Through MUREP, NASA provides expert guidance and financial assistance via competitive awards to Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), which are announced annually through a MUREP Partnership Learning Annual Notification (MPLAN). NASA has teamed up with the leading crowdsourcing platform HeroX for this year’s MUREP opportunity and is awarding multiple prizes of $50,000 to MSIs for innovative ideas and action plans for commercialization that will advance NASA’s Mission Directorate priorities.
NASA’s Flight Opportunities program has selected 25 space technologies for further testing. They’re testing the technologies on aircraft, balloons, and sub-orbital rocket flights. NASA hopes to learn a lot about each of the technologies with this rigorous testing, without the expense of sending them all into orbital space.
One of the greater challenges of sending payloads to Mars is having to contend with the planet’s atmosphere. While incredibly thin compared to Earth’s (with roughly half of 1% of Earth’s air pressure), the resulting air friction is still an issue for spacecraft looking to land there. And looking to the future, NASA hopes to be able to land heavier payloads on Mars as well as other planets – some of which may have atmospheres as dense as Earth.
A possible solution to this is the use of inflatable aeroshells (aka. heat shields), which offer numerous advantages over rigid ones. To develop this technology, NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have partnered to develop an inflatable heat shield known as the Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID). By 2022, they hope to send this cutting-edge prototype to low-Earth orbit (LEO), where it will be tested.
It is no secret that NASA is seeking out private space contractors to help bring some of its current plans to fruition. Naturally, these involve restoring indigenous launch capabilities to the US, but also include the more far-reaching goal of sending astronauts to Mars. Towards that end, NASA and SpaceX participated in an unprecedented data-sharing project that will benefit them both.