stars, allowing telescopes to see further.
- In-situ Neutral-Optics Velocity Analyzer for Thermospheric Exploration (INOVATE), a spacecraft swarm used to study space weather.
- Starburst: A Revolutionary Under-Constrained Adaptable Deployable Structure Architecture, a satellite used to analyse storms on Earth (and predict when they’re coming).
- Venus Atmosphere and Cloud Particle Sample Return for Astrobiology, a study aiming to detect life on Venus by capturing samples of gas and clouds before returning to earth.
- SCOPE: ScienceCraft for Outer Planet Exploration, a spacecraft that uses solar sails to go further into deep space than previously possible.
These 12 projects are all in Phase 1 of funding, meaning they’re brand new ideas being researched over the next nine months, with $175,000 awarded. Five projects have also been funded for Phase 2, research which is further along in development and has been given $600,000 for a two-year period.
The five ongoing projects that have received funding are below:
Jim Reuter, an associate administrator at NASA, said: “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.”
NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy added: “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.”
The various Venus projects will contribute nicely to NASA’s returning interest to Venus, as it announced last year new missions to study the planet for the first time in 30 years that will take place sometime this decade. Soon after, by 2031, NASA plans to crash the International Space Station into the ocean as it’s replaced by commercial space stations.
Ryan Dinsdale is an IGN freelancer who occasionally remembers to tweet @thelastdinsdale.