Space Technology group looking at solar sails, asteroid capture among initial assignments
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NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate is working on a variety of propulsion systems for for exploring space, including the agency's ambitious plan to retrieve and mine an asteroid.
Michael Gazarik, associate administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, on Tuesday provided an overview of the group's areas of investment for fiscal 2014. The directorate's proposed budget for fiscal 2014 is $743 million, a 24% increase over the current fiscal year.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden announced the formation of the Space Technology Mission Directorate in February. The directorate was spun off from NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist, where it existed as a program since 2010.
The directorate's mandate is to be a catalyst for new technologies needed to support the space agency's missions. Topping the list for fiscal 2014 is a solar electric propulsion system for NASA's asteroid mining mission, scheduled to happen by 2025.
That mission will combine the existing capabilities of the Orion crew capsule and Space Launch System (SLS) with to-be-developed technologies, including solar electric propulsion and laser communications. Solar electric propulsion is needed to generate the high level of thrust required to capture and redirect an asteroid.
The directorate also plans to demonstrate what it describes as the world's largest solar sail, which could be unfurled in space and used in a variety of ways. "When stored, it's the size of a dishwasher," Gazarik said. "When unfurled, it's more than 100 feet [long] on one side." NASA hopes to demonstrate the sail in late 2014 or early 2015.
Other directorate projects planned for fiscal 2014 are development of robotic technologies, advanced manufacturing -- including in-space manufacturing -- and a supersonic parachute for a future Mars mission. The directorate works with NASA centers, businesses, and universities to develop new technologies.
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