NASA Grants $2 Million to a Mission Concept to Image Earth-Like Exoplanets

Developing these technologies will enable scientists to better understand the Universe.
Fabienne Lang
The planet Kepler-186f image allows scientists to further study distant worldsNASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program invests in early-stage technology ideas that are meant to help create new and future technologies for NASA to be able to explore Space

NASA, industry and academic experts and researchers have selected 23 potentially life-changing concepts with a total award value of $7 million

One of the concept missions that NASA is focusing on is creating technologies that can capture Earth-like images of planets outside of our Solar System. This concept mission has been granted $2 million to further its research. 



"NIAC is an innovative program that encourages researchers – and the agency – to think outside of the box for solutions that could overcome challenges facing future science and exploration missions," said Walt Engelund, deputy associate administrator for programs within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).

"We’re excited about the new concepts and to see how additional time and resources advances the research selected for follow-on Phase II and III studies," Engelund continued. 

NASA Grants $2 Million to a Mission Concept to Image Earth-Like Exoplanets
Illustration of how a solar gravity lens telescope would image an exoplanet. The technology concept received Phase I, II and III awards from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, Source: Slava Turyshev/NASA JPL

A concept mission to capture images of exoplanets, including any and all vegetation, water, etc, has moved on to Phase III. A researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Slava Turyshev, has received a $2 million grant from NIAC to continue developing the technologies for this study. 

During Phase I and Phase II of his research, Turyshev described the feasibility of a solar gravity lens that would allow enhanced viewing of planets orbiting other stars known as exoplanets. 

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Turyshev's study is only the third one to move on to Phase III. "We’re excited by its potential to bring us closer to imaging an exoplanet in detail, at a resolution comparable to the well-known Apollo 8 Earthrise photo," explained NIAC Program Executive Jason Derleth.

NASA selects the proposals for these concepts and technologies through a peer-review process that focuses on innovation and technical viability. All of the chosen projects are still in their early stages, and many will need around a decade or more for the technology to be ready and are not considered official NASA missions. 

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