The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Titan Calling

How a Swedish engineer saved a once-in-a-lifetime mission to Saturn’s mysterious moon

14 min read
Boris Smeds
Unsung Hero: With the help of the engineering model of Huygens (background), Boris Smeds discovered a crippling communications problem.
Photo: Bert Bostelmann

Last June, scientists were thrilled when NASA’s Cassini probe successfully began orbiting Saturn after a 3.5-billion-kilometer, seven-year journey across the solar system. The 6-ton spacecraft immediately started returning spectacular pictures of the planet, its rings, and its 30-plus moons. It was just the beginning of Cassini’s four-year tour of Saturn’s neighborhood, and while scientists expect amazing discoveries in the years to come, the most dramatic chapter in the mission’s history will happen this January, when scientists attempt to peek beneath the atmospheric veil that surrounds Saturn’s largest moon, Titan—a chapter that might have ended in disaster, save for one persistent engineer.

In a collaboration with the European Space Agency, Cassini, in addition to its own suite of scientific instruments designed to scan Saturn and its moons, carries a hitchhiker—a lander probe called Huygens. A stubby cone 3 meters across, Huygens was built for a single purpose: to pierce the cloaking methane atmosphere of Titan and report its findings back to Cassini for relay to Earth.

Keep reading...Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Rory Cooper’s Wheelchair Tech Makes the World More Accessible

He has introduced customized controls and builds wheelchairs for rough terrain

6 min read
portrait of a man in a navy blue polo with greenery in the background
Abigail Albright

For more than 25 years, Rory Cooper has been developing technology to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

Cooper began his work after a spinal cord injury in 1980 left him paralyzed from the waist down. First he modified the back brace he was required to wear. He then turned to building a better wheelchair and came up with an electric-powered version that helped its user stand up. He eventually discovered biomedical engineering and was inspired to focus his career on developing assistive technology. His inventions have helped countless wheelchair users get around with more ease and comfort.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Intel’s Take on the Next Wave of Moore’s Law

Ann B. Kelleher explains what's new 75 years after the transistor's invention

4 min read
image of a black and gold computer chip against a black background

Intel's Ponte Vecchio processor


The next wave of Moore’s Law will rely on a developing concept called system technology co-optimization, Ann B. Kelleher, general manager of technology development at Intel told IEEE Spectrum in an interview ahead of her plenary talk at the 2022 IEEE Electron Device Meeting.

“Moore’s Law is about increasing the integration of functions,” says Kelleher. “As we look forward into the next 10 to 20 years, there’s a pipeline full of innovation” that will continue the cadence of improved products every two years. That path includes the usual continued improvements in semiconductor processes and design, but system technology co-optimization (STCO) will make the biggest difference.

Keep Reading ↓Show less