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NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program is the place for scientists mad about space to seek grants with innovative concepts. The selection process takes place in three phases. The process is stringent, and most proposals are rejected by the second phase, and very few make it to the third phase.
It seems this year’s projects are not too far-reaching and impractical, and one of them may even see actual light of day in the real world. The award program in total is $7 million. The NIAC award is split three ways—Phase I, II, and III.
Concepts and ideas selected for phase 1 get near about $125,000 and nine months to present their full results. In the second phase, selected ones are given $500,00 and two years to take the project further and give it a more concrete shape as to how it will work.
And if you make it to the third phase, which only very few do, (till date only two project ideas have been awarded the money for final development), you get $2 million to turn the concept into reality.
By the time the third phase is arrived at, most concepts and ideas are rejected. This year’s third phase placement is a project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory called the Solar Gravitational Lens (SGL) project. The SGL project explores the way light coming from distant exoplanets bends around the sun.
The team has been able to create high-resolution images of extremely distant objects from our neighboring star system. The SGL manages to give extremely high-resolution pictures of very high microns.
Phases I and II of the SGL NIAC Study made three innovations: (1) proven the feasibility of high-resolution, multipixel imaging of a habitable exoplanet; (2) devised a swarm architecture for smallsats to explore the interstellar medium; (3) designed the low-cost solar array propulsion to achieve the exit velocity from the solar system needed for the mission. While flying along the SGL, the multismallsat architecture concurrently observes the multiple planets/moons of an exosolar system. Such simultaneity of observations reduces integration time, accounts for target’s temporal variability, and “removes the cloud cover”, according to the NASA statement.
“Phase III proposal will reduce the remaining TRL gaps and mature the SGLF mission concept. We will advance our understanding of the SGL-based imaging and spectroscopy of many candidate exoplanets, and define a near term, affordable flight test mission to prove the concept. As this mission is the only way to view a potentially habitable exoplanet in detail, we are already seeing the significant public interest and enthusiasm that could motivate the needed government and private funding. As NASA will be our primary partner for the mission to the SGL, we are already working with NASA leadership, the ongoing NAS Decadals to include SGL in their science priorities, “ said the researchers of the project.
Other Phase II projects include a proposal to mine ice-rich lunar soil utilizing energy stored in Sunflower like towers that are put in the brightest areas of the moon. These towers will store solar energy to fuel the exploration of the lunar ice.
Another proposal is about inventing space vehicles for exploring vents on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
Another concept in Phase II is about helping astronauts get lighter with a robot buddy that lugs all the heavy load around for them.
There are many more exciting projects listed in Phase I and PhaseII. Anyone interested in getting full access to all the awardees that have been chosen after a stringent selection process.