NASA is going to need solar power if it wants to keep its future deep space missions running, and that means getting someone to build that light-gathering technology. Fortunately, the agency has some partners lined up. It just picked four solar power technology proposals that could find their way into spacecraft traveling as far as Mars. The outfits negotiating deals are definitely ones you'll know -- ATK, Boeing, Johns Hopkins University and NASA's own Jet Propulsion Laboratory are all developing systems that collect solar energy in the unforgiving conditions beyond Earth.
These four will have to face some additional hurdles to make the cut. A second selection phase 9 months out will offer up to $1.25 million in design funding to no more than two of these organizations, and only one of them might be selected to build the finished project. It'll be years before you see the end results, then. All the same, this is an important step in making deep space exploration a practical reality beyond a handful of probes.