NIAC Phase I Award: Pluto Hop, Skip & Jump

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

Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump

Benjamin Goldman
Global Aerospace Corporation
Irwindale, Calif.

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

Description

Imagine a craft that could enter Pluto’s atmosphere at 14 km/s and deliver a 200 kg lander to the surface using aerodynamic drag and just a few kg of propellant.

Pluto’s surface pressure is just 10 millionths of Earth’s, but its atmosphere is about 7 times higher than Earth’s and its volume is about 350 times the volume of Pluto itself. Over a several hundred kilometer entry distance, this ultra-low ballistic coefficient craft can dissipate over 99.999% of its initial kinetic energy, resulting in a terminal velocity comparable to or less than past planetary landers or rovers.

With this architecture, the total propellant requirement for landing on Pluto is less than 3.5 kg! After making science measurements at its initial landing site, the lander switches to “hopper” mode, taking advantage of the low gravitational acceleration (0.063 gee) and a modest propellant store to literally hop, skip, and jump around the surface, sometimes kilometers at a time, investigating features of interest.

The proposed concept would enable in-situ surface science at Pluto with low overall mass, a reasonable cost, and in a timeframe of about 10-15 years.

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NASA Selects Honeybee Robotics for Six Small Business Awards

The green oval highlights the plumes Hubble observed on Europa. The area also corresponds to a warm region on Europa’s surface. The map is based on observations by the Galileo spacecraft (Credits: NASA/ESA/STScI/USGS)

Honeybee Robotics will begin developing new technologies that would allow a lander to drill into the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa and collect samples for analysis with the help of a pair of NASA small business awards.

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NIAC Phase I Award: Detoxifying & Enriching Martian Soil for Agriculture

Synthetic Biology Architecture to Detoxify and Enrich Mars Soil for Agriculture (Credit: Adam Arkin)

A Synthetic Biology Architecture to Detoxify and Enrich Mars Soil for Agriculture

Adam Arkin
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, Calif.

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

Description

Although the theoretical case for space biological engineering is convincing, since recent studies on the use of biology in space showed substantial payload minimization over abiotic approaches even before any engineering, the functioning of these biological technologies has yet to be proven in a space-like environment.

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Video of President Trump’s Call to Space Station Astronauts

Video Caption: From the Oval Office at the White House, President Trump called Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA April 24 to offer congratulations to Whitson on the day she broke the record for most cumulative days on orbit by a U.S. astronaut. Whitson’s 534-day total surpassed the record held by NASA’s Jeff Williams. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins joined the president to discuss Whitson’s presence as a role model for young women and students as she continues her more than nine-month mission on station.

NIAC Phase I Award: Phobos L1 Tether Experiment

Phobos L1 Operational Tether Experiment (Credit: Kevin Kempton)

Phobos L1 Operational Tether Experiment (PHLOTE)

Kevin Kempton
NASA Langley Research Center
Hampton, Va.

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

Description

A sensor package that “floats” just above the surface of Phobos, suspended by a tether from a small spacecraft operating at the Mars/Phobos Lagrange 1 (L1) Point would offer exciting opportunities for science (SMD), for human exploration (HEOMD) and for advancements in space technology (STMD).

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NIAC Phase I Award: Direct Dark Energy Probe

Direct probe of dark energy interactions with a solar system laboratory. (Credit: Nan Yu)

A Direct Probe of Dark Energy Interactions with a Solar System Laboratory

Nan Yu
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

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

Description

We propose a mission concept for direct detection of dark energy interactions with normal matter in a Solar System laboratory. Dark energy is the leading proposal to answer the question of the accelerated expansion of the Universe. This interaction must be highly suppressed to be consistent with the gravity measurements and observations we have so far, but can be probed with specifically designed experiments.

By flying unscreened atomic particles through special gravitational field regions in the Solar System and conducting double differential measurements to isolate possible dark energy interaction with the atoms, we will stand a chance to achieve a direction detection of dark energy, akin to direct detection of dark matter and gravitational waves. This could lead to a fundamental shift in our understanding of fundamental physics and our universe, stimulating a wide variety of foundational research in cosmology and particle physics.

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President, Ivanka to Call ISS on Monday to Congratulate Whitson

Peggy Whitson aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

First Daughter Joins International Space Station Call Promoting Women in STEM

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — President Donald Trump, First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will make a special Earth-to-space call Monday, April 24, from the Oval Office to personally congratulate NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson for her record-breaking stay aboard the International Space Station.

The 20-minute call will air live on NASA Television and stream on the agency’s website and Facebook page at 10 a.m. EDT, and will be made available to schools, museums, and other organizations across the nation and globally.

