This week, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration awarded grants to 14 visionaries as part of its Innovative Advanced Concepts program (NIAC). The grants will fund projects in experimental space technology.
Each of the NIAC grants are worth $175,000. The 14 recipients are from nine different states. 10 of the recipients are first-time winners.
UCLA’s Artur Davoyan is one of the winners. Dovoyan’s project proposes propelling spacecraft by creating a “pellet-beam” of microscopic particles traveling at very high speed using laser blasts. Davoyan thinks the idea could make deep space exploration faster.
Another project receiving grant funding reimagines the concept of a flashlight, by turning it into a heat source as well. The heat could then be used to keep sensitive equipment like lunar landers warm during a cold space night. The EmberCore Flashlight would also assist in identifying substances like water.
The Diffractive Interfero Coronagraph Exoplanet Resolver (DICER) is a project that hopes to find Earth 2.0. The DICER will be a probe used to find Earth-like planets in the habitable zones of other solar systems, an undertaking which is currently impossible. The DICER design team said the device could conceivably be used to find habitable exoplanets within 30 light-years of Earth.
One of the more eye-popping projects is the TitanAir, a craft which is a combination of boat and plane. The TitanAir would be used to explore Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. The surface of the icy world is mostly obscured by its hazy, methane-filled atmosphere. The TitanAir would collect methane and complex organic material by essentially sucking it up through a porous leading edge.
All of the projects that received the NIAC grants are in the very early conceptual stages of development, and don’t represent actual NASA missions. However, NASA said it’s willing to fund the unusual concepts, because any one of them could potentially support future space missions.