NIAC Projects Target Mars, Venus & Pluto

Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump mission. (Credit: Benjamin Goldman)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An airship for Mars, two spacecraft capable of exploring the hellish environment of Venus, and a fusion-powered orbiter and lander for Pluto are three of the planetary-related research projects recently funded by theNASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

In all, NIAC funded eight advanced projects focused on Mars, Venus and Pluto in its latest annual funding round. The space agency also funded two proposals aimed at identifying and extracting resources on planets, moons and asteroids.
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NASA Selects Honeybee Robotics for Six Small Business Awards

The green oval highlights the plumes Hubble observed on Europa. The area also corresponds to a warm region on Europa’s surface. The map is based on observations by the Galileo spacecraft (Credits: NASA/ESA/STScI/USGS)

Honeybee Robotics will begin developing new technologies that would allow a lander to drill into the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa and collect samples for analysis with the help of a pair of NASA small business awards.

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NIAC Phase I Award: Detoxifying & Enriching Martian Soil for Agriculture

Synthetic Biology Architecture to Detoxify and Enrich Mars Soil for Agriculture (Credit: Adam Arkin)

A Synthetic Biology Architecture to Detoxify and Enrich Mars Soil for Agriculture

Adam Arkin
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, Calif.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

Description

Although the theoretical case for space biological engineering is convincing, since recent studies on the use of biology in space showed substantial payload minimization over abiotic approaches even before any engineering, the functioning of these biological technologies has yet to be proven in a space-like environment.

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NIAC Phase I Award: Phobos L1 Tether Experiment

Phobos L1 Operational Tether Experiment (Credit: Kevin Kempton)

Phobos L1 Operational Tether Experiment (PHLOTE)

Kevin Kempton
NASA Langley Research Center
Hampton, Va.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

Description

A sensor package that “floats” just above the surface of Phobos, suspended by a tether from a small spacecraft operating at the Mars/Phobos Lagrange 1 (L1) Point would offer exciting opportunities for science (SMD), for human exploration (HEOMD) and for advancements in space technology (STMD).

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NIAC Phase I Award: Evacuated Airship for Mars Missions

Evacuated Airship for Mars Missions (Credit: John-Paul Clarke)

Evacuated Airship for Mars Missions

John-Paul Clarke
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, Ga.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

Description

We propose to overcome some of the limitations of current technologies for Mars exploration and even extend current operational capabilities by introducing the concept of a vacuum airship. This concept is similar to a standard balloon, whereas a balloon uses helium or hydrogen to displace air and provide lift, a vacuum airship uses a rigid structure to maintain a vacuum to displace air and provide lift.

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Japan Plans Sample Return from Martian Moons

MMX on-orbit configuration (Credit: JAXA)

Japan is planning a complex mission that will study the moons of Mars and return soil samples to Earth.

Set for launch in September 2024, the Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) mission would spend three years exploring Phobos and Deimos before departing in August 2028 for a return to Earth 11 months later.

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NIAC Phase I Grant: Gradient Field Imploding Liner Fusion Propulsion System

Gradient Field Imploding Liner Fusion Propulsion System. (Credit: Michael LaPointe)

Gradient Field Imploding Liner Fusion Propulsion System

Michael LaPointe
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Huntsville, Ala.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

An innovative modification to magneto-inertial fusion is proposed in which the pulsed, high current magnetic field coil and stationary central fuel target are replaced with a fast moving fusion fuel target fired axially into a static, high gradient magnetic field. As the target passes through the magnetic field gradient it effectively experiences a rapidly changing axial magnetic field, which induces strong azimuthal currents in the target liner to implode the fuel and reach fusion conditions.Among other advantages, eliminating the need to pulse the magnetic field coil allows the use of energy efficient superconducting coils in a geometry that more naturally lends itself to in-space propulsion.

If successful, the proposed concept will substantially reduce Mars trip times and enable a robust architecture for human solar system exploration.

Full List of 2017 NIAC Awards

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Audit Finds Significant Challenges for NASA’s Journey to Mars

The LEMNOS project will provide laser communications services to NASA’s Orion vehicle, show in this artist concept. (Credit: NASA)

A new audit by NASA’s Office of Inspector General has found the space agency faces significant obstacles in its plan to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

NASA’s initial exploration missions on its Journey to Mars – EM-1 and EM-2 – face multiple cost and technical challenges that likely will affect their planned launch dates,” the report states about missions planned for 2018 and 2021.

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ZERO-G Research Flights Advance Technology for Future Deep-Space Missions


ORLANDO, Fla,
April 6, 2017 (Zero-G PR) – As part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G®) recently worked with research groups from University of Florida, Carthage College and University of Maryland to validate technology designed to further humanity’s reach into space. A collection of flights on G-FORCE ONE, ZERO-G’s specially modified Boeing 727, gave researchers the chance to run experiments and test innovative systems in the only FAA-approved, manned microgravity lab on Earth.

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Russia Plans to Send Cosmonauts to the Moon

Ergonomic testing has been conducted for the new Federation spacecraft. (Credit: RSC Energia)

RSC Energia has launched the development of a new human spacecraft named Federatsiya (Federation) that will replace the 40-year-old Soyuz vehicles and enable Russia to send cosmonauts to the moon, Tass reports.

Federation will be capable of carrying crews of four into Earth orbit and deep space on missions of up to 30 days. The spacecraft could stay in space up to a year if docked with a space station, which is double the duration of the Soyuz spacecraft.

The new spacecraft could be a key element in what appears to be an emerging plan to place a space station in lunar orbit. NASA is exploring such a facility to test technologies required for sending astronauts to Mars.

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Boeing Unveils Deep Space Concepts for Moon and Mars Exploration

Boeing Deep Space Gateway (Credit: Boeing)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Apr. 3, 2017 – Boeing [NYSE: BA] today unveiled concepts for the deep space gateway and transport systems that could help achieve NASA’s goal of having robust human space exploration from the Moon to Mars.

NASA’s Space Launch System, which Boeing is helping develop, would deliver the habitat to cislunar space near the Moon. Known as the Deep Space Gateway, the habitat could support critical research and help open opportunities for global government or commercial partnerships in deep space, including lunar missions. It would be powered by a Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system.

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Congress, President Fail to Embrace Musk’s Bold Plan for Mars

Last September, Elon Musk made his pitch for a bold new approach to sending people to Mars that requires substantial taxpayer supporter. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed a NASA authorizing act that maintains the slow, steady-as-she-goes status quo. The billionaire was not amused.

Trump Signs NASA Authorization Act

President Donald Trump has signed a NASA authorization act that calls for spending $19.5 billion by the space agency in fiscal year 2017 and lays out a set of priorities of the agency.

The measure stipulates the following funding levels for the space agency:

  1. Exploration, $4,330,000,000.
  2. Space Operations, $5,023,000,000.
  3. Science, $5,500,000,000.
  4. Aeronautics, $640,000,000.
  5. Space Technology, $686,000,000.
  6. Education, $115,000,000.
  7. Safety, Security, and Mission Services, $2,788,600,000.
  8. Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration, $388,000,000.
  9. Inspector General, $37,400,000.

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NASA Selects In-Situ Resource Utilization SBIR Phase II Projects

NASA has selected two proposals related to in-situ resource utilization for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The space agency will enter into negotiations with two companies for contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece over two years.

The selected proposals include:

  • In-Situ Ethylene and Methane Production from CO2 as Plastic Precursors — Opus 12, Inc., Berkeley, CA
  • Extraterrestrial Metals Processing — Pioneer Astronautics, Lakewood, CO

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