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Cygnus Berthed with ISS

The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo craft approaches its 10 meter capture point where the Canadarm2 grapples resupply ship. (Credit: NASA TV)

The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship was bolted into place on the International Space Station’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 8:39 a.m. EDT. Crew will ingress the spacecraft later today. The spacecraft will spend about three months on station before it is released in July for a destructive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, disposing of several thousand pounds of trash.

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NIAC Phase I Award: Continuous Electrode Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion

Continuous Electrode Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion (Credit: Raymond Sedwick)

Continuous Electrode Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion

Raymond Sedwick
University of Maryland, College Park
College Park, Md.

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

Description

NASA recognizes within its roadmaps (specifically TA 3.1.6) that development of aneutronic fusion (such as p-11B) reactors with direct energy conversion (>80%) would be an enabling technology to achieve low specific mass (kg/kW) through the elimination of shielding and potentially the need for dedicated radiators. In addition, material activation due to neutron capture could be avoided.

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Luxembourg to Launch a Fund Offering Financial Support for Space Resources Industry

LUXEMBOURG (Luxembourg Government PR – To promote Luxembourg as a European hub for the exploration and commercial use of space resources, the Ministry of the Economy conducted from April 9th to April 13th an economic mission headed by Luxembourg’s Crown Prince to the U.S. West Coast. The mission aimed to identify and develop new business opportunities and to promote the governmental SpaceResources.lu initiative that offers an attractive overall framework for space resource utilization related activities, including but not limited to the legal regime to provide private companies and investors with a secure legal environment as of the ownership of resources gathered in space.

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NIAC Phase II Award: Automaton Rover for Extreme Environment

Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (Credit: Jonathan Sauder)

Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE)

Jonathan Sauder
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

Amount: up to $500,000
Length of Study: 2 years

Description

Extreme environments abound in the solar system and include the radiation around Jupiter, high surface temperatures on Mercury and Venus, and hot, high pressure environments occurring deep beneath any active planet’s surface.

Generally, the most environmentally sensitive components of a rover or spacecraft are the electronics, which will fail in heat, stop operating in extreme cold, or experience upsets when bombarded with radiation.

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NASA Ames Works on Growing Plants on the Moon

NASA Ames’s Lunar Plant Habitat promises to be the first method of growing plants on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center have developed a process for growing plants on the moon (T0140)–a method tested successfully in the lab and matured, in part, through the Flight Opportunities program.

Prior to flight tests of Ames’s Lunar Plant Habitat, no plant-based biological spaceflight experiment had ever hydrated seeds in lunar gravity. Scientists had only performed hydration of seeds at 1 g because they anticipated that the presence of bubbles or of uneven dispersion would result in inferior water distribution in lunar gravity.

Ames’s Lunar Plant Habitat addresses this challenge using a direct pressure pump that works even with air bubbles present, passing water to osmosis paper to distribute it evenly to plant seeds. The technology promises to be the first method of growing plants on the moon and is a direct response to the Decadal Survey calling for investigations into the role of plants in long-term lunar life support.

With the Lunar Plant Habitat tested successfully in ground-based experiments, Ames researchers turned to Flight Opportunities for flight tests to see if the technology would indeed work as anticipated in lunar gravity–and if not, to determine if the system’s sensors would detect the failure.

The payload first underwent parabolic flight testing in 2014. In November 2015 another round of parabolic flight tests was performed to evaluate the flight performance of its microfluidics systems under lunar gravity as well as a camera image capture and system performance evaluation.

The test flights increased the habitat’s technology readiness level (TRL) to 6, and it is now flight qualified for microgravity, low gravity, and 1 g ground and spaceflight applications.

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Two New Crew Members Arrive at International Space Station

The Soyuz MS-04 rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan April 20, 2017, carrying Expedition 51 Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA into orbit to begin their four and a half month mission on the International Space Station. (Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — After a six-hour flight, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos arrived at the International Space Station at 9:18 a.m. EDT Thursday where they will continue important scientific research.

The two launched aboard a Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:13 a.m. (1:13 p.m. Baikonur time), orbited Earth four times, and docked at the space station.

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NASA to Spend $50 Million on SBIR, STTR Projects

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 399 research and technology proposals from 277 American small businesses and 44 research institutions that will enable NASA’s future missions into deep space, and advancements in aviation and science, while also benefiting the U.S. economy. The awards have a total value of approximately $49.9 million.

The agency received 1,621 proposals in response to its 2017 solicitation for its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. From those, NASA selected 338 SBIR and 61 STTR Phase I proposals for contract negotiations. The SBIR Phase I contracts last for six months and STTR Phase I contracts last for 12 months, both with maximum funding of $125,000.

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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

Description

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.

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