Nasa has agreed to fund the next phase of seven technology concepts that have been designed to address a range of visionary concepts, with the potential to transform future aerospace missions.

The agency said the selected proposals will introduce new capabilities or facilitate improvements to the current approaches of building and operating aerospace systems.

Selected to study under phase two of Nasa’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) programme, the concepts will cover metallic lithium combustion for long-term robotics operations, submarines to explore oceans of icy moons, and a group of satellites that will map characteristic properties of small moons and asteroids.

Nasa space technology mission directorate associate administrator Steve Jurczyk said: "Nasa’s investments in early-stage research are important for advancing new systems concepts and developing requirements for technologies to enable future space exploration missions.

"This round of phase two selections demonstrates the agency’s continued commitment to innovations that may transform our nation’s space, technology and science capabilities."

"The selected projects will require more than ten years of maturation prior to use on Nasa missions."

Under the programme, the agency will grant up to $500,000 for a two-year study to support developers with further enhancements.

The proposals are the Swarm Flyby Gravimetry by Johns Hopkins University, a 3D photocatalytic air processor to reduce life support mass and complexity by University of California Santa Cruz, Periscope by Nosanov Consulting, and SCEPS in Space non-radioisotope power systems for sunless solar system exploration missions by Pennsylvania State University.

Trans-Formers for lunar extreme environments by Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Heliopause electrostatic rapid transit system (HERTS) by Nasa Marshall Space Flight Center are also included.

Phase two will require the participants to explore ways to implement new technologies; however, the selected projects will require more than ten years of maturation prior to use on Nasa missions.

Nasa NIAC programme executive Jason Derleth said: "From seeing into cave formations on the moon to a radically new kind of solar sail that uses solar wind instead of light, NIAC continues to push the bounds of current technology."

Image: An artistic impression of NIAC phase two concepts. Photo: courtesy of B Wiegmann / MSFC, A Stoica / JPL, S Oleson, J Atchison.