Dr. Robert Cassanova is the head of NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC), and he joins us to discuss some of the leading contenders for what may become the next-generation of NASA technology. His top picks? Biomimetic spacesuits and tether-launch systems for orbital deployment.

NIAC seeks proposals for revolutionary aeronautics and space concepts, and encourages proposers to think decades into the future in pursuit of concepts that will “leapfrog” the evolution of current aerospace systems. While NIAC strives to find progressive & innovative concepts for paradigm-shifting technologies, they maintain a focus on long-term achievability within a 20 to 40 year time-period.

Cassanova describes one of NIAC’s leading projects as being a biomimetic space-suit concept to augment the human body for long-term exploration of the Martian environment. Unlike suits developed for the relatively small gravitational-field of the Apollo-era lunar missions, exploring Mars will require suits that are both lighter in weight and provide muscular-augmentation to assist astronauts with performing complex & physically taxing work on the Martian surface.

The Momentum-Exchange Space Tether concept that Cassanova discusses involves the use of a rotating orbital tether-system to literally swing a payload to high speed and then release it into space, providing an effective tool for rapidly moving a satellite from one orbit to another. This proposed concept could have a number of highly-scalable applications from changing the vector of satellite orbits to even launching future NASA lunar-orbital probes from an Earth-orbiting vector.