Spaceflight Insider

NIAC seeks innovative Phase II proposals

Artist's concept of a space elevator by Bradley Edwards, Eureka Scientific, Inc. Image Credit: NASA/Eureka Scientific, Inc.

NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program is currently seeking proposals that could be used in future space exploration missions. The NIAC program, which is part of NASA’s  Space Technology Directorate, funds cutting-edge concepts which show potential to enable new capabilities, transform new missions or alter current approaches to building, launching and operating aerospace systems. Proposals can come from researchers in academia, industry and government research labs.

The Phase II proposals will build on the most successful ideas of the program’s first phase.  Phase II studies will further develop promising phase I concepts. NIAC’s  research efforts advance aerospace technology in several areas including spacecraft construction, human systems, transportation, imaging, and robotic exploration.

Artist's concept conveys elements of NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program Image Credit:  NASA/Kathy Reilly

Artist’s concept conveys elements of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program Image Credit: NASA/Kathy Reilly

“During the second phase of our NIAC program, visionary concepts are matured to advance concepts from notional to feasible,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “These advanced technology concepts are critical for kick-starting innovation that will enable our future missions.”

Artist's concept of sample return system for extreme environments. Image Credit: NASA

Artist’s concept of sample return system for extreme environments. Image Credit: NASA

Recent Phase II studies have included a concept for a sample return from extreme environments. This project could lead to a simple and efficient way  to obtain and return multiple samples drilled from an asteroid’s crust at lower cost than soft landing missions.

Another Phase II project is “SpiderFab”, a new approach to 3D-printing in space.  This technology could enable NASA to build giant telescopes and other large structures in orbit, thus avoiding the need to design them to fit within a rocket’s shroud or withstand the vibrations and g-loads of launch.

“In NIAC Phase I Studies, the focus is basic feasibility and potential benefit. In Phase II, we can get into real systems engineering and in some cases even demonstration” said Jay Falker, NIAC program executive at NASA Headquarters. “This is critical for taking concepts from paper studies to engineering implementation. Phase II also helps address the important technology development needs of NASA’s current and future programs.”

Artist's concept of Magnetized Beamed Plasma Proplusion (MagBeam) by Robert Winglee, University of Washington. Image Credit: NASA/University of Washington

Artist’s concept of Magnetized Beamed Plasma Proplusion (MagBeam) by Robert Winglee, University of Washington. Image Credit: NASA/University of Washington

NASA will be accepting Phase II proposals until June 3. The call for proposals is open to only current or preciously rewarded Phase I concepts. Selection announced will be be made later this year.  Complete submission guidelines are available on the NIAC website.

NIAC expects to select approximately five  new Phase II studies this year.  The exact number of awards will be based on the strength of the proposals, availability of sufficient funds, and the overall number of Phase I and Phase II awards.  Selected researchers can receive awards of up to $500,000 over two years to further develop and analyze their cutting-edge concepts.

“Over the next 18 months, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate will make significant new investments that address several high priority challenges for achieving safe and affordable deep-space exploration,” Gazarik added. “These focused technology thrust areas are tightly aligned with NASA’s Space Technology Roadmaps, the Space Technology Investment Plan, and National Research Council’s recommendations.”


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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.

Reader Comments

Yesterday I was thinking about the International Space Station, and how it could be de-orbited safely. In its present situation, it has no choice, but to return to earth.

Then the Mars mission came to mind. Why not take the space station to Mars? Yes it would take more fuel because of the extreme extra load for acceleration and deceleration, on the other hand fuel could be stored on board along with other supplies.

The craft that is being designed for the Mars mission could be modified to dock with the ISS and become one with it, for the trip to Mars. On the return trip the Mars mission craft could be fully fueled before leaving Mars.

Accelerating the Space station seems like the biggest problem.

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