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.

Multimedia

Audio
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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid