Beyond science fiction: A look at the future of NASA technology

Future of NASA technology

There are critics out there complaining about NASA’s inability to innovate simply due to the grounding of explorations to the moon. But a crop of 28 funded projects by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program will make anyone think twice about the organization’s aptitude for forward-thinking ideas.

Now that the most difficult part of Curiosity’s successful trip to Mars has come to pass, and placed NASA back on the radar of countless space enthusiasts throughout the world, NASA has an untold number of projects, not related to Curiosity, up its sleeve. And if its latest funded projects are any indication, some of these concepts appear to have been taken right out of a science fiction movie.

The award recipients were separated by two categories, Phase 1 and Phase 2.

PHASE 1

Phase 1 fellows are those whose concept proposals won NASA’s $100,000 grant for one year of further the research to discover the proposals’ feasibility. Among the Phase 1 proposals, the following caught our eye.

Venus Landsailing Rover

Proposed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center (GRC), is a practical ways to landsail above or through the dense atmosphere of Venus, the second rock from the sun.

HOMES – Holographic Optical Method Exoplanet Spectroscopy

This proposal suggests a technology that will enable scientists to study planets outside of our solar system using holographic projections or representations of said planets.

Exploration of Under-Ice Regions with Ocean Profiling Agents (EUROPA)

Researchers at Virgina Polytechnic Institute and Virginia State University are researching feasible ways to explore what’s beneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s sixth closest moon. What the researchers suggest building is a submarine destined for Europa.

Water Walls: Highly Reliable and Massively Redundant Life Support Architecture

water walls in space

Intended for long-duration space missions, waste, fecal matter and urine need an efficient way of being recycled as the consequences of simply disposing of the grey matter onto an extraterrestrial planet is unknown. NASA’s Ames Research Center (ARC) has proposed the construction of a habitat where waste water is treated within its walls. Osmosis would filter out usable water, while the waste would be re-purposed as a radiation shield.

PHASE 2

Phase 2 proposals are ideas from Phase 1 of last year that have shown promise and will be rewarded $500,000 for further development and analysis – a potential precursor to the development of a prototype. Here are some Phase 2 ideas that we were intrigued by.

The Fusion Driven Rocket: Nuclear Propulsion through Direct Conversion of Fusion Energy

fusion rocket nasa

MSNW scientists have been researching and prototyping is a rocket propulsion system that would be propelled by fusion energy. What are the benefits of this technology? According to the research, existing technology can send a mission to Mars in approximately 210 days. A fusion driven rocket, however, would theoretically enable NASA to reach Mars in a blazing-fast 30 days.

Printable Spacecraft: Flexible Electronic Platforms for NASA Missions

The future of manufacturing could be in 3D printing. Today, our technological capabilities today enable us to print flexible substrates from silicon and glass to metal and biological inks. Eventually 3D printing technology could be scaled up to print an entire spacecraft.

Variable Vector Countermeasure Suit (V2Suit) for Space Habitation and Exploration

 v2suit

As you surely already know, objects in space are subject to weightlessness. In this odd environment, astronauts can often become disoriented when attempting to position themselves within the confines of a spacecraft. Using gyroscopes and accelerometers to provide resistance in space, the V2Suit will mimic the sensation of gravity for its wearers.

The development of the V2Suit is evidence that NASA has human-manned, deep-space exploration missions in mind. (Currently, they only use robots.)

“These selections represent the best and most creative new ideas for future technologies that have the potential to radically improve how NASA missions explore new frontiers,” said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology Program in a statement.

The listed projects are still in early development. And if any reach the prototyping stage, it won’t be for another 10 or more years that we would see their use in an actual mission. But with Obama’s plans to send a human mission to Mars by 2030, we wouldn’t be surprised if the V2Suit, Printable Spacecraft, and other sci-fi-like technologies are among those that end up aiding the human exploration of the Great Unknown.

Deals

Take to the skies with these 5 drones on sale for under $50

On the hunt for some cool tech for under $50? We've rounded up 5 drones under $50 that you can still get before Christmas. These models are great for kids, adults, and anyone just getting started with drones.
Emerging Tech

We’re going to the Red Planet! All the past, present, and future missions to Mars

SpaceX isn't the only organization pining to visit the Red Planet. Here's a detailed list of all operational and planned missions to Mars, along with explanations of their objectives, spacecraft details, and mission proposals.
Computing

New rumors say the Pixelbook 2 could show up at CES 2019

What will the Pixelbook 2 be like? Google hasn't announced it, but thanks to rumors and leaks, we think we have a pretty good idea of what the potential new flagship Chromebook will be like.
Computing

3 easy ways to get that perfect screenshot

Capturing a screenshot of your desktop is easier than you might think, and it's the kind of thing you'll probably need to know. Here's how to perform the important function in just a few, easy steps.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

With this robotic garage, retrieving your car is like using a vending machine

Remembering where we parked our cars can be a real pain. But what if our cars came to find us, rather than the other way around? A new automated robot parking valet system aims to help.
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Emerging Tech

This unusual nature-inspired robot is equally at home on land or in the water

This intriguing, nature-inspired robot may look unusual, but it's impressively capable of moving on both land and water without problem. Heck, it can even travel on ice if necessary.
Emerging Tech

This cryptocurrency wallet for kids isn’t nearly as stupid as it sounds

So you’ve taught your 6-year-old child to read, write, and play nice with others. What’s next? Give them a base understanding of cryptocurrency, of course. This Kickstarter aims to help.
Emerging Tech

Light, speed: Lighting kit for DJI Mavic 2 lets you fly and film in the dark

Lume Cube, maker of small battery-powered LED lights for mobile photography, has announced a new lighting kit built specifically for the DJI Mavic 2 -- the first of its kind. Already our favorite drone, this makes the Mavic 2 even better.
Emerging Tech

Prepare for liftoff: Here are all the important upcoming SpaceX rocket launches

From ISS resupply missions to a host of communication and scientific satellite launches, SpaceX has a busy year ahead. Here's a rundown of some of the company's most important missions slated for the next year.
Emerging Tech

Virgin Galactic’s latest test flight takes it to the edge of space

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has successfully carried out its fourth powered flight in Mojave, California. It was the company's most ambitious test flight yet -- and bodes well for the future.
Emerging Tech

There’s a giant EMP blaster in New Mexico. Don’t worry, it’s here to protect us

An electromagnetic pulse has the potential to disable virtually all electronics within a large area. To help protect against such a threat is a new, friendly EMP emitter. Here's how it works.