Ever since humanity first gazed upon the stars a couple of thousand years ago, the idea of space exploration has stuck with us a constant remainder of the frontiers yet to be conquered. The research and technological developments needed to sustain it are however extremely costly and time consuming, the big breaks often appearing few and far in between as a result. Some of the most interesting and recent developments concerning this topic are:
NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock: With the goal of one day allowing spacecrafts to navigate in deep space without aid from Earth’s signals in order to locate themselves, this project aims to develop a full-fledged miniaturized GPS system that allows manned or otherwise crews to travel through space without the need for any external assistance. Atomic Clocks themselves are nothing new as a great deal of our telecommunications’ infrastructure depends on their ability to triangulate positions by keeping track of the time a signal takes to reach a recipient and bounce back to the source, but are unfortunately insufficient to accurately direct a spacecraft through space. This system works by equipping spacecrafts with a mercury ion clock 50 times more stable than GPS clocks that allows a ship to triangulate its own position with a single one way transmission from Earth, thus shortening the process. The success of this project would signify moving past the monstrous antennas nowadays utilized to guide missions by giving the latter an option to move without waiting for Earth’s instructions, which can often take several minutes before reaching them. A prototype of this new iteration of GPS has been rotating around the planet since June 2019 and will be for a year in order to test its effectiveness.
The Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM): As part of NASA’s objective to establish a permanent human base on the moon by 2028, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Edwards Air Force Base in California has developed a new green alternative to the fuel currently being used; a hazardous hydrazine based propellant. This new alternative blends hydroxyl ammonium nitrate with an oxidizer and has proven to be much less toxic as well as offering an outstanding 50% increase in performance, both shrinking operation costs and the needed preparation time before launch. A complete revamping of the entire hardware came with the development of this new resource as well, pushing engineers to design a new propulsion system to work with it; this consists of a tank and five 1-Newton thrusters to carry the green propellant. Given the clear benefits this project brings along the incrementing focus on micro-satellites with less capacity for fuel, it was only a matter of time before the need for this new alternative arose.
Humanity first conquered the moon in 1969 yet we have been absent from it ever since, but recently NASA has been charged with returning by 2024 and facilitate the means to stay on our natural satellite by 2028. Just as we grow ever closer to finally reaching Mars.