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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NIAC Award: Lunar Crater Radio Telescope on the Far-Side of the Moon

Notional view of LCRT on the far-side of the Moon. (Credits: Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay)

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

Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT) on the Far-Side of the Moon

Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory 

An ultra-long-wavelength radio telescope on the far-side of the Moon has tremendous advantages compared to Earth-based and Earth-orbiting telescopes, including

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NIAC Award: Exploring the Vents of Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

Graphic depiction of the Enceladus Vent Explorer: Phase II concept. (Credits: Masahiro Ono)

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

Enceladus Vent Explorer

Masahiro Ono
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Enceladus Vent Explorer (EVE) is a robotic mission to enter an Enceladus. Her mission objective is to collect samples of ocean water that could contain intact organisms (i.e., cells) to

i) draw an unambiguous conclusion on the existence of life in the ocean of Enceladus and

ii) should a positive result be obtained, characterize the life and ecosystem of Enceladus through biochemical, taxonomic, ethological, and ecological studies.

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Masten Wins NASA Funding to Develop Instant Landing Pads on the Moon

How FAST Landing Pad would be deployed during a mission. (Credits: Matthew Kuhns)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has provided funding to Masten Space Systems to begin development of instant landing pads for the vehicles that will carry astronauts to the lunar surface in the space agency’s Artemis program.

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NIAC Award: Innovative Offloading of Astronauts for More Effective Exploration

Graphic depiction of Biobot: Innovative Offloading of Astronauts for More Effective Exploration (Credits: D. Akin)

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

Innovative Offloading of Astronauts for More Effective Exploration

David Akin
University of Maryland, College Park

No parameter in the design of spacesuits for planetary exploration is more important than ‘weight on the back’- the weight of the suit system which must be supported by the wearer under the gravity of the Moon or Mars. The added weight of the spacesuit garment and portable life support system (PLSS) drives the required exertion level of the wearer, and ultimately sets limitations on EVA duration, distance traveled on foot, and productivity of the exploration mission.

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NIAC Award: Lightweight Planetary Probe for Extreme Environment Exploration

Graphic rendering of the Lightweight Multifunctional Planetary Probe for Extreme Environment Exploration and Locomotion. (Credits: Javid Bayandor)

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

Lightweight Multifunctional Planetary Probe for Extreme Environment Exploration and Locomotion

Javid Bayandor
State University Of New York, Buffalo

With many characteristics similar to Earth, Venus has long been considered of high scientific interest to NASA. The Venus surface temperatures near 460°C and pressures of 93 bar have made long duration surface missions infeasible.

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NIAC Award: Ultra Lightweight Nuclear Electric Propulsion Probe for Deep Space Exploration

Graphic depiction of the SPEAR Probe concept. (Credits: Troy Howe)

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

SPEAR Probe – An Ultra Lightweight Nuclear Electric Propulsion Probe for Deep Space Exploration

Troy Howe
Howe Industries LLC

Nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) systems have the potential to provide a very effective transit mechanism to celestial bodies outside of the realm of solar power, yet the heavy power source and massive radiators required to justify a reactor core often push NEP spacecraft towards very large masses and major missions.

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NIAC Award: Exoplanet Imaging Using Solar Gravitational Lens

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

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase III Award
Amount: $2 million

Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravitational Lens Mission

Slava Turyshev
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The solar gravitational lens (SGL) is characterized by remarkable properties: it offers brightness amplification of up to a factor of ~1e11 (at 1 um) and extreme angular resolution (~1e-10 arcsec). As such, it allows for extraordinary observational capabilities for direct high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy of Earth-like exoplanets.

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NIAC Award: Lunar Polar Propellant Mining Outpost

Graphic depiction of the Lunar Polar Propellant Mining Outpost (LPMO) concept. (Credits: Joel Sercel)

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

Lunar Polar Propellant Mining Outpost (LPMO): A Breakthrough for Lunar Exploration & Industry

Joel Sercel
Trans Astronautica Corporation

The Lunar Polar Mining Outpost (LPMO) (see quad chart graphic) is a breakthrough mission architecture that promises to greatly reduce the cost of human exploration and industrialization of the Moon.

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NASA Selects Early-Stage Technology Concepts for New, Continued Study

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

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Future technologies that could enable quicker trips to Mars and robotic exploration of ocean worlds might have started out as NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC). The program, which invests in early-stage technology ideas from NASA, industry and academic researchers across the country, has selected 23 potentially revolutionary concepts with a total award value of $7 million.

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NASA Wants Your Help Designing a Venus Rover Concept

Venus hides a wealth of information that could help us better understand Earth and exoplanets. NASA’s JPL is designing mission concepts to survive the planet’s extreme temperatures and atmospheric pressure. This image is a composite of data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter. (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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NASA Supports ‘Wild’ Ideas to Bring About New Space Tech

Swarm-Probe Enabling ATEG Reactor, or SPEAR, is a nuclear electric propulsion spacecraft concept that proposes a new, lightweight reactor moderator and advanced thermoelectric generators to deliver scientific payloads to anywhere in the solar system. SPEAR was selected in April 2019 as a NIAC Phase I. (Credit: Howe Industries LLC)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has a wild side. In fact, the agency has a program dedicated to nurturing visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions with the creation of breakthroughs—radically better or entirely new aerospace concepts.

For years, NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) has supported early-stage research through multiple phases of study, competitively selecting Phase I and follow-on Phase II projects each year.

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NASA Invests in Tech Concepts Aimed at Exploring Lunar Craters, Mining Asteroids

Illustration of the Skylight mission concept, a 2019 NIAC Phase III. (Credits: William Whittaker, Carnegie Mellon University)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Robotically surveying lunar craters in record time and mining resources in space could help NASA establish a sustained human presence at the Moon – part of the agency’s broader Moon to Mars exploration approach. Two mission concepts to explore these capabilities have been selected as the first-ever Phase III studies within the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

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