NASA Develops Aircraft that Uses Half Less Fuel

NASA develops aircraft that uses half less fuel
NASA has developed a manufacturing method for wing-shaped aircraft, which when combined with a jet engine called “ultra-high bypass ratio engine”, promises to cut fuel consumption by half.

Scientists have long known the benefits if a wing-shaped aircraft compared to the conventional tube and wing design. The flying wing design came to be known through the B2 Stealth Bomber although the patent for a tailless plane was filed by Hugo Junkers in 1910.

Some of the benefits of the design include reduced structural material resulting in significantly lower overall aircraft weight, and more lift generated by more dramatic wing surface and curvature. The challenge of the design so far is aircraft control during lower speeds. The flatter design has proven to be more challenging to support a pressurized cabin. Conventional tubular designs are easier to manufacture to support extreme temperature differences.

The scientific advancement by NASA is in the manufacturing process, potentially opening the door to commercial manufacture in eight to ten years.

“NASA’s manufacturing process starts with preformed carbon composite rods. The rods are covered with carbon fiber fabric and stitched into place. Fabric is then stitched over foam strips to create cross members. The fabric is impregnated with an epoxy to create a rigid composite structure.” Tech Review

Aside from strength and reduced weight, the carbon fiber stitching process appears to prevent more catastrophic events in flight.  When pressured to the degree of breakage, the stitching prevents cracks from spreading.  With recent failures in the most expensive aircraft ever built, the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner”, a safer design will be welcomed by consumers.

The new design is a result of a $300 million partnership between NASA, Pratt & Whitney and Boeing.  Since Boeing doesn’t convince the powers that be to include a lithium ion battery in the design, everything should work out.

The new engine design will be used in the first commercial manufacturing process next year. It promises to dramatically reduce CO2, NOx emission and manufacture cost.  The ultra-high bypass ratio engine promises to change transportation emissions significantly as it makes its way into the commercial airline fleet.

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Supersonic Plane in 90 Minutes Between New York and Tokyo

XCOR, a private rocket company, has release images of a supersonic aircraft called the Lynx that will fly super-rich passengers to space as early as 2014. The 45-minute roundtrip flight will cost roughly $95,000 for each passenger.

An image of the XCOR Lynx, an aircraft that will soon transport private citizens to space and back for $95,000 a trip. The model is a “stepping stone” to a vehicle that will transport super-rich passengers between NYC and Tokyo in a mere 90 minutes.

The Lynx s a precursor to a supersonic plane that will transport passengers between New York and Tokyo in a mere 90 minutes. It will take off and land on a runway like a conventional plane, but will fly outside the atmosphere for a portion of its journeys, 62 miles above earth. The first 90-minute commercial flights between the Big Apple and Tokyo should hit the market some time in the next 20 years.

Plans to develop the $10 million Lynx were originally announced in 2008, as space entrepreneurs Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk of SpaceX were building similar rocket planes. In May, SpaceX completed the first ever private mission to the International Space Station.

Branson, for his part, said in July that he and his children will be the first commercial passengers to fly aboard a Virgin Galactic spacecraft when the company’s private space tourism program launches toward the end of 2013. Around 529 tourists have reportedly signed up for Virgin’s two-hour space-flights, which cost around $200,000 a trip.

Test flights of the Lynx will start as early as the beginning of 2013, XCOR president Jeff Greason told Popular Mechanics in August. The test flight program will reportedly last 12 to 18 months beyond that, as engineers work out any kinks.

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Glitch could end NASA’s Kepler planet search

NASA’s Kepler space telescope might be kept from its goal of finding Earth-sized planets in habitable zones around other stars with its technical problems, astronomers say.

First launched in 2009, Kepler monitors thousands of stars for dips in brightness, an indication a planet could be passing in front of them. The space telescope needs another four years to complete its exoplanet survey but a critical hardware failure on Kepler this summer has astronomers worried the mission could end at any time.

One of the spacecraft’s four reaction wheels, spinning masses that control Kepler’s orientation in space and keep the telescope locked on to target stars, stopped last July 14 due to increasing friction.

“We have to guide very accurately, and we had four reaction wheels to do this guidance,” William Borucki, mission principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., said. “One of those was a spare, and we now have lost one of those four wheels. The guiding is still great, but they’ve all had over a billion revolutions. If we lose another one, this mission terminates. We cannot track very well with two. We cannot track well enough to find planets.”

Engineers will try to ensure Kepler’s three active reaction wheels stay warm and operating by alternating their rotation between clockwise and counter-clockwise directions, Borucki said.

“We’re trying to understand how to protect those last three wheels,” he said. “People have studied these reaction wheels over the years and never came up with a good answer.”

The Kepler mission was intended to last three-and-a-half years, but NASA hopes to keep the telescope operational through 2016.

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NASA’s Opportunity Discovers Mysterious Martian Spheres

NASA researchers were baffled by a strange picture of odd, spherical rocks formations on mars taken by NASA’s Opportunity rover.

The new Mars photo by Opportunity shows a close-up of a rock outcrop called Kirkwood covered in blister-like bumps that mission scientists can’t yet explain. The formations appear similar to so-called Martian “blueberries” — iron-rich spherical formations first seen by Opportunity in 2004 — but they actually differ in several key ways, scientist said.

