NASA Funds Development of Winged Vehicles to Fly Through Venus’ Clouds

Graphic depiction of BREEZE – Bioinspired Ray for Extreme Environments and Zonal Exploration. (Credits: Javid Bayandor)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Inflatable winged vehicles could one day explore the clouds of Venus under a project being funded by NASA.

The space agency has provided a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) phase II grant to Javid Bayandor of the State University of New York to continue research on Bioinspired Ray for Extreme Environments and Zonal Exploration (BREEZE) project.


NASA Funds Development of Small Robots to Explore Martian Caves

Graphic depiction of ReachBot: Small Robot for Large Mobile Manipulation Tasks in Martian Cave Environments. (Credits: Marco Pavone)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is funding research into small, agile systems known as ReachBots designed to explore the caves beneath the surface of Mars.


NASA Selects Futuristic Space Technology Concepts for Early Study

Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — An astronaut steps into a body scanner and, hours later, walks on Mars in a custom-made spacesuit, breathing oxygen that was extracted from Mars’ carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere. On Venus, an inflatable bird-like drone swoops through the sky, studying the planet’s atmosphere and weather patterns. Ideas like these are currently science fiction, but they could one day become reality, thanks to a new round of grants awarded by NASA.


NASA’s 2021 Achievements Included Mars Landing, First Flight, Artemis, More

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2021, NASA completed its busiest year of development yet in low-Earth orbit, made history on Mars, continued to make progress on its Artemis plans for the Moon, tested new technologies for a supersonic aircraft, finalized launch preparations for the next-generation space telescope, and much more – all while safely operating during a pandemic and welcoming new leadership under the Biden-Harris Administration.


Visionary Tech Concepts Could Pioneer the Future in Space

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA missions make it seem like the future is now – rovers exploring Mars with cutting-edge gadgets, a spacecraft venturing home with an asteroid sample, and a complex space telescope peering at the early universe. So, what’s the next big thing? What might space missions in 2050 and beyond set out to discover? 

One small NASA program aims to see what could be possible. The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, funds early-stage research into sci-fi sounding, futuristic technology concepts. The goal is to find what might work,  what might not, and what exciting new ideas researchers may come up with along the way


Solar Sail Advancements Aim to Unlock Deep Space Exploration

Two new solar sail mission concepts will assess spacecraft communications and power requirements and explore the design of higher fidelity sail control systems to ensure precise navigation around the Sun and interstellar locations. (Credit: Aerospace Corporation)

New concepts could expand human exploration of the deepest parts of the solar system faster than ever before.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — Space exploration remains a herculean effort due to the immense challenges imposed by time and distance. While missions to near-Earth objects have been successfully accomplished using traditional means of propulsion, the outermost planets in our solar system are 2 to 3.7 billion miles from the Sun. Reaching them within any reasonable time frame requires propulsion systems that exceed the capabilities of conventional propulsion methods.


NASA Space Technology Budget Request Fact Sheet

NASA’s Psyche mission to a distant metal asteroid will carry a revolutionary Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) package. This artist’s concept shows Psyche spacecraft with a five-panel array. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

FY 2022 Budget Request
Space Technology
($ Millions)

The Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) develops transformative, cross-cutting technologies that lead to research and technology breakthroughs to enable NASA’s missions and is broadening its focus on cross-cutting space technologies that will support creating good jobs in a growing space industry.


NASA Funds Research into a CubeSat Space Flight Test of a Neutrino Detector

Credit: Nickolas Solomey

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts 2021 Phase III Award
Amount: $2 million

Nickolas Solomey
Wichita State University
Wichita, Kan.

This is a proposal for the development of a Neutrino Detector for a Spacecraft that has a science mission to fly close to the Sun and study the nuclear furnace core and search for and study the neutrino gravitational lens at 20 to 50 AU of the 2nd brightest neutrino source in the sky – the galactic core – and along the way, search for direct interaction of dark matter. The neutrino intensity can dramatically change as the distance from the Sun squared and the solar neutrino flux (a background to dark matter) can be dramatically decreased going away from the Sun.


