NASA’s NIAC program gives a glimpse into the future of space travel

Like Star Trek Medical scanners are like concepts for off-planet agriculture Expansion, Science fiction often inspires actual research at NASA and other space agencies. This week, researchers are meeting at a virtual conference for NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program for science-fi-like thinking and research, some of which could very well shape missions over the next 20 years.

A drone helicopter carrying a Martian crater or a lunar rover that mapped the lunar ice may have seemed too far away a decade ago, but the helicopter actually flew earlier this year and the rover is in the planning stages. Now, conference organizers have asked for proposals for more exploratory projects, some of which could eventually be funded by the agency. “We invest in long-term, far-reaching technologies and most of them probably won’t work. Those who do can change everything. It’s high risk, high payout, almost like a venture capital investment portfolio, ”said Jason Derleth, NIAC program executive.

The program does not focus on growing improvements, but rather looks for game-changing technologies that are ten times better than the industry, Derleth said. He compared it to the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which explores highly speculative concepts but also advances the modern Internet among other innovations.

The annual conference, which runs through Thursday, September 23, will be seen live on NIAC’s livestream. Some of the proposals discussed so far – such as launching a foldable space station or a new way to launch an astronaut’s abode, or extracting resources from other worlds – revolve around the understanding that, for long space travel, you need to make maximum use of each rocket to get started.

Resources will be needed for the survival of the next generation of space travelers, for defensive structures, and to further enhance travel or return home. “It leaves us with two options: take everything with us, like if you’re hiking in the desert. Or, find new and creative ways to use what you already have,” said Amelia Gregg, an astronaut at the University of Texas at El Paso. Who presented at the conference on Tuesday.

To help with the creative reuse of lunar resources, Greg and his colleagues proposed a technology called ablative arc mining that could use water ice and other types of metals as building materials. “It’s like using controlled lightning for moon mining,” he said during his presentation. His idea describes a van-sized moon crawler named after Java sand crawlers Star wars– It picks a spot, and then puts a ring device that carries it parallel to the ground at its front end. Zaps electric arcs across the ring, which can be scaled up to one meter in diameter by tearing particles from the surface of the moon. Those particles, now charged, can then be moved and sorted by the machine’s electromagnetic field. Thus, instead of measuring only one resource, a single instrument can fill a container with water, another with oxygen mixed with other elements, and others with silicon, aluminum, or other metallic particles.

An artistic representation of an unconventional pressure excavation system deployed in a hole near the Moon’s South Pole.

Example: Janet Hill / Creative Studio / Faculty Leadership and Development Center / UTEP

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