NIAC concepts are often high risk or far term, but worth studying now to inform technology investments and forward planning. Successful studies analyze a candidate mission that could be made feasible with the proposed concept.

Proposed concepts must satisfy the following criteria to qualify as candidates for a NIAC Phase I study. The proposal must be:

An Aerospace Architecture or Mission Concept

  • Aerospace includes activities related to space and aeronautics
  • An architecture includes multiple subsystems or systems, and a concept of how they are used together to achieve mission goals
  • A mission is a plan to achieve one or more clear objectives to benefit NASA or the larger aerospace community

Proposed in a Mission Context

  • NIAC proposers must pick at least one potential application of the novel technology or innovation to develop and analyze
  • Analyzing a concept in an application context helps to determine if it would work for the selected mission, and how it may compare with alternative approaches
  • This application need not be a current or planned NASA mission – any aerospace mission (previously considered or hypothetical) may be selected to best showcase the concept

Exciting and Unexplored

  • Enables an entirely new kind of mission, or a great leap in capabilities
  • Worth studying now, even if far-term or high risk
  • Sufficiently new or different to require initial definition and feasibility/benefit analysis
  • Breaks new ground, changes the outlook of future possibilities, or significantly contributes to science and understanding

Credible and Reasonable

  • Technically sound – based on solid scientific/engineering principles
  • Plausibly implementable – at least one reasonable path for further development and eventual implementation must be described

Eliminating Criteria

Any proposal that is considered out-of-scope, according to the list below, will not be invited to submit a more in-depth proposal for award consideration. Please note that the purpose of a NIAC study is to develop and assess an advanced concept, not to perform a literature search; that should precede the proposal for proper understanding of prior efforts.

1. No relevance to the U.S. aerospace enterprise. Fails to sufficiently address NASA goals or potential space or aeronautics benefits.

2. The proposed concept is unclear. Fails to present a specific innovative concept.

3. The mission context is unclear. Fails to identify or propose to study at least one application for which the proposed concept might be used.

4. Explored before. Revisits a previously studied concept, without identifying a new factor that substantially differentiates the proposal from prior efforts. Please be sure to do some research on if your concept already exists before submitting!

5. Incremental. Proposes typical next steps or aims at only modest improvement, rather than investigating far-term or high-risk “breakthrough” concepts.

6. Not technically credible. Conflicts with established physics or engineering principles, without acknowledging this and offering a sufficiently plausible defense.

7. Not programmatically credible. No reasonable path to implementation, without acknowledging the barriers (e.g., requiring unrealistic budgets or policy changes) and offering a sufficiently plausible approach.

8. Too narrowly focused on technology, subsystems, or investigations of smaller scope (e.g., components, instruments, materials). Some focused analysis may be appropriate to establish the credibility of the underlying innovation, but it must not overshadow concept feasibility analysis in a mission context.

9. Primary focus appears to be experimentation or analysis, not concept development. Tests, derivations, characterization of properties, and algorithm development are common examples. NIAC studies often involve some such efforts, but they must not overshadow concept feasibility analysis in a mission context.

10. Primary focus appears to be development of tools or processes to improve design, decisions, or technical capabilities. NIAC studies must focus on developing specific mission concepts.