Solar Gravity Lens Concept Receives $2 Million NASA Grant for Technology Maturation

Graphic depiction of Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission (Credit: S. Turyshev)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Apr. 20 2020 (The Aerospace Corporation PR) – The Solar Gravity Lens (SGL) concept to send a fleet of optical telescopes to image habitable planets far beyond our solar system received a $2 million grant by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program

This two-year grant will support the further maturation of SGL technologies. The mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) with The Aerospace Corporation (Aerospace) as the mission architect.

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NASA $2M Grant Advances Study to Directly Image Exoplanets Light Years Away

Xplore’s Advanced Solar Sail for NASA’s Solar Gravity Lens Focus Mission. (Visualization by Bryan Versteeg, SpaceHabs.com)

Xplore’s advanced solar sail design will be the fastest spacecraft ever made

SEATTLE (Xplore PR) — Xplore Inc., a commercial space exploration company providing Space as a ServiceTM today announced they and their teammates won a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase III award for a two-year, $2M NASA grant to further mature the Solar Gravity Lens Focus (SGLF) architecture to image planets in orbit around distant stars starting with a Technology Demonstration Mission (TDM).

Dr. Slava G. Turyshev, a NIAC Fellow and Senior Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is the Principal Investigator leading the SGLF mission which includes Xplore, JPL and The Aerospace Corporation. The SGLF mission study is only the third Phase III award granted in the NIAC program ever.

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NIAC Award: High Irradiance Peltier Operated Tungsten Exo-Reflector

Concept of the HI-POWER rover. A small vehicle is shielded from the sun with a tungsten shield. The connections to the shield are comprised of stacked POLAR coolers. The outer skirt of the shield includes arrays of thermoelectric generators which absorb heat from the shield and radiate waste heat to the ground without heating the rover. (Credits: Troy Howe)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

High Irradiance Peltier Operated Tungsten Exo-Reflector (HI-POWER)

Troy Howe
Howe Industries LLC 

One issue that arises with spacecraft in almost every mission is thermal management. Computers, instruments, and housing may heat up in space, as a combination of solar energy and poor heat rejection causes temperatures to rise to hundreds of degrees. This can be fought by advanced radiators or may require specialized cooling systems.

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NIAC Award: StarNAV Architecture for Autonomous Spacecraft Navigation

Illustration of the StarNAV concept (Credits: John Christian)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

StarNAV: An Architecture for Autonomous Spacecraft Navigation by the Relativistic Perturbation of Starlight

John Christian
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

StarNAV is a novel architecture for navigating anywhere in the Solar System or beyond using the relativistic perturbation of starlight. The proposed StarNAV technique measures the change in inter-star angle due to stellar aberration to estimate vehicle velocity. These velocity estimates may be used for navigation.

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NIAC Award: An Astropharmacy for Human Space Missions

An image showing the Microfluidics-based Astropharmacy production system. (Credit: Lynn Rothschild)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

An Astropharmacy

Lynn Rothschild
NASA Ames Research Center

Disease is an inherent part of being alive, and thus disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment will be critical to human deep space missions. Pharmaceuticals are used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease, but suffer from lack of stability on Earth and even more so in the space environment.

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NIAC Award: Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Breakthrough Space Exploration

Image depicting the Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Breakthrough Space Exploration concept. (Credits: Artur Davoyan)

NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Breakthrough Space Exploration

Artur Davoyan
University of California, Los Angeles

Understanding the beginnings of the Universe and life itself is NASA’s long term vision and one of humanities’ grand challenges. Missions to the edge of our solar system and to space between stars in our galaxy – the interstellar medium – are of a great promise to shed light on these questions.

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NIAC Award: Gravity Observation and Dark Energy Detection Explorer

Illustration of the proposed mission concept – a tetrahedral constellation of spacecraft carrying atomic drag-free reference sensors is flying in the Solar system through special regions of interest. Differential force measurements are performed among all pairs of spacecraft to detection non-zero trace value of the local field force gradient tensor. A detection of a non-zero trace, and its modulations through space, signifies the existence of new force field of dark energy as a scalar field and shines light on the nature of dark energy. (Credits: Nan Yu)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Gravity Observation and Dark Energy Detection Explorer in the Solar System

Nan Yu
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

We propose further develop and mature the mission concept for direct detection of dark energy, the cause of the accelerating expansion of the universe, using the solar system as a laboratory.

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NIAC Award: Deceleration of Interstellar Spacecraft Utilizing Antimatter

Depiction of the Deceleration of Interstellar Spacecraft Utilizing Antimatter concept. (Credits: Gerald Jackson)

NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Deceleration of Interstellar Spacecraft Utilizing Antimatter

Gerald Jackson
Hbar Technologies, LLC

Antimatter-based propulsion and power has emerged as a leading technology capable of enabling science missions to the exoplanet Proxima b. In stark contrast to other mission proposals involving beamed energy, this mission assumes prompt and continuous science return during the entire voyage, deceleration at Proxima Centauri, and decades-long exploration and scientific data return. Scientific data from Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud object weekly flybys are anticipated starting within a few years of launch.

