The drone expert leading NASA's air traffic control scheme for autonomous flying vehicles expects the first applications to begin "inside of the next year," though warns drone deliveries aren't likely to get anywhere near mainstream for another five years. Dr Parimal H. Kopardekar, who manages NASA's NextGen-Airspace Project, predicted that agricultural monitoring using drones is likely to be the first application to get the green-light, as concerns around autonomous and remote-control vehicle safety in urban environments continue.
NASA has given the green light to develop the Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket in history and the method by which the US space agency expects to take humans to Mars. Under development for the past three years, the SLS is the first exploration-class vehicle to make it to development stage since the Space Shuttle, with NASA targeting the first test flight by November 2018 at the latest.
NASA is another step closer to blasting off its experimental "green" spacecraft, which switches traditional (and toxic) propellants with a safer, more efficient alternative that looks like peach tea. The Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) is expected to launch in 2016 as part of a SpaceX Falcon flight, beginning a year-long experiment into whether greener fuels could revolutionize exploration of the solar system.
Google's Project Tango has arrived at the International Space Station, with the 3D mapping smartphone prototype strapped to SPHERES smart internal satellite robots. The "Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites" are floating ball 'bots intended to navigate their way around the inside of space stations and, eventually, help astronauts with their everyday lives, and NASA hopes the addition of Tango tech will make them even smarter.
Microscopic dust particles that could date back to the very start of our solar system have been extracted from NASA's Stardust spacecraft payload, promising to be the first contemporary samples of interstellar dust. Stardust returned its collection of stellar detritus back in 2006, and thus began a painstaking sift through the particles to see what goodies had been gathered during the three billion mile journey.
The feasting habits of supermassive black holes are under investigation by two teams of astronomers, with X-rays giving up the secrets of three consumed stars, and even how light itself can be bent by the voracious forces. While stars being destroyed by black holes are a rare, once-in-every-10,000-years occurrence, researchers in Russia have identified what they say are three cases. Meanwhile, NASA has been using its own space telescopes to see how X-rays themselves are bent by black holes.
The teams at NASA and GM behind the Robonaut 2's Robo-Glove have made the decision to allow licensing of their technology for public use. The glove is made to amplify the abilities of the wearer, not entirely unlike that of the glove of Iron Man in the Marvel Comics universe. This glove allows its user to blast through tasks that require high hand strength - grasping and repetitive tasks especially.
NASA's flying saucer has successfully made it to near-space, with the latest test flight for the experimental Mars lander pushing the boundaries of high-speed parachute deployment. The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) represents NASA's strategy for taking larger payloads safely down to the Martian surface, using both an inflatable air-brake and a vast parachute twice the size of that which set the Curiosity rover down.