How to Explore Uranus Using CubeSats & Beamed Laser Power

Illustration of mothership and probe subsystems in the SCATTER concept. (Credits: Sigrid Close)

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

Exploring Uranus through SCATTER
Sigrid Close
Stanford University
Stanford, Calif.

SCATTER studies the capability for a parent spacecraft to transmit power and remotely manipulate a small probe spacecraft through a laser transmitter, entitled Sustained CubeSat Activity Through Transmitted Electromagnetic Radiation (SCATTER).

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Using Micro-robots to Search for Alien Life on Ocean Moons

SWIM concept of operations, including lander / ocean-access cryobot (Left) and deployed micro-swimmers (Right) with independent propulsion, sensing and two-way ultrasound communication to the cryobot mothercraft. (Credits: Ethan Schaler)

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

SWIM — Sensing with Independent Micro-swimmers
Ethan Schaler
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

The next decades of space exploration will focus on Ocean Worlds – especially Enceladus, Europa, and Titan – whose liquid oceans beneath kilometers of icy crust are some of the most likely locations beyond Earth to harbor life. To access these aquatic environments, NASA is developing and maturing numerous ocean-access mission concepts, including the Scientific Exploration Subsurface Access Mechanism for Europa (SESAME) class of thermo-mechanical drilling robots.

We propose developing SWIM – Sensing with Independent Micro-swimmers – dramatically expand the capabilities of SESAME-class ocean-access robotic missions and significantly increase their likelihood of detecting evidence of habitability / biomarkers / life.

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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 into a Solar System “Pony Express” System

Artist’s depiction of the Solar System Pony Express system. (Credits: Joshua Vander Hook)

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

Solar System Pony Express
Joshua Vander Hook
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

The Solar System Pony Express is a global, multi-spectral, high-resolution planetary surveyor supported by regular visits from a cycler satellite network to retrieve petabits of data for transit to Earth.

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How to Drill for Water on Mars

Illustration of autonomous borebot deployment into a layered deposit on Mars. Inset shows a closeup of the borebot drive system. (Credits: Planet Enterprises / James Vaughan Illustration)

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

Autonomous Robotic Demonstrator for Deep Drilling (ARD3)
Quinn Morley
Planet Enterprises
Gig Harbor, Wash.

It is now believed that subglacial liquid water exists on Mars, at a depth of 1.5 km in the South Polar Layered Deposits (SPLD). This evidence was published by Orosei et al. in 2018, and immediately sent reverberations through the aerospace community.

Chris McKay, Senior Scientist for the NASA Ames Research Center was heard on the Planetary Radio podcast saying: “If we’re going to do astrobiology, we need to not just see it, we need to get a piece of it, we need to get a sample of it. So I think this becomes a very strong argument for deep drilling” (Kaplan, 2018).

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NASA Funds Research into Creating Kilometer-Scale Space Structures from a Single Launch

A high-expansion-ratio auxetic structure can be stowed inside a single Falcon Heavy fairing and deployed to a final length of one kilometer on orbit as part of a large space station. The station can then be spun at 1-2 RPM to generate 1g artificial gravity at its ends while still maintaining a microgravity environment at its center near the spin axis, providing the crew with the flexibility of living in a 1g environment while performing some work in microgravity. (Credits: Zachary Manchester, graphic by Tzipora Thompson)

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

Kilometer-Scale Space Structures from a Single Launch
Zachary Manchester
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Synopsis

Long-duration spaceflight poses serious challenges for the human body, including muscle atrophy, bone loss, eyesight degradation, and immunosuppression. Many of these effects are linked to a lack of gravity. Generating artificial gravity inside rotating space habitats has been a dream of science fiction since the earliest pioneers of astronautics.

However, rotating to produce artificial gravity poses a serious challenge; Humans experience discomfort and motion sickness when exposed to rotation rates greater than a few RPM. To produce artificial gravity near 1g at rotation rates of 1-2 RPM, a kilometer-scale structure is needed. To address this challenge, we will leverage recent advances in mechanical metamaterials to design lightweight deployable structures with unprecedented expansion ratios of 150x or more.

Such a structure could be launched inside a single Falcon Heavy rocket fairing and then be deployed autonomously to a final size of a kilometer or more on orbit without requiring complex on-orbit assembly or fabrication. Our study will analyze a mission concept analogous to the Lunar Gateway, in which a kilometer-scale deployable structure forms the backbone of a large rotating space station.

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.

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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NASA Funds Research on Nuclear-powered Solar Sails to Quickly Explore Outer Planets

A nominal layout of a solar sail vehicle with a central payload and avionics unit, supported by a distributed APPLE power system with the number and area of units scaled to mission power need (not to scale). (Credits: E. Joseph Nemanick)

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

Atomic Planar Power for Lightweight Exploration (APPLE)
E. Joseph Nemanick
The Aerospace Corporation
Santa Monica, Calif.

The Atomic Planar Power for Lightweight Exploration (APPLE) is an enabling architecture for deep solar system missions on low mass, fast transit space platforms. We explore an alternative vehicle architecture that integrates a long-lived, peak power capable, rechargeable, and modular power system with solar sail propulsion, and examine the new missions this architecture enables.

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NASA Funds Research into Extrasolar Object Interceptor and Sample Return Technology

Artist’s depiction of the Extrasolar Object Interceptor (Credits: Christopher Morrison)

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

Extrasolar Object Interceptor and Sample Return Enabled by Compact, Ultra Power Dense Radioisotope Batteries
Christopher Morrison
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation – Space (USNC-Space)
Seattle, Wash.

Synopsis

USNC-Tech is proposing a compact 20 kWe, 500 kg dry mass, radioisotope-electric-propulsion spacecraft design powered by a novel Chargeable Atomic Battery (CAB) that is capable of ∆Vs on the order of 100 km/s with a power system specific mass of 5-8 kg/kWe. A spacecraft powered by this technology will be able to catch up to an extrasolar object, collect a sample, and return to earth within a 10-year timeframe.

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NASA Funds Research into Small Robots Designed to Explore Martian Caves

Illustration of ReachBot traversing a Martian cavern using microspine grippers across different types of treacherous terrain: (left) a vertically winding tunnel with a rocky and uneven floor, (center) an overhanging wall or ceiling, and (right) a sheer vertical wall in a large cavern or on a cliff. (Credits: Marco Pavone)

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

ReachBot: Small Robot for Large Mobile Manipulation Tasks
in Martian Cave Environments
Marco Pavone
Stanford University
Stanford, Calif.

Synopsis

The objective of this effort is to develop a mission architecture where a long-reach crawling and anchoring robot, which repurposes extendable booms for mobile manipulation, is deployed to explore and sample difficult terrains on planetary bodies, with a key focus on Mars exploration. To this end, the robot concept we present here, called ReachBot, uses rollable extendable booms as manipulator arms and as highly reconfigurable structural members.

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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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NASA Wants Your Help Designing a Venus Rover Concept

An illustration of a concept for a possible wind-powered Venus rover. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, under a grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, is running a public challenge to develop an obstacle avoidance sensor for a possible future Venus rover. The “Exploring Hell: Avoiding Obstacles on a Clockwork Rover” challenge is seeking the public’s designs for a sensor that could be incorporated into the design concept.

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