Every year, a program called NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) hosts a symposium to showcase innovative research projects that aim to advance future space missions.
Though the concepts are a bit more sketchbook than mission proposal, they fund preliminary research into new technology that could carry us through own galaxy — and possibly beyond.
Having a reliable transit system on the Moon would be an essential feature for a future lunar base, which NASA envisions as part of its upcoming Artemis mission.
But a proposed system called FLOAT, designed by researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wouldn’t work like ordinary train tracks we have on Earth.
Instead, cargo-carrying magnetic robots would levitate on a flexible track, propelled by electromagnetic energy.
Several moons of our Solar System have liquid water oceans. But studying them in detail could be difficult because they’re buried beneath miles-deep ice shells.
Engineers want to make swimming robots only a few centimeters in size that can explore beneath the surface of our Solar System’s ocean worlds, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa.
The idea is to equip the bots with wireless ultrasound technology so that they could be maneuvered in the subterranean oceans.
It’s not easy to build in space, or transport building materials, for that matter. Physics doesn’t favor launching large cargo — both in weight and in volume.
One of the areas researchers want to explore on Mars is the Red Planet’s vast network of caves and tunnels.
But that’s hard to do when the ground is uneven — which is why researchers want to develop new robots capable of navigating down the walls of caves, across gaps, and over uneven surfaces.
Called ReachBot, this illustration shows a prototype with long, flexible arms and a lightweight body.
One ambitious project wants to harvest carbon-rich asteroids to make soil.