Is this only for space sciences?

No. NIAC funds concepts that can be transformative when applied to aeronautics or space exploration. The concept itself doesn’t have to be about space science, but it does have to enable a radical new way of performing aeronautics or space exploration. For example, a unique tool for measuring ice thickness can be applied to becoming a game-changer for a robotic mission to Europa.

Do I need to have experience with NASA?

No. The NIAC program is open to eligible applicants whether or not they have any experience with NASA or space-related activities. Those with limited experience are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the information and funded studies on – note these references are provided for guidance and inspiration, but are not intended to be comprehensive or to limit the topics for consideration.

What future space missions does my concept need to apply to?

Concepts need to be relevant to the U.S. aerospace enterprise, and address either NASA goals or potential space/aeronautics benefits. Concepts should be aiming for far-term and/or high-risk breakthroughs, but not require wildly unrealistic budgets or policy changes.

How does NIAC define credible?

Credible concepts are based on solid scientific and engineering principles, with at least one reasonable path for further development and eventual implementation. Concepts that conflict with established scientific/engineering principles need to acknowledge this and offer a sufficiently plausible defense. Concepts that offer no reasonable path to implementation need to acknowledge the barriers (e.g. requiring unrealistic budgets or policy changes) and offer a sufficiently plausible approach.

Are concepts required to include research, modeling or prototyping?

NIAC Fellows (aka Phase I awardees) are expected to develop the concept, explore potential applications and paths for further advancement, and assess the concept in an aerospace mission context (in a NIAC study, this is more important than detailed analysis of the underlying phenomena or technology). Studies of concepts that could support multiple missions should discuss the range, but at least one candidate application must be developed in sufficient detail to be considered against current or proposed alternatives. NIAC Fellows in Phase I will submit brief written status reports and a final written technical report at the conclusion of the effort.

Does NASA get any exclusive rights to my concept?

The NASA Grants Handbook discusses intellectual property rights. When the award recipient is a college, university or nonprofit organization, sections 1260.4, 1260.28, 1260.30, and 1260.136 will apply. When the award recipient is a commercial firm, sections 1274.208, 1274.905, 1274.906, 1274.911, 1274.912, 1274.913, 1274.914, and 1274.915 will apply.

Can I utilize proprietary technology?

As a federal agency, NASA requires prompt public disclosure of the results of its sponsored research to generate knowledge that benefits the nation. Thus, it is NASA’s intent that all knowledge developed under this solicitation be shared broadly. Award recipients will be expected to publish their work in peer-reviewed, open literature publications to the greatest extent practical. NASA recognizes that there are cases when data cannot be disclosed in the public domain (e.g., export controlled data). Even in these cases, proposers are expected to publish data to the greatest extent possible (e.g., use normalized data or at least discuss new methodologies used with clean “test cases.”) NASA also understands that proposers may have legitimate proprietary interests in technology or data they have produced at their own expense. If results must include proprietary or restricted information, that information should be segregated into a separate appendix that will not be publicly disseminated. A publicly releasable version of the final report shall be otherwise complete and comprehensive as far as is feasible.

Do I have to be employed by an institution or organization to apply?

No, however, if you are independent, you will need association with an organization to apply – either through creating your own company that maintains a DUNS number or through partnering with an existing organization that has one. If you are independent, it is also important to evaluate if you need institutional support to adequately accomplish your proposal, in the form of specific additional team members and/or access to tools and facilities.

Do I need to be a U.S. citizen to apply?

NIAC is open to U.S. citizens, U.S. organizations and anyone working in the U.S. Non-U.S. organizations and individuals may partner in or lead NIAC studies on a no-exchange of funds basis, and subject to NASA’s policy on foreign participation.

What happens to NIAC Concepts after they’ve been funded?

The concepts are often developed further for the benefit of the aerospace industry, but many become spin-off technologies that have wider benefits to humanity. Some concepts are absorbed into NASA and others are picked up by industry and other government agencies.