Cutting Edge Engineering for Space Travel

Mark Koschmeder
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When it comes to advanced engineering careers, space travel is one of the most exciting fields. In the postshuttle era, both government and private entities are researching and developing new technologies that will enable humans to travel deeper into space. As researchers make new developments, the farther reaches of the universe become increasingly accessible.

One of the biggest challenges facing future space explorers involves landing on distant planets. To make landings safer for astronauts, the engineering professionals at NASA are working on robotic landing vehicles that will enable humans to land on the moon or other bodies in space. Each vehicle uses a complex system of independent power, valves, and radios to enable vertical landing and ensure the safety and comfort of astronauts. Some of the top goals of the advanced engineering systems are to provide backup power, ensure a soft landing, and provide a controlled, thruster-based system that can be used in airless environments.

Once an aircraft is in space, it requires unique propellants. In the extreme temperatures of space, fuel must be stored safely in containers that don't take up a great deal of space. To that end, one of the most important advanced engineering research areas at NASA involves super-cold propellants. Engineers are looking into ways to liquefy fuel sources like methane and store them for long periods of time. In 2014, a tiny spacecraft called CryoCube-1 will be deployed into space to test a potential temperature-management system for liquid fuel. Eventually, liquid fuel storage systems will be used for refueling spacecrafts on long journeys.

During a space flight, astronauts must constantly run checks of the spacecraft to ensure that all systems are functioning properly. The process takes a significant amount of time and must be repeated frequently during each journey. To reduce the workload for astronauts, researchers are developing intelligent vehicle health management systems. Developers are using advanced engineering techniques to embed sensors in each spacecraft component. The engineers face a number of problems, including damage to the sensors, material attenuation, and the solid coupling of the materials and the sensors.

Advanced engineering projects will be used to power both government and private spaceships. According to a story from Mirror Online, the SpaceShipTwo aircraft from Virgin Galactic recently made its third successful test flight into space, returning safely to the ground. Over the course of the test flight, SpaceShipTwo spent a total of ten minutes in space. The craft is a triumph of aerospace engineering, and the company expects it to start undertaking commercial space flights by the end of 2014.

For engineers, the future of space travel offers countless opportunities for research and development. As technology becomes more accessible and affordable, advanced engineering projects are set to transform the future of space exploration.



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