NASA inspires Scientists to examine and develop unexpected ways for traveling through, exploring, and understanding space. Besides these goals, the agency has picked seven studies for additional funding – totaling $5 million – from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. The researchers previously received at least one NIAC award related to their proposals.
According to Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD): “Creativity is the solution to future space research, and cultivating innovative ideas today that may sound strange but it will help us for fresh exploration approaches and new missions in the coming decades.”
NASA chose the programs through a peer-review process that evaluates technical and innovation viability. However, All programs are in the initial stages of development, with most expecting a decade or more of technology maturation. They are not recognized official NASA missions.
The concept of neutrino-detecting mission among these programs will receive a $2 million Phase III NIAC grant to mature related technology over two years. In the universe, Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles. However, it is difficult to examine these particles as these particles rarely interact with matter. Therefore, sensitive and large Earth-based detectors are best suited to identify them. Nikolas Solomey from Wichita State University in Kansas suggests something different: a space-based neutrino detector.
“Neutrinos can be used as a tool to ‘see’ inside stars, and a space-based detector could give a new window into the structure of our Sun and even our galaxy,” said NIAC Program Executive Jason Derleth. “A detector revolving adjacent to the Sun could tell the size and shape of the solar furnace at the center. Or, by operating in the reverse direction, this technology could discover neutrinos from stars at the core of our galaxy.”
Solomey’s prior NIAC study revealed the technology could work in space, searched various flight paths, and developed an initial model of the neutrino detector. With the Phase III grant, Solomey will develop a flight-ready detector that could be analyzed on a CubeSat. Also, six scientists will get $500,000 each to conduct Phase II NIAC studies for up to two years.
Jeffrey Balcerski in association with Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland will continue work on a small spacecraft “swarm” method to analyzing Venus’ environment. The idea combines electronics, small sensors, and communications on kite-like, drifting platforms to handle around nine hours of operations in the clouds of Venus. High-fidelity simulations of deployment and flight will further mature the design.
Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay, a robotics engineer, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Southern California, will continue study on a potential radio telescope within a crater on the distant side of the Moon. He aims to develop a wire mesh that small climbing robots could use to build a massive parabolic reflector. The Phase II research will also concentrate on sharpening the capabilities of the telescope and different mission approaches.
Kerry Nock, with Global Aerospace Corporation in Irwindale, California, will develop a feasible means to land on Pluto and other celestial bodies with low-pressure atmospheres. The theory relies on a large, lightweight decelerator that expands as it approaches the surface. Nock will discuss the technology’s probability, including the riskier parts, and set its overall maturity.
Artur Davoyan, an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, will scrutinize CubeSat solar sails for investigating the interstellar space and solar system. Davoyan will manufacture and experiment with ultra-lightweight sail materials capable of withstanding intense temperatures, check structurally sound ways for supporting the sail, and review two mission concepts.
Lynn Rothschild, a researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, will further analyze ways to develop structures, possibly for future space positions, out of fungi. This phase of the study will develop on prior mycelia production, testing, and fabrication methods. Rothschild, along with an international team, will examine distinct fungi, growth requirements, and pore size on small models at environmental conditions related to the Moon and Mars. The study will also evaluate terrestrial applications, including biodegradable plates and rapid, low-cost structures.
Peter Gural with Trans Astronautica Corporation in Lakeview Terrace, California, will study a mission concept to discover minute asteroids faster than contemporary survey methods. A constellation of three spacecraft would employ hundreds of small telescopes and onboard image processing to conduct coordinated research for these objects. Phase II aims to develop and prove the advanced filter technology.
NIAC encourages visionary research concepts through multiple successive phases of the study. In February 2021, NASA announced 16 new NIAC Phase I proposal selections. STMD funds NIAC and is liable for developing the new cross-cutting technologies and capabilities required by the agency to fulfill its current and future missions.
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