1. Immune Engineering

    Immune Engineering

    Genetically engineered immune cells are saving the lives of cancer patients. That may be just the start.

  2. Precise Gene Editing in Plants

    Precise Gene Editing in Plants

    CRISPR offers an easy, exact way to alter genes to create traits such as disease resistance and drought tolerance.

  3. Conversational Interfaces

    Conversational Interfaces

    Powerful speech technology from China’s leading Internet company makes it much easier to use a smartphone.

  4. Reusable Rockets

    Reusable Rockets

    Rockets typically are destroyed on their maiden voyage. But now they can make an upright landing and be refueled for another trip, setting the stage for a new era in spaceflight.

  5. Robots That Teach Each Other

    Robots That Teach Each Other

    What if robots could figure out more things on their own and share that knowledge among themselves?

  6. DNA App Store

    DNA App Store

    An online store for information about your genes will make it cheap and easy to learn more about your health risks and predispositions.

  7. SolarCity’s Gigafactory

    SolarCity’s Gigafactory

    A $750 million solar facility in Buffalo will produce a gigawatt of high-efficiency solar panels per year and make the technology far more attractive to homeowners.

  8. Slack

    Slack

    A service built for the era of mobile phones and short text messages is changing the workplace.

  9. Tesla Autopilot

    Tesla Autopilot

    The electric-vehicle maker sent its cars a software update that suddenly made autonomous driving a reality.

  10. Power from the Air

    Power from the Air

    Internet devices powered by Wi-Fi and other telecommunications signals will make small computers and sensors more pervasive.

Reusable Rockets

Rockets typically are destroyed on their maiden voyage. But now they can make an upright landing and be refueled for another trip, setting the stage for a new era in spaceflight.

  • by Brian Bergstein
  • Thousands of rockets have flown into space, but not until 2015 did one return like this: it came down upright on a landing pad, steadily firing to control its descent, almost as if a movie of its launch were being played backward. If this can be done regularly and rockets can be refueled over and over, spaceflight could become a hundred times cheaper.

    Reusable Rockets
    • Breakthrough Rockets that can launch payloads into orbit and then land safely.
    • Why It Matters Lowering the cost of flight would open the door to many new endeavors in space.
    • Key Players in the New Space Industry - SpaceX
      - Blue Origin
      - United Launch Alliance

    Two tech billionaires made it happen. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin first pulled off a landing in November; Elon Musk’s SpaceX did it in December. The companies are quite different—Blue Origin hopes to propel tourists in capsules on four-minute space rides, while SpaceX already launches satellites and space station supply missions—but both need reusable rockets to improve the economics of spaceflight.

    This story is part of our March/April 2016 Issue
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    Blasting things into space has been expensive because rockets cost tens of millions of dollars and fly once before burning up in a free fall back through the atmosphere. SpaceX and Blue Origin instead bring theirs down on fold-out legs, a trick that requires onboard software to fire thrusters and manipulate flaps that slow or nudge the rockets at precise moments.

    SpaceX has the harder job because Blue Origin’s craft go half as fast and half as high and stay mostly vertical, whereas SpaceX’s rockets have to switch out of a horizontal position. A reminder of how many things can go wrong came in January, when SpaceX just missed a second landing because a rocket leg didn’t latch into place. Even so, it’s now clear that the future of spaceflight will be far more interesting than the Apollo-era hangover of the past 40 years.

    Slideshow: Image at top of page: A long exposure captured a SpaceX rocket taking off and returning to Cape Canaveral, Florida.

    Above: One of the test landings that SpaceX made in Texas.

    Slideshow: One of the test landings that SpaceX made in Texas.

    Slideshow: One of the test landings that SpaceX made in Texas.

    Slideshow: One of the test landings that SpaceX made in Texas.

    Slideshow: One of the test landings that SpaceX made in Texas.

    Slideshow: One of the test landings that SpaceX made in Texas.

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