NASA Announces NIAC Winners

NASA Announces NIAC Winners

NASA announced the 30 winners of Phase 1 awards intended to spur revolutionary space technologies through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program today.

Each winner gets $100,000 for one year to better define its concept, with the potential for a Phase 2 award in the future. Phase 2 awards would be for two more years, funded at $500,000.

Hundreds of proposals were submitted according to Joe Parrish, director of the early stage innovation division in NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist (OCT). A peer review process was used to select the winners. NASA hopes to make the competition annual, dependent on budget decisions in Congress.

NASA established a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, the original NIAC, in 1998. It was discontinued in 2007 for budgetary reasons. Congress then directed NASA to contract with the National Research Council (NRC) to review results from NIAC and determine whether such a capability should be reinstated. The NRC study, co-chaired by Bobby Braun, then at Georgia Tech, concluded that NIAC should be reconstituted, but with some changes. A key recommendation was that awards be available to internal NASA offices, not only to those outside NASA as was the case under the original NIAC. Braun was named NASA’s Chief Technologist in 2009 and recreated NIAC with that change.

The proposals announced today range from Space Debris Elimination to Economical Radioisotope Power to Printable Spacecraft to Ghost Imaging of Space Objects. Jay Falker, NIAC program executive, said that approximately one-third of the awards went to internal NASA, academic, and industry/national lab applicants respectively.

Braun pointed out that another major difference between this NIAC and its predecessor is that now NIAC is part of the OCT and thus of a “larger family” of technologies. This should enhance the opportunities for NIAC-developed technologies being infused into NASA projects, he said, because a “pipeline” now exists.

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