NASA teases a Martian base made of mushrooms, a swarm of spacecraft in Venus and a giant dish on the moon

Solar sail, illustration

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Space agency NASA handed out $ 5 million to seven concepts for future space exploration – and they include some exceptionally creative ideas.

They include space habitats made from mushrooms, “climbing robots” that could build a radio telescope across the moon, a “swarm” of spaceships to explore the clouds of Venus, and spacecraft that can “jump” around Pluto.

These are all part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program and are not yet official NASA missions. In fact, the projects are at such early stages of development that most will take a decade to understand.

“Creativity is the key to future space exploration,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Missions Directorate (STMD). “Fostering revolutionary ideas today that may seem far-fetched will prepare us for new missions and new approaches to exploration in the decades to come.”

In February 2021, NASA released details of 16 equally ambitious NIAC Phase I proposals, each having received up to $ 125,000 for a nine-month study.

They include swimming micro-robots to explore ocean worlds, magnetic robots to transport goods to the moon, and a sample return mission to Saturn’s giant moon, Titan.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Seven Sci-Fi Concepts That Could Go Heaven One Day:

1. A space neutrino detector

A good chunk of NASA funding – $ 2 million – went to Nikolas Solomey of Wichita State University in Kansas to prepare a space neutrino detector that could be tested on a CubeSat. Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe but are difficult to study because they rarely interact with matter – and a space detector could be a new way to study the structure of our Sun and our galaxy.

“A detector orbiting near the Sun could reveal the shape and size of the solar oven in the heart,” said Jason Derleth, program director at CANI. “Going in the opposite direction, this technology could detect neutrinos from stars in the center of our galaxy.”

2. A “swarm” of spaceships to Venus

A previously funded concept that requires more research, Lofted Environmental and Atmospheric VEnus Sensors (LEAVES) combines miniature sensors, electronics and communications on kite-like platforms to drift through the clouds of Venus.

Designed to withstand the harsh atmosphere of Venus for about nine hours, Jeffrey Balcerski, the proponent of LEAVES, from the Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland, will continue to work to refine the design.

3. Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (CSF) on the other side of the Moon

Why do we need a telescope on the moon? Our planet’s ionosphere – its upper atmosphere – reflects certain wavelengths of light, making it essentially impossible to explore much of the Universe with terrestrial radio telescopes.

Locate the 1 km-diameter parabolic wire mesh reflector – the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT) – that the proponent Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory wants to build in a lunar crater 3 to 5 km in diameter at the other end of the moon.

It would be built by DuAxel robots climbing the walls, which could also be used to explore Mars. The Moon would also block radio interference from the Earth and the Sun.

4. Space-hoppers on Pluto

Mankind’s knowledge of Pluto comes from a brief overview of the New Horizons spacecraft in 2015, which was traveling at 84,000 km / h.

Landing on planets is always about decelerating, but Pluto’s ultra-thin atmosphere would be exceptionally difficult. Kerry Nock of Global Aerospace Corporation in Irwindale, Calif. Has $ 500,000 to develop a possible way to decelerate and gently land on the surface of Pluto using “entry ships” that use atmospheric drag and only a few pounds of propellant, swelling as it approached the surface.

The spacecraft would then go into “hopper” mode, capable of jumping tens or hundreds of kilometers at a time.

5. CubeSat solar sails to explore deep space

Space missions require decades of development, years of flight, and cost billions. So why not explore the solar system and interstellar space using CubeSat solar sails? Proposed by Artur Davoyan, assistant professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, this research project will study ultralight metamaterials that could withstand extreme environments.

It is believed that the ultra-light CubeSat solar sails could travel 60 times the Earth-Sun distance in a year, or 20 times the speed of Voyager 1 – currently the most distant spacecraft of all – and could reach Jupiter in five months. This trip currently lasts five years.

6. Mushroom-based habitats for the Moon and Mars

When you think about the future, you see sleek and shiny metallic quote images, don’t you? If NASA is successful, its astronauts could live in mushroom-based habitats. For further study by Lynn Rothschild, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, this myco-architecture project now has more funds to explore ways to develop structures for future habitats. space.

An international team will now test different fungi, growth conditions and pore size that could work on the Moon and Mars.

It is believed that growing habitats would be much easier and cheaper than bringing infrastructure to other planets.

7. Small asteroids chasing the pack

NASA is good at finding asteroids around 140m wide, but for each one it identifies, there are around 200 smaller asteroids that are not visible. Proposed by Peter Gural of Trans Astronautica Corporation in Lakeview Terrace, Calif., Is a mission concept to find small asteroids using a constellation of three spaceships.

Together, they would use hundreds of small telescopes and on-board image processing to conduct a coordinated search for these objects.

I wish you clear skies and wide eyes.

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