NASA Contemplating Some Wild Future Tech

The TitanAir concept for exploring Saturn’s moon Titan.

The TitanAir idea for exploring Saturn’s moon Titan.
Illustration: Quinn Morley

The way forward for area exploration requires massive concepts, and NASA has no objection to contemplating among the greatest concepts on the market. The area company’s Progressive Superior Ideas (NIAC) program exists for this very function, and it has chosen the following crop of ideas worthy of an preliminary research.

The newest spherical of NIAC grants have been awarded to 14 analysis groups, every receiving $175,000 to additional develop their ideas, NASA introduced yesterday. Of the 14, 10 are first-time NIAC recipients. These are all preliminary Section I research, which should be accomplished inside 9 months.

“These preliminary Section I NIAC research assist NASA decide whether or not these futuristic concepts might set the stage for future area exploration capabilities and allow wonderful new missions,” Michael LaPointe, program government for NIAC, stated within the assertion.

Success in Section I might see a few of these ideas transfer to Section II, wherein the researchers are granted extra funding and two extra years to additional develop their formidable schemes. Solely a choose few make it to 3rd base: Section III.

NIAC grants usually cowl a large spectrum of space-based pursuits, and the alternatives for this yr aren’t any completely different. NASA strikes a stability between Earth and area science, area exploration, and, of explicit significance to the area company, the furthering of its Artemis agenda, below which NASA is looking for a sustainable and extended return to the Moon.

Fly AirTitan

Among the many extra eye-catching ideas is the AirTitan venture envisioned by planetary scientist Quinn Morley of Planet Enterprises. Varied ideas for exploring Saturn’s moon Titan have been proposed earlier than, and NASA is already within the midst of making ready the Dragonfly mission, however Morley’s concept is discernibly subsequent stage. The autonomous AirTitan car could be simply as comfy flying in Titan’s thick ambiance as it will be crusing on its methane lakes.

 Artist’s concept of a lake at the north pole of Saturn’s moon Titan.

Artist’s idea of a lake on the north pole of Saturn’s moon Titan.
Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Morley envisions day by day flights for AirTitan, because it seamlessly transitions from watercraft (er, methanecraft?) to plane. Along with sampling Titan’s complicated ambiance, the probe would gather and analyze liquid samples. Certainly, Titan is of serious astrobiological curiosity, as it could host prebiotic natural chemistry. That stated, the thick oily lakes might current an issue, however an inflatable wing liner might “supply resiliency and mitigate sludge buildup issues,” in line with Morley.

Satellite tv for pc megaconstellations for astronomy

NASA can also be within the Nice Observatory for Lengthy Wavelengths (GO-LoW) idea proposed by Mary Knapp from the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise. This space-based observatory would encompass hundreds of an identical satellites working on the fifth Earth-Solar Lagrange level (L5). By trying to find radio emissions at frequencies between 100 kHz and 15 MHz, the satellite tv for pc array might research the magnetic fields of distant exoplanets and detect rocky exoplanets much like our personal.

Depiction of Great Observatory for Long Wavelengths (GO-LoW) with low-frequency vector sensors.

Depiction of Nice Observatory for Lengthy Wavelengths (GO-LoW) with low-frequency vector sensors.
Graphic: Mary Knapp

The “fail quick, fail low cost method is a drastic departure from conventional practices,” Knapp writes, including that “SpaceX and different new entrants to the launch car market have pushed the market to decrease and decrease prices, by means of manufacturing improvements and the economics of scale behind mega-constellations.”

Pellet-beam propulsion

NASA needs Artur Davoyan from the College of California, Los Angeles, to additional develop his pellet-beam propulsion system idea, which the mechanical and aerospace engineer envisions as means for transporting heavy spacecraft to targets throughout the photo voltaic system and even into interstellar area. The proposed propulsion system would make use of a pellet beam—a beam of microscopic hypervelocity particles propelled by lasers—to push spacecraft to desired areas. Not like different ideas, the pellet beam permits for the transport of heavy spacecraft, which Davoyan says “considerably will increase the scope of attainable missions.”

Depiction of Pellet-Beam Propulsion for Breakthrough Space Exploration

Depiction of Pellet-Beam Propulsion for Breakthrough House Exploration
Graphic: Artur Davoyan

Pellet-beam propulsion might take payloads to the outer planets in lower than a yr and to distances farther than 100 instances the Earth-Solar distance (au) in about three years, he claims. For the present research, Davoyan will think about the efficacy of utilizing the pellet-beam to move a 1-ton payload to 500 au in lower than 20 years. For reference, Pluto is “simply” 35.6 au from Earth, whereas NASA’s Voyager 2, which launched 45 years in the past, is now roughly 133 au from Earth.

An oxygen pipeline on the lunar south pole

A key precedence for NASA’s Artemis program is to keep up a sustainable presence on the Moon, a problem that the area company might overcome through the use of on-site sources, comparable to extracting oxygen from the lunar regolith (soil) and water-ice. Peter Curreri from Lunar Sources in Houston agrees, however he’s not a fan of NASA’s present plan, as he explains:

Present funded efforts for in-situ [on-site] oxygen extraction consists of bottling the oxygen in compressed gasoline tanks or to liquefy and retailer it in dewars. Both method requires trucking tanks or dewars to varied amenities to be used. The method of transferring this oxygen on rovers is extra power intensive than the extraction course of and is regarded as the MOST costly side in acquiring in-situ oxygen to be used on the Moon contemplating the lengthy distances a useful resource extraction space will probably be from a human habitat or liquification plant.

As an alternative, Curreri proposes a lunar pipeline, which might be constructed on the lunar south pole, as that’s the place a lot of the Moon’s water-ice is situated. The idea attracted NASA’s consideration, ensuing within the Section I analysis grant.

Depiction of the Lunar South Pole Oxygen Pipeline.

Depiction of the Lunar South Pole Oxygen Pipeline.
Picture: Peter Curreri

The pipelines would supply settlers with fixed entry to valuable oxygen, whereas additionally linking scattered settlements. “A lunar pipeline has by no means been pursued and can revolutionize lunar floor operations for the Artemis program and scale back price and danger,” Curreri says.

Rising bricks on Mars

NASA additionally has its sights set on Mars, so it needs Congrui Grace Jin, an engineer from the College of Nebraska-Lincoln, to flesh out her concept for rising bricks on Mars, versus importing them from Earth. Certainly, settlers might want to construct constructions on Mars, however that will require the launching of supplies on separate missions, including to prices. Extra virtually, Jin’s analysis “proposes that, slightly than delivery prefabricated outfitting parts to Mars, habitat outfitting may be realized by in-situ development utilizing cyanobacteria and fungi as constructing brokers.”

These microbes could be coaxed into producing biominerals and polymers for gluing the Martian regolith into constructing blocks. “These self-growing constructing blocks can later be assembled into varied constructions, comparable to flooring, partitions, partitions, and furnishings,” Jin writes.

These are just a few of the 14 ideas chosen by NASA for this yr’s NIAC grant. You possibly can be taught extra concerning the different analysis proposals right here. And to be clear, these ideas haven’t been accepted as precise initiatives—all of them nonetheless must cross NASA’s sniff take a look at. Some and probably all of those concepts might die on the vine, however these kinds of speculations are all the time worthwhile and a sneak preview to what might ultimately be attainable.

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