NASA just invested in 10 new visionary space technologies

Revolutionary space technology that'll take us into the future.

NASA just invested in 10 new visionary space technologies
Photo by NASA on Unsplash
  • NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program invests in new space technology concepts every year.
  • This year's technologies range from smart space suits to Venus aircraft.
  • These concepts will be put to the test to see if they are viable.

Nuclear propulsion and lunar mining conjure up wild visions of a new space age. Our best minds are currently working on making these speculative space inventions a reality. Those are just two of the technologies that NASA has selected to research and invest in as part of their NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program for 2019.

The program is funding a total of 18 studies of which they'll determine the feasibility of early-stage technologies that could contribute greatly to the advancement of space exploration.

From space debris cleanup to interstellar fly-bys, the technologies have the potential to usher in great innovative feats in outer space.

Here is a selection of 10 of the most exciting new NASA space tech investments.

Outer space fast travel

Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station

Self-Guided Beamed Propulsion for Breakthrough Interstellar Missions

Long distance missions to places such as the Kuiper belt, Oort cloud and nearby stellar systems require new means of propulsion. Chris Limbach from Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station is leading the project for self guided beamed propulsion.

They intend on creating a beamed propulsion architecture that would speed a spacecraft up to 10% the speed of light. This would allow us to get to Proxima Centauri b in remarkable timeframes compared to the current epoch draining slough it would take with current technology.

"This architecture dramatically increases the distance over which the spacecraft is accelerated while simultaneously reducing the beam diameter at the transmitter and probe from 10's of kilometers to less than 10 meters."

The team has found that there is a mathematical precedent underlying the potential for this amount of speed with this unique mix of laser propulsion. Additionally, the technical literature exists that proves a beam propulsion system can be created to reach these future speed capabilities.

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

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  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

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  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:
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