Pellet-beam propulsion, lunar pipelines, and self-growing Martian bricks: NASA funds futuristic space concepts

Pellet-Beam Propulsion, Lunar Pipelines, And Self-Growing Martian Bricks: NASA Funds Futuristic Space Concepts

by Swarajya Staff - Tuesday, January 10, 2023 02:03 PM IST
Pellet-Beam Propulsion, Lunar Pipelines, And Self-Growing Martian Bricks: NASA Funds Futuristic Space ConceptsPic Via NASA

NASA has announced a new round of funding for early-stage studies that could support future space missions.

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) programme has awarded $175,000 grants to 14 researchers from nine states in the US.

The studies, known as Phase I projects, will investigate a wide range of technologies including advanced propulsion systems, manufacturing techniques, and power systems.

One of the projects, proposed by Quinn Morley of Planet Enterprises in Gig Harbor, Washington, could investigate the chemistry of Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

Morley has proposed building a flying, heavily instrumented boat that would transition between soaring through Titan's atmosphere and sailing its lakes, much like a seaplane on Earth. Titan's low gravity and thick atmosphere would make flying relatively easy.

Mary Knapp from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge proposed a new kind of space observatory made up of thousands of identical small satellites.

These satellites would be positioned in deep space and work together to detect radio emissions at low frequencies from the earliest epochs of the universe, and measure the magnetic fields of terrestrial exoplanets, helping to identify planets outside the solar system that are rocky like Earth and Mars.

Another project, proposed by Artur Davoyan from the University of California, Los Angeles, aims to investigate Pellet-Beam Propulsion for breakthrough space exploration. This could enable future space exploration capabilities and enable new missions.

This proposal examines a new propulsion architecture for fast transit of heavy (1 ton and more) payloads across the solar system and to interstellar medium.

Under the proposal, which is inspired by the sail-beam concept, a pellet-beam (a beam of microscopic hypervelocity (>120 km/s) particles propelled by laser ablation) will push a spacecraft to desired orbits and destinations, including fast exit trajectories.

Of a particular interest are fast transit interstellar precursor missions. In this study the utility of pellet-beam to propel 1 ton payloads to 500 AU in less than 20 years will be examined.

Other projects approved for funding include biomineralisation-enabled self-growing building blocks for habitat outfitting on Mars.

This research proposes that, rather than shipping prefabricated outfitting elements to Mars, habitat outfitting can be realized by insitu construction using cyanobacteria and fungi as building agents.

Synthetic biology toolkits will be employed to create a synthetic lichen system, composed of diazotrophic cyanobacteria and filamentous fungi, to produce abundant biominerals (calcium carbonate) and biopolymers, which will glue Martian regolith into consolidated building blocks.

These self-growing building blocks can later be assembled into various structures, such as floors, walls, partitions, and furniture.

The US space agency has also cleared a research project on Lunar south pole oxygen pipeline, which proposes to explore and assess multiple system architectures for a lunar pipeline, identify enhancing and enabling technologies, and produce a comprehensive roadmap to develop the oxygen supply infrastructure.

The starting concept for lunar pipeline research is for a 5 km pipeline to transport oxygen gas from an oxygen production source, for example our molten regolith electrolysis (MRE) extraction site or any other source on Moon's south pole, to an oxygen storage/liquification plant near a lunar base.

The NIAC programme, which is part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), aims to explore technically credible, early-stage aerospace concepts. Researchers, called fellows, form an advanced, collaborative research community.

Under their NIAC awards, the fellows investigate the physics of their concepts, roadmap necessary technology development, identify potential limitations, and look for opportunities to bring these concepts to reality.

"These initial Phase I NIAC studies help NASA determine whether these futuristic ideas could set the stage for future space exploration capabilities and enable amazing new missions,” said Michael LaPointe, program executive for NIAC at NASA Headquarters.

However, it should be noted that all NIAC studies are in the very early stages of conceptual development and are not considered official NASA missions.

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