Skip to Main Content

Exploring the next frontier

Posted by Tom Ghirardi on 27th March 2019

This week TechRadar is celebrating its Space Week 2019, which got me thinking — what does the future really hold for us? As technology advances further, the visions of travelling the stars gleaned from sci-fi films and books don’t appear quite as distant as before. But are we really ready to take this next step? Let’s take a look at some of our recent achievements and breakthroughs in the field.

One small step for China

At the turn of the year we heard the story of China’s successful landing of a robotic spacecraft on the far side of the moon, a mission to explore an area that has, surprisingly, so far been untouched. China has announced that it intends for this to be the first step in its own entry into the stars, planning to next land astronauts on the moon, and thereafter build a space station of its own. It is likely that the rapidly growing nation will soon have thriving space operations to rival those of the USA and Russia. Interestingly, one of the main issues that China encountered came not from the landing itself, but from a lack of any real PR campaign. The mission struggled to generate much coverage and tell their story to the public, although whether or not this was actually intentional is up for speculation.

The red planet

Mars — the inhospitable red planet we so appropriately named after a god of war — is slowly coming into focus, as NASA announce they will be sending another autonomous aircraft to it. When the space agency’s rover lands, it will release a miniature helicopter which has been specifically designed to withstand the harsh environment of the planet. The helicopter features two sets of rotor blades, spinning at 2,400rpm (about 10 times faster than helicopters on Earth), a solar array to recharge its batteries, and a camera similar to that of a smartphone’s to capture images of the planet’s surface. The main purpose of this little robot is to see whether or not remote-operated flight on Mars is possible, which will be a great bonus for future exploration missions.

Neptune’s moon

Scientists have been exploring the idea that there may be an ocean – and possibly even life — on Triton, one of Neptune’s moons. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has planned to send a spacecraft called ‘Trident’ to capture and send back images of the moon, investigating the potential of Triton as a habitable world. Recent research from the space agency has in fact discovered that organic compounds known as ‘Tholins’ are present on the moon’s surface, which are believed to be the precursor to life. There are still many factors affecting whether or not this mission will go ahead, one being a strict deadline, as after 2040 Triton will find itself plunged into the dark of its 80-year night!

Holidaying in space

We hear more and more about the approaching availability of ‘space tourism’. Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Blue Origin and their counterparts continue to entice us with the prospect of visiting space — though likely at a steep cost. Despite many failings, since 2001 there have in fact been seven ‘space tourists’, each paying millions for the experience. Some industry analysts are now saying 2019 could be the year that really kicks off space tourism, with several privately owned companies expected to begin sending their customers up. Interestingly, it is also predicted that the next step in long-distance flights could utilise space for super-fast travel, boasting an impressive half hour trip between New York and London. This form of high-speed travel is expected to gain a market worth of around $20 billion just a decade on from now.

What does the future hold?

Our forays into space so far certainly look promising. However, taking into account the negative effect we as a race have had our own lonely little planet, it begs the question — despite our technological advances, are we truly responsible enough to take the next step upwards? Should the resources in furthering this technology really be directed towards heading upwards while we still face so many issues on the ground? Either way, these innovations and accomplishments are if nothing else a great testimony to what modern technologies can do, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.