PALO ALTO (CBS SF) – The future of space exploration may involve soaring above moons in a mothership and deploying drone-like explorer to probe the surface.

NASA says the concept, being explored in partnership with a Stanford aeronautics professor, is one of five concepts they will be backing under the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program, which is aimed at getting new methods for space exploration off the ground.

“The small spacecraft would be deployed from a “mothership” onto the surface of a low-gravity object, such as an asteroid or planetary moon. The machines, ranging in size from a centimeter to a meter, would use spinning flywheels to allow the robotic explorers to tumble and hop across the surface of a new frontier,” according to a press release from NASA headquarters.

The proposals were selected through a peer-review process and are largely a decade or more away from implementation on a NASA mission. The award for such projects can be as much as $500,000 for two years of further development.

“Technology drives our futures in exploration, science and commercial space; and investments in these advanced concepts must be made to ensure we will have the spectrum of capabilities for the near term and well into the 21st century,” said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for Space Technology.

A complete list of the selected proposals is available on the NASA website.


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