FORWARD BASE B

"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)

The private sector is very good for executing practical technology, however most companies don’t have the budget or resources to take up innovative projects that may take decades to pay off. Public funded institutions like NASA bridge that gap by funding long-term innovation.

For a quick list of private sector spin-offs from NASA research, see this site:

http://spinoff.nasa.gov/

http://www.psfk.com/2012/08/nasa-space-program.html

As part of their NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, the space agency recently announced the 28 selections for study and development as part of their larger Space Technology program. Proposals focus on developing technology that would help the agency achieve their future goals, and include research into power, propulsion systems, structures and avionics. Phase I proposals receive $100k for one year of research and Phase II proposals receive $500k for two years. They are eons away from any practical application, but the range of proposals give a hint of the direction NASA is moving in.

Here are our top five favorites, first from Phase I:

Water Walls

Getting rid of human waste is a big issue when you are floating out in space, and NASA’s Ames Research Center proposes an answer. In this space craft a system within the walls (“Water Walls”) filters out reusable water from waste material through osmosis. The waste material then gets recycled out as a radiation shield.

Water Walls: Highly Reliable and Massively Redundant Life Support Architecture

Exploration of Under-Ice Regions with Ocean Profiling Agents (EUROPA)

Pretty much the coolest submarine you could ever imagine, this project looks to design a craft for exploring Europa, the underwater ocean of Jupiter’s sixth closest moon. Developed by a team of scientists at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Virginia State University, the submarine would be able to dive beneath Europa’s icy surface to discover what lies beneath.

Venus Land Sailing Rover

While the EUROPA submarine explores the depths of one planet’s moon, this project would create a craft that instead looks from the sky. NASA’s own Glen Research Center proposed a craft that would be able to sail above or through this planet’s dense atmosphere.

Our favorite Phase II proposals:

The V2 Suit

The full name of this project is the “Variable Vector Countermeasure Suit (V2Suit) for Space Habitation and Exploration,” or V2 for short. This spacesuit creates the sensation of gravity during movement by guiding flywheels attached to the suit, using gyroscopes and accelerometers. Designed by Kevin Duda of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, the suit tackles muscle atrophy and bone loss that occurs when astronauts spend long periods of time in zero gravity.

Variable Vector Countermeasure Suit (V2Suit) for Space Habitation and Exploration

The Fusion Propelled Rocket

This proposal researches how fusion energy could be used to fuel rocket propulsion systems. Using fusion energy speeds up the time quite a lot – currently it takes a mission 210 days to reach Mars. With this technology, it would take 30.

There’s a full list of projects here, one thing that stuck out was the deep-space mining robot project:

http://www.nasa.gov/offices/oct/early_stage_innovation/niac/niac_2012_phaseIandII_awards.html

Robotic Asteroid Prospector (RAP) Staged from L-1: Start of the Deep Space Economy

I can’t find any specific information, but it sounds interesting. More to come.

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