Spaceflight Insider

NIAC selects phase I funding concepts

Artist's concept of the Titan Aerial Daughtercraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concept program (NIAC) has selected 12 proposals for Phase I funding, including three from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The NIAC program nurtures visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions with improvements or entirely new concepts in aerospace technology. Proposals can be submitted by researchers in academic institutions, the aerospace industry and government research labs.

The 12 selected proposals cover a wide variety of innovative concepts including a submarine to explore the methane lakes of Titan, a method for using neutrinos to probe the icy moons of the outer planets and a concept to safely capture a spinning asteroid or space debris. “The latest NIAC selections include a number of exciting concepts for planetary exploration,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. “We are working with innovators around the nation to transform the future of aerospace, while also focusing our investments on concepts to address challenges of current interests both in space and here on Earth.”

JPL submitted a proposal to develop a robotic submarine to explore Kraken Mare, Titan's large northern sea. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

JPL submitted a proposal to develop a robotic submarine to explore Kraken Mare, Titan’s large northern sea. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Each NIAC Phase I study will receive approximately $100,000  to conduct a nine-month initial definition and study of their concept.  Researchers can apply for Phase II awards if initial feasibility studies are successful. Phase II awards provide approximately $500,000 over two years allowing researchers to further develop and analyze their concepts. The 2014 application period for Phase II proposals ended on June 3. Approximately five Phase II selection will be announced later this year.

“The 2014 NIAC Phase I candidates were outstanding, which made final selections decisions particularly difficult,” said NIAC Program Executive Jay Falker. “So we considered various kinds of potential benefit and risk, and developed this portfolio to really push boundaries and explore new approaches, which is what makes NIAC unique.”

The cutting-edge concepts selected for the NIAC program come from multiple technology areas, including propulsion, human habitation, scientific instruments, materials for use in space  and other technologies required to meet NASA’s strategic goals.

The NIAC program is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), which is tasked with innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware which will be used in NASA’s future missions. The directorate will make significant investment over the next 18 months to address several high-priority challenges in achieving safe and affordable deep space exploration.

This year’s Phase I selections support three of eight key STMD technological thrust areas: advanced life support and resource utilization, robotic exploration systems, and space observatory systems. Selected concepts also support efforts in NASA’s Asteroid Initiative and outer planetary missions. A complete list of selected proposals is available at the NIAC website.

Artist's conception of the Weightless Rendezvous And Net Grapple to Limit Excess Rotation (WRANGLER) system. Image Credit: Tethers Unlimited

Artist’s conception of the Weightless Rendezvous And Net Grapple to Limit Excess Rotation (WRANGLER) system. Image Credit: Tethers Unlimited


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Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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