NASA Funds Research into Landing Spacecraft on Pluto

Credit: Kerry Nock

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Kerry Nock
Global Aerospace Corporation
Irwindale, Calif.

If low approach velocities are desired for orbiters or landers, ballistic flight times to Pluto and other similar distant Kuiper Belt Object-like targets like Triton can be very long – a generation. Even so, the New Horizons (NH) flyby took nearly 10 years to reach Pluto with the help of a Jupiter gravity assist and still the approach velocity was about 14 km/s.

How can one land on or orbit Pluto in a reasonable mission time without many hundreds of millions of dollars in nuclear power sources for low-thrust propulsion, or an exotic propulsion system that could take decades and many millions of dollars to develop, or a next generation launch vehicle and a massive chemical propulsion system? Also, can a Pluto mission be accomplished under the aegis of a NASA New Frontiers Program?


NASA Funds Research into Flying Environmental Sensors for Venus Exploration

Credit; Jeffrey Balcerski

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts 2021 Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Jeffrey Balcerski
Ohio Aerospace Institute
Cleveland, Ohio

The LEAVES (Lofted Environmental and Atmospheric VEnus Sensors) architecture is a “swarm” approach to obtaining key, in situ, Venus atmospheric data for exceptionally low cost and risk. This is made possible by an ultra-lightweight, passively-lofted, inexpensive atmospheric sensor package that can be deployed directly from orbit without an aeroshell and is sensitive enough to yield valuable new, transformative information on planetary atmospheres.


NASA Funds Breakthrough Research into Extreme Solar Sailing for Interstellar Missions

Credit: Artur Davoyan

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts 2021 Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Artur Davoyan
University of California, Los Angeles

As of date, deep space exploration has been hindered by the limitations of existing propulsion technologies. In contrast, solar sails appear to allow a low cost pathway to high speed and ubiquitous exploration of the outer solar system and interstellar space. By performing a slingshot maneuver in the vicinity of the sun, just ~2-5 solar radii distant from the sun, solar sails can propel light-weight CubeSat class spacecraft to near-relativistic speeds, >0.1% of the speed of light (>300 km/s or >60AU/year characteristic velocities). Such a technology would markedly transform space exploration, enabling fast missions to distant worlds, effectively turning our sun into a launch pad.


NASA Funds Research on Lunar Crater Radio Telescope on Moon’s Far Side

Credit: Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts 2021 Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

An ultra-long-wavelength radio telescope on the far side of the Moon has significant advantages compared to Earth-based and Earthorbiting telescopes, including

(1) Conducting observations of the Universe at wavelengths longer than 10 meters (i.e., frequencies below 30 MHz), wavelengths at which critical cosmological or extrasolar planetary signatures are predicted to appear, yet cannot be observed from the ground due to absorption from the Earth’s ionosphere; and

(2) The Moon acts as a physical shield that isolates a far-side lunar-surface telescope from radio interference from sources on the Earth’s surface, the ionosphere, Earth-orbiting satellites, and the Sun’s radio emission during the lunar night. We propose the design of a Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT) on the far side of the Moon.


NASA Funds Research into Breakthrough Space Telescope for Prospecting Asteroids

Credit: Peter Gural

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts 2021 Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Peter Gural
Trans Astronautica Corporation
Lakeview Terrace, Calif.

There are 3 key reasons why it is vital for NASA to develop better ways to locate and characterize Near Earth Objects (NEOs).

1: NEOs are an impact hazard to the Earth.

2: Measuring NEO population distributions will unlock the answers to critical questions dealing with the formation and evolution of the solar system.

3: Most importantly, low ∆V NEOs can be targets for human exploration and resource mining.


NASA Funds Research into Using Fungi to Grow Off-planet Structures

Credit: Lynn Rothschild

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts 2021 Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Lynn Rothschild
NASA Ames Research Center
Moffett Field, Calif.

A turtle carries its own habitat. While reliable, it costs energy in transporting mass. NASA makes the same trade-off when it transports habitats and other structures needed for human and other applications on lunar and planetary surfaces “on the back” of its missions. During Phase 1, we identified a novel biology-based solution to in situ production of usable components for space exploration: using fungal mycelial composites to grow structures off-planet, from habitats to furniture.