No bottles of champagne were broken, but Boeing’s CST-100 commercial crew transportation spacecraft officially has a new name. Intended to one day ferry astronauts to the International Space Station – and potentially paying customers to low-Earth orbit – the spacecraft is now known as the Starliner.
When NASA's New Horizons probe made its historic flyby of Pluto on July 14, it gathered a wealth of information about the dwarf planet and its moons, but at a distance from Earth of over 3 billion mi (4.8 billion km), retrieving that data will take a very long time. To speed things up, NASA has begun an intensive download from the unmanned spacecraft that will return tens of gigabits of data over the next 12 months.
As demonstrated by the bumpy landing of ESA's Philae lander on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, exploring comets, asteroids, and small moons can be difficult due to their low gravity. Not only can landing on one be like trying to alight on a trampoline, but roving around their surfaces is next to impossible because the negligible gravity offers practically no traction. To overcome this, a team of engineers is developing Hedgehog, a completely symmetrical robot rover for low-gravity exploration that moves by hopping.
In a move that Star Trek's Mister Scott would approve of, Scottish distiller Ballantine’s has developed a glass for sipping whisky in zero gravity. The cleverly conceived Space Glass might well be a more attractive proposition for astronauts and future space tourists than plastic bags and straws.
Six people have begun a year-long mission to Mars without ever leaving Earth. Last week on the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, the volunteers sealed themselves inside a dome habitat where they will live in isolation for one year on a simulated space mission. The fourth Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS 4) aims to study how deep space missions can maintain morale on prolonged voyages.
In 1906, the battleship HMS Dreadnought entered into service with the Royal Navy. With her 12-in (305 mm) guns, high speed capabilities and other innovations, she rendered all other major warships obsolete. Inspired by this revolutionary design, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) think-tank project Startpoint has unveiled its vision of a Navy vessel 35 years from now with the Dreadnought 2050 – an automated fusion-powered surface warship equipped with lasers, hypersonic missiles, a high-tech composite hull, and torpedoes that can travel at over 300 knots (345 mph, 555 km/h).
Last year, Land Rover unveiled its Discovery Vision concept with its Transparent Bonnet, which used cameras and virtual technology to make the front of the car appear "transparent" to the driver. It was a clever idea for eliminating blind spots, but what if you're hauling a caravan or a horse box? To help eliminate this massive rear blind spot, the company has developed a prototype "Transparent Trailer" system, which extends virtual translucence to the rear.
A smartphone with a 16-megapixel camera may seem cutting edge, but it won't impress astronomers now that the US Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has given the green light to start construction of the world's largest digital camera. With a resolution of 3.2-gigapixels (enough to need 1,500 high-definition television screens to display one image), the new camera is at the heart of the 8.4-meter (27.5-ft) Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) now under construction atop Cerro Pachón in Chile.
Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have quickly gained popularity with the public. And as is so often the case with rapidly advancing technologies, it can be hard for the public to know legally what they can and can't do with the technology – or in the case of drones, where they can and can't fly. To help dispel confusion surrounding drone flights, the US FAA is beta testing its B4UFLY smartphone app, which tells users about any restrictions on unmanned aircraft they might want to fly in a particular area.
Working outside in space is a tall order. The environment is hostile, even the smallest job takes hours instead of minutes, and everything has to be done in either bulky suits or through robotic arms. It's a challenge that will become even more difficult when future astronauts are controlling robotic rovers from orbit, so ESA is getting in a bit of practice. Next month Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen will take control of a rover in the Netherlands while orbiting the Earth aboard the International Space Station.