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Money News

8 Star Wars Worthy Innovations on the Cutting Edge of Space Exploration Technologies

December 16, 2016

7 min read

From the company that’s making human interplanetary travel possible, to the advanced imaging technology that reminds us of the Force, you don’t have to travel to a galaxy far, far away to get your space on.

Punch it, Chewie.

Anakin, born on the sparsely populated planet of Tatooine marries Queen Amidala, who hails from a pastoral wonderland called Naboo. It’s as simple as this: life in an interconnected galaxy requires the ability to travel from one planet to another.

And so far, we’ve left interplanetary travel to the robots. Although human feet have stepped on the moon and orbited Earth, robots were the ones to touch down on the red soil of Mars and waft through Jupiter’s gaseous “surface”. For Star Wars dreams to turn into reality, we’re going to need to watch our pretty green and blue home disappear in the rearview mirror.

Sound a little far-fetched? Think again. As Jedi Master of NASA’s Orion program, Lockheed Martin is in the interplanetary travel game. Their mission? Design a craft fit for human space travel. Destination? Mars. By 2023. 

Horizontal boosters. Alluvial dampers? That’s not it, bring me the Hydrospanner!

These effortless Star Wars landings are the stuff astronaut dreams are made of. Right now, the act of landing safely on another planet’s surface is a mathematical and engineering feat that takes decades of precise planning.

Ever wonder why astronauts returning to Earth make their landing in the ocean? It turns out that the riskiest part of any space mission is the landing and it’s safer for astronauts to land in water. But as human interplanetary travel becomes reality, we’ll need to learn how to stick a solid landing.

Boeing built their new spacecraft, The Starliner, to take humans to the International Space Station and return them safely to solid ground. The Starliner is the first of its kind and ushers in a new era of space travel. And you know what they say about small steps for man…

I want them alive! No disintegrations!

In order to stay alive, humans need water and oxygen, among other things. But those are hard to come by in the inky black of deep space. While it’s a far cry from the strong drinks and hot tunes of the Mos Eisley cantina, United Technologies designed new technologies that make it easier to sustain human life in space.

Our bodies take water in and release some of it back out. So why not use that waste? United’s Water Processor Assembly converts an astronaut’s sweat and urine back into potable, aka drinkable, water. Certainly gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Waste not, want not”.

Their other innovation, called the Oxygen Generation Assembly, liberates the oxygen from some of that H20, and circulates it for breathing. This technology can sustain six astronauts, indefinitely. And when we’re talking about exploring the universe, indefinitely is a wonderfully long time.

Impossible to see, the future is.

Especially when you’re looking back into the past. Which is exactly what we do when we study light from millions or billions of lightyears away. Before exploration begins, we’ll need to produce a comprehensive map of the universe. (We vote to display the map like a cool Jedi space ball that expands to fill the room with an interactive map, as demonstrated by Qui-Gon Jinn).

Northrop Grumman, prime contractor in NASA’s James Webb space telescope program, is tasked with this monstrous undertaking. The James Webb space telescope, with a 6.5 meter diameter aperture, covers and captures 100% of the observable sky in its one-earth-year-long orbit around the sun. As it moves, it studies the “assembly of galaxies, the birth of stars and planetary systems, and the origin of life itself.” 

Here’s the real question – when early humans mapped the Earth, they thought it was flat. What will cause our descendants to face-palm when they see our first maps of space?

The Force is strong with this one

The Force. An energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy. Those with an unusually high midi-chlorian count can tap into it and move objects, influence other people, and sense the presence of others.

Before you argue that humans don’t have access to something like the Force, meet Otus Overwatch. It’s a new advanced imaging technology made by Raytheon’s BBN Technologies. Because the human eye can only see wavelengths in the visible spectrum (remember ROYGBIV?), Otus Overwatch extends that capability and captures other wavelengths, too.

Take an airport or a city square as an example. Otus Overwatch captures human movements with massive amounts of real-time data. It then uses intelligent algorithms to map the data points on top of patterns of normal behavior. Looking at the two together, Otus spots behavior anomalies, helping to find people with potentially malicious motives.

All of this has us thinking… what was really under Darth Vader’s hood? Maybe he had a couple Otus Overwatch imaging sensors underneath. We’re on to you, George Lucas.

Beep Boop Blopbeepboop. Beep

When it comes to loyalty, bravery, and inventiveness, R2-D2 is in a league of his own. This trusty droid risks astro-life and robo-limb to serve his masters and save the galaxy, time and time again.

Though humans haven’t created anything quite as loyal or crafty as this droid, we need to prepare for the inevitable reality that all crafts eventually break. When they need new parts, (and you don’t have a direct line to Artoo), call on Heico. They’re the largest provider of aerospace replacement parts. Heico is a supplier of every major airline in the world, as well as a mission-critical partner of the US military. In other words, their references check out. 

The fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy

What would an article about Star Wars be without a reference to YT-1300 492727ZED? Most of us know the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy by its common name, the Millennium Falcon.

You might not know it when you watch this ship outrun Imperial Star Destroyers in lightspeed, but it started out as a lowly light freighter. A cargo ship. Perhaps all the best spaceships start out that way.

Let’s ask Orbital ATK, current provider of commercial cargo delivery services to the International Space Station. When NASA needs to run a supply mission to the International Space Station, they send food, clothing, computer gear, science experiments and other supplies in an Orbital ATK ship called Cygnus.

Real-life Luke Skywalker (also known as astronaut Scott Kelly) caught Cygnus on camera during one of its trips to the ISS in 2015.

We’re wondering if Cygnus has anything else in common with the Millennium Falcon… like a hyperdrive engine which can punch it to lightspeed.

Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.

The Millennium Falcon successfully escaped the clutches of Darth Vader by navigating through an asteroid field. And while Vader sharply said, “Asteroids do not concern me,” we don’t share his idiotic optimism. Asteroids, in fact, concern us very much.

Just ask the dinosaurs.  Too soon?

When we finally blast off on our galactic adventures, it’s pretty likely that asteroid detection will play a major role in ensuring intergalactic travel is collision free.

Thanks to Teledyne Tech’s Near-Earth Object Camera, we’ve already got those pesky asteroids in sight. Armed with detector arrays (similar to those on the Hubble Space Telescope), NEOCam peers into the inky black of space and detects invisible infrared wavelengths.

You’re familiar with infrared from those moments in action movies when the military detects the presence of a warm body against the cold environment around it. NEOCam does that too, except it detects the infrared wavelengths from a hunk of cold rock. Impressive. And while we’re thankful to Teledyne for knowing where all of these asteroids are, we’re not entirely sure what the odds are that we’d even survive a collision. C-3P0, never tell us the odds!

From Star Wars to an Aerospace ETF

Space exploration is well underway, and you can invest in all the space exploration companies you’ve read about here, as well as 29 other companies in the aerospace and defense sectors with Defending America. Read more about this aerospace and defense ETF here.

We may not have reached lightspeed yet, but we’re excited to see where space exploration takes us next!

By Erica Bentley

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