NASA chooses 15 advanced space tech proposals for further study

NASA has announced that it has chosen 15 different proposals for study for Phase I of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program with the goal of turning some of the proposals that sound like science fiction into working devices. The proposals cover a wide range of concepts that NASA says it chose for their potential to transform future aerospace missions.

The NIAC Phase I awards are valued at $100,000 and provide funding to the winners for a nine month initial definition and analysis study for the concepts. If those basic feasibility studies are a success, the teams behind the projects can apply for phase II awards that can be valued at up to $500,000 for up to two additional years of product development.

Some of the most interesting of the projects that won Phase I awards are a soft-robotic rover for missions that can't be accomplished with conventional power systems. The rover resembles an eel with a short antenna on its back that gets power from locally changing magnetic fields. This project's goal is to create a rover that can perform aquatic exploration of gas giant moons like Europa.

Another of the proposals uses a pair of glider-like unmanned vehicles that are connected by a cable at different altitudes and can sail around a planet without propulsion as a kite surfer would. In this system, the upper glider would provide lift and aerodynamic thrust with the lower aircraft providing upwind force to keep the kites from drifting down.