From the Editors

For the general public, rockets and spacecraft represent the pinnacle of high technology. In reality, however, space technologies often lag behind their terrestrial counterparts. In the time it takes to qualify a new component for space applications, the next generation may have already arrived. One historically important role for The Aerospace Corporation has been to identify promising technologies in their infant stage in order to help system designers prepare for their eventual realization and minimize the lag in technology insertion.

This issue of Crosslink focuses on some emerging technologies that show significant potential for space applications. Much of the content will bring readers directly into the laboratories and research centers at Aerospace to look over the shoulders of scientists and engineers exploring exotic materials, new processing techniques, and unconventional ways of exploiting the fundamental laws of physics.

In the field of dynamical systems, for example, researchers are seeking to harness the inherent noise and distortion in transmitted signals with an eye toward developing new approaches to cryptography and stealthy communications. In the area of quantum physics, researchers are trying to exploit the intriguing and often counterintuitive quantum properties of atoms and particles to create a new way of conceiving computer systems. In the field of optics, researchers are applying the corporation’s sophisticated laser resources to the testing and development of space electronics and optical communications systems.

While many satellite systems have grown larger over the years, many of the actual components have grown smaller. This issue of Crosslink reviews some of the nanotechnologies that could continue this trend in miniaturization. Carbon in its various forms is a major subject of research—in particular, graphene and nanotubes, which could potentially reduce mass, increase sensitivity, and improve electrical performance of satellite components. On the macroscopic scale, materials scientists are producing new composites with unexpected properties that might eventually influence the way launch vehicles are designed and built.

The work showcased in this issue of Crosslink will ultimately spur the advancement of tomorrow’s space systems. Recurring themes include innovation, creativity, and a solid application of the scientific process. We hope you will be intrigued and inspired as you read about possible future directions in flight software, nanomaterials, nanoelectronics, ultrashort-pulse lasers, machine-augmented composites, chaotic signals, quantum computing, and more.

Back to the Spring 2011 Table of Contents