A Closer Look at NIAC Phase II Awards for Asteroids & Moons

Graphic depiction of Triton Hopper: Exploring Neptune’s Captured Kuiper Belt Object (Credits: Steven Oleson)

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded 25 grants for the development of visionary new technologies. Here we’re going to take a closer look at the following three Phase II awards focused on new ways of exploring asteroids and moons.

Dismantling Rubble Pile Asteroids with AoES (Area-of-Effect Soft-bots)
Jay McMahon
University of Colorado, Boulder

Triton Hopper: Exploring Neptune’s Captured Kuiper Belt Object
Steven Oleson
NASA Glenn Research Center

NIMPH: Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester
Michael VanWoerkom
ExoTerra Resource

Each award is worth up to $500,000 for a two-year study. Descriptions of the awards are below.

NASA Invests in Shapeshifters, Biobots & Other Visionary Technology

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA is investing in technology concepts that include meteoroid impact detection, space telescope swarms, and small orbital debris mapping technologies that may one day be used for future space exploration missions.

The agency selected 25 early-stage technology proposals that have the potential to transform future human and robotic exploration missions, introduce new exploration capabilities, and significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.


The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.


NIAC Focus: Magnetoshells for Human & Robotic Exploration

Top- Artist rendering of Magnetoshell Aerocapture concept. Bottom Left - RF injector operating on Argon. Bottom Right - Magnetoshell operating with internal gas feed and intercepting an accelerated neutral and plasma jet. (Credit: D. Kirtley)
Top- Artist rendering of Magnetoshell Aerocapture concept. Bottom Left – RF injector operating on Argon. Bottom Right – Magnetoshell operating with internal gas feed and intercepting an accelerated neutral and plasma jet. (Credit: D. Kirtley)

Magnetoshell Aerocapture for Manned Missions and Planetary Deep Space Orbiters
NASA Innovative Advance Concepts Phase II Award

David Kirtley

It is clear from past mission studies that a manned Mars mission, as well as deep space planetary orbiters will require aerobraking and aerocapture which use aerodynamic drag forces to slow the spacecraft. Aerocapture would enable long term studies of the outer planets and their moons that would not be possible with existing braking technologies. While utilizing planetary atmospheres to slow down and capture spacecraft would dramatically reduce the cost, launch mass, and travel time, current technologies require significant additional spacecraft mass and risk, as the spacecraft must descend deep into a planetary atmosphere that is not well characterized in order to produce significant drag on a relatively small, fixed dimension aeroshell or temperature and structurally sensitive inflatable ballute.


Interorbital Test Fires Rocket in Mojave

Interorbital Systems engine firing in Mojave. (Credit: IOS)
MOJAVE, Oct. 28, 2012 (IOS PR) —On a calm clear high-desert October evening, Interorbital Systems’ NEPTUNE rocket series’ main engine roared to life in its first hot-firing test.

The engine, the IOS GPRE 7.5KNTA (General Purpose Rocket Engine; 7,500lb-thrust; Nitric Acid; Turpentine; Ablative cooling), blasted a 22-foot (6.71-meter) plume of fire across Interorbital’s Mojave Spaceport test area, scorching the sand an additional 50 feet (15.24 meters) beyond the plume end.


Husband-and-Wife Team Work on New Tourism Rocket in Mojave

Rocket Town U.S.A.
Forget NASA. The real future of America’s space program may well lie in a thriving desert town of entrepreneurs who aim at the stars.

Fortune Small Business

“Inside the hangar the view is equally dramatic. A rocket, 30 feet long, lies on its side. Nearby sits a large capsule, looking like something out of the Apollo program. But this is the Neptune program – run not by NASA but by Roderick and Randa Milliron, a husband-and-wife rocketry company.

“The Neptune sure looks convincing. But will it fly?”

Welcome to Mojave, Calif., where “Will it fly?” is a constant question.

Interorbital Releases Design for Orbital Neptune Space Tourism Vehicle

Interorbital Press Release

Mojave, CA, February 19, 2008—-Interorbital Systems (IOS) today made public the design of its manned orbital launch vehicle, Neptune, and passed a major milestone by completing the propellant tank construction of its Sea Star MSLV (microsatellite launch vehicle). Sea Star is a subscale version of and testbed for the Neptune six-passenger orbital tourism ship. Both vehicles employ a novel modular, pressure-fed, two-stage-and-a-half-to-orbit configuration. “IOS is now one step closer to the flight-test phase, and one step closer to launching its orbital tourism services. The Sea Star launches will flight-test and space-validate many of the rocket system design elements that the follow-on vehicle, Neptune, will use.” said Roderick Milliron, IOS President and Chief Design Engineer.