Space Coast scientist wants to study sun closer

A decorated NASA physicist based in Melbourne, Fla., wants to get us closer to the sun.

A project pitched by Robert Youngquist, who in 2009 became the first Kennedy Space Center Engineer/Scientist of the Year, landed on a list of 22 grants being awarded by NASA.

His project would research the development of a high-temperature coating that would reflect up to 99.9 percent of the sun’s radiation.

The increase in launches on the Space Coast from companies like SpaceX and United Launch Alliance has encouraged scientists, Youngquist said.

“It does help us,” he said. “When you have all of these different companies launching, the general excitement level and number of applications we can work on goes up.”

If developed, Youngquist’s project would be placed on a spacecraft that could travel closer to the sun than any other craft has reached.

“We want to understand this great ball of energy,” he said. “You can only make certain measurements by getting close. There are a lot of things we don’t understand about the sun.”

The NASA grant, given through its NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, would be worth $125,000 awarded over nine months to further develop the idea.

“You have nine months to demonstrate that the idea that you have put out there is worthy of follow-on funding,” Youngquist said.

Youngquist’s team is based in Melbourne and works alongside the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

NASA’s list of projects also included research into robotic spacecraft with flexible surfaces that could better navigate and potentially anchor on to an asteroid; artificial gravity device for long-term space missions.

NIAC program executive Jason Derleth said in a release: “We look forward to seeing how each new study will expand how we explore the universe.”