Titan Submarine Among Projects Funded by NIAC

Fathom this: a submarine to examine undersea features on Titan, a moon of Saturn. New approaches to space exploration are being supported by NIAC. (Credit: Steven Oleson/NASA GRC)
Fathom this: a submarine to examine undersea features on Titan, a moon of Saturn. New approaches to space exploration are being supported by NIAC. (Credit: Steven Oleson/NASA GRC)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Want to grab a front row seat to the future? If so, look no further than the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program to gain that opportunity.

NIAC is home base and incubator of cutting-edge, innovative and technically credible advanced concepts…ideas that could one day change the possible in aeronautics and space.

From orbiting rainbows, hitchhiking on a comet, a submarine to measure the seas of Saturn’s moon, Titan, or creative ways to wrangle asteroids and orbital debris—these and other notions are samples of work in progress that were detailed at NIAC’s 2015 symposium, held January 27-29 at the Hilton Cocoa Beach in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

NIAC is a program within the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Improving the State of Knowledge

Welcome WRANGLER, a NIAC-funded idea to capture and de-spin asteroids and space debris. (Credit: Robert Hoyt/Tethers Unlimited)
Welcome WRANGLER, a NIAC-funded idea to capture and de-spin asteroids and space debris. (Credit: Robert Hoyt/Tethers Unlimited)

An objective of NIAC, explains Jay Falker, NIAC Program Executive, is to further the Nation’s leadership in key research areas, enable far-term capabilities, and spawn innovations that make aeronautics, science, space travel, and exploration more effective, affordable, and sustainable.

“Even if we don’t actually build or fly a NIAC-funded idea, we’ve improved the state of the knowledge about concepts and what we think they would do,” Falker says. “NIAC has a perfect role to play in this regard, and I’m very proud of that,” he adds.

New ways to move about on small bodies in our solar system. This novel approach is being studied through NIAC support. (Credit: Marco Pavone/Stanford University)
New ways to move about on small bodies in our solar system. This novel approach is being studied through NIAC support. (Credit: Marco Pavone/Stanford University)

Falker points to the 2015 Symposium as example, a gathering of NIAC Fellows that provided overviews of their imaginative projects. That range of multidisciplinary research efforts includes propulsion and power, mitigating the threat of near-Earth objects, humans in space and on planetary surfaces, robotics and space probes, as well as imaging and communications.

Right Balance

“The purpose of NIAC is to fund just the right balance of giggle factor and plausibility,” says best-selling science fiction writer and physicist, David Brin.

After several years reviewing NIAC-supported projects, Brin sees a common thread. “They all seek ways to get past a current constraint,” he observes, be it shaving off weight via adopting a lightweight technique, evading a bottleneck, or utilizing more autonomy—taking these and other avenues to achieve a lower cost space mission.

“If you are going to come up with new ideas for space exploration, you want approaches that will address all of these issues,” Brin explains.

Crossing Boundaries

No doubt, NIAC Fellows are a wellspring of creative juices.

Furthermore, nobody today is talking about the “curse” of specialization, Brin notes, “because we found solutions.”

Brin observes that the boundaries between many scientific disciplines have been torn down. Researchers are far more agile than they used to be at crossing these discipline boundaries.

“This sort of cross-fertilization is so gracious, quick and natural today. We are vastly smarter than we were,” Brin says. “Because in today’s more relaxed mood of collaboration, you’re more likely to know what’s going on in the lab down the hall.”

“That’s the notion of the enlightenment…that’s the notion of our civilization. We stand on the shoulders of everybody,” Brin concludes.

For more information on NIAC, go to:

http://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/niac/

To watch the exciting presentations given at the NIAC 2015 event, go to these video reports at:

http://new.livestream.com/viewnow/NIAC2015