In April, the project received a Phase 1 grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which aims to encourage the development of potentially revolutionary space-exploration technologies.
Phase 1 NIAC awardees get $100,000 for nine months' worth of initial feasibility studies. (Recipients can then apply for a Phase 2 NIAC award, which is worth about $500,000 and funds two years of further concept development.)
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Any discussion of Project RAMA timelines is therefore incredibly speculative, Dunn stressed. Still, he estimated that the effort might require 20 years or so of technology development and other work. If that's the case, the first Seed Craft may get off the ground in the late 2030s - perhaps just as asteroid-mining and off-Earth manufacturing are coming into their own.
"The anticipation is that the RAMA architecture is a long time line, and when it becomes capable is about the same time that people really need the resources," Dunn said.
Project RAMA could also have applications here on Earth, he added, saying that machines similar to Seed Craft could do a variety of jobs around the planet.
"You could build infrastructure in remote locations somewhat autonomously, and convert resources into useful devices and mechanical machines," Dunn said. "This actually could solve some pretty big problems on Earth, from housing to construction of things that make people's lives better."
You can read more about Project RAMA at Made In Space's NIAC page and in a piece that Dunn wrote for Medium.com.
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