NASA scientists and researchers are always working on the challenges of deep space travel and creating new technologies to surpass the difficulties that may stand their way. They already have a number of ideas that are in the early stages of development and with any luck will be ready for NASA to test a few years from now. Some of the designs they’ve come up with are super-precise, atomic-powered instruments for navigation, solar sails to power spacecraft and laser relays for long-distance communications, and that’s just to name a few revolutionary advancements under development for the near future.
NASA’s credible engineers, scientists and researchers are always looking for new and innovative ways to advance technology to explore further into deep space, which gives us hope that space travel will one day become a reality and humans will perhaps be able to trek through the cosmos.
Here is our list of 10 revolutionary advancements NASA is working on right now:
10. Laser Communications Relay Demonstration
Andreas Tziolas, a former researcher at NASA, once said “If you can’t communicate with the ship, then you don’t know what the results are of your mission.” For that reason alone, NASA is now funding a very exciting project called the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration.
In theory, it would use laser beams to transfer data among spacecrafts and stations on Earth at 10 to 100 times the speed it does at the moment. If this can be achieved, when the time comes for astronauts to live on Mars, they could transmit data back to us here on Earth at approximate speeds of 100 Mbps and more, making it several times faster than current broadband internet connections.
Basically, what this means is that it could very well be possible to transmit a photograph from Mars to Earth in roughly five minutes, in comparison to the 90 minutes it takes currently for scientists operating rovers on the Red Planet.
9. Solar Sails
Conventional rockets can put astronauts into orbit, but try using one to travel the enormous distances between planets and stars and you’re likely to run out of fuel. That’s why scientists have been working on developing alternative methods of propulsion and energy sources for rockets.
The idea is to arm spacecraft with huge sails. Ideally this would grasp solar energy and use it for propulsion. Arming spacecraft with solar sails is a good option because of the fact that light is made up of small, and extremely dynamic particles called photons, which can behave like atomic particles. When light actually does strike a mirror-like surface, the photons are then reflected straight back.
The biggest advantage of a solar sail would most likely be that, unlike a rocket engine, it would cause the spacecraft to repeatedly and steadily accelerate, leaving the spacecraft to eventually reach an extremely high speeds. However; the biggest drawback of the idea of solar sails is that it would have to be a number of times larger than the actual spacecraft, and would most likely have to be built in space.
8. Deep Space Atomic Clock
To avoid getting lost while traveling deep in space, a navigational system is essential, especially one with a super-precise clock to be used to calculate distances. It’s for that reason that NASA is planning to launch sometime this year a spacecraft that will contain an experimental deep space atomic clock.
This clock will most likely be a miniaturized, ultra-precise mercury-ion atomic clock, one that will be 100 times more stable than any navigational clock. Every clock made is imprecise to a certain degree, but this one will be used to measure every second within a 10 day period. What that means is that astronauts will be able to use it to measure frequencies, ones that are used to determine distances with phenomenal precision.
7. Circular Exercise Tracks
I’m sure you can remember watching Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard famously hitting golf balls amazing distances on the Moon, which in a phenomenal way made microgravity look like so much fun, but in reality it is extremely hard on your body. In fact, scientists have said that some of the greatest problems an astronaut faces in deep space are the psychological changes that are caused by weightlessness in an astronaut’s body.
Muscles typically waste away from lack of resistance, bones lose mass, and the weightlessness causes loss of blood volume, so astronauts constantly feel lightheaded when standing upright. On short-trips, they have used specially designed exercise equipment and take medication to help with the bone loss. However, on longer trips, it makes more sense to equip a ship with a rotational machine to simulate the gravity.
At the moment, scientists are working on installing circular exercise tracks inside spaceships, which will have astronauts pedalling bikes in circles to mimic gravity’s effect on their bones and muscles.
6. Warp Drive Technology
Any Star Trek fan knows that the Starship Enterprise traveled astronomical distances within weeks and months, venturing to different galaxies far away- an adventure impossible at the speeds that spacecraft currently travel.
In Star Trek, the Enterprise accomplished this with something known as warp drive, which allowed the spacecraft to take enormous shortcuts through holes created by the deformity of space-time. This might sound a bit far fetched, but in reality physicists have been contemplating this since the early 1920s.
Back in 1994, Miguel Alcubiere, a theoretical physicist, published a scientific paper explaining how warp drive could be constructed without defying Einsteinian physics. What does this mean? Basically, it would test the theory that traveling faster than the speed of light is impossible, allowing us to get around this limitation if a spacecraft could use energy to create a bubble around it, causing space-time to expand behind it and going in the direction the spacecraft wanted to go. However, the big problem with warp drive technology is that it would require an extreme amount of energy.
5. Robotic Advancements
Establishing a colony on a planet is without a doubt a baffling task for the astronauts involved. So many factors come into play; they need to search for water and air, build materials, experience an unfamiliar landing through most likely rough terrain, and that’s just a few of the obstacles that they would need to overcome.
Knowing this, NASA engineers alongside European and Canadian partners are working on the development of robotic advance teams that ideally would land on Mars or any other planet to check out the available resources before sending a manned mission up. Rovers with bulldozer blades or plows could go to work making a smooth landing spot, while others could gather rocks and other materials to make a concrete runway.
4. Aeroponic Crops
Eating in space requires meticulous care and consideration, and as such, astronauts have relied on freeze dried foods since the Apollo missions. However, with many hopeful extended trips to space in the future, NASA scientists are looking for ways for astronauts to grow their own food while in transit to other planets, without using vast amounts of soil or water. Research has shown that aeroponically grown plants absorb more vitamins and minerals than plants grown in the ground, which makes them potentially more nutritious, according to NASA.
3. Titan Aerial Daughtercraft and Submarine
Recently, NASA stated their plans for a possible mission to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. They are currently working on an outline of a submarine to explore the methane seas of the moon. However, a different team is trying to introduce a mission with the concept that involves constructing a small rotorcraft that could be sent from a balloon into Titan’s atmosphere. Ideally, this craft would take pictures, landing on Titan’s surface to collect samples and afterwards return to its mothership to bring the samples for analysis.
PRIDE (Passive Radio Ice Depth Experience) is a concept NASA is looking into, one that would be ground breaking in lowering power and cost requirements. It’s a low mass passive instrument that measures the thickness in ice sheets on outer planet moons, such as Europa and Enceladus, ones that are speculated to be inhabited by under-ice oceans. Jupiter’s moon Europa would be the first to be analyzed with this highly advanced technology which would explore the interactions between the ice and high energy of cosmic rays.
1. Air Recovery Systems
Astronauts need supplies of both drinkable water and breathable air while in space, which is why NASA has developed an air recovery system that filters, restores and extracts to a ship’s internal atmosphere as much oxygen as possible. It has the ability to recover up to 75 percent of the new oxygen from the carbon dioxide that the astronauts exhale and by 2019 NASA hopes to raise that percentage to a 100 percent recovery.
Thus far, massive accomplishments have been made in regards to water recycling in space. The ISS is now supplied with a special system that recycles both urine and waste water from washing, rotating them in a unique distillation process that makes up for the absence of gravity, separating the water from waste materials.
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