NASA funding research in cryogenic sleep chambers, other future technologies

Technology designed to place astronauts in a state of induced hibernation and use lasers as a propulsion system for miniature spacecraft are among the projects that have received a second round of funding through NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program.
In total, the US space agency has selected eight proposed missions which they feel “have the potential to transform future aerospace missions, introduce new capabilities, and significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.” Each proposal has been awarded a Phase II grant that could be worth up to $500,000 over two years.
Among those proposals is one that intends to create technology that would place astronauts in what Popular Science refers to as “an state of advanced hypothermia,” causing their core body temperature to drop nearly 10 degrees and reducing their metabolic rate during the nine month journey to Mars. Along the way, the machine would also feed them intravenously, according to lead researcher John Bradford and his colleagues at Spaceworks Engineering.
In addition, University of California physicist Philip Lubin was awarded a Phase II grant for his proposed propulsion system that would enable NASA to send tiny probes on interstellar missions to distant planets. While the project is a long-term one that is unlikely to be finished for decades, once completed it has the potential to reach other star systems in as little as 20 years.

Other projects include protective spacecraft shells, expandable habitats

Another project of interest looks to design a safer way for spacecraft to land on the Red Planet, without needing to rely on its thin atmosphere to reduce the vehicle’s velocity. This traditional method, while affective, can create dangerous friction and requires heavy heat shields to prevent damage to the spacecraft.
However, David Kirtley, a propulsion researcher with MSNW, is working on a new system that would help prevent potential friction-related damage while also reducing the weight of spacecraft traveling to Mars. By encasing the vehicle in a magnetoshell made from plasma and developing a new aerobraking method, he is confident that he could reduce both the weight and the cost of the spacecraft, while also protecting astronauts from potentially harmful radiation.


The magnetoshell project could enable trips to Mars and other planets. Credit: NASA

Other proposals that have received Phase II funding include a dual aircraft platform capable of remaining airborne for weeks at a time; a technique that produces “solar white” coatings which would scatter sunlight and keep fuel tanks cool without the need for additional energy input; and a concept for a new flexible and expandable habitat inspired by the molecular structure of spider silk, according to Popular Science and Daily Mail reports published earlier this week.
“Phase II decisions are always challenging, but we were especially challenged this year with so many successful Phase I studies applying to move forward with their cutting-edge technologies,” NIAC program executive Jason Derleth said in a statement. “I’m thrilled to welcome these innovations and their innovators back to the program. Hopefully, they will all go on to do what NIAC does best – change the possible.”
Image credit: NASA