The Daily Flash -Eco, Space, Tech (1/26)

  NanoSail-D (1)

First Earth-Orbiting Solar Sail Unexpectedly Unfurls

After a month and a half trapped in its mothership, NASA’s NanoSail-D spacecraft has finally unfurled the first solar sail to circle the Earth. Solar sails, gossamer-thin sheets that feel the pressure of the solar wind, have been suggested as a best hope for propelling spacecraft between the stars. They’re the only known method of space travel that doesn’t require carrying heavy fuel on the journey. But solar sails have had a checkered history. Only one has ever actually worked: the Japanese IKAROS spacecraft, which launched in 2009 and flew by Venus in 2010.

AFpredator DHS is Freaked Out by Spy Drones Over America

Police departments around the country are warming up to unmanned spy planes. But don’t expect the Department of Homeland Security to catch drone fever any time soon. It’s too controversial for an agency already getting hammered for naked scanners and junk-touching. Sure, DHS flies some Predators along the Mexican border. But a broader deployment, above the majority of American skies, to stop terror attacks? Not likely. “I don’t know how much [drones] will be used within the U.S.,” says Ruth Doherty, a top official with the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate tasked with countering the domestic threat of homemade bombs. Asked about domestic drone use for bomb-spotting by Danger Room, she replies, “A case has to be made that they’re economically feasible, not intrusive and acceptable to the public.”

Ice-dragon-glider-110125-02 'Ice Dragon' Robot Sub Probes Antarctic Waters

A robot dubbed the Ice Dragon has been roaming the frigid waters of Antarctica's Ross Sea since late November 2010. This week, scientists set sail to rendezvous with the motorless glider, which has been collecting data on ocean conditions since its launch, and has set two world records along the way. Last year, Walker Smith, a veteran researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), dispatched the 114-pound (52-kilogram) glider through a hole in the Antarctic ice — the hole was made by whales coming up for air. The launch was the most southerly glider deployment ever. A short (and unintentional) jog off course also made it the first-ever glider to successfully dive beneath the Ross Ice Shelf.

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