NASA Makes 6 Awards to Help Advance Air and Space Exploration

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The concepts include quantum radar technology and using bacteria to make on-demand drugs in space.

NASA awarded six researchers up to $600,000 for their innovative concepts to advance air and space exploration, according to an announcement on Thursday. 

As part of Phase II of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts—or NAIC—program, NASA selected six submissions for continued study under the program for “futuristic concepts designed to shape air and space travel decades in the future.” As noted in the announcement, NAIC funds early-stage technology concept studies. Phase II awards will continue the work of the Phase I awards. Awardees will be able to look at “potential infusion options within and beyond NASA.”

“NASA’s story is one of barriers broken and technologies transformed to support our missions and benefit all of humanity,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The concepts selected under NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program will help empower researchers to usher in new technologies that could revolutionize exploration in the heavens and improve daily life here on Earth.”

The awardees are:

  • Darmindra Arumugam at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California for the project Quantum Rydberg Radar for Surface, Topography and Vegetation which will use “next-generation dynamically tunable quantum radar technology to improve remote sensing studies of Earth and other worlds” by utilizing orbiting spacecrafts’ reflected ground signals to remove the need to deploy large antennas.
  • Steven Barrett at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the project Silent, Solid-State Propulsion for Advanced Air Mobility Vehicles which will look to develop almost silent electroaerodynamic thrusters for vertical takeoff and landing aircraft which could be used to transport cargo and passengers over short distances in urban areas.
  • Philip Lubin at the University of California, Santa Barbara, California, for the project PI – Planetary Defense which will give Earth the capability to quickly mitigate a disastrous impact from an asteroid or comet by pulverizing the object into small pieces that could burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Lynn Rothschild at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley for the project A Flexible, Personalized, On-Demand Astropharmacy which will use bacteria to create on-demand medical drugs during extended spaceflight missions. These medications could include a class of drugs that could treat exposure to radiation or help protect astronauts’ bones.

“These new awards showcase the breadth of how NIAC-supported concepts can change exploration,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “From revolutionary propulsion systems for deep-space missions to advances in aviation to change how we travel here on Earth, these technologies would radically expand our capabilities in air and space.”

The fellows will receive their funding—provided by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate—over the course of two years.