News / USA

Visionary Ideas Could Transform Future NASA Missions

Space agency awards grants to explore next generation of US space program

NASA hopes to eventually explore new frontiers with some of the 30 proposals it is funding over the next year.
NASA hopes to eventually explore new frontiers with some of the 30 proposals it is funding over the next year.


Rosanne Skirble

NASA, the U.S. space agency, has awarded $3 million in grants for 30 proposals which explore new ideas for America’s next generation space program.

The proposals reflect wide-ranging visions of new spacecraft designs, new propulsion systems and an expanded human presence in space. They each receive a first-year development grant of $100,000 to prove their worth.  

NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program (NIAC) received hundreds of proposals representing almost every aspect of the agency's mission.

“Just looking down the list, there are some that are related to humans trying to operate in space, some that are related to spacecraft trying to operate safely or protecting people from radiation," program executive Jay Falker says, "some that are improved propulsion concepts, some that are improved structures and some that would maybe enable us to do the kinds of missions we’ve done before, a space station or a space telescope, but much, much more efficiently.”

The selected proposals came from academia, industry and from within NASA itself.

For example, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center wants to build a kind of optical “tweezers” - a laser device that could be used on deep space probes to collect samples of space debris:

“In the proposal they mention, a type that might be on a rover like on Mars and instead of having a physical scoop that goes and gets some rock or soil, there’s a small laser trap that can do that," Falker says. "But they also show one in space. For example, it could fly near a comet and collect some of the materials of that or even, to me most interesting, because we can’t do it at all today, there’s the possibility of trying to do that during planetary entry and descent.”

Another concept, this one from Virginia-based Raytheon BBN Technologies, would use a balloon-lofted, high-altitude air gun to change the course of potentially dangerous orbital junk, such as inoperative satellites.

“The idea is to simply pulse or puff a little bit of the atmosphere up into the way of the orbiting debris," Falker says. "And that pulse of air, if we do it right, would force it to slow down, enter the atmosphere, burn up faster than it would have otherwise and may also enable us to tactically avoid a collision.”

Other proposals include a skin-tight spacesuit with sensors and flywheels to stabilize astronauts in microgravity; a propulsion system that relies on giant sails to catch the solar wind; and the use of 3-D printer technology to construct small spacecraft or components for a planetary outpost.

“The second level of that same kind of thinking is when we get good at this, people will begin to design differently because instead of taking years in development, we can get an idea, get prototypes developed quickly," Falker says. "Then we can begin sending the printers into orbit and to other destinations and that’s where we can imagine entirely different design schemes two or three generations down the road.”

Over the next year the scientists will work on their ideas, even develop and test hardware related to their projects.

According to Falker, the $3-million price tag is a drop in NASA’s proposed $18 billion budget for 2012. He’s confident it can survive any funding cuts.

“Most of the country, Congress is behind the idea that NASA should be exploring some visionary concepts and this small amount of money is worth it, and I know if we get one breakthrough, it will absolutely be worth it.”

A precursor to the NIAC program, which began in 1998, was suspended in 2007 after a cost-conscious U.S. Congress ordered a review of its effectiveness. A year later, a national panel of experts recommended that NASA continue investigating advanced concepts. Congress eventually gave the go-ahead to restore the program this year.

According to Falker, at year’s end, the scientists can compete for additional funds to move their concepts forward, with the hope of eventually integrating them into a future space mission.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs