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NASA selects leading-edge concepts for continued study
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (JPL) Jul 09, 2015


Montage of several newly awarded NIAC Phase II concepts from fellows Bruce Wiegmann, Adrian Stoica, Steven Oleson, and Justin Atchison. Image courtesy L to R, B. Wiegmann/MSFC, A. Stoica/JPL, S. Oleson, J. Atchison.

NASA has selected seven technology proposals for continued study under Phase II of the agency's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program, including one from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. The selections are based on the potential to transform future aerospace missions, introduce new capabilities or significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.

The selected proposals address a range of visionary concepts, including metallic lithium combustion for long-term robotics operations, submarines that explore the oceans of icy moons of the outer planets, and a swarm of tiny satellites that map gravity fields and characterize the properties of small moons and asteroids.

"NASA's investments in early-stage research are important for advancing new systems concepts and developing requirements for technologies to enable future space exploration missions," said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This round of Phase II selections demonstrates the agency's continued commitment to innovations that may transform our nation's space, technology and science capabilities."

The JPL proposal, "Trans-Formers for Lunar Extreme Environments: Ensuring Long-Term Operations in Regions of Darkness and Low Temperatures," led by Adrian Stoica, is a concept for assisting in the exploration of extreme environments. This technology would unfold itself, origami-style, from a small volume into a large reflective surface. Then, the transformer would reflect sunlight and project energy onto a rover or astronauts. The idea is to warm up cold, dark places, provide solar energy and charge the solar panels of rovers operating in permanently shaded regions like the lunar south pole craters.

NIAC Phase II awards can be worth as much as $500,000 for a two-year study, and the awards allow proposers to further develop their concepts from previously selected Phase I studies. Phase I studies must demonstrate the initial feasibility and benefit of a concept. Phase II studies allow awardees to refine their designs and explore aspects of implementing the new technology.

NASA 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.

"This is an excellent group of NIAC studies," said Jason Derleth, NIAC Program executive at NASA Headquarters. "From seeing into cave formations on the moon to a radically new kind of solar sail that uses solar wind instead of light, NIAC continues to push the bounds of current technology."

NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate innovates, develops, tests and flies hardware for use in future missions. Through programs such as NIAC, the directorate is demonstrating that early investment and partnership with scientists, engineers and citizen inventors from across the nation can provide technological dividends and help maintain America's leadership in the new global technology economy.


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