Laser-based communications has the ability to beam enormous amounts of data at high speed, but the use of this technology in space is still in its infancy. To help push things along, ESA’s proposed Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) will carry out a record-setting demonstration of space laser communications across a distance of 75 million kilometers while orbiting a binary asteroid.
Launched in 1997, NASA's Cassini orbiter mission to Saturn has lasted 18 years and 3 months so far – a considerable extension of its original four-year timetable. As its mission draws to an end, the unmanned, nuclear-powered spacecraft will execute the first of its final three flybys of Saturn's moon Enceladus. To take place between now and December, the close encounters are expected to provide a better understanding of the moon's global ocean and its possible habitability.
Two years ago, DARPA started developing self-destructing electronics as a way to prevent advanced military gear falling into the wrong hands. Now the agency is expanding on the idea with its Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems (ICARUS) program, which is tasked with developing small, unmanned, single-use, unpowered air vehicles that can can be dropped from an aircraft to deliver supplies to isolated locations in the event of disasters, then evaporate into thin air once their job is done.
For the late-night reveler, the new BMW 7 Series has a feature that makes the walk through the carpark a bit less frustrating. At the press of a key fob, the Welcome Light Carpet lighting system shines a striped pattern of light on the ground to guide motorists back to their car thanks to a system of microoptic lenses developed by the Fraunhofer Institute.
While civilian countermeasures to combat malicious drones is moving toward UAV-freezing radio beams, the US Army is taking a more permanent approach. Under development by the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, the Enhanced Area Protection and Survivability (EAPS) system used steerable 50 mm smart rounds to shoot down two drones in recent tests.
Sophisticated, easy to fly drones are everywhere these days and like most new technologies, they have the potential for mischievous or malicious applications as well as positive ones. It follows that there's an increasing demand for improved surveillance and countermeasures specifically tailored for this type of aircraft. Billed as the world's first fully integrated system designed to detect, track and disrupt small and large drones, the Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) from Blighter Surveillance Systems uses radio beams to freeze drones in midair by interfering with their control channels.
Not being able to charge your phone because you have the wrong USB cable is one thing, but imagine showing up at a space station with the wrong docking system. To prevent that from happening in the future, NASA has unveiled its new universal docking ports for the International Space Station and other spacecraft. Built by a consortium of international partners, a pair of the International Docking Adapters (IDA) are undergoing tests before delivery to the station. With the designation of IDA-2, they are an upgrade of two previous adaptors that were lost when the CRS-7 mission exploded shortly after liftoff.
Lockheed Martin announced this week that production of a new laser weapon system has begun at the company's Bothell, Washington facility. The high-powered laser weapon modules will be used as the heart of a 60-kilowatt system designed to be fitted to a US Army vehicle.
As spacecraft for manned and planetary missions get larger, so do their heat shields – which are becoming very big indeed. To avoid the day when the shield becomes too large for any existing or planned launcher, NASA’s Ames Research Center in California is developing the Adaptive Deployable Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT) heat shield, which uses carbon-fiber cloth and can be folded up like an umbrella. The cloth heat shield recently completed tests that simulated entering the Martian atmosphere.
Space startup Moon Express has signed a contract with Rocket Lab to help carry out three lunar missions starting in 2017. Described as the first private contract between two companies to carry out a lunar landing, the agreement will see Rocket Lab provide launch services using its Electron rocket system for the Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander as part of Moon Express's attempt win the Google Lunar Xprize.