NASA encourages researchers to develop and study unexpected approaches to travel, understand and explore space. To achieve these goals, the agency selected seven studies for additional funding – totaling $ 5 million – from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. Researchers have already received at least one CANI grant related to their proposals.
“Creativity is the key to future space exploration and the promotion of revolutionary ideas today that may seem extravagant will prepare us for new missions and new approaches to exploration in the decades to come,” Jim said. Reuter, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Missions Directorate (STMD).
NASA selected the proposals through a peer review process that assesses innovation and technical viability. All of the projects are still in the early stages of development, with most requiring a decade or more of technological maturation. They are not considered official NASA missions.
Among the studies is a concept for a neutrino detection mission that will receive a $ 2 million CANI Phase III grant to mature related technology over two years. Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe but are difficult to study because they rarely interact with matter. Therefore, large and sensitive land-based detectors are best suited to detect them. Nikolas Solomey of Wichita State University in Kansas offers something different: a space-based neutrino detector.
“Neutrinos are a tool for ‘seeing’ the interior of stars, and a space detector could provide a new window into the structure of our Sun and even our galaxy,” said Jason Derleth, director of the NIAC program. “A detector orbiting near the Sun could reveal the shape and size of the solar furnace in the heart. Or, going in the opposite direction, this technology could detect neutrinos from stars in the center of our galaxy.
Previous research from Solomey’s NIAC has shown that the technology can work in space, explored different mission flight paths, and developed an early prototype of the neutrino detector. With the Phase III grant, Solomey will prepare a flight-ready detector that could be tested on a CubeSat.
In addition, six researchers will each receive $ 500,000 to conduct Phase II studies in NIAC for up to two years.
Jeffrey Balcerski of the Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland will continue his work on a “swarm” approach of small spaceships to study the atmosphere of Venus. The concept combines miniature sensors, electronics and communications on kite-shaped drifting platforms to perform approximately nine hours of operations in the clouds of Venus. High fidelity deployment and flight simulations will help refine the design.
Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay, a robotics technologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, will continue his research on a possible radio telescope in a crater on the other side of the Moon. He aims to design a wire mesh that small climbing robots could deploy to form a large parabolic reflector. The Phase II study will also focus on refining the capabilities of the telescope and various mission approaches.
Kerry Nock, along with Global Aerospace Corporation in Irwindale, Calif., Will mature a possible way to land on Pluto and other celestial bodies with low pressure atmospheres. The concept is based on a large, lightweight decelerator that inflates as it approaches the surface. Nock will address the feasibility of the technology, including the most risky components, and establish its overall maturity.
Artur Davoyan, assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, will advance CubeSat solar sails to explore the solar system and interstellar space. Davoyan will manufacture and test ultralight sail materials capable of withstanding extreme temperatures, examine structurally sound methods of supporting the sail, and investigate two mission concepts.
Lynn Rothschild, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, will study in more detail ways to grow structures, perhaps for future space habitats, from fungi. This research phase will build on previous techniques for mycelium production, fabrication and testing. Rothschild, along with an international team, will test different fungi, growth conditions and pore size on small prototypes under environmental conditions relevant to the Moon and Mars. The research will also evaluate terrestrial applications, including biodegradable plates and quick, inexpensive structures.
Peter Gural of Trans Astronautica Corporation in Lakeview Terrace, Calif., Will study a mission concept to find small asteroids faster than current survey methods. A constellation of three spacecraft would use hundreds of small telescopes and onboard image processing to conduct a coordinated search for these objects. Phase II aims to mature and prove the proposed filter technology.
CANI supports visionary research ideas through multiple phases of progressive study. In February 2021, NASA announced 16 new selections of NIAC Phase I proposals. The STMD finances the CANI and is responsible for the development of new technologies and transversal capacities that the agency needs to accomplish its current and future missions.