"Flying laptop" spacecraft could "transform" in space, sort of

Impressive as they are, satellites and space probes aren't always the most versatile pieces of equipment once they're up in orbit. A new satellite developed by researchers from the University of Stuttgart's Institute of Space Systems looks set to shake things up in a pretty big way when it launches in 2012, however, even if it's not quite the "transforming" space probe that you might be imagining. Described as a "flying laptop," the satellite promises to pack a vast array of instruments and sensors, including cameras, multispectral imagers, star trackers, and GPS receivers, to name a few, all of which can apparently be completely reconfigured on the fly in space. That, the researchers say, could let the satellite switch from, say, an atmospheric pollution sensor to a near-Earth asteroid detector, an even open up some new commercial possibilities, with different groups able to rent out the satellite to perform various tasks.