These NASA projects are feasibility studies to evaluate the potential of a technology in a mission context. If you have a technology idea, or you think you may have a way to enable a new type of space mission, the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program may be for you.
The key to getting started with NIAC (and becoming a NIAC Fellow) is to submit a Phase I proposal. NIAC Phase I is broken down into Step A (a three-page proposal) and Step B (an eight page proposal). Step B is invitation only, based on your Step A proposal -- so the first step is expressing your idea in three pages. This can be surprisingly challenging, because it is difficult to write an inspiring and technical white paper that is concise enough to fit in three pages.
If you are still reading, and you have a cup of coffee on your desk, you should probably check out our guide to starting NIAC proposals -- the first step is to send about two pages of your first draft to the NIAC office as a conversation starter. It's very important to do this before the solicitation opens! Learn why.
If you are feeling some imposter syndrome right now, don't. NIAC is open to any American, and engaging with the NIAC office about your idea could be a transformative moment.