NASA Funds Research into Breakthrough Space Telescope for Prospecting Asteroids

Credit: Peter Gural

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts 2021 Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Peter Gural
Trans Astronautica Corporation
Lakeview Terrace, Calif.

There are 3 key reasons why it is vital for NASA to develop better ways to locate and characterize Near Earth Objects (NEOs).

1: NEOs are an impact hazard to the Earth.

2: Measuring NEO population distributions will unlock the answers to critical questions dealing with the formation and evolution of the solar system.

3: Most importantly, low ∆V NEOs can be targets for human exploration and resource mining.

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Exploring the Moon Using Beamed Light Energy

Artist concept of Light Bender. (Credits: Ronald Neale)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

Light Bender
Charles Taylor
NASA Langley Research Center
Hampton, Va.

Synopsis

Light Bender is a novel concept for the generation and distribution of power on the lunar surface within the context of the Artemis mission and the “Long-Term Human Lunar Surface Presence” that will follow. The innovative concept is based on a heliostat that utilizes Cassegrain telescope optics as the primary means to capture, concentrate and focus the sun’s light.

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PEDALS: A Better Method for Determining the Composition of Subsurface Lunar Regolith

PEDALS is delivered to or near the surface by a lander or orbiter, can survive moderate impacts if needed (to be traded), unrolls passively using shape memory materials on the surface, and later, probes the subsurface by combining and coupling unique permutations of short-length dipoles. (Credits: Patrick McGarey)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

PEDALS: Passively Expanding Dipole Array for Lunar Sounding
Patrick McGarey
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

Knowledge of the subsurface composition and structure of terrestrial planets is key to unveiling their geologic history, including crustal differentiation, volcanism, sedimentation, basin formation, and volatile transport and accumulation.

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Building Lunar Landing Pads Using Regolith

Graphic depiction of Regolith Adaptive Modification System (RAMs) (Credits: Sarbajit Banerjee)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

Regolith Adaptive Modification System (RAMs) to Support Early Extraterrestrial Planetary Landings (and Operations)
Sarbajit Banerjee
Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station
College Station, Texas

The “Regolith Adaptive Modification system (RAMs)” was conceived for selective reinforcement and fusing of native Lunar surface materials. The current concept was evolved from a previous NASA NIAC proposal focused on flexible lightweight landing platforms.

Much of the current Lunar regolith modification research is focused on using technologies that require significant presence and infrastructure for success, such as sintering and geo-polymerization. In contrast, the RAMs system is uniquely suited for supporting deployment during early landings, but can also be used for more mature construction activities after establishment of Lunar and Martian settlements.

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Building a Lunar Far Side Radio Observatory Using In-situ Resources

Artist’s depiction of the FarView deposition rover. (Credits: Ronald Polidan)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

FarView – An In Situ Manufactured Lunar Far Side Radio Observatory
Ronald Polidan
Lunar Resources, Inc.
Houston, Texas

We propose to perform an end-to-end system-level study of how to build a very large low frequency (5-40 MHz) radio observatory, “FarView,” on the lunar farside using lunar regolith materials. FarView will be a sparse array of ~100,000 dipole antennas populating a ~20×20 km area.

The innovative technology elements enabling FarView will be the near exclusive use of ISRU and on-site manufacturing of almost all system elements for the radio array, including power generation and energy storage systems.

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Returning a Sample From Titan Using In-Situ Propellants

Visualization of sample return launch from Titan. (Credits: Steven Oleson)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

A Titan Sample Return Using In-Situ Propellants
Steven Oleson
NASA Glenn Research Center
Cleveland, Ohio

A Titan Sample Return Using In-Situ Propellants is a proposed Titan sample return mission using in-situ volatile propellants available on its surface. This approach for Titan is very different from all conventional in-situ resource utilization concepts, and will accomplish a return of great science value toward planetary science, astrobiology, and understanding the origin of life, that is an order of magnitude more difficult (in distance and ∆V) than other sample return missions.

2021 Phase I Selections

About NIAC

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program nurtures visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions with the creation of breakthroughs — radically better or entirely new aerospace concepts — while engaging America’s innovators and entrepreneurs as partners in the journey.

The program seeks innovations from diverse and non-traditional sources and NIAC projects study innovative, technically credible, advanced concepts that could one day “change the possible” in aerospace. If you’re interested in submitting a proposal to NIAC, please see our “Apply to NIAC” link (https://www.nasa.gov/content/apply-to-niac) for information about the status of our current NASA Research Announcement (NRA). For descriptions of current NIAC projects, please refer to our ”NIAC Studies” link (https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/niac/NIAC_funded_studies.html).

To find out more, see nasa.gov/niac or contact us at hq-niac@mail.nasa.gov.

Mining the Moon and Mars Using Ablative Arc Technology

Illustration of Ablative Arc Mining Process (Credits: Amelia Greig)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

Ablative Arc Mining for In-Situ Resource Utilization
Amelia Greig
University of Texas at El Paso
El Paso, Texas

As space exploration expands to include human expeditions to the surfaces of other solar system bodies, sustainable in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) infrastructures to harvest local resources for water, building materials, and propellants must be developed.

