Looking to the future

Those familiar with military hardware such as unmanned Predator drones and the more recent high altitude solar powered wings won’t be surprised to learn that an even higher altitude drone is in the works. Originally known as the X-37, a drone that would’ve been carried to space on the shuttle had the Columbia accident not meant mission cancellation, the Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV is a quarter of the size of the space shuttle and not equipped for manned transport.

It was transferred from NASA to the Air Force, who intend to launch the first one on the 19th of April. If testing is successful, research and reconnaissance payloads could be devised for it. The OTV is designed to remain in orbit for 270 days and could be used to deliver or return payloads. It was built by Boeing’s Phantom Works and like shuttles can be refurbished and reflown after landing.

Meanwhile, with a 2028 date pencilled in for Mars exploration, NASA has awarded funding to professor Roger Dube to develop an early warning system for increased solar wind pressure events. Dube intends a satellite constellation around Mars that utilises the kinds of solar monitoring telescopes and satellites that we have at the moment. Mars is not as well protected as Earth against particle radiation due to its lack of a substantive magnetic field. As PhysOrg.com says, the early colonists are likely to need shelters with thirty foot walls made of Martian clay to escape the worst of the Sun’s normal behaviour. With the Sun warming up again, albeit at a reduced rate equivalent to its behaviour at the start of the twentieth century, hopes of a quiet ride may be dwindling.

Meanwhile, Paul Davies has been looking into the future of searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. He seems to be popping up everywhere to promote his new book and is available yet again for a webinar tomorrow to discuss the issues within. Register or just read further details here.


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