NASA’s “Innovative Advanced Concepts Program” (NIAC) is a high-risk, high-reward bet on unique ideas for space exploration and observation. This year’s allocation totals $7 million, which includes one of the most realistic projects. NiaC’s awards are divided into three stages. Roughly speaking, the first phase of the project will receive $125,000, and nine months will essentially prove whether their concept is feasible. The second phase was funded at $500,000, and two years to prove that their concept was not nonsense. The third stage will receive $2 million to develop the concept into a real project.
This illustrates the openness of the NIAC program, with only two teams winning the third stage until this year, and the rest eliminated because they were impractical or theoretically unfeasible. This year, the agency is entering its third phase, the first of its 2018 NIAC awards for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The project involves direct multi-pixel imaging and spectral missions to exoplanets using a solar gravitational lens. As a result, the team has been reinforcing the theory behind it for the past two years, creating high-resolution images of extremely distant and dark objects. “Since this mission is the only way to look at potential habitable exoplanets in detail, we have seen great public interest and enthusiasm, which may incentivize the required government and private funding,” the researchers wrote.
Several projects that move into the second phase are equally interesting. One is a proposal to extract water-ice-rich lunar soil from a permanently bright area just a few hundred meters high from the tall “sunflower” tower. The other is a concept car used to explore Titan’s hydrothermal vents. Another project aims to uninstall the heavy life support system onto a partner robot that can follow astronauts around.
The full NIAC winners are stamped here.