The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program is perhaps the best place to get federal funding for an idea that sounds crazy — because the program managers think it might be just crazy enough to work.
Researchers making the “Phase I” cut are awarded about $125,000 over 9 months to develop their idea, be it mind-boggling or merely technically difficult. If significant progress is made or the concept is otherwise found to be promising, a second “Phase II” investment of up to $500,000 can be made at NASA’s option.
This year, according to NIAC program executive Jason Derleth, was “especially fierce, with over 230 proposals and only 25 winners.” A significant amount of Phase II awards were also made (you may remember some from last year’s selections).
I’ve collected most of them here with explanations in the plainest language I could summon — click on to see what NASA thinks the future of space exploration might look like.