NASA awards $5.1 million for futuristic tech concepts

NASA awards $5.1 million for futuristic tech concepts

Nasa Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) announced its funding for preliminary studies on February 25, which will focus on exploring space technologies that can shape the future of aeronautical and space missions. A total of $5.1 million has been awarded to 17 researchers from nine states so far.

“As we aim for ever harder destinations to explore with humans and robots, innovative ideas and future thinking will be essential to help us reach new milestones,” NASA Assistant Administrator Pam Melroy said about the initiative. “Concepts like those explored with this new round of NIAC funding help us expand the scope of the possible so we can make it a reality.”

With 12 projects in Phase I and five in Phase II, the early study concept is intended to help researchers fully develop their preliminary or early-stage projects, although selected projects are not yet officially considered for NASA missions. Phase I fellows will receive $175,000 for a nine-month study, and Phase II fellows will receive $600,000 each for a two-year study.

Phase I projects include studies more focused on space vehicles, such as a new design of spacecraft to protect against radiation during a long journey, a quiet electric aircraft to overcome the noise problem which is the opposition largest community, and an idea for a spacecraft capable of battling the heat of the sun to propel itself out of the solar system at remarkable speeds.

Sara Seager, a Phase I fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has come up with an innovative concept that will help scientists study the planet Venus by launching a parachute into its atmosphere to capture the sample of gas and clouds. The sample will be brought back to Earth for scientists to then analyze for signs of life on Venus.

Phase II of the program highlights projects that include a design for small, climbing robots that could explore underground caves on Mars, new ways to use nuclear power for spacecraft, and a plan for a group of micro- 3D printed swimming robots that are responsible for discovering water in space elements like Enceladus.

Carnegie Mellon University Phase II Fellow Zac Manchester will continue to work on his concept of artificial gravity in space using a mile-sized rotating structure. After launch of the single rocket, the proposed structure will expand to 150 times its original size, becoming a critical rotating habitat responsible for providing artificial gravity equal to Earth’s gravity in parts of the design.

NIAC is funded by the Space Technology Missions Directorate (STMD)which is responsible for developing new cross-cutting space technologies while providing a helping hand to agencies working to accomplish current and future missions.

“NASA’s mission to explore the universe requires new technologies and new ways of doing things,” said Associate Administrator for STMD Jim Reuteremphasizing the importance of exploring these innovative ideas.

NASA has played a vital role in shaping civilian space programs and space exploration since its inception in 1958. By investing in early study programs, NASA continues to add to the existing conversation and innovative research around science and technology.

BU News Service, an award-winning news site, is produced by Boston University journalism students. For more Boston area coverage, visit