NASA has passed space travel implementation onto the private sector. NASA’s focus is now on research and development of next-generation technology concepts. Six new projects have been picked for Phase 2 of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.
Here are details of two of these projects:
SpiderFab: Architecture for On-Orbit Construction of Kilometer-Scale Apertures
The SpiderFab effort has investigated the value proposition and technical feasibility of radically changing the way we build and deploy spacecraft in order to escape the size constraints and cost scaling of current space systems. Currently high cost construction of all satellite components, such as arms, booms, antennas, and panels are done on earth and rocketed fully assembled into space. The bulky package is heavy and expensive to move and there is danger that pricey equipment can be harmed, Wasted time in repair or deployment makes for inefficient use of expensive items.
The vision that has motivated this effort is that of creating a satellite ‘chrysalis’, composed of raw material in a compact and durable form, ‘software DNA’ assembly instructions, and the capability to transform itself on-orbit to form a high-performance operational space system. SpiderFab enables this transformational capability by adapting additive manufacturing techniques and robotic assembly technologies to fabricate and integrate large space systems on-orbit. Fabricating spacecraft components on-orbit enables order-of-magnitude increases in packing efficiency and structural performance.
Super Ball Bot: Structures for Planetary Landing and Exploration
Small, light-weight and low-cost missions will become increasingly important to NASA's exploration goals. Ideally teams of small, collapsible robots, weighing only a few kilograms apiece, will be conveniently packed during launch and would reliably separate and unpack at their destination. Such robots will allow rapid, reliable in-situ exploration of hazardous destination.
Landing lightweight conventional robots is difficult with current technology. A radically different robot based on a "tensegrity" is built purely upon tensile and compression elements. Such robots can be both a landing and a mobility platform allowing for a dramatically simpler mission profile and reduced costs. These multi-purpose robots can be light-weight, absorb strong impacts, are redundant against failures, can recover from different landing orientations, and are easy to collapse and uncollapse.
"As NASA begins a new chapter in exploration, we're investing in these seed-corn advanced concepts of next-generation technologies that will truly transform how we investigate and learn about our universe," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington. "Advancing these proposals from universities, private companies and NASA researchers to Phase 2 studies allows new, futuristic ideas to move closer to becoming real tools for exploration."
NIAC Phase 2 awards can be worth as much as $500,000 for two years, and allow proposers to further develop the most successful concepts from previously selected Phase 1 studies. Phase 1 studies must demonstrate the initial feasibility and benefit of a concept. Phase 2 studies go to the next level, refining designs and exploring aspects of implementing the new technology.
NASA selected these projects through a peer-review process that evaluated innovativeness and technical viability. All projects are still in the early stages of development -- most being 10 or more years from use on a NASA mission.
"Early study and continued development are critical to guiding our technology investments," said Jay Falker, NASA's NIAC program executive in Washington. "Some of the Phase 2 studies that started last year are already attracting the attention of other NASA programs, as well as potential external partners."
NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate is innovating, developing, testing, and flying hardware for use in future missions. Through programs such as NIAC, the directorate is demonstrating that early investment and partnership with creative scientists, engineers, and citizen inventors from across the nation can provide technological dividends and help maintain America's leadership in the new global technology economy.
The other chosen projects are:
Propellant-less Spacecraft Formation-Flying and Maneuvering with Photonic Laser Thrusters
Nomadic Exploration: Following Routes of Solar Sustenance and Temperate Climate
Sample Return Systems for Extreme Environments: Phase II
A Gravitational Wave Detector Based on an Atom Interferometer
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