NASA has announced the selection of six futuristic concepts for continued study under the Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. The Phase II awards will provide funding for early-stage technology concept studies that could revolutionize exploration in the heavens and improve daily life on Earth.
The NIAC program nurtures visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions by funding early-stage technology concept studies. The Phase II awards continue work on concept studies initiated under Phase I NIAC awards. During Phase II, fellows continue to develop their concepts and explore potential infusion options within and beyond NASA.
The six researchers selected to receive NIAC Phase II grants in 2023 are Darmindra Arumugam from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Steven Barrett from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Philip Lubin from the University of California, Christopher Morrison from Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, Ronald Polidan from Lunar Resources, Inc., and Lynn Rothschild from NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Each of the six fellows will receive up to $600,000 over two years to develop their concepts. The concepts selected for continued study are expected to lead to advancements such as nearly silent electric aircraft, a sprawling radio telescope array on the far side of the Moon, and astronauts growing their own medicines in space.
Darmindra Arumugam’s concept, Quantum Rydberg Radar for Surface, Topography, and Vegetation, would use next-generation dynamically tunable quantum radar technology to improve remote sensing studies of Earth and other worlds. The technology would use reflected ground signals from other orbiting spacecraft to eliminate the need for large antenna deployments.
Steven Barrett’s concept, Silent, Solid-State Propulsion for Advanced Air Mobility Vehicles, aims to develop nearly silent electroaerodynamic thrusters for vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that could be used to transport cargo and eventually passengers over short distances in urban areas.
Philip Lubin’s concept, PI – Planetary Defense, could provide Earth with a rapid response capability to mitigate a disastrous impact from an asteroid or comet by pulverizing the object into pieces small enough to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
Christopher Morrison’s concept, The Nyx Mission to Observe the Universe from Deep Space – Enabled by EmberCore, a High Specific Power Radioisotope Electric Propulsion System, would use the nuclear decay of a radioactive material in a radioisotope electric propulsion system to propel a spacecraft to extremely high speeds, enabling the intercept and study of distant and fast-moving objects in the solar system on relatively short timeframes.
Ronald Polidan’s concept, FarView Observatory – A Large, In-Situ Manufactured, Lunar Far Side Radio Array, would create a massive radio telescope array on the Moon’s far side – autonomously constructed using resources extracted from the Moon’s regolith – that could make unprecedented observations of the early universe.
Lynn Rothschild’s concept, A Flexible, Personalized, On-Demand Astropharmacy, would use bacteria to create medical drugs on demand during extended spaceflight missions, including a class of drugs that could be used to treat radiation exposure or help protect astronauts’ bone health in space.
Jim Reuter, the associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said, “These new awards showcase the breadth of how NIAC-supported concepts can change exploration. From revolutionary propulsion systems for deep-space missions to advances in aviation to change how we travel here on Earth, these technologies would radically expand our capabilities in air and space.”
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson added, “NASA’s story is one of barriers broken and technologies transformed to support our missions and benefit all of humanity. The concepts selected under NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program will help empower researchers to usher in new technologies that could revolutionize exploration in the heavens and improve daily life here on Earth.”
Overall, the NIAC program plays a crucial role in nurturing visionary ideas that could lead to groundbreaking technological advancements in the field of space exploration and beyond. With the support of the NIAC program, researchers are able to push the boundaries of what is possible and explore new concepts that have the potential to revolutionize the future of air and space travel, as well as benefit humanity in various ways. As the program continues to fund early-stage technology concept studies, it is likely that we will see even more innovative and transformative ideas emerge in the years to come.