NASA has selected 13 proposals, including one by an Indian-origin scientist, through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), a programme aimed at revolutionising future space missions to Mars and beyond.
Ratnakumar Bugga, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California was selected for his Venus Interior Probe Using In-situ Power and Propulsion (VIP-INSPR). NIAC Phase I awards are valued at about USD 100,000 for nine months, to support initial definition and analysis of their concepts. If these basic feasibility studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards, valued up to USD 500,000 for two additional years of concept development.
Among the selected are a concept for reprogramming microorganisms that could use the Martian environment to recycle and print electronics; a two-dimensional spacecraft with ultra-thin subsystems that may wrap around space debris to enable de-orbiting; and a method of computational imaging that leverages extrasolar intensity fluctuations to detect “echoes” from planets and other structures orbiting a distant star. (Also read. NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft enters emergency mode)
“The latest NIAC selections include a number of concepts for planetary and robotic exploration,” said Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. The 2016 portfolio of Phase I concepts cover a wide range of innovations selected for their potential to revolutionise future aerospace missions, officials said.
Such breakthroughs hold the promise of accelerating NASA’s progress toward its goals of exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, missions to an asteroid and Mars, and other priority areas in all of NASA’s mission directorates. “The 2016 NIAC Phase I competition was fierce, as usual. All of the final candidates were outstanding, and limiting the choice to what fit in our budget was difficult,” said Jason Derleth, NIAC programme executive.