With an aim to have necessary technology available for future space exploration missions, NASA is investing in technology concepts that include meteoroid impact detection, space telescope swarms, and small orbital debris mapping technologies.
So, far it has selected 25 early-stage technology proposals that it says has the potential to transform future human and robotic exploration missions, introduce new exploration capabilities, and improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.
Under the programme called the 2018 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), it is offering an award of about $125,000, over nine months to as many as 25 technology start-ups to support initial definition and analysis of technology concepts. NASA says that if these basic feasibility studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards.
“The NIAC program gives NASA the opportunity to explore visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions by creating radically better or entirely new concepts while engaging America's innovators and entrepreneurs as partners in the journey,” said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. “The concepts can then be evaluated for potential inclusion into our early stage technology portfolio.”
According to NASA, the Phase II studies allow awardees time to refine their designs and explore aspects of implementing the new technology. This year's Phase II portfolio addresses a range of leading-edge concepts, including a propulsion architecture for interstellar precursor missions, a large scale space telescope, novel exploration tools for Triton, and Mach effect gravity assist drive propulsion.
Awards under Phase II of the NIAC program can be worth as much as $500,000 for two-year studies, and allow proposers to further develop Phase I concepts that successfully demonstrated initial feasibility and benefit.
“Phase II studies are given to the most successful Phase I fellows, whose ideas have the best possibility of changing the possible,” said Derleth. “Their two-year timeframe and larger budget allow them to really get going on the business of creating the future.”
NASA informed that it selected these projects through a peer-review process that evaluated innovativeness and technical viability. All projects are still in the early stages of development, most requiring 10 or more years of concept maturation and technology development before use on a NASA mission.
NIAC is funded by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is responsible for developing the cross-cutting, pioneering new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.