Space exploration is more prevalent now than ever before. We peer into the unfathomably vast world of the cosmos with new technologies invented by some of the smartest minds on Earth. Cosmological physicists apply tremendous effort in their research to try to understand where we came from, why we are here, and try to understand the universe and its many mysteries.
Even with technology progressing on an exponential curve, we have barely scratched the service of our complex universe and there is so much we just don’t know yet. But curious minds continue to investigate the universe’s mysteries and invent technology to help us understand a little bit more each day. Here is our list of the top 10 Greatest Space Technologies.
Recently a huge milestone has been achieved by the detection of gravitational wave after a century of the prediction of its existence by Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity. Thanks to the advanced space technology, now the search strategy will take a new turn with this gravitational wave.
Here is the list of 10 greatest space technologies. Some of them are already on the move and some are yet to come.
1. New Horizons
New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched with the primary mission to perform a flyby of the Pluto system. The probe’s secondary mission was to perform a flyby of Kuiper belt objects of interest. New Horizons was engineered by a combined team from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).
This probe was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on January 19, 2006. New Horizons started its journey by approaching close to Jupiter on February 28, 2007. On July 14, 2015, it reached 8000 miles above the surface of the dwarf planet (Pluto) and promptly sent back its first picture to Earth officially making it the first spacecraft to explore Pluto. After the completion of the flyby of Pluto, New Horizons is now approaching the Kuiper belt and is expected to reach the asteroid field on January 1, 2019.
2. Cassini Probe
The Cassini probe is an unmanned spacecraft that was sent to explore the ringed planet Saturn . Since Cassini’s arrival to Saturn in 2004, the probe has studied the planet including its many natural satellites (moons). The spacecraft was designed to separate into two different spacecraft – one an orbiter to gather data from circling the planet, and the other a lander to gather data from the surface of Saturn.
The lander was designed to land on Saturn’s moon Titan which was successfully achieved in 2005. The orbiter and lander are named Cassini and Huygens respectively after the astronomers Giovanni Cassini and Christiaan Huygens. The spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and has helped in close inspection of the planet. Cassini’s mission ended September 15, 2017 and was considered an overwhelming success.
3. Startram The Magnetic Space Train
Starmtram is a proposal for maglev space train which is believed to be a major technological milestone for easy and efficient space cargo (and eventually human) transportation. The proposal states that there will be two generations in which generation 1 will be for cargo only expected to launch from a mountain peak. It is believed that it could lift at least 150,000 tons of load into space per year.
The second generation Startram will be much more advanced and is theorized to be able to transport passengers to space and return back. The concept for Gen 2 is intended to be operating in a vacuum in low g force. The whole proposal is based on magnetic levitation technology. The track is supposed to be an evacuated tube stretching to space from the surface of earth.
4. LISA: Laser Interferometer Space Antenna Project
Evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (eLISA) is an European Space Agency mission to detect gravitational waves from space with much more accuracy. Since the first direct detection of gravitational waves by LIGO on September 14, 2015, the wide scope of potential has been enhanced further.
A forerunner mission (the LISA Pathfinder) was launched on December 3, 2015 for testing myriad sensors, arrays, and other technology that would be vital for the eLISA mission. The concept includes a ‘constellation’ of three different spacecraft arranged in equilateral triangle with 1 million km distance apart.
The eLISA is expected to widen the horizon of space exploration with the ability to precisely study black holes, supernova and many other yet unknown parts.
5. Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble space telescope is used for deep space exploration by analyzing the wide spectrum of visible light launched in 1990. The telescope is named after the astronomer Edwin Hubble.
Since its launch, it has been proven to be a vital space research tool. Some of the major discoveries by Hubble Space Telescope includes accurate measurement of the distance to Cepheid variable stars and measurements of the rate of expansion of the universe.
It even accurately measured the age of universe which is found to be 13.7 billion years. Prior to Hubble’s launch, scientists roughly estimated the universe to be around 10 to 20 billion years.
6. Curiosity (rover)
Curiosity landed on mars on August 6, 2012 and was a massive milestone for the space exploration community. Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011. As of February 26, 2018, it has been on the surface of Mars for 1976 sols (2030 total days).
The rover’s primary goal is to study the climate and geology of Mars, discover whether the Mars has ever supported life in the past, and to study the role of water in Mars and its habitability.
Curiosity is powered by radioisotope thermometric generator (RTG). In December, 2012, its two year mission was extended indefinitely.
7. International Space Station
The International Space Station (ISS) is a large artificial space station orbiting earth in low orbit. The first part of the ISS was launched in 1998 and has been expanding ever since. Now the ISS is the largest artificial body in orbit. It can be seen by naked eye each night from the Earth’s surface.
The ISS provides a space for research in the many laboratories in which astronauts perform experiments. The space crew aboard the ISS experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and other fields. It is a joint space project among NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and the CSA. The occupancy and use of ISS is governed by intergovernmental agreements.
SPS-ALPHA (Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large Phased Array) is a concept derived to harvest precious solar energy efficiently from space and transmit it in wirelessly to major energy markets on Earth. This could be the ultimate solution for the most challenging issue for humanity ‘The Energy Crisis’.
It is certain that the world will soon run out of fossil fuels which currently cover the vast majority of the world’s energy demand. Since the conception of this idea, a number of issues, such as unreliable economical feasibility, has hurdled the practical initiation of this project. But it could be the amateur technology that might have raised such issues.
It may be some time in the near future when this technology can actually come to existence and do some good for humanity. If we succeed in this mission then it will be possible to harvest hundreds of megawatts to hundreds of gigawatts from space and transmit it to the earth efficiently.
9. Solar Probe Plus
Solar Probe Plus or Solar Probe+ is a robotic spacecraft planned to launch for the study of outer corona of Sun. It was renamed to honor Eugene Parker and is now aptly named the Parker Solar Probe. Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory announced in May 1 2008, it will design and build the spacecraft on a schedule to launch in 2015.
Thereafter they pushed the schedule back to 2018 due to a series of delays. The simplified design for the Solar Probe Plus includes a trajectory using repeated assist from the gravity of Venus. This will push the probe into the close trajectory of the Sun. As it passes around the Sun its velocity will reach 200 km/s making it the fastest man made object.
Its objective includes to explore dusty plasma near the Sun, study the structure and dynamics of the Sun’s magnetic field and determine what mechanism accelerates and transports energetic particles.
10. Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC)
Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) is a futuristic, miniature, ultra-precise, mercury ion atomic clock that will be launched to Earth’s orbit to test its potential in developing next generation spacecraft navigation technology. The DSAC is expected to be 50 times more precise than present navigation clock technology.
It will revolutionize global positioning satellite (GPS), radio science and spacecraft navigation technology. It is expected that DSAC will incur no more than 1 microsecond variance in the period of 10 years of operation. The project is under the management of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
With the passage of time there will be far more complex and miraculous space technology which will help us better understand the evolution of universe. It will help us explore the truth behind our existence here on Earth.