The aerospace industry is one of those rare industries that fascinates everybody. From those who work inside the walls of NASA to the general public, aerospace captures the collective imagination and holds attention in conversation. Not all industries have minutiae that the average person will find compelling. Aerospace is different. Aerospace is flight, outer space, possibility. Aerospace is also a leader in innovation. While all new innovations are exciting, new innovations in aerospace make instant headlines.
Popular Science releases a list each year of the most important innovations in aerospace. Below, 7 favorites from the list and why they stand out. For aerospace super-fans: hop over and take a look at the full list when you get the chance.
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1. Facebook Aquila
Facebook has always been big on 'connection.' So, Facebook Aquila makes perfect sense as an extension of that goal. Still, it's absolutely incredible. The Aquila drone has a 137-foot wingspan and weighs less than 1,000 lbs. According to Popular Science: "Aquila’s final incarnation will be solar-powered and capable of spending three months aloft as it beams broadband access to an area up to 60 miles wide." Facebook's pipe-dream plan to bring the Internet to everybody is quickly becoming a reality.
2. Zapata Industries Flyboard Air
The Flyboard Air from Zapata Industries can exceed 100 mph and reach 10,000 ft altitude. The jet-propelled hoverboard is currently used for daredevil stunts and testing the limits of man. But, according to Popular Science: "Next, explosive-detection firm Implant Sciences Corporation, which is merging with Zapata Industries this year, will adapt the technology for applications like all-terrain rescue and supply delivery." It turns out, risking your bacon can help others after all. Huh.
3. SpaceX Falcon 9
In an attempt to figure out how to salvage the part of a rocket that is typically lost to the ocean, SpaceX came up with the Falcon 9 rocket. According to Popular Science: "The ability to reuse a rocket’s first stage—the part that traditionally falls into the ocean— could cut the cost of a launch by a factor of 100, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk." Saves money, saves rockets. That's win-win. SpaceX continues to come up with new innovations for rockets. That might have something to do with Musk's future plans.
4. Lockheed Martin Skunk Works SPIDER
Most people when presented with the words "robot spider" would probably stop reading and start running. But, slow your roll. Lockheed Martin's robotic arachnid has saved tons of time inspecting airships for leaks. Plus, SPIDER is an acronym: self-propelled instrument for damage evaluation and repair. Not that scary. From Popular Science: "The autonomous robots magnetically attach to the blimp and crawl over its body, detecting and patching holes with an onboard repair kit."
5. Perlan Project Inc. Airbus Perlan Mission II
The Perlan 2 is an attempt at gaining a better understanding of the stratusphere. With it, a better understanding of weather and climate. Popular Science says: "To gather data without releasing engine emissions that could muddy air samples, scientists are sending the Perlan 2 glider." To all those who are sick of the meteorologist calling fumbling the weather forecast, this is a big win (kidding). Better understanding weather and climate has serious implications and is a worthwhile pursuit.
6. NASA Juno
NASA's Juno is currently circling Jupiter and studying the Gas Giant. According to Popular Science: "Over the next year and a half, Juno’s observations will tell scientists how much water is on Jupiter and whether the planet has a solid core. This could reveal how the solar system, including Earth, formed. The mission is also taking the highest-resolution images of Jupiter in history." Oh, just learning how the solar system was formed? No big deal.
7. Aerion Corporation AS2
Have you ever traveled from New York City to Los Angeles in 6 hours and thought 'nope, not fast enough'? Well, the AS2 supersonic business jet was built with you in mind. Popular Science says: "The AS2 supersonic business jet promises quiet, efficient travel at about 1,000 mph, nearly twice the speed of other commercial jets." A future where you can travel from one coast to the other in less time than it takes to play an average MLB game is - incredibly - just around the corner.
It's difficult not to be fascinated by aerospace innovation. With the above innovations, it seems that the aerospace industry won't slow down anytime soon. What will make the list in 2017?