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NIAC2 Gets Underway at NASA, Two Other Technology Solicitations Announced

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Mar-2011
Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM

NASA's acronym NIAC used to mean the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts. Established in 1998 to provide an independent source of advanced aeronautical and space concepts for the agency, it was terminated for budgetary reasons in 2007. At congressional direction, the National Research Council (NRC) did a study of what had been accomplished by NIAC and whether it should be resurrected. The study, co-chaired by Robert (Bobby) Braun of Georgia Tech and Dianne Wiley of Boeing, recommended that a NIAC-like entity -- "NIAC2" -- be reestablished. That process has begun.

In 2009, Bobby Braun became NASA's Chief Technologist. NIAC originally was under the purview of the NASA Chief Technologist to ensure that its advanced concepts were broadly applicable to agency needs, but was later transferred to a single mission directorate -- the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate -- where it "lost its alignment with sponsor objectives and priorities" according to the NRC report. Thus, the NRC recommended that NIAC2 report to the Office of the Administrator and not a specific mission directorate. NIAC grants also were available only to external researchers. The NRC recommended that NIAC2 be open to internal NASA participants as well.

Yesterday, NASA issued a NASA Research Announcement (NRA) for proposals for Phase I NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, a program managed by the Office of the Chief Technologist -- essentially NIAC2. According to the NRA --

Concepts proposed for NIAC Phase I studies must be innovative and visionary, technically substantiated, and very early in development (10+ years out; Technology Readiness Level 1, 2, or early 3). Focused technology maturation and incremental improvement are explicitly not of interest in this program. Finally, while NIAC encourages great leaps and accepts the accompanying risk, all proposals must be technically credible, based on sound scientific principles.

Interestingly, a footnote in the NRA explains that NASA is not looking for focused technologies, but architectures, missions, and system concepts. Notices of Intent are due March 29; proposals are due May 2.

NASA also announced two other space technology solicitations. The Game Changing Development Program is for "revolutionary improvements in America's space capabilities," while Technology Demonstration Mission proposals are being sought for high-bandwidth deep space communication, navigation and timing, orbital debris mitigation or removal systems, advanced in-space propulsion systems, and autonomous rendezvous, docking, close proximity operations and formation flying.

With NASA's funding situation uncertain, it is not clear how many, if any, grants will be made for any of these solicitations, however.


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