Military Embedded Systems

Alien ocean submarines, asteroid satellite swarms among concepts receiving NASA research funding


July 06, 2015

John McHale

Editorial Director

Military Embedded Systems

WASHINGTON. NASA officials chose seven technology proposals to move forward under Phase II of the agency's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. The choices were based on the potential of each to transform future aerospace missions, present new capabilities, or substantially improve today's methods for building and operating aerospace systems.

The selected proposals take on a range of concepts, such as metallic lithium combustion for long-term robotics operations, submarines that explore the oceans of icy moons of the outer planets, and a swarm of tiny satellites that can map gravity fields and characterize the properties of small moons and asteroids.

NIAC Phase II awards has the potential to be worth as much as $500,000 for a two-year study, and the awards enable proposers to further develop their concepts from the previously-selected Phase I studies. Phase I studies must demonstrate the initial feasibility and benefit of a concept. Phase II studies enable winners to refine their designs and explore aspects of implementing the new technology.

NASA selected all these projects via a peer-review process that evaluated innovativeness and technical viability. All projects continue to be in the early stages of development, most requiring as many as 10 or more years of concept maturation and technology development before they can be used on a NASA mission.

"This is an excellent group of NIAC studies," says Jason Derleth, NIAC Program executive at NASA headquarters in Washington. "From seeing into cave formations on the moon to a radically new kind of solar sail that uses solar wind instead of light, NIAC continues to push the bounds of current technology."

The seven 2015 Phase II fellows are:

"Swarm Flyby Gravimetry" from Johns Hopkins University

"3D Photocatalytic Air Processor for Dramatic Reduction of Life Support Mass and Complexity" from the University of California Santa Cruz

"PERISCOPE: PERIapsis Subsurface Cave Optical Explorer" from Nosanov Consulting, LLC

"Titan Submarine: Exploring the Depths of Kraken Mare" from the NASA Glenn Research Center

"SCEPS in Space - Non-Radioisotope Power Systems for Sunless Solar System Exploration Missions" from Pennsylvania State University

"Trans-Formers for Lunar Extreme Environments: Ensuring Long-Term Operations in Regions of Darkness and Low Temperatures" from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

"Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System (HERTS)" from the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate innovates, develops, tests and flies hardware for use in future missions.

For more information about NIAC, visit:


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