NRC to NASA: Reestablish Advanced Concepts Institute


The National Research Council has issued a report that urges the space agency to reestablish the NASA Advanced Concepts Institute (NAIC), which the space agency shut down in 2007. The small office was focused on advanced concepts that could be used in future missions.


The committee recommends that NASA should reestablish a NIAC-like entity, referred to in this report as NIAC2, to seek out visionary, far-reaching, advanced concepts with the potential of significant benefit to accomplishing relevant to NASA’s charter and to begin the process of maturing these advanced concepts for infusion into NASA’s missions.

To allow for sustained implementation of NIAC2 infusion objectives, the committee recommends that NIAC2 should report to the Office of the Administrator, be outside mission directorates, and be chartered to address NASA-wide mission and technology needs. To increase NIAC2’s relevance, NASA mission directorates should contribute thematic areas for consideration.

The committee also recommends that a NIAC2 organization should be funded and administered separately from NASA development programs, mission directorates, and institutional constraints. Future NIAC2 proposal opportunities should continue to be managed and peer-reviewed outside the agency.

The committee recommends that NIAC2 should expand its scope to include concepts that are scientifically and/or technically innovative and have the potential to provide major benefit to a future NASA mission in 10 years and beyond.

The committee recommends that future NIAC2 proposal opportunities be open to principal investigators or teams both internal and external to NASA.

The committee found that 14 NIAC Phase I and Phase II projects, which were awarded $7 million by NIAC, received an additional $23.8 million in funding from a wide range of organizations, demonstrating the significance of the nation’s investment in NIAC’s advanced concepts. NIAC matured 12 of the 42 Phase II advanced concepts (29 percent), as measured by receipt of post-NIAC funding; 9 of them (21 percent) received post-NIAC funding from NASA itself.

The committee also found that three NIAC Phase II efforts (7 percent of the Phase II awards) appear to have impacted NASA’s long-term plans, and two of these efforts have either already been incorporated or are currently under consideration by the NRC Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey as future NASA missions.

The committee recommends that future NIAC2 proposal opportunities include the potential selection of a small number of Phase III “proof of concept” awards for up to $5 million each for 4 years to demonstrate and resolve fundamental feasibility issues and that such awards be selected jointly by NIAC2 and NASA management.