This would be worth celebrating regardless, but these all represent needed technologies if we are to truly conquer space. NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) has the above plus others – in total eight futuristic projects to assist NASA in a not so future time. People talk about our planned journey to Mars as if it were some inconceivably far off time when actually it is just the right amount of time away to plan for!
NASA-NIAC has given the below projects the greenlight to continue to the next phase (which by no means guarantees that the project won’t fail, just that it is worthwhile.)
The projects are;
1. Advancing Torpor Inducing Transfer Habitats for Human Stasis to Mars (Space Works Inc. in Atlanta)
2. Cryogenic Selective Surfaces (Robert Youngquist, Kennedy Space Center)
3. Directed Energy Interstellar Study (Philip Lubin, University of California-Santa Barbara)
4. Experimental Demonstration & System Analysis for Plasmonic Force Propulsion (Joshua Rovey, University of Missouri-Rolla)
5. Flight Demonstration in Novel Atmospheric Satellite Concept (William Engblom, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida)
6. Further Development of Aperture: A precise extremely large reflective telescope using reconfigurable elements.(Melville Ulmer, Northwestern University-Evanston,Illinois)
7. Magnetoshell Aerocapture for Manned Missions & Planetary Deep Space Orbiters. (David Kirtley, MSNW, LLC in Redmond, Washington)
8. Tensegrity Approaches to In-Space Construction of a 1g Growable Habitat. (Robert Skelton, Texas Engineering Experiment Station in La Jolla, California)
Now for some details on each one!
1. From Space Works Inc. comes the project regarding Cryogenic Chambers. Given the travel time to Mars and other places in Deep Space rather than deal with the tedium of the long trip, the extra supplies to get both there and back, plus not need all that moving around space, there is or will be an option. The Topor Inducing Transfer Habitat For Humans Stasis To Mars. The idea is that the astronaut is placed in a condition of advanced hypothermia – having their core body temperature dropped by twelve degrees Celsius (around ten Fahrenheit) in order to lower their metabolic rate. Food would be intravenous. Space Works has created/designed the module shown below.
2. Magnetoshells will provide the aerobraking braking necessary when arriving at Mars. The idea is wrapping the spacecraft in a shell of plasma which could perform the aerobraking in a more restrained manner. What is the real problem of landing? It is a combination of the Mars atmosphere and the size & weight of the spacecraft. So far we have been lucky – and that means landing somewhat less than half of the time; and that’s unmanned. The spacecraft carrying astronauts will be somewhat heavier with cargo & people weighing in neighborhood of 50-60 metric tons. There is too much atmosphere to consider propulsive technology and too little atmosphere to land as we do on Earth. The airbags, parachutes, and thrusters utilized on previous missions not to mention that method used for Curiosity just won’t cut it with the kind of weight involved. The Magnetoshell could reduce the load of the spacecraft while allowing it to land and also could potentially offer protection from radiation.
3. A Laser Propulsion System comes to us from physicist Philip Lubin from University of California in Santa Barbara. This particular project will not be ready for Mars but will be ready in about 2046. Scientists are thinking that Alpha Centauri could finally be within our reach.
4. From creator Robert Skelton comes the Growable Space Habitat. Adaptable, flexible, & malleable the structure itself would be able to change just by adjusting the tension on various strings. It is apparently based on the molecular structure of the fiber of a spider.
5. Experimental Demonstration & System Analysis for Plasmonic Force Propulsion. The goal in this phase is to show that plasmonic space propulsion can provide the level of proximity & attitude control necessary for future missions. Some of the areas being delved into include: ., thrust noise, thermal management, thrust throttling, off-axis illumination, and plasmonic effect sensitivity, etc. (http://www.nasa.gov/feature/niac-2016-phase-i-and-phase-ii-selections)
6. Further Development of Aperture: A precise extremely large reflective telescope using reconfigurable elements. This refers to the pressing need for space ultraviolet-visible astronomy which requires larger mirrors than currently available with the James Webb Space Telescope primary. For all future missions that require a mirror as large as (or larger than) 16 meters in diameter, the mirror will need to be deployed post –launch. This project deals with the ability to provide such a mirror – the concept is based on a continuous coating of Magnetic Smart Material (MSM) that way even though the initially deployed mirror will not have a perfect figure, the design uses magnetic write heads to produce stress in the MSM and improve the figure, post deployment. The two areas addressed shall be; 1) Can corrections be made on a large size and retained for a long enough time ; 2) Can deployment be done in such a way that the figures corrections are small enough to be correctable via the MSM plus magnetic field, and at the same time, the in plane stresses as small enough to allow the stresses resulting magnetic field injected into the MSM plus magnetic fields to make the necessary corrections.
7. Cryogenic Selective Surfaces – In phase 1; a new coating called solar white heat was ‘discovered’ and when a sphere is covered with it, it is expected to be reflected. Now in phase two a new Construction of rigid versions of the coatings will be made. It may be difficult, as they are composed of only one material deposited onto a metallic reflector, though there are precedents such as rigid foam and Space Shuttle Tiles to use as models. Testing will then occur in a simulated deep space environment, created using a vacuum chamber. Previously demonstrated in our Phase I effort has been the use of Solar White and how it could theoretically allow liquid oxygen to be maintained on a long duration mission to Mars.
8. This project offers the flight demonstration of a novel atmospheric Satellite concept. It actually utilizes what looks very much like a glider, which is of course why it is novel! The Dual-Aircraft Platform (DAP) is achieves a low-cost atmospheric satellite in the lower stratosphere which utilizes a combination of wind and solar energy capture. The aircraft consists of two glider-like aircraft connected via a super strong, thin cable. Flight simulations have shown the platform could literally sail without propulsion, using levels of wind shear persistently found near 60,000-ft, and substantially increase the energy available for useful payload operations. Success in the proof-of-concept DAP flight demonstrations should lead to commercial investment & the building of a large scale prototype.
So those are our ‘big 8’ phase two projects. Thanks to the NIAC, the space agency is able to enjoy far more visionary and forward thinking aerospace concepts that otherwise might not see the light of day but could revolutionize space travel or whatever function they seek to illuminate!