Innovating in Space

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Concept art illustrating an orbiting service craft repairing a satellite. Credit: NASA

This week I’ve chosen to diverge slightly from the usual health and sustainability stuff to talk about SPACE. I’ve always been an avid science fiction fan, so it’s exciting to see some really out-there ideas coming closer to reality. 

All Hail the Slingatron!

A company called HyperV Technologies is looking for funding to build a hypervelocity space launcher – a mechanical device designed to launch payloads (not people) into space mechanically. While this looks pretty crazy from the surface, this idea has been around a long time in science fiction. These guys have built a prototype that can launch a 0.25kg payload, and are looking for Kickstarter funding to build a bigger one. They reckon they can glean enough data from the second prototype to build a working version after that. Sadly, it looks like they won’t reach their funding goals. But its cool to see people thinking beyond conventional approaches.

Testing an Orbital Satellite Repair System

A Japanese mission to the ISS is aiming to replenish cryogen in aging satellites – which would allow them to stay in orbit long past their sell-by date. This is on top of earlier missions demonstrating the refueling of satellites. This is exciting because it paves the way for what NASA is calling robotic fleet servicing operations – using robotic spacecraft – drones – already in orbit  to maintain and repair other craft. Further testing will also cover basic repair work. 

Weird and Wonderful Missions to Distant Places

 

There are more and more low cost space exploration projects in the pipeline. One particularly interesting project is what is being called a penetrator (really). This is essentially a bullet-shaped device that will be fired from orbit into the ice sheets of Europa. This video shows does a good job of explaining the principle (even if it does include sound effects in space):

The electronic systems involved recently passed an impact test, and the company responsible is looking for a mission to attach this project to. The beauty of this system is that it is low cost, and a single craft could carry multiple penetrators for a more comprehensive view of whatever it is being fired at – the project has exploration potential well beyond the icy wastes of Europa. 

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