Space remains one of the most popular fields for those who want to push the boundaries of our understanding of the cosmos further and further out. In part, this is because space promises much to those who are willing to make an investment of time, effort, and other resources, as shown by all of the businesses that have managed to become commercial successes by basing their products and services on space race-related technologies. However, it should also be noted that space is so little understood that each success provides a wealth of new information, thus making it one of the most exciting fields as well. As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that there is a fair number of new and exciting space exploration technologies being developed at the moment.
Here are some examples:
NIRCam stands for Near Infrared Camera, which refers to a collaboration between Lockheed Martin and the University of Arizona to come up with an instrument capable of capturing images from billions and billions of years ago. While this can sound rather unbelievable, it is important to remember that heat was being generated throughout the universe at the time, which in turn, meant light shooting off in countless directions from countless places.
Combined with the limited speed of light as well as the continuing expansion of the universe, this meant that it is still possible to capture images from billions and billions of years ago so long as a camera is sensitive enough to pick up on that light as well as shielded from other light that can obstruct it from performing its intended function. Should the NIRCam prove to be a success, it could provide scientists with an incredible amount of information about the early universe, which remains one of the most mysterious and thus one of the most interesting periods known to us.
Supersonic means faster than the speed of sound. In contrast, hypersonic means five times faster than the speed of sound. Interest in hypersonic travel has been there since the concept came into existence, but it has not been until recent times that the existing technologies have made it more and more plausible. One example is a collaboration between Lockheed Martin and Imperial College London, which have built a hypersonic gun tunnel for the purpose of testing robust materials that can survive under such conditions.
While hypersonic travel is likeliest to see use in consumer travel, it should be noted that space exploration past a certain distance will not be practical without it. For that matter, what is learned from the study of hypersonic travel will be used as a basis for further advancements along that line.
Asteroids are a subject of immense interest to scientists. First, this is because asteroids are known to have caused mass extinctions in the Earth's past, meaning that we have a natural interest in making sure that such incidents will not happen to us. Second, some asteroids are made up of useful minerals, meaning that with the right technologies, they could make incredible sources of raw materials.
However, neither of these two aims will be possible unless we can come up with technologies that can reach the right asteroids, which is why NASA and Lockheed Martin have teamed up to launch OSIRIS-Rex. In short, OSIRIS-Rex is a mission that will see an unmanned probe sent to a near-Earth asteroid so that it can take samples of its constituent materials, which will be used to improve our understanding of asteroids as well as all of the ways to reach them.
Building space stations is a complicated and time-consuming process, which in turn, means that it is a expensive and laborious process. Part of the problem lies in the fact that sending up the materials is much easier said than done and part of the problem lies in the fact that construction becomes that much more challenging in the vacuum of space. As a result, it is natural for people to think about using prefabricated modules instead of building from scratch, which is why Bigelow Aerospace was founded in 1998 to create modules for space stations.
Of particular interest are its habitat modules, which are important for making sure that space stations have the living space needed to accommodate all of their occupants. Something that is not just much more challenging than it sounds because of the harsh conditions of space but also critical for further exploration of the solar system because of the need to have the right people in the right places if progress is to be made in that regard.
Interplanetary Transport System
Elon Musk may or may not be able to live up to all of his promises when it comes to his projects, but there can be no doubt that the man is ambitious. In short, he announced the Interplanetary Transport System on September 27 of 2016, which is intended to be a spaceflight system that will be capable of making regular trips to Mars at reasonable speeds, thus enabling the colonization of the Red Planet.
Something that will come complete with reusable launch vehicles for the purpose of making the whole process that much cheaper and thus that much more practical. Should it prove successful, the Interplanetary Transport System will be used to support exploration of further-out regions such as Jupiter and the asteroid belt, but it remains to be seen whether the project can meet its goal of sending up its first cargo flight by 2022 at the earliest.
It is important to note that there are more space exploration technologies being developed at the moment than those that have been listed here. Furthermore, there is no telling whether something that seems promising at the moment will turn out to be so in the end, meaning that interested individuals should make sure to maintain a degree of skepticism whenever looking at new space exploration technologies. After all, it is much easier to make promises than to fulfill them.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker