Saturday, May 4, 2013

This Saturday in (Aero-Space) Science

No, its not a missile. Its a prototype of an aircraft that could reduce the time it takes to fly from New York to Los Angeles to less than one hour.

Everywhere you turn these days, educators are talking about the importance of STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

So, because the science staff here at the Digital Notebook Industrial Compound is always on the cutting edge, we're put together several stories from the world of aero-space (almost all of them from The Los Angeles Times), where STEM skills would serve job applicants well.

So buckle in folks, hope you can stand the G's of another exciting edition of.....(say it with me!)

This Saturday in Science!

First up is your standard aero-space product -- the test of a plane that flies at more than 3,000 miles per hour.

Here are the key paragraphs from the Times:
The unmanned X-51A WaveRider, which resembles a shark-nosed missile, was launched midair Wednesday off the coast near Point Mugu. It sped westward for 240 seconds, reaching Mach 5.1, or more than five times the speed of sound, before plunging into the ocean as planned.
The X-51A, built and tested in Southern California, was powered by an air-breathing engine that has virtually no moving parts. It flew for longer than any other aircraft of its kind and traveled more than 264 miles in little more than six minutes.
A passenger aircraft traveling at that speed could easily fly from Los Angeles to New York in less than an hour.
New York to LA in less than an hour... as someone who has made that conventional flight more than once, I can tell you such an evolution in air travel would be welcome.

No doubt, it's a few years off, but at the speed that technology moves these days, it may be closer than you think.

Check out this  video of a flight simulation of the WaveRider ScramJet posted on You Tube:

Supersonic Virgin

Next up is Sir Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur who wants to commercialize space travel.

He got one step closer Monday (April 29) when his ship, the imaginatively named Space Ship Two, broke the sound barrier, igniting its rocket motot mid-flight for the first time and reaching about 56,000 feet in altitude, again according to the LA Times.
The test flight is the biggest milestone in Virgin Galactic's 8 1/2-year endeavor to be the world's first commercial space liner, which would make several trips a day carrying scores of paying customers into space for a brief journey.
"We never thought it would take this long, but it was worth the wait," Branson said in an interview. "Now that we have accomplished supersonic flight, we feel ready to take the next step. There are an awful lot of exciting things to come."
Virgin Galactic, founded by Branson, hopes to reach space in test flight this year and make its first passenger flight sometime in 2014 from Spaceport America in New Mexico, where the company hopes to eventually offer the frequent tourist trips.
During the test, SpaceShipTwo was taken to about 47,000 feet by a carrier aircraft, and approximately 45
minutes into the flight, it was dropped like a bomb.

After a short free fall, the hybrid rocket motor — powered by nitrous oxide and a rubber compound — was engaged for 16 seconds, at which point SpaceShipTwo's speed reached Mach 1.2.

The entire flight test lasted a little more than 10 minutes, ending in a smooth landing in Mojave around 8 a.m., according to the Times.

Not to worry over-excited reader, the coolness just keeps coming. Sir Richard is not the only one eyeing a commercial future in space light.

Hop, Skip and a Jump Into Space

Hawthorne Rocket's Space X program successfully tested a new prototype, Grasshopper, in December.

In a 29-second flight, the 10-story rocket burst into the sky, rose 131 feet, hovered and landed safely on the pad using thrust vector and throttle control. To cushion its fall back to the launchpad, the Grasshopper has steel landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.

Here's the Times:
SpaceX, short for Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is trying to prove out the Grasshopper’s technology to develop what would be the first-ever fully reusable rocket — the Holy Grail in rocketry.
A reusable system could mean big savings in developing and operating the rocket. The closest example of a reusable launch system is the retired space shuttle fleet, which were only partially reused after a tedious months-long overhaul.
In October, SpaceX successfully carried out a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. It was the first test of NASA's plan to outsource resupply missions to commercial companies now that the space shuttle fleet has been retired.
Not so sure how comfortable I feel having private enterprise in charge of man's next chapter in space travel, as profit has a way of interfering with discovery.

But considering the state politics these days, it's probably the only way we're going to get it done, and it has to get done, since we are apparently not smart enough to keep from destroying our own planet. We will probably have to go find others.

It Just Keeps Droning On and On....

The future face of faceless warfare.
And speaking of things which make me uncomfortable, let's talk drones.

