08:15 GMT18 February 2020
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    NASA has green-lighted seven futuristic technological concepts which will shape the future of space travel: among other innovations, interstellar submarines and swarms of tiny satellites will be used in space exploration, but unfortunately it will take place at least a decade from now.

    NASA has selected seven technology proposals for continued study under Phase II of the agency's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program.

    These futuristic technological concepts will allow mankind to explore the surface of Venus, dig into lunar caverns, reach the boundaries of the solar system and even take humans to Mars.

    Back in May, NASA announced the winners of its first phase: a mix of 15 proposals, some “scientifically practical and others quite literally out of this world”.

    The mix has now been narrowed to seven. Among those that were chosen are:

    Titan Submarine to Explore the Depths of Kraken Mare

    The concept was submitted by researchers at NASA's Glenn Research Center who are working on a submarine which will be sent to Saturn's largest moon, Titan. It would explore the liquid hydrocarbon depths of Kraken Mare, Titan's largest lake, in an attempt to learn more about its composition.

    Titan is believed to potentially be a pre-biotic environment that could someday sustain life, if it doesn't already. Some researchers have suggested that it could already have nitrogen-based life.

    The researchers claim this moon is one of the easier places in the solar system to explore by submarine since its lakes aren't buried under miles of ice. The technology, with a little modification, could also be used on Europa, Ganymede, Enceladus, or any other alien world with bodies of liquid water.

    PERISCOPE: PERIapsis Subsurface Cave Optical Explorer

    The concept involves using an orbiter to fire a series of lasers into an identified opening (cave skylight) on the surface, helping to map the interior. The observations could then be used to create a 3D map of the caverns, and pave the way for an eventual lunar colony. Similar technologies could be used to map other difficult terrain from orbit without the hassle of having to touch down.

    3D Photocatalytic Air Processor for Dramatic Reduction of Life Support Mass and Complexity

    Any future mission to Mars is going to be a big endeavor, and NASA has to cut weight from the payload wherever it can, without endangering Mars-bound astronauts. One of the big weights will be the life support system, thus the researchers have come up with the solution of using ambient energy in space.

    The plan would be to use the photocatalytic capabilities of titanium dioxide to do things like break down water into hydrogen and oxygen, and purify the air in the process. It's an idea that's been explored not just in the context of space exploration, but utilized in mining safety. And thanks to titanium's light weight as well as these natural capabilities, the whole thing could be lighter, safer, and have fewer moving parts than current solutions.

    Trans-Formers for Extreme Lunar Environments

    The moon is full of dangerous terrain. And in deep craters it's very dark dangerous terrain, researchers claim. The Trans-Formers concept seeks to illuminate them, eliminating that problem. A small rover trailer would unfurl a giant mirror that could reflect sunlight into a crater and give the rover enough light to get a bearing on its surroundings.

    In airless environments like the moon, this could be a tremendous advantage. It would not only give a partly solar-powered rover an extra boost of energy, but also hit it with enough heat to prevent it from freezing up in a dark crater. It could enable new depths of exploration previously unimagined.

    Among other concepts there are SCEPS in Space — Non-Radioisotope Power Systems for Sunless Solar System Exploration Missions, and Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System (HERTS).

    "NASA's investments in early-stage research are important for advancing new systems' concepts and developing requirements for technologies to enable future space exploration missions," said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

    NIAC Phase II awards can be worth as much as $500,000 for a two-year study, and the awards allow proposers to further develop their concepts from previously selected Phase I studies.

    Phase I studies demonstrated the initial feasibility and benefit of a concept. Phase II studies allow awardees to refine their designs and explore aspects of implementing the new technology

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    Tags:
    Titan, stellar submarine, Saturn, space exploration, NASA
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