Science

5 high-tech inventions powering the future of space exploration

NASA

NASA via Giphy

Space exploration wouldn’t be possible without technology.

NASA via Giphy

Over time, we’ve built array of gadgets that harness the power of the Sun, keep time in deep space, and help us probe into the past of our surrounding planets.

Giphy

And as we go deeper into space, new inventions are powering groundbreaking discoveries that shape our view of the universe — and our place within it.

Here are 5 gadgets propelling us into the future of space exploration:

NASA

5. Space Drills

We first drilled on the lunar surface during the Apollo program, but NASA has its eyes set on sending another drill to the Moon in 2022 to probe its south pole.

NASA/Honeybee Robotics via Twitter

Erik van Meijgaarden

Drilling for samples helps us better understand a planet or moon’s chemical makeup, geological history, and how it formed.

This ice drill will be part of NASA’s VIPER mission.

It’s NASA’s first robotic lunar surface exploration mission. Researchers will equip a rover with tools like this to probe the lunar south pole for water and other resources.

NASA Ames via Twitter

4. Deep Space Atomic Clock

Today’s spacecraft rely on Earth-based systems to tell them the time and give them directions to their destination. But a compact, super-accurate atomic clock could help create a portable GPS system to carry missions on through deep space.

General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems
This small atomic clock (approx. 10x10 inches) will ride along to Venus during NASA’s VERITAS mission later this decade. NASA/JPL-Caltech

3. Solar Panels

It sounds simple, but this invention helps keep everything from Mars rovers to the International Space Station (ISS) powered up.

Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

Astronauts have to spacewalk outside the ISS to install new solar arrays every now and then. Recently, a team from NASA and ESA completed a spacewalk in June 2021 to put new upgrades in place.

NASA’s InSight lander recently revealed a unique way that it keeps its solar panels free of Mars dust so that it can keep probing into the planet.

2. Space sails

A new way to travel through space is slowly unfolding: using sails to propel a spacecraft with the pressure of the Sun.

The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft is currently orbiting Earth and can change its direction using its 18-foot square sail with sunlight instead of rocket fuel.

Next year, NASA plans to launch another sail craft into orbit: ACS3.

And while it probably won’t be for a while, future projects propose using high-powered laser beams to push a spacecraft into deep space.

NASA

1. Inflatable Heat Shield

Landing a spacecraft is a fiery affair. But an inflatable shield developed by NASA could help us achieve more graceful landings on planets like Mars.

NASA via Giphy

ESA & MPS for OSIRIS Team

Mars’ atmosphere is notoriously thin, making it hard to slow down during landing.

But an inflatable shield could help give more drag to a spacecraft, and might also allow larger spacecraft to land due to its flexible size and shape.

NASA

The Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) is due for a test above Earth in 2022, before it goes to any other planet.

Read more stories about space here.

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