From incredible military planes, to revolutionary nuclear fusion reactors, to all-electric dump trucks, these are the 20 coolest machines of the 2010s.
From private space planes that could one day take humans into space without the help of NASA to ships carrying nuclear reactors across the sea to remote areas with a dearth of energy, this decade’s innovations have turned moonshots into near-realities—missions and visions that we just may see come to fruition over the course of the next decade. These are the 20 most badass machines, wings and ships from the last ten years (and we can’t wait to see what the 2020s bring).
Think about the X-37B as a younger sibling to the Space Shuttle. It’s property of the U.S. Air Force and has been pretty secretive for the most part.
Originally, the space craft was launched in April 2010, strapped to an Atlas V rocket. Since then, it’s carried out four other missions. In October 2019, at the end of its fifth mission, it broke the record for the most days a test vehicle has spent in orbit, coming in at 780 days.
The X-37B has been described as a “pickup truck with a payload bay measuring 7-feet-by-4-feet wide,” Popular Mechanics previously reported.
This hulk-looking dump truck is not only a mean, green marlstone-hauling machine, but it’s also the world’s largest electric vehicle to-date. Kuhn Schweitz, a German manufacturer, named the dump truck the “Elektro Dumper,” or eDumper for short.
The eDumper was modeled on a Komatsu HB 605-7, a massive (regular) dump truck: It’s 30 feet long, 14 feet wide, and 14 feet tall, plus the tires are six feet high and the dump bed reaches up to 28 feet when fully extended.
Kuhn Schweitz built the eDumper to carry marlstone back and forth from quarries. The company claims that making the trip from quarry, to cement factory, and back 20 times in one day produces a surplus of 200 kilowatt-hours of energy (or 77 megawatt-hours per year). Your average dump truck, by contrast, uses between 11,000 and 22,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
3. Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft
The Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft, designed and built by Scaled Composites in Mojave, California is like the biggest plane you’ve ever seen—including a wing that’s bigger and longer than a whole house—and there are two of them smashed together. As in, two airplanes connected together!
According to previous reporting from Popular Mechanics, the Stratolaunch is “designed for a maximum takeoff weight of 1,300,000 lbs., making the plane capable of carrying launch vehicles and their payloads weighing up to about 550,000 lbs., with 250,000 lbs. devoted to fuel.”
4. Big Bertha
Bertha, or “Big Bertha” as it’s often called, became the world’s largest boring machine at the time its construction was completed in 2013. At 57.5 feet in diameter, the boring machine spent years working for the Washington State Department of Transportation on its Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel project in Seattle.
In 2017, the 6,700-ton, 326-foot long digger hit sunlight, leaving behind a 1.7 mile-long tunnel beneath Seattle, meant to replace a section of tunnel along State Route 99.
ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
5.The Plasma Liner Experiment
At Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, a new type of fusion reactor is underway. The Plasma Liner Experiment, as it’s being called, will draw on two different confinement methods to enable the prototype: magnetic and inertial confinement. Cooler still, it has 36 plasma guns, surrounding the spherical chamber, that shoot jets of ionized gas into the chamber, itself. That targets, compresses and heats a cloud of fusion fuel inside. The reactor should be finalized sometime this year.
6.Modular Nuclear Power Reactors
NuScale Power, an Oregon-based energy startup, completed a prototype of its modular nuclear power reactor, which is super tiny at about 1/100th the size of a typical reactor. The beauty of these tiny, powerful reactors is that they can be installed in hives to scale up or scale down, depending on a given plant’s individual needs (after all, some nuclear plants are scaling down due to outdated nuclear tech).ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
7.Army Infantry Squad Vehicles
The U.S. Army tested three new infantry squad vehicles earlier this decade, which are meant to be airdropped via paratroopers. The trucks prioritize speed over armored protection. That’s because the truck, itself, will jump with airborne troops out of airplanes and allow soldiers to quickly move off the drop zone.
8. NASA’s Curiosity Rover
Originally launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on November 26, 2011, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring the surface of Mars for 2,633 sols (or Martian days) at publication time, according to NASA.
During that time, the vehicle has traveled nearly 13.5 miles, which may not sound like much, but is actually quite a feat when you consider that the vehicle is remotely operated with an 11-minute delay for each and every input.
Over that time and distance, the rover has discovered that Mars had the potential to support life in the past, which is probably its most famous discovery. It’s also driven into a dry riverbed, revealing that liquid water existed on Mars in large quantities. In another region, called Yellowknife Bay, Curiosity discovered what was once a giant lake with large deposits of groundwater.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
9. “Floating Chernobyl”
The Akademik Lomonosov, also known as “Floating Chernobyl,” is a 459-foot long towed platform ship. The ship has some extremely fragile cargo on board: as in, it’s carrying two 35-megawatt nuclear reactors all the way to Russia’s arctic coast (and that’s a 3,100-mile trip, mind you). The reactors are meant to replace the Bilibino nuclear power plant on Chukotka, in the far east of Russia.
Environmentalists, though, say the floating power plant is an inherent risk to the Arctic region. Meanwhile, Russia is interested in tapping into its outlying region to take advantage of natural resources, such as Western Siberian hydrocarbons.
Whether you love it, hate it, or wish you could use its windows as a shooting target to see if they’re really bulletproof, pretty much everyone who has an internet connection has seen the Cybertruck, which Tesla unveiled just last month. It has sharp, angular lines which gives the whole truck a boxy, futuristic look, like something straight from a sci-fi flick.
As Popular Mechanics previously reported, “the chassis is constructed with stainless steel that’s able to withstand a sledge hammer (demonstrated on stage) and even a 9mm bullet (not demonstrated on stage).” Elon Musk even claims it’s made from the same steel used on SpaceX’s Starship rocket, a proprietary blend called 30X cold-rolled stainless steel.