NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts

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The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) is a NASA program for development of far reaching, long term advanced concepts by "creating breakthroughs, radically better or entirely new aerospace concepts".[1] The program operated under the name NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts from 1998 until 2007 (managed by the Universities Space Research Association on behalf of NASA), and continued under the name NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts from 2011 to present. The NIAC program funds work on revolutionary aeronautics and space concepts that can dramatically impact how NASA develops and conducts its missions.

NIAC History[edit]

The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) was a NASA-funded program that was operated by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) for NASA from 1998 until its closure on 31 August 2007. NIAC was to serve as "an independent open forum, a high-level point of entry to NASA for an external community of innovators, and an external capability for analysis and definition of advanced aeronautics and space concepts to complement the advanced concept activities conducted within NASA."[2] NIAC sought proposals for revolutionary aeronautics and space concepts that could dramatically impact how NASA developed and conducted its missions. It provided a highly visible, recognizable, and high-level entry point for outside thinkers and researchers. NIAC encouraged proposers to think decades into the future in pursuit of concepts that would "leapfrog" the evolution of contemporary aerospace systems. While NIAC sought advanced concept proposals that stretch the imagination, these concepts were expected to be based on sound scientific principles and attainable within a 10 to 40-year time frame. From February 1998 to 2007, NIAC received a total of 1,309 proposals and awarded 126 Phase I grants and 42 Phase II contracts for a total value of $27.3 million.[3]

NASA announced on March 1, 2011 that the NIAC concept would be re-established at NASA with similar goals,[4][5] maintaining the acronym NIAC.

NIAC 1998–2007[edit]

Studies funded by the original NIAC 1998–2007 include

Closing of the Original NIAC[edit]

On July 2, 2007, NIAC announced that "NASA, faced with the constraints of achieving the Vision for Space Exploration, has made the difficult decision to terminate NIAC, which has been funded by NASA since inception. Effective August 31, 2007, the original NIAC organization ceased operations.[6]

Revised NIAC[edit]

Following the termination of the original NIAC program, Congress requested a review of the NIAC program by the United States National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences.[7] The review was done in 2009, and concluded that in order to achieve its mission, NASA needs "a mechanism to investigate visionary, far-reaching advanced concepts," and recommended that NIAC, or a NIAC-like program, should be reestablished.[2] Consistent with this recommendation, it was announced on March 1, 2011 that the NIAC was to be revived with similar goals[4] leading to the establishment in 2011 of a project within the NASA Office of Chief Technologist, the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts,[5] maintaining the acronym NIAC. It is now part of the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD)[8]

According to Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program, "Through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, NASA is taking the long-term view of technological investment and the advancement that is essential for accomplishing our missions. We are inventing the ways in which next-generation aircraft and spacecraft will change the world and inspiring Americans to take bold steps."[9]

2011 NIAC Project Selections[edit]

The revived NIAC, with the slightly-changed name "NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts," funded thirty phase-I studies in 2011 to investigate advanced concepts.[10][11]

2012 NIAC Project Selections[edit]

In August 2012, NIAC announced[12] selection of 18 new phase-I proposals, along with Phase-II grants for continuation of 10 projects selected in earlier solicitations.[9] These include many projects ranging from Landsailing rovers on Venus[13] to schemes to explore under the ice of Europa.[14]

2013 NIAC Project Selections[edit]

In 2013 NIAC conducted a third solicitation for proposals, with projects to start in the summer of 2013.[15] NASA selected 12 phase-I projects with a wide range of imaginative concepts, including 3-D printing of biomaterials, such as arrays of cells; using galactic rays to map the insides of asteroids; and an "eternal flight" platform that could hover in Earth's atmosphere, potentially providing better imaging, Wi-Fi, power generation, and other applications.[16] They selected 6 phase II projects, including photonic laser thrusters, extreme sample return, and innovative spherical robots designed for planetary exploration.[17]

2014 NIAC Project Selections[edit]

In 2013, NIAC conducted a fourth solicitation, and selected 12 projects for Phase-1 studies and 5 projects to continue on to phase II projects.[18] Projects selected include a study of hibernation for astronauts[19] and a submarine operating on Saturn's moon Titan[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts" (PDF) (AIAA 2013-5376). September 10, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, National Academies Press, Washington DC (2009); ISBN 0-309-14051-X; ISBN 978-0-309-14051-5 (accessed 6 September 2012)
  3. ^ NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, 9th Annual & Final Report, 2006-2007, Performance Period July 12, 2006 - August 31, 2007 (page 9, Executive Summary, 4th paragraph)
  4. ^ a b Marcia S. Smith, "NIAC2 Gets Underway at NASA, Two Other Technology Solicitations Announced", SpacePolicyOnline, 02-Mar-2011 (accessed 6 Sept. 2012)
  5. ^ a b NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts web page (accessed 1 August 2012)
  6. ^ "The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) is Closing", SpaceRef - Space News as it Happens, posted Monday, July 2, 2007 (accessed 5 September 2012)
  7. ^ Marcia S. Smith, "NRC Calls for Reinstatement of NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts", SpacePolicyOnline, 10-Aug-2009 (accessed 6 Sept. 2012)
  8. ^ NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) web page (accessed July 10, 2013.)
  9. ^ a b David Szondy, "NASA announces advanced technology proposals", 'gizmag, August 5, 2012 (accessed 9 August 2012)
  10. ^ Frank Morring, Jr., "NASA Starts Spending On Advanced Technology", Aviation Week, August 15, 2011 (accessed 9 August 2012)
  11. ^ NASA Office of the Chief Technologist, 2011 NIAC Phase I Selections (accessed 1 August 2012)
  12. ^ David E. Steitz, Aug. 1, 2012, NASA RELEASE 12-261, 2012 NASA Advanced Technology Concepts Selected For Study (accessed 10 July 2013)
  13. ^ (accessed 10 July 2013)
  14. ^ Keith Wagstaff, Time Magazine Techland blog, "What’s Next for NASA? 10 Wild Newly Funded Projects" August 14, 2012 (accessed 1 September 2012)
  15. ^ NASA, 2013 NIAC Phase I selections (accessed 5 Nov. 2014)
  16. ^ NASA Press Release 13-222, 2013 NASA Advanced Technology Phase I Concepts Selected For Study, August 29, 2013 (accessed 5 Nov. 2014)
  17. ^ NASA, Press release 13-270, NASA Selects 2013 NASA Innovative Advanced Technology Concepts for Continued Study, August 29, 2013 (accessed 5 Nov. 2014)
  18. ^ NASA, NIAC 2014 Phase I Selections, June 5, 2014 (accessed 5 Nov. 2014)
  19. ^ Rhodi Lee, "Stasis or deep sleep may make Mars trip affordable: NASA", Tech Times, October 7, 2014 (accessed 5 Nov. 2014)
  20. ^ Alexis C. Madrigal, "A Submarine to Explore the Ocean on Saturn's Moon, Titan", The Atlantic Jun 6 2014, (accessed 5 Nov. 2014)

External links[edit]