"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.
Smart pilots won't fly without accurate, up-to-date weather information. Garmin brings it straight into their airplanes with the GPSMap 396, the first portable navigation device that receives real-time XM WX Satellite Weather radar and satellite images, forecasts, and wind data. $2,700
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.
XSS-11 is an experimental Air Force technology demonstrator designed to track other satellites. Controllers simply tell the spacecraft where to look for a piece of orbiting hardwareanother U.S. satellite, for instanceand the XSS-11 autonomously plots a course, accelerates to the object, and begins to orbit and observe. It's the first step toward automatic satellite inspection and repair.