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An illustration shows the deployment of an autonomous borebot into a layered deposit on Mars. The inset shows a closeup of the borebot drive system. (Planet Enterprises Illustration / James Vaughan)

The latest crop of NASA-backed concepts for far-out space exploration includes “borebots” that could drill as far as a mile beneath the Martian surface in search of liquid water, and a nuclear-powered spacecraft that could intercept interstellar objects as they zip through our solar system.

Researchers in Washington state are behind both of those ideas.

The borebots and the interstellar-object checker are among16 proposals winning Phase I funding从NASA先进概念创新项目, or NIAC.


“NIAC Fellows are known to dream big, proposing technologies that may appear to border science fiction and are unlike research being funded by other agency programs,” Jenn Gustetic, director of early-stage innovations and partnerships within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate,今天说过新闻稿.

“我们不指望他们来实现但recognize that providing a small amount of seed-funding for early research could benefit NASA greatly in the long run,” Gustetic said.


Here’s a rundown of the Phase I fellows announced today, leading with the Washington state projects:

Autonomous Robotic Demonstrator for Deep Drilling, or ARD3:Quinn MorleyPlanet Enterprisesin Gig Harbor, Wash., proposes sending a rover to Mars to serve as a mobile drilling rig. The rover would deploy self-contained robots, nicknamed “borebots,” which could drive up and down a borehole autonomously.

Borebots could take their turns drilling out cores, about 150 millimeters (6 inches) at a time. The proposed mission would drill 20 to 50 meters (65 to 165 feet) deep in Mars’ south polar layered deposits, but if the initial 90-day mission is successful, an extended mission could press on to a depth of roughly 1.5 kilometers (or nearly a mile). Orbital readings suggest thatMars may harbor liquid water— and perhaps subsurface life — at such depths.

Extrasolar Object Interceptor
An artist’s conception shows the Extrasolar Object Interceptor. (USNC-Tech Graphic / Christopher Morrison)

Extrasolar Object Interceptor and Sample Return Enabled by Compact, Ultra Power Dense Radioisotope Batteries:Christopher Morrison, a researcher at Seattle-basedUltra Safe Nuclear Technologies(USNC-Tech), proposes building a compact spacecraft that could catch up with aninterstellar object喜欢‘Oumuamuaor Comet Borisov, collect samples and return them to Earth in a 10-year timeframe.


Regolith Adaptive Modification System (RAMS) to Support Early Extraterrestrial Planetary Landings (and Operations):Selective reinforcement and fusing of lunar materials for construction projects on the moon. Proposed by Sarbajit Baneerjee, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station.

Exploring Uranus through SCATTER: Sustained ChipSat/CubeSat Activity Through Transmitted Electromagnetic Radiation:研究父宇宙飞船传递功率的能力,通过激光发射器远程操纵小探针。斯坦福大学SIGRID CLOSE提出。

Ablative Arc Mining for In-Situ Resource Utilization:Extracting useful material from the moon’s surface, ranging from water to metals, with the aid of an ablative arc mining process. Proposed by Amelia Greig, University of Texas at El Paso.

Kilometer-Scale Space Structures From a Single Launch:开发轻质和可展开的结构,可以用作能够产生人工重力的大型旋转航天器的骨干。Carnegie Mellon University Zachary Manchester提出。

PEDALS: Passively Expanding Dipole Array for Lunar Sounding:Designing an expandable sounding-radar system that can roll itself out at lunar sites. Proposed by Patrick McGarey, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Atomic Planar Power for Lightweight Exploration (APPLE):A solar-sail spacecraft with electric power provided by a radiation-hardened battery and a radioisotope-based power source. Proposed by E. Joseph Nemanick, The Aerospace Corp.

使用原位推进剂的泰坦样品返回:This mission to Titan, a smog-cloaked moon of Saturn, would make use of hydrocarbon compounds present at the surface to fuel a sample-return vehicle. Proposed by Steven Oleson, NASA Glenn Research Center.

ReachBot: Small Robot for Large Mobile Manipulation Tasks in Martian Cave Environments:Developing a long-reach crawling and anchoring robot with extendable manipulator arms to explore difficult terrains on other celestial bodies, with a focus on Martian caves. Proposed by Marco Pavone, Stanford University.

FarView – An In Situ Manufactured Lunar Far Side Radio Observatory:Using lunar materials to build the infrastructure for a radio observatory on the “quiet” far side of the moon. Proposed by Ronald Polidan, Lunar Resources Inc.

FLOAT – Flexible Levitation on a Track:Rolling out magnetic-levitation tracks to build the first lunar railway system, for the purpose of autonomously transporting cargo on the moon. Proposed by Ethan Schaler, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

SWIM – Sensing With Independent Micro-swimmers:Using 3-D printing to manufacture micro-robots equipped with sensors to explore subsurface oceans on Enceladus or Europa. Proposed by Ethan Schaler, JPL.

Making Soil for Space Habitats by Seeding Asteroids With Fungi:使用真菌从小行星中分解富含碳的材料,然后将其转化为空间沉淀的耕作土壤。Jane Shevtsov,Trans Astronautica Corp.提出

轻弯:使用望远镜光学系统捕获,集中和聚焦阳光的系统,以便在月球上产生和分配电力。Charles Taylor,NASA Langley研究中心提出。

Solar System Pony Express:多光谱,高分辨率的行星测量师,通过循环卫星网络定期访问,可以将大量数据转移到地球。Joshua Vander Hook,JPL提出。

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