NASA Unveils Futuristic Technologies For Space Exploration Missions

NASA Unveils Futuristic Technologies For Space Exploration Missions PHOTOGRAPH: NASA/Facebook |

NASA invests an approximately $125,000 in 16 revolutionary technology concepts that might one day be instrumental in breakthrough space discovery.

For the Phase 1 of the 2018 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, the agency selects technological proposals that make use of robotics, highly advanced mapping technologies, and radical aerospace systems. The grants for each of the teams will be used in basic feasibility studies and in-depth analysis of their concepts. Successful teams will advance to Phase II where a new set of investment awaits their respective inventions.

The Shapeshifter


Highlight: A flying amphibious robot that can morph into a ball that rolls on the surface, a flight array that can fly & hover above-surface and move in subsurface voids, and a torpedo-like structure to swim under-liquid efficiently.


– Capable of mobility across domains including flying in the atmosphere, rolling on a smooth surface, navigating subsurface voids, floating on a lake surface and propelling under an ocean.
– Comprised of smaller robotic units, referred to as a cobot, which when combined can shapeshift into different mobility modes.
– Each cobot has a minimal design consisting of a few propellers as actuators.



Highlight: An innovative beamed propulsion architecture that enables an interstellar mission to Proxima Centauri with a 42-year cruise duration at 10% the speed of light.


– Increases the distance over which the spacecraft is accelerated (compared with laser propulsion) while simultaneously reducing the beam size at the transmitter and probe from 10s of kilometers to less than 10 meters.
– Translate into increased velocity change (delta-V) and payload mass compared with laser propulsion alone.
– Enables rapid travel to destinations such as Oort cloud objects and the solar gravitational lens at 500 AU.


Highlight: An advanced robotic systems that will transmit the biological needs of the astronauts as they explore the space. With the Biobot, astronaut need not carry the weighty portable life support system.


– Each astronaut will be accompanied by a ‘BioBot’, which will transport their life support system and consumables.
– Biobot will have an extended umbilical and umbilical reel, and robotic systems capable of controlling the position and motion of the umbilical.
– The astronaut will be connected to the robot via the umbilical, carrying only a small emergency open-loop life support system similar to those contained in every PLSS.
– The robotic mobility base will be designed to be capable of traveling anywhere the astronaut can walk.


Highlight: Marsbees are robotic flapping wing flyers of a bumblebee size with cicada sized wings. A swarm of Marsbee can significantly enhance the Mars exploration mission with the following benefits: i) Facilitating reconfigurable sensor networks; ii) Creation of resilient systems; iii) Sample or data collection using single or collaborative Marsbees.

– It is integrated with sensors and wireless communication devices. The mobile base can act as a recharging station and main communication center.
– Use of insect-like compliant wings to enhance aerodynamics and a low power design.

Self-Assembling Space Telescope Swarms


Highlight: A self-assembling architecture enabling the construction of 30+ m diameter, reflective, space telescopes with active optics.



Highlight: The SPARROW is a hopping robot that could reach targets of high science value on the icy, rugged terrains of Ocean Worlds.

– Allows for the rapid traverse of great distances, enabling a single mission to reach multiple geologic units within a timespan conducive to system survival in a harsh radiation environment.


Highlight: LEAVES is an ultra-lightweight and inexpensive atmospheric sensor package that is designed to withstand the harsh Venus atmosphere for a more intensive exploration of the planet.


– The Lofted Environmental and Atmospheric VEnus Sensors intended to provide high spatial and temporal resolution during atmospheric sampling by undermining the need for propulsions and buoyancy control.
– A secondary payload that poses a very little risk to a primary payload, and returns data only for the duration of their slow descent through the atmosphere.


Highlight: MIDEA aims to make retrieving asteroids and bringing them to a processing facility near Earth a possibility.


– Enables a mission to a 100 to 1000 m near-Earth asteroid (NEA) using a parent spacecraft in the 10 to 50 kg range, carrying a constellation of ten or fewer free-flying sensors that are each approximately 100 g in mass.
– Leverages the natural space environment to provide a source of meteoroid impacts, resulting in erosion of the material on the asteroid surface.


Highlight: A balloon platform with 6 suspended modules each containing a payload that also serves as a foot for locomotion. Images from cameras on the balloon are used to map and locate foot placement and for navigation.

On-Orbit, Collision-Free Mapping of Small Orbital Debris

Highlight: Revolutionizes man’s interaction with small orbital debris by enabling spacecraft placement in less hazardous orbits as well as quantitative evaluation of mitigation efforts.

Rotary Motion Extended Array Synthesis (R-MXAS)

Highlight: Earth imaging (for soil moisture, ocean salinity, surface temp., sea surface wind.

Myco-architecture off planet: growing surface structures at destination

Highlight: A self-pitching habitat made of a light, fibrous material, with excellent mechanical properties that could be extended at a future date, and self-repairing.

Astrophysics and Technical Study of a Solar Neutrino Spacecraft

Highlight: This technology is needed to study our Sun’s solar interior for the purpose of better understanding our Sun, its future expected changes such as long-term forecasting of solar energy output, as well as understanding fundamental physics such as nuclear fusion reaction rates, Dark Matter searches, Particle Physics Neutrino Oscillations and Nuclear Physics Matter effects of Neutrino interaction.

Advanced Diffractive MetaFilm Sailcraft

Highlight: It could provide a low cost and efficient means for raising hundreds of LEO CubeSats and other satellites to higher orbits.

Spectrally-Resolved Synthetic Imaging Interferometer

Highlight: This paradigm-shifting technology will provide extreme spatial resolution as well as direct spectroscopic and radial velocimetry measurements without the need for THz processing or nanometer class positional stability and control.

Radioisotope Positron Propulsion


Highlight: Aims to decrease the mass and complexity of the retrieval spacecraft so asteroid mining could become financially viable.