NASA funds space seaplane ideas, other innovations

NASA funds space seaplane ideas, other innovations

NASA funds space seaplane ideas, other innovations

NASA is funding a concept for a space seaplane that could investigate the chemistry of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

Quinn Morley’s TitanAir project from Planet Enterprises could float through Titan’s nitrogen and methane atmosphere as well as navigate the oceans.

“Flying on Titan would be relatively easy thanks to its low gravity and thick atmosphere. Morley designed a flying, heavily instrumented boat that would transition seamlessly between floating through Titan’s atmosphere and sailing the lakes, much like a seaplane on Earth, said NASA, pointing out that all NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) studies are not considered official agency missions.

The NIAC program, within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, is funding early stage studies to evaluate technologies that could support future missions, with the latest round of awards worth $175,000 in grants to 14 visionaries.

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NASA funds space seaplane ideas, other innovations

Artistic representation of TitanAir: leading fluid collection to enable advanced science
(James Vaughan photo illustration)

With a fluid intake system, the Titan Flyer concept aims to “drink” methane condensation and organic matter using a permeable section of the leading edge of the wing skin.

Capillary features on the inside of the wing collect this ingested material and combine it into a continuous stream of fluid, which can then be routed to scientific instruments in the kite. To allow intermittent low-altitude flight, the kite will land on the seas on Titan is like a flying boat – except ‘boat’ implies water, and on Titan the lakes are made of methane,” Morley explained in a blog post. “We call it a ‘flying laker’.”

According to a release from the Gig Harbor, Washington-based company, once the fluid is inside the wing, it would be collected in a continuous stream of fluid using several competing methods.

The NASA Headquarters sign is in Washington, DC on June 26, 2020

The NASA Headquarters sign is in Washington, DC on June 26, 2020
((Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images))

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One of those methods uses biomimicry of water-collecting cacti on Earth, another uses a flexible membrane, and a third uses channels etched into the skin.

After being analyzed with scientific instruments, the data is sent back to Earth between flights.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson speaks ahead of the launch of an Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule to the International Space Station during a test flight at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 29, 2021.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson speaks ahead of the launch of an Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule to the International Space Station during a test flight at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 29, 2021.
(REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo)

“These first Phase I NIAC studies help NASA determine whether these futuristic ideas could pave the way for future space exploration capabilities and enable amazing new missions,” Michael LaPointe, program director for NIAC at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement.

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“NASA dares to make the impossible possible. It’s only possible because of the innovators, thinkers and doers who help us envision and prepare the future of space exploration,” noted NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The NIAC program helps give these forward-thinking scientists and engineers the tools and support they need to advance technology that future NASA missions.”



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