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.
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]