Now that the shuttle program is over, you might be wondering: What's next for NASA? That's a question Bobby Braun, NASA Chief Technologist, and Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) have answered that question in this blog post on The White House website. NASA is developing three new Technology Demonstration Missions in order to transform our current space program and spark new development in innovative technologies.
The first new technology being launched is an optical communication system that will increase the speed of data transmitted from spacecraft — manned or unmanned — visiting planets and other bodies in our solar system. Already, there is a huge amount of data transmitted back to Earth by the Mars Rovers and other space vehicles; however, we are seriously limited by the current communication technology. This new system will increase the data transmission rate by a factor of 100, which will allow us to send higher resolution cameras and more sensitive, complex, or precise equipment into space and on to other planetary bodies.
The next new technology is a high-performance atomic clock. Sending one or more of these into deep space will improve navigation on automated as well as human-controlled spacecraft when we are able to venture back out.
Solar sails are the third new technology announced. The technology being developed will free us from rocket fuel and other propellant-based propulsion once in space. These new solar sails are 38 meters on a side — more than seven times larger than have been used in space before and more than four times larger than what can be tested on the ground.
These are just several examples. NASA has awarded more than 100 early-stage innovation awards through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts and Space Technology Graduate Fellowships programs. These new technologies will likely lead to projects such as Juno, the first solar-powered, outer-planet spacecraft. Juno is currently on its way to Jupiter, where it will determine how much water and other components are in Jupiter's atmosphere, map its magnetic fields, and explore its magnetosphere before de-orbiting into the planet.
These sorts of projects are supported and encouraged by President Obama as well. He urged during his July Twitter town hall that we need technologies to get places faster and allow human spaceflight to last longer, but these will require new breakthroughs that we don't have yet. Technologies like those announced this week, as well as the Juno project launched earlier this month, are the first steps to achieving this goal.
What do you think about these new technologies? Is there another technology you would like to see demonstrated by NASA in coming missions? Share your thoughts below.