NASA issued this week a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) focused on what's needed in human and robotic technology to put into high gear any Moon, Mars, and beyond space exploration.

As part of a sweeping roster of needs, NASA is asking for proposals in the fields of artificial gravity, inflatable structures, as well as living-off-the-land machinery.

On January 14 of this year U.S. President George W. Bush carved out a new vision for NASA to:

  • Implement a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and beyond;
  • Extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the Moon by the year 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations;
  • Develop the innovative technology, knowledge, and infrastructures both to explore and to support decisions about the destinations for human exploration; and
  • Promote international and commercial participation in exploration to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests.

Roadmap of requests

Since President Bush's pronouncement on January 14 this year, NASA has been busy identifying key objectives for safe/reliable, affordable and effective future human and robotic space exploration in support of the U.S. Vision for Space Exploration.

To further this space exploration agenda, the NASA Broad Agency Announcement issued on July 28 is basically a roadmap of requests put out to big and small aerospace firms, universities, and non-profit groups to come up with creative concepts.

For those wanting to take part, notices of intent are due August 13, with actual proposals due at NASA on September 24.

Take-along gravity

As a method to help thwart the effects of long-duration microgravity on the human body, NASA is now in the market for "structural concepts for artificial gravity systems".

"To minimize the degradation of human performance on long-duration missions, crew transport vehicles will need artificial gravity systems," declares the NASA BAA. Artificial gravity systems use rotation to generate up to 1-g of centrifugal acceleration.

The space agency is looking for structural concepts for artificial gravity systems, including long deployable trusses and tethers that can hold together while spinning through interplanetary space. Such systems should also include methods to control rotation rate and structural dynamics.

Puff-up habitats

Another area NASA is now promoting is use of rigid, deployable, inflatable and erectable structures. 

"A topic of particular interest" the newly issued BAA explains, is inflatable structures and habitats.

"Minimizing launch volume will also have substantial impact in reducing the costs for exploration systems. Large inflatable structures can be folded into compact packages for launch. Inflatable structures are usually rigidized after deployment so that internal pressure is not required to maintain structural stiffness and shape. Inflatable structures are needed for space solar power systems, large apertures, and habitats," notes the NASA document.

NASA is after concepts for inflatable truss elements that self-rigidize to enable the in-space assembly of large platforms, and inflatable habitats with integral radiation shielding, impact shielding, thermal management, and equipment to keep tabs of the overall health of the inflatable hardware.

Living off the land

One other area that has been long-supported in talk but not enough dollars is use of local resources -- on the Moon, Mars, or other celestial locales -- to sustain future human explorers.

As explained in the BAA, and under NASA's Lunar and Planetary Surface Operations (LPSO) Technology effort, the space agency is on the lookout for resource utilization systems.

"Technology areas of potential interest include excavation, extraction, collection, beneficiation technologies for lunar and/or Martian resources." 

The NASA BAA notes this call for proposals includes solids and/or gases; reconfigurable, modular chemical process technologies for on-the-spot oxygen and/or propellant production from lunar or Mars resources; and technologies for local production of structural feedstock materials from lunar and/or Martian resources.

Furthermore, the NASA document stresses the need for surface manufacturing and construction systems.

Technologies of interest include those for the production of structural components using either "imported" feedstock or available lunar and/or Martian resources; autonomous or tele-operated robotic technologies for surface facility assembly and maintenance; and, technologies for off-Earth creation of solar photovoltaic systems or other energy systems.

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