1. Hypersonic Flight
Concorde was supersonic. No commercial plane goes faster than the speed of sound these days. So the leap to hypersonic – five times the speed of sound – is conceptually gargantuan – London to Sydney in two hours, London to New York in 35 minues.
Rocket power is not viable so the 3,366mph X-51A WaveRider concept scoops air, like a jet engine. But igniting the air at Mach 5 is equivalent of “striking a match in a hurricane”. The answer – in a so-called scramjet – is to decelerate air to subsonic speeds before combustion.
2. Swarm intelligence satellite arrays
The future of unmanned flight into Earth’s orbit is small, reusable spacecraft. As their payload also gets smaller, the need for epic missions to deposit satellites decreases. Nasa’s Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN) mission planned to deploy eight satellites the size of a tissue box with linked communications to create an intelligent array, each taking it in turn to perform different functions.
Unfortunately the mission failed when the launch vehicle was lost in November 2015. However, future missions could carry a swarm of hundreds of off-the shelf nanosats that will vastly improve sat nav technology and phone and TV signals.
3. Metallic microlattice
The world’s lightest metal is 100 times lighter than Styrofoam and is made of hollow metal tubes with walls the thickness 1,000 times thinner than a human hair and is 99.99% air by volume.
Yet it remains strong and springy to the touch, returning to its original shape after impact, and could revolutionise the manufacture of aircraft, spacecraft, cars and buildings. It was voted one of 10 world changing innovations in 2012.
4. Space Elevator
Japanese firm Obayashi announced plans to have a space elevator up and running by 2050 having constructed a carbon nanotube tether long enough to reach space by 2030. Carbon nanotubes, created in 1991, are strong, tiny cylinders that, theoretically, would combat the tendency of a space lift to collapse under its own weight.
The principle is that the tether stays in geostationary orbit, rotating with the Earth with a counterweight 22,249miles above the planet. The Karman line is the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space as is 62miles above the surface.
Nasa’s Orion spacecraft is built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before and is the first attempt to take astronauts to Mars. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.
Orion, tested successfully in 2014, will launch on Nasa’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket ever built. Plans are to take people beyond the Moon in 2021.