Wednesday, March 29

NASA’s new technologies that sound like science fiction: destroy asteroids or magnetic fields against radiation

The agency’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program offers seed funding for ideas that sound like science fiction, but could work to save life on Earth. These are some of the most interesting.

Generate portable magnetic fields to deflect life-threatening space radiation from astronauts. This is the project proposed by Elena D’onghia, an astrophysicist known for her research on the structure of the Milky Way and our closest cosmos.

His idea, which sounds like science fiction, is one of 17 projects that received funding last month in NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) programa program that invests in high-risk, high-reward propositions.

Each phase 1 project, like D’Onghia’s radiation concept, received $175,000 for a nine-month study, while the five proposals that went to phase 2 each received $600,000 for a period of two years.

Within a couple of decades, some of them could be mature enough to be part of the next generation of space missions. “Your job is really to change the futuresays Ron Turner, NIAC program senior scientific adviser and analyst.

Scientists like D’Onghia explore wild ideas, but they must also prove their feasibility and benefits, Turner explains. Program funding helps you study each aspect of your proposal in more detail to see what exactly needs to be done to make it a reality.

Proposals do not have to be addressed to NASA; for example, one of the projects funded in the most recent round is a concept to defend Earth from a killer asteroid on a collision course with our planet. Others include sending a space balloon to Venus and creating a collapsible space station.

D’Onghia’s magnetic field project grew out of conversations in a coffee shop a few years ago with Paolo Desiati, his physicist colleague at the University of Wisconsin.

They wanted to attack a futuristic health problem: When a spacecraft heads for Mars, it will be bombarded with charged particles from the sun and cosmic rays that can come from much further away.

Throughout a journey of approximately nine months, astronauts will be exposed to a significant amount of radiation, which will cause cell damage and increase their risk of cancer. “Until we figure this out, we’re not going to Mars.“, Justifies D’Onghia.

Another NIAC project envisions an emergency defense against a planet-killing asteroid or comet heading straight for Earth. Scientists believe they have detected at least 90% of near-Earth asteroids 800 meters in diameter or larger, which could be large enough to wipe out humanity.

However, it remains possible – though unlikely – that an object this large could evade detection systems until it is encountered on short notice, like the comet in the Netflix movie Don’t Look Up.

When an object is this close, pushing it away with something like NASA’s DART spacecraft is no longer an option. Lubin’s “PI Terminal Defense for Humanity” concept involves launching a huge rocket, like SpaceX’s Starship or NASA’s Space Launch System.

This would display a series of rod-shaped penetrating interceptors to hit the asteroid and blow it up in multiple waves, pulverizing it. The modified rocket needs numerous interceptors with explosives or nuclear warheads.

If the plan works the space rock would break into pieces small enough to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, instead of causing worldwide devastation. “What would have killed millions of people is now a sound and light showLubin says.

As he and his colleagues progress on the project, Lubin plans to work on the design of the penetrator and use supercomputers to simulate the effects of these interceptor impacts on an asteroid at a speed of 80,000 kilometers per hour.

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