The highlights could be Planet Enterprises’ Quinn Morley seaplane TitanAir, which can both fly in the nitrogen and methane atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan and sail its oceans. The “flying boat” will absorb methane and complex organic materials from a porous leading edge, collecting material for study.
Meanwhile, a project by UCLA’s Davoyan could accelerate missions to the outer edge of the Solar System and even to interstellar space. His design (above) aims to propel the spacecraft by producing a “beam of pellets” of microscopic particles traveling at very high speed using laser bursts. This design can significantly shorten the time required to explore deep space. Where it took Voyager 1 35 years to reach interstellar space (the heliopause is roughly 123AU from the Sun), a one-ton spacecraft can reach 100AU in just three years and travel 500AU in 15 years.
NASA opens the purse for the Titan project
Other efforts are similarly ambitious. MIT’s Knapp has proposed a deep space observatory that will use swarms of thousands of small satellites to detect low-frequency radio emissions from the early universe, from the magnetic fields of Earth-like exoplanets. Jin of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln envisioned self-growing habitat building blocks that could save space on Mars missions, while Peter Curreri of Lunar Resources designed pipelines that could carry oxygen between Moon bases.
These are all very early attempts whose usability cannot be guaranteed even in real-world testing, let alone missions. However, they do show the direction of NASA’s thinking. Management funds projects in the hope that at least one of them will pay off in the end. Even with partial success, NASA could make impractical discoveries using existing technology.