Over the weekend, the Japanese space agency Jaxa successfully launched the Epsilon rocket, which is carrying a telescope, Sprint-A, for planetary observation. Jaxa was able to complete the launch for about $US37 million, half the cost of previous Jaxa rockets and cheap compared to an average $US450 million NASA launch.
To scrimp and save, Jaxa built Epsilon smaller than past Japanese rockets and added onboard AI so the rocket could perform its own safety checks. This also reduced the need for staff at the launch from 150 people to eight people. And the whole launch was coordinated on two standard PC laptops.
Epsilon successfully released Sprint-A 620 miles above the surface of the Earth. Jaxa says that the telescope will be able to image Venus, Mars and Jupiter. It’s pretty crazy to think that your laptop has enough computing power to send rockets into space.
And then you remember that the Apollo guidance computer was literally made out of rope. [BBC]