Among the studies is a neutrino-detecting mission concept receiving a $ 2 million Phase III NIAC grant for mature related technology over two years. Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe, but are challenging to study as they rarely interact with matter. Therefore, large and sensitive ground-based detectors are best suited for detecting them. Nikolas Solomey of Wichita State University in Kansas suggests something else: a space-based neutrino detector.
“Neutrinos are a tool for ‘seeing’ inside stars, and a space-based detector can offer a new window into the structure of our sun and even our galaxy,” said Jason Derleth, head of the NIAC program. “close to the sun, could reveal the shape and size of the solar furnace in the core. Or by going in the opposite direction, this technology could detect neutrinos from stars at the center of our galaxy.”
Solomey’s previous NIAC research showed that the technology could work in space, explored various flight paths, and developed an early prototype of the neutron detector. With the Phase III grant, Solomey will prepare a flight time detector that can be tested on a CubeSat.
In addition, six researchers receive $ 500,000 each to complete Phase II NIAC studies for up to two years.
Jeffrey Balcerski of the Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland will continue work on a small “swarm” of spacecraft approaches to study Venus’ atmosphere. The concept combines miniature sensors, electronics and communications on kite-like, propelling platforms to perform about nine hours of operations in the clouds of Venus. High-fidelity simulations of implementation and flight further mature the design.
Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay, a robot technologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, will continue to study a possible radio telescope in a crater on the other side of the Moon. He aims to design a wire mesh that small climbing robots could use to form a large parabolic reflector. The Phase II study will also focus on refining the telescope’s capabilities and different mission approaches.
Kerry Nock with Global Aerospace Corporation in Irwindale, California, will mature a possible way to land on Pluto and other celestial bodies with low-pressure atmospheres. The concept relies on a large lightweight decelerator that inflates as it approaches the surface. Nock will tackle the feasibility of the technology, including the more risky components, and determine its overall maturity.
Artur Davoyan, assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, will study CubeSat awnings to explore the solar system and interstellar space. Davoyan will manufacture and test ultralight sail materials capable of withstanding extreme temperatures, study structurally sound sailing support methods, and investigate two mission concepts.
Lynn Rothschild, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, will further investigate ways to grow structures, perhaps for future space habitats, out of fungi. This phase of the research will build on previous mycelium production, fabrication and testing techniques. Together with an international team, Rothschild will test different fungi, growth conditions and pore size on small prototypes under environmental conditions relevant to the moon and Mars. The research will also evaluate ground-based applications, including biodegradable plates and fast, inexpensive structures.
Peter Gural of the Trans Astronautica Corporation of Lakeview Terrace, California, will study a mission concept to find small asteroids faster than current research methods. A constellation of three spacecraft would use hundreds of small telescopes and built-in image processing to perform a coordinated search for these objects. Phase II aims to mature and prove the proposed filter technology.
NIAC supports visionary research ideas through several progressive phases of the study. In February 2021, NASA announced 16 new NIAC Phase I proposal choices. STMD funds NIAC and is responsible for developing the new cross-cutting technologies and capabilities that the Agency needs to achieve its current and future missions.
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