“This is one of the most extraordinary pictures from the whole mission,” said rover mission principal investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in a statement. “Kirkwood is chock full of a dense accumulation of these small spherical objects. Of course, we immediately thought of the blueberries, but this is something different. We never have seen such a dense accumulation of spherules in a rock outcrop on Mars.”

The new photo by Opportunity is actually a mosaic of four images taken by a microscope-like imager on its robotic arm, and then stitched together like puzzle pieces by scientists on Earth.
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NASA’s Curiosity rover takes self-portrait from Mars

Curiosity swivelled a camera on its own to take its first self-portrait to be beamed from the red planet, days after it spent preparing for the full use of the tools on its arm. The image was taken on a day when the Mars Hand Lens Imager and other instruments and tools on the turret were being checked using the rover’s Mastcams and Navcams. Curiosity extended its robotic arm Wednesday in the first of 6-10 consecutive days of planned activities to test the 7-foot (2.1-meter) arm and the tools it manipulates.

“We will be putting the arm through a range of motions and placing it at important ‘teach points’ that were established during Earth testing, such as the positions for putting sample material into the inlet ports for analytical instruments,” said Daniel Limonadi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California

Since the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft placed Curiosity inside Mars’ Gale Crater on Aug. 5 the rover has driven a total of 358 feet (109 meters). The drives have brought it about one-fourth of the way from the landing site, named Bradbury Landing, to a location selected as the mission’s first major science destination, Glenelg.

“We knew at some point we were going to need to stop and take a week or so for these characterization activities,” said Michael Watkins, JPL’s Curiosity mission manager.

“For these checkouts, we need to turn to a particular angle in relation to the sun and on flat ground. We could see before the latest drive that this looked like a perfect spot to start these activities.”
The work at the current location will prepare Curiosity and the team for using the arm to place two of the science instruments onto rock and soil targets. In addition, the activities represent the first steps in preparing to scoop soil, drill into rocks, process collected samples and deliver samples into analytical instruments.

Checkouts in the next several days will include using the turret’s Mars Hand Lens Imager to observe its calibration target and the Canadian-built Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer to read what chemical elements are present in the instrument’s calibration target.

“We’re still learning how to use the rover. It’s such a complex machine — the learning curve is steep,” said JPL’s Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for the MSL Project, which built and operates Curiosity.
After the arm characterization activities at the current site, Curiosity will proceed for a few weeks eastward toward Glenelg. The science team selected that area as likely to offer a good target for Curiosity’s first analysis of powder collected by drilling into a rock.

“We’re getting through a big set of characterization activities that will allow us to give more decision-making authority to the science team,” said Richard Cook, MSL project manager at JPL.
Curiosity is one month into a two-year prime mission on Mars.

It will use 10 science instruments to assess whether the selected study area ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. JPL manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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NASA’s Kepler Discovers Multiple Planets Orbiting a Pair of Stars

Kepler-16b, NASA’s Kepler mission, has discovered multiple transiting planets orbiting two suns for the first time. This system, known as a circumbinary planetary system, is 4,900 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The discovery proves that more than one planet can form and persist in the stressful realm of a binary star and demonstrates the diversity of planetary systems in our galaxy.

Astronomers detected two planets in the Kepler-47 system, a pair of orbiting stars that eclipse each other every 7.5 days from our vantage point on Earth. One star is similar to the sun in size, but only 84 percent as bright. The second star is diminutive, measuring only one-third the size of the sun and less than 1 percent as bright.

Jerome Orosz, associate professor of astronomy at San Diego State University and lead author of the paper, said “In contrast to a single planet orbiting a single star, the planet in a circumbinary system must transit a ‘moving target.’ As a consequence, time intervals between the transits and their durations can vary substantially, sometimes short, other times long,”

The inner planet, Kepler-47b, orbits the pair of stars in less than 50 days. While it cannot be directly viewed, it is thought to be a sweltering world, where the destruction of methane in its super-heated atmosphere might lead to a thick haze that could blanket the planet.

At three times the radius of Earth, Kepler-47b is the smallest known transiting circumbinary planet.
The outer planet, Kepler-47c, orbits its host pair every 303 days, placing it in the so-called “habitable zone,” the region in a planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of a planet. While not a world hospitable for life, Kepler-47c is thought to be a gaseous giant slightly larger than Neptune, where an atmosphere of thick bright water-vapor clouds might exist.

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Supersonic Flying Wing Nabs $100,000 from NASA

An aircraft that resembles a four-point ninja star could go into supersonic mode by simply turning 90 degrees in midair. The unusual “flying wing” concept has won $100,000 in NASA funding to trying becoming a reality for future passenger jet travel.

A flying wing aircraft design resembling a ninja star can turn 90 degrees in midair to go into supersonic mode.
CREDIT: Ge-Chen Zha | Florida State University

The supersonic, bidirectional flying wing idea comes from a team headed by Ge-Chen Zha, an aerospace engineer at Florida State University. He said the fuel-efficient aircraft could reach supersonic speeds without the thunderclap sound produced by a sonic boom

— a major factor that previously limited where the supersonic Concorde passenger jet could fly over populated land masses.
“I am hoping to develop an environmentally friendly and economically viable airplane for supersonic civil transport in the next 20 to 30 years,” Zha said. “Imagine flying from New York to Tokyo in four hours instead of 15 hours.”

NASA liked the idea enough to give Zha and his colleagues a $100,000 grant from the Innovative Advanced Concepts program. But

the U.S. space agency does not expect such funded concepts to fly for at least another 20 years or so.

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