Despite being little more than a sphere of metal that let out radio-frequency beeps, Sputnik 1 triggered a thrilling space race that led to astronauts soon orbiting the Earth and walking on the Moon before the 1960s were out, as Richard Corfield describes. Since then, spacecraft have visited planets, flown past comets and even landed on an asteroid.
To mark the 50th anniversary of Sputnik 1, this special issue of Physics World looks back at the story of that particular mission and examines some of the benefits of modern satellite technology. Satellites, of course, underpin communication networks and are essential for observing the Earth to monitor the effects of, say, deforestation or climate change. Indeed, as Roger L Eason, the physicist who invented the US Global Positioning System (GPS), explains, GPS is proving so vital for navigation and surveying that Europe, Russia and China are all planning rival satellite systems.
However, all is not rosy up above. Bruce Dorminey describes how the International Space Station (ISS) has been a successful collaboration between the US, Europe and the Soviet Union and is giving us insights into how the human body reacts to long periods in orbit. But the ISS has swallowed such vast sums of money (NASA alone has contributed $100m) that many have questioned if the scientific pay-back from the 200 or so experiments carried out on the station in low-gravity conditions have been worthwhile.
Another concern, as Laura Grego from the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, is the potential weaponization of space. Satellites are sitting ducks for enemy nations, who might find it tempting to use a missile to knock out, say, a crucial military spy satellite.
Moreover, when China destroyed an ageing weather satellite earlier this year in a test of its nascent anti-satellite weapon system, the explosion created some 2500 new trackable pieces of "space junk", ranging from spent rocket stages and disused satellites to smaller items like astronauts' rubbish bags, and immediately increased the chances of a low-Earth-orbiting satellite colliding with another object by up to 30%. As Edwin Cartlidge reports, many observers think that more needs to be done to persuade nations to prevent further space junk being created in the first place.
Finally, Dan Clery looks at why the US is cutting back on Earth observation using satellites while Europe is increasing its investment in this important area.
Charlie Wallace | alfa
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Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
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The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
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