When NASA's ambitious long-term research bears fruit, a few ground-breaking technologies could emerge, taking space exploration to altogether different league. The space agency has announced a funding program, the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), to develop innovative, creative technologies for space exploration in future.
Consider the following:
-- Creation of a propulsion technology that could move space-time rather than a spaceship, in an effort to move out of the rocket-driven spacecraft design and possibly breach the light-speed barrier.
-- Developing the 3-D printer technology, using which parts of spacecraft and space stations can be built in space layer by layer, using feedstock of metal, plastic or other materials.
-- Developing systems for an interstellar human voyage, enabling humans to make viable long-haul space treks within a hundred years.
-- The creation of technologies for clearing the space debris fast and safe. For example, some technology to drive pieces of space junk out of zones around Earth.
NASA has laid out a plan to create these technologies, and other cutting-edge innovations as it gears up to propel the space exploration program to futuristic targets.
NASA has said it has accepted as many as 30 proposals for one-year studies on projects that will advance space exploration in future.
"Proposals include a broad range of imaginative and creative ideas, such as: changing the course of dangerous orbital debris; a spacesuit that uses flywheels to stabilize and assist astronauts as they work in microgravity; the use of 3-D printing to create a planetary outpost; and multiple innovative propulsion and power concepts needed for future space mission operations," NASA said.
The space agency said in a release each proposal will receive $100,000 for one year. The selected proposals are "somewhat out-of-the-box ideas and very advanced system concepts that have the potential to revolutionize our missions in the future," Joe Parrish, director of the Early Stage Innovation division at NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist, said.
Some of the most futuristic technologies are already in some initial stage of development and ideation, says Jay Falker, NIAC program executive. One such project is a Space Debris Elimination project which a Virginia-based company is working on. If this concept materializes, an air gun could be used to accelerate pieces of orbital junk out of danger zones, according to Falker.
One of the downsides of decades of space exploration activities by humans is the problem of space junk like damaged satellites and used rocket stages.
According to space.com, a company called Made in Space has completed a successful testing of two 3-D printers on multiple NASA flights.
The report last week said a scaled-down wrench could become the first-ever tool printed in partial zero gravity. "Printing out parts in space could eventually be transplanted to other worlds such as the moon, where it could help human colonies gain a foothold by printing out robot parts or buildings, piece by piece."