Apparently, Transformers' Allspark is more powerful than we'd ever imagined. How else to explain a new satellite that will be able to change itself into different probes, depending on what it deems necessary at the time?

The new probe - which has the unusual nickname of "the flying laptop" - is a product of the University of Stuttgart's the Institute of Space Systems, and specifically of Toshinori Kuwahara. The satellite, still only in a theoretical stage, will contain all manner of sensors for multiple purposes, including cameras, multispectral and thermal infrared imagers, GPS receivers and even sea-surface-height sensing radar. In order to keep the multiple uses of the satellite active, Kuwahara plans to replace the traditional satellite microprocessors with field-programmable gate array microchips, which leads to the major hitch in his plan: FGAs may be affected by cosmic rays, which could interfere with the chips or even corrupt the data on them.

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Assuming Kuwahara can work out suitable cosmic ray shielding, the first flying laptop is hoped to launch in 2012.

Space probe to sport 'transforming' hardware [New Scientist]