A sweeping look at futuristic space technology concepts has been advanced by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

Whether a Venus atmosphere and cloud particle sample return to Earth, a “digital thread” idea to make a custom-fitted Mars suit, or quick-action kinetic penetrators that pulverize and disassemble an Earth-threatening asteroid or small comet – these are a few of the novel ideas supported by a new round of grants awarded by NIAC.

These studies will assess technologies that could support future aeronautics and space missions. The new slate of awards will provide a total of $5.1 million to 17 researchers from nine states.

Credit: Bonnie Dunbar

Spacesuits for Mars

Among the awardees is former shuttle astronaut, Bonnie Dunbar, now at Texas A&M. Her proposal investigates the feasibility of manufacturing “custom” cost-effective high performance exploration spacesuits for Mars and beyond utilizing the Digital Thread (DT), which integrates digital analytic components for manufacturing in development of the final spacesuit.

“A return to custom EVA suits seems warranted,” Dunbar’s proposal explains. “But how to do this in a rapid cost effective manner? Is it possible to utilize current scanning technologies, human factor studies, physiological data, additive manufacturing, robotics, and modern digital design and analysis tools?”

Credit: John Mather

Powerful planet finder

John Mather of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center envisions the first hybrid observatory using a 100-meter starshade that works in tandem with a telescope on the Earth. The result: the most powerful planet finder capability yet designed.

“No other proposed equipment can match the angular resolution (image sharpness), sensitivity (ability to see faint objects in a given time), or contrast (ability to see faint planets near bright stars),” suggests Mather.

Credit: Sara Seager

Search for Venus life

Sara Seager of MIT has proposed a Venus sample return mission focused on that planet’s atmosphere, snagging both the gas component and cloud particles.

“The mission goal is to bring back the sample for Earth-laboratory-based study to assess the habitability of the cloud-region of the atmosphere and search for signs of life or even life itself in a much more robust way than possible in situ,” Seager’s proposal points out.

Credit: Elena D’Onghia

Protective space habitat

Another creative proposal is the CREW HaT, a new concept for a Halbach Torus (HaT) by Elena D’Onghia of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The idea is protect humans from the damaging effects of cosmic rays and energetic solar radiation. “This configuration produces an enhanced external magnetic field that diverts cosmic radiation particles, complemented by a suppressed magnetic field in the astronaut’s habitat.”

To access the 2022 Phase I and Phase II NIAC selections, go to:


For a list of the 2022 awardees, go to:


Also, go to this informative video detailing BREEZE, the Bio-inspired Ray for Extreme Environments and Zonal Exploration.

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