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NASA flashes cash at advanced aerospace concepts

Tensegrity, magnetoshells and plasmonic propulsion

NASA has announced the eight projects with "the potential to transform future aerospace missions" which will receive funding under Phase II of its NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program.

The awards of up to $500,000 over two years will allow the recipients to advance their ideas, which "successfully demonstrated initial feasibility and benefit" during NIAC's Phase I.

Among the beneficiaries of space agency cash is Robert Skelton of Texas Engineering Experiment, who suggests a tensegrity approach for "a rotating habitat with a robotic system that constructs the structure and provides a habitat growth capability"; David Kirtley of MSNW with the cunning "Magnetoshell" plan for atmospheric braking of spacecraft using a "dipole magnetic field containing a magnetized plasma" which "supplies a significant impediment to atmospheric flow"; and the University of Missouri's Joshua Rovey, who's looking into the possibility of a "Plasmonic Force" micro-propulsion system for future nano or picosatellite missions.

The other five Phase II projects are:

Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, enthused: "The NIAC program is one of the ways NASA engages the U.S. scientific and engineering communities, including agency civil servants, by challenging them to come up with some of the most visionary aerospace concepts. This year's Phase II fellows have clearly met this challenge."

Sadly for fans of tremendously cool if somewhat improbable space tech, California's Made In Space didn't make the Phase II cut with its "Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata" proposal, designed to "establish the concept feasibility of using the age-old technique of analog computers and mechanisms to convert entire asteroids into enormous autonomous mechanical spacecraft". ®

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