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article imageWhich off-the-wall NASA idea might become reality?

By Tim Sandle     Apr 15, 2016 in Science
Houston - NASA engages in serious science but it needs to engage in outside-the-box thinking in order to generate new ideas and overcome problems. New Scientist recently looked at some of these, and the best are presented here.
NASA's department for "stranger ideas" is called the Innovative Advanced Concepts program. The idea here is to weight up long-shot concepts to see if they are worthy of further study. These range from designing a paper-thin spaceship to a steampunk model Venus rover.
The remit of NASA's X-Files department is to explore long term advanced concepts by "creating breakthroughs, radically better or entirely new aerospace concepts." Some of these idea turn out to be worthwhile and are funded. Over a ten year period the department received a total of 1,309 proposals and awarded 168 grants with a total value of $27.3 million.
New Scientist magazine has looked into some of the more wacky ideas being considered and we present the best of these here.
Each year the department announces its main projects. In April 2016, 13 were green lit for the next stage of consideration. Here are the best:
The Brane Craft
This is a spaceship that is simply a flat square, a meter to a side, weighing just 35 grams. The vessel would be powered by a mix of micro-quantities of propellant and solar panels. The aim of the craft would be to pull debris out of the way of larger spacecraft.
The asteroid energy beam
This device would help further scientific understanding of what comets and asteroids are made from. The idea is to use a beam to vaporize icy material to see the rock underneath.
The Direct Fusion Drive
This fusion drive is seen as the means for making faster trips through the solar system. This would mean a spacecraft could be powered using the fusion of deuterium and helium-3. In theory, a probe could reach Pluto in just four years.
The steampunk rover
This is the concept for a specialized craft to explore Venus. Because Venus would quickly damage electronic components, the idea is to make a lander that is purely mechanical and formed of specially hardened metals.
So, which of these ideas is likely to be turned into reality?
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