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The zero-gravity of Earth orbit is a massive attraction to developers of new technologies. This highly controlled environment removes one of the key forces acting on experiments here on Earth, therefore allowing new techniques to be tried out. Although it can be great to get a highly sensitive experiment to test new technologies into orbit, the experiments must also be robust enough to cope with the massive forces and vibrations during a rocket launch into space.
The US Naval Academy has announced that two new technologies have succeeded in orbital experiments on board the MidSTAR-1 satellite, signifying these new high-tech methods can indeed be carried out in space, and as an added bonus, they may have revolutionary applications down here on Earth…
The US Naval Academy (USNA) satellite called MidSTAR-1 was launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on March 8th, 2007 as a part of the USNA's Small Satellite Program (SSP). The SSP is intended to send miniature, inexpensive satellites into orbit where experiments and other operations can be carried out. The satellites and experiments are designed, constructed and controlled by officers in the US Navy.
Results from two experiments being carried out on MidSTAR-1 have just been announced, and they appear to be a resounding success. The first experiment uses nanotechnology to detect dangerous chemical compounds in the air. Almost like a miniature smoke detector, the new method is designed for use in space environments (on board missions such as the International Space Station) as well as counter-terrorism activities here on Earth. The second experiment tests the response of a radiative film (no thicker than a plastic freezer bag) that could be used to regulate the temperature of spacecraft. Both technologies have never been tested in space and both appear to have functioned rather well.