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  • Marijan Hassan - Tech Journalist

NASA announces 13 ambitious plans as part of its plan to dominate space

NASA is set to embark on an array of visionary space missions with the announcement of 13 groundbreaking projects funded under the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NAIC) program.

The initiative supports unconventional ideas from both industry and academia, providing each of the 2024 Phase I awardees up to $175,000 to further develop their concepts and devise roadmaps for potential applications.

According to Mike LaPointe, the diversity of this year's projects, spanning from quantum sensors monitoring Earth's atmosphere to swarming spacecraft communicating from a distant star, underscores NASA's commitment to pushing the boundaries of technological innovation.

“The NIAC awards highlight NASA's commitment to continue pushing the boundaries of what's possible,” LaPointe said.

In what is the most ambitious of all the projects Space Initiatives, a Florida-based startup, has set its eyes on Proxima Centauri, a star approximately 4.2 light years away.

The firm has proposed dispatching a minuscule spacecraft propelled by light-sails powered by lasers. This swarm of probes, collectively behaving as an autonomous entity, would hypothetically reach Proxima Centauri within two decades, utilizing a laser capable of beaming 100 gigawatts of power.

Mars remains a focal point 5 of the 13 projects focused on the Red Planet. Among them isCoflow Jet, an aerospace company from Florida, which is planning to fly the first fixed-wing vehicle to Mars.

Other Mars-focused projects include cryogenic propellant storage, water extraction, and a regenerative perchlorate reduction system, all of which underscore NASA's commitment to supporting human survival and discovering extraterrestrial life.

Some of the projects are being internally developed at NASA and they include a high-resolution optical imaging interferometer on the moon to study stars and black holes at visible and ultraviolet wavelengths.

The remaining projects showcase next-generation technologies for space exploration, such as City Labs' nuclear battery-powered sensors for the Moon and Charles Stark Draper Laboratory's solar sail rockets driven by Thorium-228 film.

MIT is also in the mix and is envisioning satellites equipped with lightweight fiber-based antennas to study Earth's soil moisture. The University of Washington, on the other hand, proposes a satellite network to measure distances to extragalactic sources of fast radio bursts, aiding in understanding dark energy.

While not all concepts may materialize, NASA Associate Administrator Jim Free acknowledges the importance of long-term thinking, citing previous successes like the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars.

The NAIC program serves as a testament to NASA's dedication to nurturing creative ideas that may pave the way for future mission success and technological advancements in space exploration.


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