Mike LaPOINTE Has got the jealous task of discovering how to deliver space exploration on the science – fiction future.
He and his associates fund high risk, high reward projects as part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, or NIAC, which last week announced grants to 14 teams looking at fantastical concepts. A lot of them will not pan out. A few of them, such as the lunar oxygen pipeline, or maybe the space telescope mirror constructed in space, may be game changers.
“We are taking a look at anything from back-of-napkin ideas to items which are conceptualized but not created yet,” LaPointe said. “These are things which seem 20 to 30 years down the road to find out exactly how we can significantly enhance or even enable new kinds of NASA missions,” he said. For instance, efforts to enhance the efficiency of a chemical rocket engine might be regarded commendable, but not long sufficient for the program. A concept for a totally new system which might replace synthetic rockets would fit well.
NASA provides these grants each year, mainly to academic scientists in the United States. This brand new group of awards is for Phase 1 projects that each get $175,000 to carry out a nine-month analysis to lay out their plans in design prototypes, run tests, and more detail. A promising handful will make it to Phase 2 and get $600,000 for a two year study. Following that, NASA is going to award 2 million to a single outstanding project to fund a two year Phase 3 study.
Among the winners this year will be a concept to develop a habitat constructed from building materials cultivated on Mars – materials produced by bacteria and fungi. Sending something as substantial as a house to space can be hard. The price of the launch is prohibitive plus you must place it in addition to a rocket and make a landing on Mars. This particular project examines self-growing building blocks, created by mechanical and materials engineer Congrui Jin as well as her colleagues at the University of Nebraska.
These bacteria or fungi start out as nothing but gradually develop tendrils and filaments to fill up the space they fill up. Jin, whose team has utilized them to make biopolymers and biominerals to fill gaps in concrete, calls them self-healing substances. “We would like to take it a step further to create self-growing materials,” he said.
These kinds of components could develop into bricks on Mars, in a bioreactor. The procedure will be pricey on Earth, but can make financial sense on the Red Planet, because there’re no concrete workers or construction workers. Jin intends to find out during her NIAC investigation whether the growing process might be sped up from weeks to days and also just how long the supplies are able to endure in the harsh Martian environment.
It isn’t the first time the NIAC has provided funding for an experiment aimed at using mushrooms to produce structures in space; an alternative “mycotecture” project was among last year’s winners. This team’s task nonetheless, is going to focus on utilizing an alternative element of the fungus: It creates minerals like calcium carbonate in particular conditions as opposed to root-like threads known as mycelia.
Another NIAC winner suggests designing a huge pipeline over a future lunar foundation that could provide oxygen to astronauts. As soon as 2026, NASA’s Artemis program anticipates that astronauts are going to arrive. Continual missions may need supplies of much needed oxygen to last for months or weeks, and perhaps even to be used as rocket fuel. Presently, transferring tanks of much needed oxygen to space is troublesome in the exact same manner as launching building materials, but keeping the fuel on the moon will be a much better solution. Oxygen is created as a result of the mining of water ice, which is referred to as electrolysis.
There’s a logistics issue, however: Moon mining activities may not be situated near the camp. You will find permanent shadowed craters inside lunar ice, but those’re also the hottest spots on the moon and it could be hard to communicate with as well as from them. One method will be to make the oxygen in the crater location and after that haul it on a rover to base, says Peter Curreri, a former NASA scientist as well as co – founder as well as chief science officer of Lunar Resources. Though he added, “Producing oxygen in a single location and moving it, using compressed dewars or canisters with robots, is very expensive and unwieldy.
The objective of his staff is to discover how to construct a 5-kilometer pipeline between 2 cities. It could be created by robots in segments, utilizing metals such as aluminum, that is obtained from the lunar regolith. The sections might be welded together as well as the pipe will run in a trench or stand, not so different from the oil pipes on Earth. It will permit an oxygen flow rate of two kilograms an hour. Several of the other grant recipients have a far more astronomical bent. For instance, Edward Balaban, a researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, is examining utilizing the near zero gravity of space to shape materials for mirrors or lenses for gigantic space telescopes.
These could be a lot more effective compared to the present telescope mirrors, which are generally made of a special glass material, and therefore are vulnerable to impacts by micrometeoroids and shaking during the launch process. The diameter of the mirror additionally establishes the range of telescopic access that a telescope is able to touch in deep space, though nowadays this’s restricted by the dimensions of the rocket which carries the object.
The mirror on the James Webb Space Telescope, weighing in at 6.5 meters in diamter, is a engineering miracle. It required lots of imagination and technical threat to fold it in this origami manner to go with the shroud of the launch vehicle,” says Balaban – after which the delicate framework needed to endure the violence of launch. “If we attempt to scale that even more, it simply gets more costly and complex.” Rather, with his “fluidic telescope” idea, you need only release a frame system – like an umbrella-shaped satellite dish – along with a gas tank of mirror fluid, such as gallium alloys as well as ionic fluids. The fluid could be then injected into the frame after launch. Droplets in space stay together as a result of the surface tension as well as the gravity of the Earth doesn’t impact their shape. Standard glass mirrors call for grinding as well as polishing, and this technology can provide you with an extremely smooth mirror. Then, by way of an automated process, it will be attached to the other parts of the telescope.
His team has discovered how you can create lenses utilizing liquid polymers by using tests on a plane and the International Space Station, and they’ve found the amount of the fluid determines the magnification. They are going to prepare for the next stage using the NIAC funding: In the future this decade, they are going to test a little liquid mirror in space. Their aim is to ultimately develop a 50-meter mirror, but Balaban states that because this concept is scalable, one would use exactly the same physical concepts to engineer a mirror kilometer wide. The dimensions of the mirror makes the JWST probably the most sensitive telescopes ever created, he said, but, it might be important to develop bigger mirrors with this new technique to keep making advances.
An additional project led by Zachary Cordero, an MIT astronautics researcher, is creating an in-space production method known as bend developing. It entails twisting one strand of wire at particular angles and nodes then incorporating joints to create a rigid framework. A specific program is the thing that Cordero along with his staff are working on: Developing a reflector for a sat navette in higher orbit which could monitor precipitation and storms by observing moisture changes in the environment.
Like a number of the other winners, his idea takes on the task of creating truly huge things in space in spite of the size and weight limitations of rocket travel. “With standard reflectors, the larger they’re, the worse the surface accuracy becomes, and ultimately they’re basically useless.’ “People have been discussing for a long time about ways to create 100-meter or kilometer reflectors in space,” he said. He adds that, because of their technique, one might launch sufficient material on a single rocket for a 100-meter recipe.
There was fourteen additional contestants: a plan to fly a seaplane on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, and one for a warmed probe to enter the ocean of its neighbor Enceladus. the outer layer of ice, that acts as a rock, is enclosed by below-freezing temperatures.
A few of these projects will not be successful, but the program is going to help NASA push the boundaries of what is possible, LaPointe said. “Even when the project fails, it remains helpful to us.” It might also alter upcoming NASA missions, if it really works.