Visionary technological concepts could pioneer the future in space

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Visionary technological concepts could pioneer the future in space

Press release from: Jet propulsion laboratory
Posted: Tuesday September 14 2021

Dozens of concepts are presented at this year’s NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Symposium, including eight led by technologists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA missions make the future look like the future is now – rovers exploring Mars with cutting-edge gadgets, a spacecraft venturing home with an asteroid sample, and a complex space telescope scanning the early universe . So what’s the next big thing? What could space missions discover in 2050 and beyond?

A small NASA program aims to see what might be possible. NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, part of the agency’s Space Technology Missions Directorate, is funding preliminary research into science-fiction-sounding futuristic technology concepts. The goal is to find out what might work, what might not, and what exciting new ideas researchers can manner.

During NIACAnnual SymposiumFrom September 21 to 23, 2021, researchers will present ideas that could one day be a game-changer in space.Watch the eventto learn more about these four technology concepts and more.

1. Micro-swimming robots for the oceanic worlds.

The oceanic worlds, where liquid oceans lie beneath miles of icy crust, are among the places most likely to harbor life in our solar system – an alluring prospect for scientists. Accessing and exploring these aquatic environments present unique challenges. Ethan Schaler, a mechanical robotics engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, is studying a promising idea for exploration: using centimeter-scale 3D-printed robots equipped with sensors and actuators. A mothership that broke through the ice and deployed the micro-robots would also control them wirelessly using ultrasonic waves.

2. Long range crawling and anchor robots for Martian caves.

While robot swimming might be ideal for some destinations, others will require something with a firmer grip. Marco Pavone, associate professor at Stanford University, is developing a potential solution. His ReachBot concept could quickly crawl through caves, using extendable arrows to grab long distances. Its various characteristics would allow small and light robots to move around in harsh environments, such as the vertical walls of cliffs or the rocky and uneven soils of the caves of Mars.

3. Lightweight deployable structures that stretch out into space.

Getting an extra-large spacecraft off Earth takes a lot of planning, as the size of what can go into space depends on the capacity of a rocket. Multiple launches and assembly in space have been proven successful in the past, but there might be another way. Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University Zachary Manchester investigates ways to integrate recent advances in mechanical metamaterials into a lightweight deployable structure design. Such a structure could be launched inside a single rocket fairing and then deploy autonomously to a final size the length of 10 football fields.

4. Seeding asteroids with mushrooms to create space soil.

Spatial habitat concepts come in all shapes and sizes. But all designs have a common challenge requiring innovative thinking: How will space travelers maintain themselves on long journeys? Jane Shevtsov, in collaboration with Trans Astronautica Corporation, proposes to create a soil from carbon-rich asteroid materials. The fungi would physically break down the material and chemically degrade the toxic substances. Similar processes take place on Earth, such as oyster mushrooms which clean up oil-contaminated soils. NIAC research aims to find a way for future space habitats to have vast green spaces and robust farming systems.

The NIAC 2021 Symposium will begin on Tuesday, September 21. An opening speech by the March 2020 Planetary Protection Lead Moogega Cooper will air on NASA Television, the agency’swebsite , and theNASA app.

NASA selects NIAC proposals through a peer review process that assesses innovation and technical viability. All of the projects are still in the early stages of development, with most requiring a decade or more of technological maturation. They are not considered official NASA missions.

To learn more about NIAC, visit:

www.nasa.gov/niac

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