Water is the most critical component in the near-term and is therefore the focus of many studies. However, being able to mine other resources with the same system will become critical in the future. A good mining system should therefore encompass extraction and collection of water in parallel with as many other local materials as possible.

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NASA Funds Research on using Fungi to Make Soil for Space Habitats

Graphic depiction of the method for Making Soil for Space Habitats by Seeding Asteroids with Fungi. (Credits: Jane Shevtsov)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

Making Soil for Space Habitats by Seeding Asteroids with Fungi
Jane Shevtsov
Trans Astronautica Corporation
Lake View Terrace, Calif.

Synopsis

Background and Objectives: Any large, long-term human space habitat will need to grow most of its own food and recycle nutrients. For easily resupplied missions, growing crops hydroponically makes sense, but soil-based systems possess important advantages in the context of a large settlement that cannot be affordably resupplied from Earth.

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NIAC Award: Building a Levitating Railroad on the Moon

Artist’s depiction of the FLOAT lunar railway system to provide reliable, autonomous, and efficient payload transport on the Moon. (Credits: Ethan Schaler)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

FLOAT: Flexible Levitation on a Track
Ethan Schaler
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

We want to build the first lunar railway system, which will provide reliable, autonomous, and efficient payload transport on the Moon. A durable, long-life robotic transport system will be critical to the daily operations of a sustainable lunar base in the 2030’s, as envisioned in NASA’s Moon to Mars plan and mission concepts like the Robotic Lunar Surface Operations 2 (RLSO2), to:

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Futuristic Space Technology Concepts Selected by NASA for Initial Study

This illustration shows a conceptual lunar railway system called FLOAT (Flexible Levitation on a Track) that has been selected for an early-stage feasibility study within the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Four advanced space concepts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been selected to receive grants for further research and development.

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Perseverance Experiment to Produce Oxygen on Mars

Video Caption: MOXIE, short for the Mars OXygen In situ resource utilization Experiment, is one of the seven experiments hitching a ride on the NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover. It’s a collaboration between MIT AeroAstro, the MIT Haystack Observatory, and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Carbon dioxide makes up about 96 percent of the gas in Mars’ atmosphere. MOXIE contains a system that pulls in Martian air and electrochemically splits the carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon monoxide, and an onboard sensor will allow us to measure the purity of the oxygen we generate. MOXIE will help us get ready for future missions by demonstrating that we can make our own oxygen on Mars to use for rocket propellant and for the crew to breathe when we get there.

AeroAstro graduate student Eric Hinterman has been working on MOXIE since 2016, when he started modeling the MOXIE software and hardware as part of his Master’s thesis. He has continued his work as a PhD candidate, where he is looking at the design and engineering challenges of scaling up the MOXIE technology to a full-size system that could support human life on a Mars mission in the future.

Produced by MIT Video Productions
Directed by Sara Cody, Communications Officer, MIT AeroAstro
Featuring Eric Hinterman

Additional footage provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech
Music credit: Endless Horizons by Ian Post | Artlist.io

Where Should Future Astronauts Land on Mars? Follow the Water

In this illustration, NASA astronauts drill into the Mars’ subsurface. The agency is creating new maps that show where ice is most likely to be easily accessible to future astronauts. (Credit: NASA)

A new NASA paper provides the most detailed map to date of near-surface water ice on the Red Planet.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — So you want to build a Mars base. Where to start? Like any human settlement, it would be best located near accessible water. Not only will water be crucial for life-support supplies, it will be used for everything from agriculture to producing the rocket propellant astronauts will need to return to Earth.

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Orbital Construction: DARPA Pursues Plan for Robust Manufacturing in Space

Credit: DARPA

New program to develop designs and materials for building large structures on orbit and moon

ARLINGTON, Va. (DARPA PR) — As commercial space companies increase the cadence of successful rocket launches, access to space is becoming more routine for both government and commercial interests. But even with regular launches, modern rockets impose mass and volume limits on the payloads they deliver to orbit. This size constraint hinders developing and deploying large-scale, dynamic space systems that can adapt to changes in their environment or mission.

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NASA Selects 14 Early Stage Innovations from US Universities for R&D

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Each year NASA selects and funds a number of university researchers to mature game-changing space technologies. The multi-year research and development projects could help develop super-cold space refrigerators and innovate ways to deal with hazardous lunar dust, among other objectives.

In late 2020, NASA selected 14 university-led research proposals to study early-stage technologies relevant to these topics. Each selection will receive up to $650,000 in grants from NASA’s Space Technology Research Grants program over up to three years, giving the university teams the time and resources to iterate multiple designs and solutions.

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New Sintering Method May Reduce Cost of ISRU Production for Earth, Moon and Mars

A durable new basalt tile uses a binding agent to reduce energy use. (Credit: PISCES)

HILO, HI (PR) — After nearly a year of research, Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) scientists have developed a new ISRU (in-situ resource utilization) process that significantly reduces the time and energy needed to produce sintered basalt products. The sintering temperature required to fuse raw particles into a cohesive material has been reduced by more than 20 percent.

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