Spaceflight Insider

NASA solicits ideas for innovative technology that could send crews to Mars

This artist’s concept from 1985 depicts hardware which might be involved during manned missions to Mars.

This artist’s concept from 1985 depicts hardware which might be involved during manned missions to Mars. Image Credit: NASA

Last week, NASA announced a call for submissions of innovative ideas that could be essential for future exploration of the Solar System, including crewed missions Mars. The initiative, known as iTech, engages the public, universities, the space industry, and U.S. government agencies to offer technology solutions necessary for space exploration.

The call for white papers started on Sept. 21 and will run through Oct. 17. During this phase, innovators can send proposals that could fill technology gaps in five critical areas perceived by NASA as crucial for future exploration. These areas are radiation protection, life support systems in space, astronaut crew health, in-space propulsion, and the ability to achieve very high-resolution measurements of key greenhouse gases.

ITech timeline. Image Credit: NASA

The iTech timeline. (Click to enlarge) Image Credit: NASA

“NASA continually strives to advance technologies to make space safer, cost effective and more effective,” Timothy Allen of the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) in Hampton, Virginia, told “While there are several successful programs that NASA uses to foster technology, NASA iTech is unique in that it calls for ideas to help fill current technology gaps in five critical areas that the agency has determined will have the greatest impact on future space exploration.”

The iTech initiative is led by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist and managed by NIA. The institute will also assist the first cycle of the selected innovators by providing six months of mentoring with the aim of implementing the ideas into reality.

The white papers will be reviewed by a panel of subject matter experts in the first half of November. After the reviews, NASA Chief Technologists will select the top 10 finalists Nov. 15 based on their relevance and potential impact in the technology topic areas.

“Through NASA iTech, we expect that NASA’s partners will find unique opportunities to collaborate with those who have innovative new approaches, ideas and technology solutions to help close the gaps in those critical challenge areas,”Allen said. “When that happens, it frees up resources for NASA to focus on even bigger, more complex, and unseen challenges in the future.”

The top ten innovators will be invited to Washington, D.C., to present their concepts to NASA leaders, industry partners, subject matter experts, and space investors at the NASA iTech Forum in December. At the forum, a team of expert coaches will help those top ten innovators sharpen their pitches to prepare for their presentations to NASA and space industry senior leadership. The top three solutions selected at the end of the conference will also receive six months of additional mentoring to further develop the technologies.

Allen noted the ideas and solutions to solve these challenges outlined in the iTech initiative may already exist at small or large businesses, universities, or other government organizations. Wherever these innovative ideas and technologies are located, it’s important to find them to increase awareness and foster their development.

However, some innovations and technologies necessary for further exploration of space may not yet exist.

“By participating in NASA iTech, innovators and inventors that have adjacent technologies will reveal opportunities to re-vector collaborative resources to mature these technologies for future space exploration,” Allen said. “When new potential solutions are shared, opportunities to clear those technology hurdles are significantly enhanced.”



Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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