from the bright-ideas dept.
The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program is funding another round of studies of space technology concepts, including shapeshifting robots that can adapt to multiple terrains, a small rover that can carry the bulky life equipment that an astronaut would normally carry on their back, a combined particle and laser beam for accelerating small payloads, space habitats constructed using fungal mycelium, a modular self-assembling space telescope with a large aperture, and a radioisotope positron propulsion system.
Some of the Phase 2 concepts that were selected for further study include a space telescope with a 1 kilometer aperture, a Triton "hopper", a harvester that can manufacture propellant from ice in order to launch a sample return, and a Mach Effect thruster.
Several of the proposals mention the goal of getting a space telescope to at least 548.7 AU away from the Sun to perform astronomy using the Sun as a gravitational lens. For example, the Breakthrough Propulsion Architecture for Interstellar Precursor Missions could get a payload out to 550 AU in 15 years, although it would require a multi-hundred-megawatt phased-array laser.
Projects in Phase 1:
Shapeshifters from Science Fiction to Science Fact: Globetrotting from Titan's Rugged Cliffs to its Deep Seafloors
Aliakbar Aghamohammadi, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California
Biobot: Innovative Offloading of Astronauts for More Effective Exploration
David Akin, University of Maryland, College Park
Lofted Environmental and Atmospheric Venus Sensors (LEAVES)
Jeffrey Balcerski, Ohio Aerospace Institute, Cleveland
Meteoroid Impact Detection for Exploration of Asteroids (MIDEA)
Sigrid Close, Stanford University, California
On-Orbit, Collision-Free Mapping of Small Orbital Debris
Christine Hartzell, University of Maryland, College Park
Marsbee – Swarm of Flapping Wing Flyers for Enhanced Mars Exploration
Chang-kwon Kang, University of Alabama, Huntsville
Rotary Motion Extended Array Synthesis (R-MXAS)
John Kendra, Leidos, Inc., Reston, Virginia
PROCSIMA: Diffractionless Beamed Propulsion for Breakthrough Interstellar Missions
Chris Limbach, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, College Station
SPARROW: Steam Propelled Autonomous Retrieval Robot for Ocean Worlds
Gareth Meirion-Griffith, JPL
BALLET: Balloon Locomotion for Extreme Terrain
Hari Nayar, JPL
Myco-Architecture off Planet: Growing Surface Structures at Destination
Lynn Rothscild, NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California
Modular Active Self-Assembling Space Telescope Swarms
Dmitry Savransky, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
Astrophysics and Technical Study of a Solar Neutrino Spacecraft
Nickolas Solomey, Wichita State University, Kansas
Advanced Diffractive MetaFilm Sailcraft
Grover Swartzlander, Rochester Institute of Technology, New York
Spectrally-Resolved Synthetic Imaging Interferometer
Jordan Wachs, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, Boulder, Colorado
Radioisotope Positron Propulsion
Ryan Weed, Positron Dynamics, Livermore, California
Phase 2 projects that were previously in Phase 1:
Pulsed Fission-Fusion (PuFF) Propulsion Concept
Robert Adams, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama
Kilometer Space Telescope (KST)
Devon Crowe, Raytheon, El Segundo, California
Dismantling Rubble Pile Asteroids with AoES (Area-of-Effect Soft-bots)
Jay McMahon, University of Colorado, Boulder
Triton Hopper: Exploring Neptune's Captured Kuiper Belt Object
Steven Oleson, NASA's Glenn Research Center, Cleveland
Spacecraft Scale Magnetospheric Protection from Galactic Cosmic Radiation
John Slough, MSNW, LLC, Redmond, Washington
NIMPH: Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester
Michael VanWoerkom, ExoTerra Resource, Littleton, Colorado
Mach Effect for in space propulsion: Interstellar mission
James Woodward, Space Studies Institute, Inc., Mojave, California
Four months after President Trump directed NASA to return to the Moon, the agency has presented a road map to meet the goals outlined in Space Policy Directive-1. The updated plan shifts focus from the previous "Journey to Mars" campaign back to the Moon, and—eventually—to the Red Planet.
"The Moon will play an important role in expanding human presence deeper into the solar system," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, in a release issued by the agency.
While the revamped plan may share the same destination as the Apollo program, NASA said it will approach the return in a more measured and sustainable manner. Unlike humanity's first trip to the Moon, the journey back will incorporate both commercial and international partners.
To achieve this, NASA has outlined four strategic goals:
- Transition low-Earth orbit (LEO) human spaceflight activities to commercial operators.
- Expand long-duration spaceflight activities to include lunar orbit.
- Facilitate long-term robotic lunar exploration.
- Use human exploration of the Moon as groundwork for eventual human missions to Mars and beyond.
This may be the best outcome for the space program. Let NASA focus on the Moon with an eye towards permanently stationing robots and humans there, and let SpaceX or someone else take the credit for a 2020s/early-2030s manned Mars landing. Then work on a permanent presence on Mars using cheaper rocket launches, faster propulsion technologies, better radiation shielding, hardier space potatoes, etc.
Previously: President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1
Moon Base Could Cost Just $10 Billion Due to New Technologies
Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again?
NASA and International Partners Planning Orbital Lunar Outpost
How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently
NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars
Private Company Plans to Bring Moon Rocks Back to Earth in Three Years
NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station
India and Japan to Collaborate on Lunar Lander and Sample Return Mission
Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway
Can the International Space Station be Saved? Should It be Saved?
Trump Administration Plans to End Support for the ISS by 2025
25 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Selected for 2018
Lunar X Prize Could Continue Without Google, or Even the Prizes
Phys.org reports on the bold plan to take pictures of an exoplanet so sharp that oceans, continents and even clouds would be discernible.
Right now, it's impossible. From our vantage point, exoplanets—planets orbiting other stars—look like fireflies next to spotlights. In the few images we've managed to take of them, the exoplanets are mere dots. Even as the next generation of space telescopes comes online, this won't change—you'd need a 90-kilometer-wide telescope to see surface features on a planet 100 light years away.
A group of researchers has an audacious plan to overcome these difficulties. It involves using solar sail spacecraft—possibly an entire fleet of them—to fly faster and farther away from Earth than any previous space probe, turn around, and use our distant Sun's gravity as a giant magnifying glass. If it works, we'll capture an image of an exoplanet so sharp that we can see features just 10 kilometers across.
Recently awarded a $2 million grant by NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, and spearheaded by JPL physicist Slava Turyshev, the project,
called the Solar Gravity Lens, or SGL, sounds like something straight out of science fiction. NASA and a collection of universities, aerospace companies and other organizations are involved, as well as Planetary Society co-founder Lou Friedman, the original solar sailing guru.
According to Turyshev
The needed technologies do already exist, but the challenge is how to make use of that technology, how to accelerate their development, and then how to best put them to use. I think we are at the beginning of an exciting period in the space industry, where getting to SGL would be practical, and scientifically exciting."
I wonder if it will come with an EF mount.