Transformational Space's versatile manned rocket system features a cleverly designed capsule, a dramatic airborne launch, and Apollo-style reentry and splashdown. The young company has quickly become a leader in the commercial space race, and its craft is a potentially key backup during NASA's efforts to replace the space shuttle. T/Space's approachgetting incremental funding from NASA only after it demonstrates working hardwarehas earned it rock-solid credibility in a world populated by vaporware.
The biggest airliner ever built takes flight
When the first Airbus A380 made its maiden flight from Toulouse, France, on April 27, it launched a new age in long-distance air travel. The top-shelf airlines first in line to purchase it-Singapore, Emirates, Virgin-will use the enormous jet's roomy two-story cabin to pamper around 118 business- and first-class travelers while packing as many as 437 passengers in coach to hold down fares.
DayJet's new software is the key to its forthcoming on-demand air taxi service, efficiently matching available planes with potential travelers. As soon as next year, you'll be able to call or go online to request a trip, with a desired departure and arrival time. The software will analyze factors including weather and DayJet's available planes and itineraries and will respond in seconds with a fare.
Swift is the first satellite explicitly designed to solve the mystery of gamma-ray bursts, the enigmatic explosions that have puzzled astronomers for decades. Practically every day, another burst randomly appears in the sky, flashing powerful gamma rays for anywhere from a fraction of a second to two minutes. Before the burst fades, Swift quickly locates it, rotates its telescopes and other satellites for observation, and relays the burst's location to ground-based telescopes, which study it in detail.
Imagine an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that could fly for days rather than hours, aiding soldiers on reconnaissance missions or supplying emergency communications to disaster-affected regions. AeroVironment, which built the first human- and solar-powered airplanes, has successfully flown a prototype of a UAV that will be able to remain at high altitudes for longer than a week at a time. Unlike earlier solar-powered systems, which had to power the vehicle and store enough electricity for nighttime flying, Global Observer uses fuel-cell-powered electric motors to drive eight propellers.
Meade's RCX400 is the first consumer scope that comes out of the box with all the features you need for optimal stargazing and astrophotography. In addition to its GPS tracking, it has a built-in cooling fan, a motorized focuser, and a heater to keep condensation off the lens. Its mirrors can be aligned electronically, and it offers customized settings for different celestial targets.
10- to 16-inch apertures; $5,150 - $16,400
Most business jets don't get anywhere near their maximum range traveling at top speed. The Dassault Falcon 7X, unveiled in February, is the exception. Its long, slender wings help lift the plane to 41,000 feet even when fully loaded (other jets must burn significant amounts of fuel to reach similar altitudes, where airplanes operate more efficiently) and suffer less drag at high speeds than do other wing designs. The result: a 6,560-mile range while traveling at 530 mph. Advanced flaps and slats let the Falcon land at slower speeds and on shorter runways.
Pointed at the surface of Mars, the half-meter telescope on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will reveal structures as small as three feet wide-cracks in the canyons, rock outcroppings that had been just a blur. Scientists hope the craft, which launched in August and will take up orbit around the planet in March, will be able to spot the twin Mars rovers still tirelessly rolling across the surface and trace the fate of the European Space Agency's failed Beagle 2 lander. Ground-penetrating radar will further
the search for water.
"A bullet hitting a bullet" is how NASA scientists described the Deep Impact mission. The 800-pound copper-and-aluminum impactor positioned itself in comet Tempel 1's path and, on July 4, slammed into it, offering a first-ever peek inside a comet. Sensors on the spacecraft that launched the impactor analyzed the detritus, which was packed with surprising ingredients such as carbonatesminerals typically formed in liquid waterand aromatic hydrocarbons, the principal ingredients of soot.
A Radical rotor boosts helicopter speed to 288 mph
The top speed of helicopters hasn't increased much since the 1960s, but that will change when the prototype of Sikorsky's newly unveiled X2 takes flight late next year. It will travel at up to 288 mph (compared with the 220mph limit of conventional 'copters) using two four-bladed, low-drag rotors spinning in opposite directions and an airplane-like propeller in the rear that significantly increases the forward thrust.