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NIAC Award: Magneto-Inductive Communications for Ocean Worlds

Artist’s depiction of Magneto-Inductive Communications for Ocean Worlds on a “tunnelbot” melting through ocean ice. (Credits: Robert Romanofsky)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Magneto-Inductive Communications for Ocean Worlds

Robert Romanofsky
NASA Glenn Research Center

A mission to the under-ice ocean of Europa is one of the highest priority missions for NASA. Galileo magnetometer measurements and other observations suggest a deep layer of electrically conductive fluid beneath the surface. Concepts for a probe to melt through the 5 to 10 km thickness of briny ice to reach the buried ocean have been proposed.

Model predictions for magnesium sulfide concentrations vary but a conductivity range between 0.1 and 3 S/m seems reasonable. Conventional communications links that rely on propagation of an electromagnetic field cannot penetrate – even if the sea ice conductivity is only 0.1 S/m. The electric field attenuation would exceed 100 dB/km even at very low frequencies.

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NIAC Award: Fueling a Human Mission to Mars

In-situ propellant-production is critical to the space architecture needed for a long-term human presence on Mars, future interplanetary transport, and eventually, multi-planet colonization. (Credits: Caroline Genzale)

NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Fueling a Human Mission to Mars

Caroline Genzale
Georgia Tech Research Corporation

As a multidisciplinary team of mechanical, aerospace, and biological engineers, we propose to co-develop a renewable, liquid, storage stable rocket propellant that can be produced and burned on Mars using bioorganisms to perform atmospheric in-situ resource utilization (ISRU).

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NIAC Award: Flat Fabrication of Progressively Self-Assembling Space Systems

Illustration of the Flat Fabrication of Progressively Self-Assembling Space Systems concept. (Credits: Davide Guzzetti)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Flat Fabrication of Progressively Self-Assembling Space Systems

Davide Guzzetti
Auburn University

This project aims to study the feasibility of integrating an array of microchips with space satellite functions, or ChipSats, on a multifunctional shape memory polymer (SMP) bus that is capable of self-folding when exposed to solar radiation.

This technology may enable the flat fabrication of kilometer-sized antenna arrays for radio astronomy that self-transform into the operative configuration once in orbit.

NIAC Award: Hopping Probes for Interior Mapping of Small Solar System Bodies

Gravity Popper mission concept: A spacecraft deploys a swarm of hopping probes to the surface of a small body and then tracks their trajectories to precisely and iteratively refine a model of the body’s gravity field and internal structure. (Credits: Benjamin Hockman)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Gravity Poppers: Hopping Probes for the Interior Mapping of Small Solar System Bodies

Benjamin Hockman
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The goal of this effort is to develop a robust and affordable mission architecture that enables the gravimetric density reconstruction of small body interiors to unprecedented precision.

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NIAC Award: Heat Exchange-Driven Aircraft for Low Altitude and Surface Exploration of Venus

Image depicting the Heat Exchange-Driven Aircraft for Low Altitude and Surface Exploration of Venus. (Credits: Eldar Noe Dobrea)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Heat Exchange-Driven Aircraft for Low Altitude and Surface Exploration of Venus

Eldar Noe Dobrea
Planetary Science Institute

We propose to investigate a fixed wing aircraft platform concept capable of flying over multiple sites in close proximity to the surface of Venus in a cyclic manner. Central to this investigation is the development of a system capable of using the heat from the Venusian atmosphere to power a heat engine capable of supplying propulsion and power to the aircraft.

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NIAC Award: A Pulsed Plasma Rocket for Fast Human Transits to Mars

Depiction of the Pulsed Plasma Rocket: Shielded, Fast Transits for Humans to Mars concept. (Credits: Steven Howe)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Pulsed Plasma Rocket: Shielded, Fast Transits for Humans to Mars

Steven Howe
Howe Industries LLC

Development of a space faring civilization will depend on the ability to move cargo efficiently and humans rapidly. Due to the large distances involved in space travel, the ships must reach a high velocity for reasonable mission transit times. Thus, propulsion systems with high specific impulse (Isp) AND high thrust are required.

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NIAC Award — Aqua Factorem: Ultra Low-Energy Lunar Water Extraction

Graphic depicting the Aqua Factorem: Ultra Low-Energy Lunar Water Extraction concept. (Credits: Philip Metzger)

NASA Innovative Advance Concept (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Aqua Factorem: Ultra Low-Energy Lunar Water Extraction

Philip Metzger
University of Central Florida

We propose a new method we call Aqua Factorem to extract lunar water. It will drastically reduce energy and complexity of lunar mining operations helping to establish this industry.

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