The NASA space budget is $18B. The DoD space budget is not readily available, but it is estimated to be $23B. Can either space budget afford to fund technology breakthroughs? Where is this money going?
NASA has budgeted for the following:
- $190.7M – Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) and SBIR Technology Transition Research (STTR)
- $31.3M – “IRAD”
- $378.3M – Space Technology Research and Development
The rest of the funding goes to the Orion crew vehicle program ($1.2B), Space Launch System ($1.7B), and Exploration Ground System ($342.8M) as well as $331.2 in exploration research and development.
Somewhere in those budgets, NASA needs to find a way to make technological breakthroughs with the following:
- Solar sails. Unlike rocket engines, solar sails would cause a spacecraft to continually, accelerate as long as the sail is charged. One drawback of solar sails is that in order to provide sufficient force to propel a spacecraft forward, a sail would have to be many times larger than that spacecraft. Such sails might actually have to be built in space, and their propulsive capabilities may diminish at certain distances from the sun.
- Laser communication. Laser beams transfer data between spacecraft and stations on Earth at 10 to 100 times the speeds currently available via RF. If the method proves to be feasible, astronauts on Mars could transmit data back to Earth at speeds of 100 Mbps or more, and it would be possible to transmit a photographic image from Mars to Earth in about five minutes, compared to the 90-minute wait that scientists operating robotic rovers on the Red Planet presently must endure.
- Atomic clocks. The Deep Space Atomic Clock is envisioned as a miniaturized, ultra-precise mercury-ion atomic clock that is 100 times more stable than existing navigational clocks, about a billionth of a second of drift over a 10-day period. This means astronauts can use it to measure frequencies, which are used to calculate distances, with much greater precision.
- Robots. Who else will do the manual labor, and who might be around to fly the spaceship if the crew is in hibernation?
- Artificial gravity. Years of experiments have shown that the human body operates best with gravity–this is how we were all raised. We see on television that it is possible to create artificial gravity, but we need to enhance our capabilities and test it at low earth orbit before trying it on a larger scale for deep space.
- Suspended animation. Do bears age when they hibernate? If so, what we really need it not a way to hibernate like bears, but a way to halt the aging process during long travel periods–and stay in shape while we do so (see Passengers the movie).
- Force fields. Astronauts need better methods of protection from radiation, space debris, or other unknown hazards in deep space.
- Better engines (warp drive, anyone?). Some say we absolutely need warp drives. I would settle for anything better than what we have now–including the EM drive if it works–as long as we have the other technologies listed here to offset the effects of sub-warp speed travel.
- Space food. We learned in the movies The Martian and Passengers that we need to grow food in space or on other planets. We need to figure out which foods are best for deep space travel, and it had better not be beets or Brussels sprouts.
- Water. How will we obtain water in space or on other planets? Earth is 96.5% water, 0.37% potable without further processing. Other planets will have much less water to process, and even less potable as-is, if any. In space, carrying water gets to be cumbersome, so there needs to be a way to recycle or capture water.