NASA puts $7M towards long-shot research, from moon mining to solar lenses

NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program is all about making high-risk, high-reward bets on unique — and sometimes eyebrow-raising — ideas for space exploration and observation. This year’s grants total $7M and include one of the most realistic projects yet. It might even get made!
NIAC awards are split into three tiers: Phase I, II, and III. Roughly speaking, the first are given $125K and 9 months basically to show their concept isn’t bunk. The second are given $500K and two years to show how it might actually work. And the third get $2 million to develop the concept into a real project.
It speaks to the, shall we say, open-mindedness of the NIAC program that until this year there have only been two total recipients of Phase III awards, the rest having fallen by the wayside as impractical or theoretically unsound. This year brings the third, a project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory we first noted among 2018’s NIAC selections.
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