NIAC Projects Target Mars, Venus & Pluto

Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump mission. (Credit: Benjamin Goldman)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An airship for Mars, two spacecraft capable of exploring the hellish environment of Venus, and a fusion-powered orbiter and lander for Pluto are three of the planetary-related research projects recently funded by theNASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

In all, NIAC funded eight advanced projects focused on Mars, Venus and Pluto in its latest annual funding round. The space agency also funded two proposals aimed at identifying and extracting resources on planets, moons and asteroids.

NIAC Phase I Award: Evacuated Airship for Mars Missions

Evacuated Airship for Mars Missions (Credit: John-Paul Clarke)

Evacuated Airship for Mars Missions

John-Paul Clarke
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, Ga.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months


We propose to overcome some of the limitations of current technologies for Mars exploration and even extend current operational capabilities by introducing the concept of a vacuum airship. This concept is similar to a standard balloon, whereas a balloon uses helium or hydrogen to displace air and provide lift, a vacuum airship uses a rigid structure to maintain a vacuum to displace air and provide lift.