The most awesome aerospace innovations of this past year aren’t just cool contraptions designed to cruise through air and space at breakneck speeds. They’re hints at what might be mainstream in the future. From an experimental craft that could help usher in a new period of quiet supersonic flight to a drone destined to fly on Mars, these machines are made to push the edges of our engineering envelopes. These mind-bending vehicles are bringing wings, rotors, engines, and humanity to new heights.
The LightSail 2—a 31-inch-tall satellite attached to a 18-foot-wide sail—reveals what spaceflight could look like by mid-century. Orbiting Earth since June at some 16,765 mph, the craft is fueled only by photons from the sun’s rays. The particles produce momentum as they bounce off the ultra-reflective, ultrathin Mylar (a better version of the stuff in space blankets). A virtual mission control will let people track LightSail’s trajectory until next year, when the craft will de-orbit and burn up in the atmosphere. The Planetary Society, which developed this tech in the early 2000s, hopes to see others improve on the concept so that one day it might be a low-cost, low-polluting propeller to destinations as close as the moon or as far as Alpha Centauri. READ MORE (Popular Science)