NASA Approves Funding For 28 Deep Space Technologies

By Mo Mozuch on August 7, 2012 3:13 PM EDT

photo:NASA
photo:NASA

 NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program (NIAC) distributed 28 grants to a number of deep space tech proposals, including a design to turn wastewater into radiation shielding, advanced gyroscopic technology for spacesuits and a propulsion system based on planetary magnetism. The agency uses the awards to showcase what it considers to be innovating thinking, and to give scientists a monetary incentive to think beyond the bottom line of a project. 

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"These selections represent the best and most creative new ideas for future technologies that have the potential to radically improve how NASA missions explore new frontiers," said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program, in an agency press release. "Through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, NASA is taking the long-term view of technological investment and the advancement that is essential for accomplishing our missions."

The programs are divided into Phase I and Phase II categories. The 18 Phase I projects receive a $100,000 one-year grant. These projects are considered to be less practical than Phase II projects, which receive a $500,000 two-year grant.  Ten projects received Phase II grants this year. NASA evaluates the winners based on the technologies set forth in its Space Technology Roadmaps. The STRs are a 14-category system of technologies NASA has identified as vital to advanced space exploration.  They cover everything from propulsion systems and life support to nanotechnology and thermal management.

A promising Phase II winner this year is the V2 Suit, a spacesuit that will use gyroscopes and accelerometers to guide flywheels attached to the suit in order to replicate the sensation of gravity during movement. The suit, designed by The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, is aimed at solving the problem of muscle atrophy and bone loss that occurs when humans are exposed to long periods of zero gravity.

This year's Phase I winners include "MAGNETOUR: Surfing Planetary Systems on Electromagnetic and Multi-Body Gravity Fields," a paper by Gregory Lantoine of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory that explores the possibility of manipulating a planet's magnetic and gravitational forces to propel spacecraft. NASA's JPL also worked on the Curiosity rover. The long-term goal of the technology is to provide propulsion systems that require far less fuel than modern methods, which would significantly reduce space travel costs.  Each shuttle flight uses half a million gallons of fuel per flight.

 "Water Walls Architecture: Massively Redundant and Highly Reliable Life Support For Long Duration Exploration Missions," another Phase I winner, aims to design a passive forward osmosis water filtration system that will filter wastewater and make it potable, as well as use solid waste to provide radiation shielding from cosmic rays and grow a green algae that can be used for food.  If successful, this system would be more efficient than modern systems, and would be significantly smaller. Also, because the system is passive, it would require little maintenance compared to current technology, which relies heavily on 24-hour mechanical systems and are more prone to failure.

We are inventing the ways in which next-generation aircraft and spacecraft will change the world and inspiring Americans to take bold steps," Gazarik said. The projects are still in the drawing board phase, however, as NASA says none of the projects will be space-ready for at least 10 years.

  

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