Sure, satellites have been used for many important projects that have pushed humankind forward, the least of them being satellite television. But now, they've finally fulfilled their true destinies: counting penguins.
Space-based solar power has long promised to be a cheap and eco-friendly source of energy for Earth, and for just as long, it hasn't happened. This new concept for a giant solar microwave space flower may look crazy, but NASA liked it enough to throw some money at making it real.
Space junk is getting to be more and more of a problem, but while there have been plenty of serious talks on the subject, the first country to actually go and do something about it may be the Swiss. By 2016, Switzerland plans to launch a "janitor satellite" to start fighting the the space junk problem directly while the rest of us keep twiddling our thumbs.
NASA has a knack for making stuff that lasts a lot longer than it thinks it will. This is a good thing, of course, except that missions are often only funded for a set period of time, and NASA occasionally ends up with perfectly good spacecraft and not enough money to keep them operating. There may be one way to save them, though: giving them away.
I can't help but look at this latest device as yet another thinly veiled attempt to hedge our bets against the inevitable zombie apocalypse. Believe or not, a company has reportedly started selling GPS satellite tracking devices for the dead.
You're looking at one single massive picture of the entire eastern chunk of North America plus a bunch of the Caribbean, courtesy NASA's newest climate monitoring satellite, NPP. Next time a hurricane heads directly towards your house, this orbital eyeball will probably be the first to know.
DARPA's out hunting for a way to launch satellites fast and on the cheap, and they're thinking that a souped-up commercial jet is the way to go to get most of (or at least some of) the way to orbit without having to rely on a ground-based launch system.
According to a congressional commission report to be released next month, on four separate occasions between 2007 and 2008, hackers (who may or may not have been affiliated with the Chinese government) were able to take complete control of two U.S. satellite systems, Landsat-7 and Terra (EOS AM-1), for up to 12 minutes at a time.
Launching satellites into space is really, really expensive. We're talking upwards of $10,000 per pound to geosynchronous orbit. DARPA is looking to make the deployment of new satellites much cheaper, by simply recycling the satellites that are up there already using an unmanned platform that can harvest them for parts.
The United Kingdom has successfully launched a satellite using a rocket that they built themselves exactly once, in October of 1971. The Prospero spacecraft operated for two years and was contacted annually until 1993, and now British scientists want to wake it up again for its 40th anniversary.