Meet Three Coloradans With Far Out Space Concepts Backed By NASA

September 27, 2017
Photo: NASA Diagram Solar System Asteroids
This NASA diagram shows an edge-on view of our solar system. The dots represent a snapshot of the population of near-Earth asteroids and potentially hazardous asteroids.

Photo: NASA Diagram Solar System AsteroidsThe NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program is holding a symposium in Denver this week. Colorado Matters spoke with three Colorado scientists working on ideas backed by NIAC grants. The concepts may sound out of this world, but the hope is that they yield real world results.

Solar-Powered Asteroid Mining In A Bag? It Just Might Work

Audio: Chris Dreyer speaks with Ryan Warner
Photo: Mining asteroid in space
An artist's rendering of the TransAstra system that would mine asteroids in space.  Chris Dreyer at the Colorado School of Mines is researching the "optical mining" process that would use concentrated sunlight to break off bits of the asteroid.

Chris Dreyer of the Colorado School of Mines is doing research on how sunlight can be used to mine asteroids. Here's how it could work: A spacecraft pulls alongside an asteroid as it speeds through space, and envelops it with a bag.  A mirror beams concentrated sunlight onto the asteroid's surface, causing it to break apart bit by bit.  Each break releases water vapor that is collected to be refined into rocket fuel.  

A Frisbee-Like Robot Could Glom Onto Asteroids

Audio: Jay McMahon speaks with Ryan Warner
Photo:Soft-bot asteroid miner
An illustration of a proposed soft robotic spacecraft that could land on asteroids without bouncing, despite the low gravity environment.  The proposal by Jay McMahon at the University of Colorado won a grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which is designed to support far-out ideas that could be made possible.

Soft, frisbee-like robots may one day be flying around asteroids, if a an idea put out there by  University of Colorado scientist Jay McMahon works out. The "soft bot" could adhere to an asteroid using something called van der Waals principles -- relatively weak forces that allow a gecko to climb walls, for example. Once on the asteroid, it could help NASA mine asteroids for water, which can be used to make rocket fuel in space.

Astronauts Could Their Get Their G-Forces On An Alpine Slide

Audio: Torin Clark speaks with Andrea Dukakis
Photo: Turbolift sled closeup
The Turbolift is designed to simulate the effects of gravity by accelerating and decelerating an astronaut along a track.  The goal is to counter the negative health consequences faced by astronauts during prolonged voyages in zero gravity.

University of Colorado scientist Torin Clark. Clark and his team received a research grant for the TurboliftClark says the health problems astronauts face, including muscle atrophy and bone loss, will be worse on extended voyages like a mission to Mars. To mitigate this, he and his team propose strapping the astronaut into a sled and catapulting it back and forth across a track. The forces of acceleration and deceleration would simulate the effect of gravity.