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October 27, 2005



Elizabeth McCormack
Elizabeth McCormack

The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, which supports "researchers creating paradigm-changing concepts," recently selected five promising research projects for further study. Bryn Mawr Professor of Physics Elizabeth McCormack is the principal investigator for one of the studies, an investigation of the feasibility of using lasers to create an ultralight, space-based telescope.

NIAC was created in 1998 to solicit revolutionary concepts that could greatly advance NASA's missions from people and organizations outside NASA. The proposals push the limits of known science and technology, and thus are not expected to be realized for at least a decade or more. NIAC's intention is to discover ideas that may result in beneficial changes to NASA's long-range plans.

NIAC sponsors research in two phases. Proposals selected for Phase 1 awards typically receive up to $75,000 for a six-month study that validates the viability of the concept and identifies challenges that must be overcome to make the proposal a reality. The results of the Phase 1 studies are evaluated, and the most promising are selected for further research into the major feasibility issues associated with cost, performance, development time and technology through a Phase 2 award. Phase 2 studies can be up to two years long and receive as much as $400,000.

"These NIAC Phase II awards have overcome their initial obstacles and fit well into possible long-term NASA plans," said Sharon Garrison, NIAC Coordinator for NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "NASA integration beyond Phase II will ultimately be necessary for the successful fusion of these concepts into NASA's missions."

McCormack's research brings together a collaboration of experts to examine the possibility of creating a laser-trapped mirror an interference fringe that would hold reflective particles in place, creating a mirror surface without any physical support. An LTM as large as 35 meters would have a mass of just 100 grams and be only a few microns thick, making it an ideal candidate for operation in space, free of the optical distortions created by the earth's atmosphere.

More about laser-trapped mirrors in space

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