NASA Selects 12 NIAC Phase I Projects for Funding

Titan submarine
Titan submarine

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 12 proposals for study under Phase I of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program, which aims to turn science fiction into fact through pioneering technology development.

The selected proposals cover a wide range of imaginative concepts, including:

  • a submarine to explore the methane lakes of Titan;
  • using neutrinos to perform measurements for the icy moons of the outer planets; and,
  • a concept to safely capture a tumbling asteroid, space debris, and other applications.

Seedling investments may provide the breakthrough technologies needed to support NASA’s plans for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, into deep space and to Mars, as outlined in the Evolvable Mars Campaign.

“The latest NIAC selections include a number of exciting concepts for planetary exploration,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. “We are working with innovators around the nation to transform the future of aerospace, while also focusing our investments on concepts to address challenges of current interests both in space and here on Earth.”

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate chose this year’s Phase I proposals based on their potential to transform future aerospace missions by enabling either entirely new missions or breakthroughs in future aerospace capabilities that could accelerate progress toward NASA’s goals.

NIAC Phase I awards are approximately $100,000, providing awardees the funding needed to conduct a nine-month initial definition and analysis study of their concepts. If the basic feasibility studies are successful, proposers can apply for Phase II awards, which provide up to $500,000 for two more years of concept development.

“The 2014 NIAC Phase I candidates were outstanding, which made final selections decisions particularly difficult,” said NIAC Program Executive Jay Falker. “So we considered various kinds of potential benefit and risk, and developed this portfolio to really push boundaries and explore new approaches, which is what makes NIAC unique.”

NASA solicits visionary, long-term concepts for technological maturation based on their potential value to future agency space missions and operational needs. The projects are chosen through a peer-review process that evaluates their potential, technical approach, and benefits for study in a timely manner. All concepts are very early in the development cycle, years from implementation.

NASA’s early investments and partnerships with creative scientists, engineers, and citizen inventors from across the nation will provide technological dividends and help maintain America’s leadership in the global technology economy.

The portfolio of diverse and pioneering ideas selected for NIAC awards represent multiple technology areas, including space propulsion, human habitation, science instruments, materials for use in space, and exploring other diverse technology paths needed to meet NASA’s strategic goals.

NIAC is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing, and flying hardware for use in NASA’s future missions. Over the next 18 months, the directorate will make significant new investments to address several high-priority challenges in achieving safe and affordable deep-space exploration. These focused technology thrust areas are tightly aligned with NASA’s Space Technology Roadmaps, the Space Technology Investment Plan, and National Research Council recommendations.

The selections support three of eight key STMD technology thrust areas:  advanced life support and resource utilization, space robotic systems, and space observatory systems. Additionally the concepts selected here support our broader investments efforts in NASA’s Asteroid Initiative and outer planetary missions.

For a complete list of the selected proposals and more information about the NIAC, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/niac

For more information about NASA’s investments in space technology and the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech

2014 PHASE I FELLOWS

Principal
Investigator
Proposal
Title
OrganizationCity, State
Atchison, JustinSwarm Flyby GravimetryJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimore, MD
Boland, EugeneMars Ecopoiesis Test BedTechshot, Inc.Greenville, IN
Cash, WebsterThe Aragoscope: Ultra-High Resolution Optics at Low CostUniversity of ColoradoBoulder, CO
Chen, Bin3D Photocatalytic Air Processor for Dramatic Reduction of Life Support Mass & ComplexityNASA ARCMoffett Field, CA
Hoyt, RobertWRANGLER: Capture and De-Spin of Asteroids and Space DebrisTethers UnlimitedBothel, WA
Matthies, LarryTitan Aerial DaughtercraftNASA JPLPasadena, CA
Miller, TimothyUsing the Hottest Particles in the Universe to Probe Icy Solar System WorldsJohns Hopkins UniversityLaurel, MD
Nosanov, JeffreyPERISCOPE: PERIapsis Subsurface Cave OPtical ExplorerNASA JPLPasadena, CA
Oleson, StevenTitan Submarine: Exploring the Depths of KrakenNASA GRCCleveland, OH
Ono, MasahiroComet Hitchhiker: Harvesting Kinetic Energy from Small Bodies to Enable Fast and Low-Cost Deep Space ExplorationNASA JPLPasadena, CA
Streetman, BrettExploration Architecture with Quantum Inertial Gravimetry and In Situ ChipSat SensorsDraper LaboratoryCambridge, MA
Wiegmann, BruceHeliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System (HERTS)NASA MSFCHuntsville, AL

 

  • Hug Doug

    i was under the impression that the “lakes” on Titan were more like soups of heavy hydrocarbons – like tar pits. would a submarine even be able to see anything??

  • Tonya

    It looks like much of this research round is based on the very hypothetical rather than the directly applied. There are a number of mission ideas for Titan at a much more advanced stage of consideration, including boats/landers which would help determine which of the various computer models of Titan’s lakes are accurate.

    Given how many years we’ll be waiting for those landers, the idea of sending a submersible could easily be something 40 years away, even if it is an ocean that can be explored that way.

    Anyway, isn’t it Europa that we’d all like to see a submersible explore?

  • therealdmt

    Lots of exciting sounding stuff in there. “Aerial daughtercraft for Titan”, “3D photocatalytic air processor”, “comet hitchhiker”, “capture and de-spin of asteroids and space debris”, plus of course the whole Titan submarine thing.

    Hopefully we get to see some of this come to fruition. The 21st century could be worthy of the, well, 21st century!

  • Paul451

    Anyway, isn’t it Europa that we’d all like to see a submersible explore?

    I think the attraction to Titan is because there’s a shallower development curve. Reentry into an atmosphere, parachutes, splashdown into a shallow lake… all known technologies (mostly a repeat of Huygens), the only new technology is the actual submersible (which will just be a v.low-temperature variant of robot submersibles we use on Earth.)

    Europa requires a full retro-rocket landing, hard touch-down on highly variable ice, then the need to drill down through an unknown number of kilometres of ice, then the submersible, which needs to communicate through that ice. And all that within the radiation belts of Jupiter. Lot’s of new tech, lots of research required, lots of risk, lots of funding needed.