It seems strange to me that no one seems to have any qualms about developing technology eerily similar similar to the "Hunter Killers" featured in the Terminator movies and not bat an eye about what we may be doing to ourselves.

But the march of progress cannot be stopped and last November, the U.S. Navy successfully launched the bat-winged X-47B drone into flight.from a catapult, moving it one step closer to being launched from aircraft carriers.

Again, the Times:
The X-47B, built by Northrop Grumman Corp., is designed to perform one of aviation's most difficult maneuvers: land on the deck of an aircraft carrier. What's even more remarkable is that it will do that not only without a pilot in the cockpit, but without a pilot at all.
After the catapult launch, the X-47B conducted a test flight over Chesapeake Bay, which included several maneuvers designed to simulate tasks that the aircraft will have to perform when it lands on a ship, the company said.
Over the next few weeks, the Navy expects to conduct several shore-based catapults at Patuxent River. On Monday, an X-47B was hoisted aboard the Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier at Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Va., to begin a series of deck handling trials.
How long, I wonder, before they start hunting us?

Oh the Humanity!

Sorry, but this new technology reminds me too much of the Hindenberg not to headline this with a shout-out to Herbert Morrison, the radio reporter who so famously said that when the airship crashed in Lakehurst, N.J.

Meet, the Aeroscraft! 

Hopefully, this new airship will have a much safer future.

Here's what the Times reported:
According to aircraft maker Worldwide Aeros Corp., construction is complete on a 36,000-pound blimp-like aircraft designed for the military to carry tons of cargo to remote areas around the world.
The Montebello company hopes to have a first flight in the coming months and to demonstrate cargo-carrying capability shortly thereafter.
Worldwide Aeros, a company of about 100 employees, built the prototype under a contract of about $35 million from the Pentagon and NASA.
The Aeroscraft is a zeppelin with a 230-foot rigid skeleton made of aluminum and carbon fiber. It's a new type of hybrid aircraft that combines airplane and airship technologies and doesn't need a long runway to take off or land because it has piston engines that allow it to move vertically and a new high-tech buoyancy control system.
Ultimately, the company wants to be able to carry up to 66 tons.
"This will land in Africa, Afghanistan," Igor Pasternak told The Times in September, "a Wal-Mart parking lot -- wherever."

Are Dwarf Lemurs the Key to Long Distance Space Travel?

Before we leave you today, all high-teched out, let's remember that ultimately, these machines are supposed to be about serving flesh and blood beings, so ultimately they have to accommodate humans ... or lemurs as the case may be.

So we finally found a way to close out today that does not come from the Los Angeles Times, but instead to a blog I wish I wrote called, simply, i09, whose motto is "we come from the future."
Astronaut ready?

What caught my eye was the authors appreciation for the headline, which I have reproduced above, and I had to agree.

How can you not read a story about "fat-tailed dwarf lemurs" and space flight?

Anyway, here's the gist.

These lemurs, which live in western Madagascar are very rare things, they are primates that hibernate, which is of great interest to scientists trying to figure out how humans could endure long space flights.

Here is part of the blog post, which is based on an article in the journal Scientific Reports.
The primates spend about 5 months gorging on food, then they find a comfy tree hole and knock out for the next 7 months, using the fat reserves in their tails to survive.
For most mammals, hibernation is accompanied by stable low body temperatures. 
The new discovery may eventually help scientists figure out how to induce hibernation in people. "There is a lot of research into that topic," said Marina Blanco, a biological
How could you hibernate through this view?
anthropologist at Duke University in North Carolina. Currently, there are scientists who are looking at what's going on physiologically during hibernation, while other researchers are focusing on the gene expression of the behavior. "Because the lemurs are primates, our biology is more similar to them than to squirrels, so hopefully we will be able to find similar genes and processes that could help us hibernate," she said.
The short-term goal, then, is to figure out how to induce a safe state of hypothermia, mimicking the low body temperatures the eastern lemurs maintain in hibernation — this would help people stay in suspended conditions for a while, Blanco said.
And if scientists can isolate all of the components necessary for primate hibernation, we may be able to turn people into hibernators. Naturally, this has huge implications for long-distance space travel, where people would likely need to enter a dormant state to survive the long trips. "It's all very exciting for many people," she says.
Well, we hope it was exciting for you too.

So remember kids, study your STEM and someday you too may be able to send sleeping lemurs into space and cross the country in less than an hour.

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