NASA Selects Early-Stage Technology Concepts for New, Continued Study

Among the five JPL-led efforts chosen, a concept to image distant Earth-like planets orbiting other stars has received a $2 million grant for further development.

Future technologies that could enable quicker trips to Mars and robotic exploration of ocean worlds might have started out as NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC). The program, which invests in early-stage technology ideas from NASA, industry and academic researchers across the country, has selected 23 potentially revolutionary concepts with a total award value of $7 million.

Among the selections are 16 new concepts and seven studies that previously received at least one NIAC award. A full list of the 2020 Phase I, II and III selections can be found here.

“NIAC is an innovative program that encourages researchers – and the agency – to think outside of the box for solutions that could overcome challenges facing future science and exploration missions,” said Walt Engelund, the deputy associate administrator for programs within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “We’re excited about the new concepts and to see how additional time and resources advances the research selected for follow-on Phase II and III studies.”

A mission concept to image Earth-like planets outside of the solar system was selected for a Phase III study. Slava Turyshev, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will receive a $2 million grant to further mature the concept and related technologies.

During his Phase I and Phase II NIAC research, Turyshev outlined the feasibility of a solar gravity lens to enable enhanced viewing of planets orbiting other stars, known as exoplanets. He also developed a mission architecture that uses multiple small spacecraft and solar sail technology to propel them to their target destination 50 billion miles away from Earth.

“This is only the third study selected for Phase III

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