YES, you read that right, a special deflector shield is being developed to protect a spaceship as it returns to earth from space through the atmosphere.
The magnetic shield will be created by a superconducting coil, pushing superheated air away from the spaceship to keep it cool and getting rid of the need for traditional physical heat shields altogether (the inventors hope).
As if that didn’t get your geek antenna twitching enough, the test vehicle – a Russian Volna launcher – will be fired from a submarine and re-enter the atmosphere at Mach 21. A bloody submarine!! Mach 21!!!
The shield is being developed by part-British company EADS Astrium, who regular readers of the blog (hello Steve and big Reg) may remember I have talked about before.
On that occasion it was about their plans to build an asteroid-deflecting gravity spaceship, which means their chief executive is apparently the biggest science fiction fan ever who will approve any project as long as it sounds like something Scotty would do.
Obviously if this works it will be a major scientific breakthrough with enormous consequences, but can I be the first to say to the EADS people YOU GUYS FREAKIN ROCK!!
What is more exciting is the other leading edge of deflector shield technology can be found in Britain as well, with the Rutherford Appleton laboratory in Oxfordshire experimenting with designing a satellite that would be surrounded by a bubble of charged plasma also created by a mesh of superconducting wire, which may be able to keep out cosmic rays.
If they manage to crack that, they overcome one of the major hurdles to inter-planetary travel at a stroke which is a mind-boggling idea to take in for anyone to whom that has only even been an element of science fiction stories.
I’d add that it seems that the eggheads are finally starting to pay their way and live up to the dreams of my youth – where I get to scream ‘SHIELDS COLLAPSING!’ to Captain Kirk as we blow an Romulan warbird into tiny particles, and then beam down to teach an Orion slave girl what this Earth emotion we call love is.