NASA announced Thursday the selection of 21 new technology proposals pitched from small businesses and research groups within the United States as part of the second phase of its Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. The selected parties are now able to enter negotiations for NASA contracts that are worth a combined total of about $15.8 million.

“Just as small businesses are driving our economy, technology is driving exploration,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA, in a news release. “These selected proposals demonstrate the creativity of American entrepreneurs and, along with our other technology investments, will contribute to ensuring the U.S. remains a leader in technology development and space exploration.”

The different proposals discuss a huge variety of different technologies relevant to space travel and exploration — including novel propellant mechanisms. Cubesat designs, energy and power storage, habitation and life support, and instruments to study new worlds.

Each of the 21 proposals could do a great deal to advance spaceflight, but there’s a big difference between proposal and prototype, so we’ll have to wait and see which groups can turn their great ideas into great realities. Here are five of the most exciting selected proposals:

Subsurface Prospecting by Planetary Drones

This proposal is basically what it sounds like: sending an autonomous drone to other worlds to scan the surface for potential resources to extract from the ground. This is particularly useful for trying to see if there might be anything worthwhile in extreme environments where sending ground-based robots is unfeasible, and sending manned aircraft is too risky.

The World is Not Enough (WINE): Harvesting Local Resources for Eternal Exploration of Space

Strange but wonderful name aside, WINE is a collaboration between former NASA researcher and current University of Central Florida professor Phil Metzger, and elusive spacegun makers Honeybee Robotics. The proposal calls for a “new generation of CubeSats” that essentially calls for using 3D printing to build steam thrusters that act as a propulsion mechanism for the Cubesat.

Extreme Environment Ceramic Energy Harvesting/Sensors

Here’s a thought: use ceramics to capture waste and excess vibratory energy (like the mechanical disturbances caused by thrusters), and convert it into usable energy for spacecraft. This proposal is as audacious as it is strange, but if it works, we could one day see spacecraft ditch the aluminum casing for a ceramic shell.

Nanoengineered Hybrid Gas Sensors for Spacesuit Monitoring

Spacesuits are fitted head to toe with instruments designed to measure the biometrics of an astronaut and let ground control know if anything fishy is happening. This proposal suggests building those sensors out of nanotechnology, in order to measure trace chemicals and gases and more accurately detect gas levels and humidity NASA Greenlights 21 New Space Tech Proposals

Photos via NASA