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Aerospace Blog

The Aerospace Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about aeronautics, astronautics, fixed-wing aircraft, future space travel, satellites, NASA, and much more.

How One Robot is Changing the Way Space Vehicles are Made

Posted January 04, 2016 12:00 AM by IHS Engineering360 eNewsletter

NASA's Composites Technology Center has come a long way since it installed its first commercially available fiber placement machine. Now the space agency has employed a robotic manufacturing system to create the largest, lightweight components ever constructed for space vehicles. In this Electronics360 interview, John Vickers - manager of NASA's National Center for Advanced Manufacturing - talks about robotic technology and its impact on space vehicles and exploration. "New robotic fiber placement capability," Vickers says, "allows NASA to take a technology area that is exotic and in the future and bring it into the realm of the present and the practical."


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Air Travel Safety: Why International Standards Matter

Posted December 22, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS Engineering360 eNewsletter

October's bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula has focused the world's attention on airline security in an age of terror. International standards and regulations, in particular, are subject to renewed scrutiny. This piece from Engineering360 recounts the history of these standards and assesses their ability to manage risk - in the air and on the ground. IT security techniques are the latest to be addressed by the relevant standards organizations. Of course, the weakest link in the security chain remains the same: the human factor.


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5 comments; last comment on 12/29/2015
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Manned Mission to Mars

Posted November 19, 2015 12:00 AM by joeymac

Since the movie "The Martian" came out I was curious to see if NASA really is thinking about sending people to Mars and sure enough it's in the works. NASA wants to put people on Mars by the 2030s. NASA has a three-part plan to reach Mars.

larger version of image from NASA

The first phase involves more research on the International Space Station when it comes to studying the effects of living in space for long periods of time and the other part of phase one is further development of its most powerful rocket, called the Space Launch System (SLS). In the second phase NASA wants to perform a variety of tasks in the space around the moon called cislunar space. This includes an asteroid redirect mission that includes sending a solar electric robotic probe to an asteroid and removing a boulder-sized chunk, and then taking that chunk back to cislunar orbit. NASA wants to bring astronauts out to study the asteroid sample by 2025. The final phase of the plan involves sending astronauts to orbit Mars and possibly landing on one of its moons. Then the hardest part: landing humans on Mars with the equipment to get off the planet's surface and return safely back to Earth. So if everything goes to plan and there aren't many major setbacks, could we be watching humans on Mars in real life, instead of the big screen in the not so distant future? Space exploration has gotten very interesting again.

5 comments; last comment on 12/26/2015
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Building a Better Space Suit

Posted November 18, 2015 9:18 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: Mars NASA space suit

Mars is getting more and more appealing. First as a planet studies project: last week it was reported the atmosphere is subject to intense, planet-wide auroras due to the interaction between solar storms and remnant magnetism in the planet's crust. Expedia can help you plan your trip there.

It's also garnering interest as a new workplace. Beginning December 21, NASA will begin fielding open applications for a new generation of astronauts, and in that group of hirings will likely be the first individual to set foot on the red planet. (joeymac has some info on NASA's future Mars mission.)

Clearly space technology needs to develop considerably if NASA is going to land humans on Mars in the 2030s. But one of the most overlooked pieces of equipment is the space suit. There are three types of space suits, but obviously the ones to be most concerned with are extravehicular suits-the ones that keep people in the extreme environments of space. The truth is that space suits are practically wearable space crafts.

The first notable space suit would be the A7L, the type Neil Armstrong used to walk on the moon. After a fire on the Apollo 1 mission burned through the suits, NASA required all suits to be rated up to 1,000° F. NASA contracted International Latex Corporation to make the suit, as they had significant experience making garments that withstood considerable internal pressure (namely bras and girdles). ILC made the A7L exterior out of Beta-cloth, a fabric of Teflon-coated glass microfibers. ILC also innovated the convolute joint from nylon tricot-reinforced neoprene to allow freedom of movement. Steel aircraft cables in the suit absorbed tension forces and helped maintain suit shape. The cost was $100,000; equal to $670,000 USD today. Looking back, Armstrong praised the suit's functionality and aesthetic-and the latter part has influenced many subsequent designs.

Today, crew members on the International Space Station utilize either the U.S.-made Extravehicular Mobility Unit or the Russian-made Orlan. Both are white, with domed helmets, convolute joints and backpack-based breathing and propulsion systems. The EMU has been in use since 1982, and the Orlan since 1977, though there have been obvious upgrades. Yet NASA has identified the need for a completely new suit if/when explorers are sent to Mars.

There are notable differences about Mars' atmosphere? that makes current space suit technology obsolescent. Old suits are designed for microgravity environments, with the EMA and Orlan weighing in at 275 lb. and 265 lb., respectively. On Mars, where gravity is about 1/3 that of Earth, but still three times that of the Moon, old, heavy suits will restrict mobility and limit the science that astronauts can accomplish. Yet the suits must still provide stability in wind gusts up to 94 km/h. Providing astronauts more lower body mobility is also a priority, so wearers can bend, twist, and maneuver tools and samples. More tactility in gloves and footwear, and integrating cameras to eliminate blind spots, can help improve sensory collection. A mission on Mars will likely last longer than mission on the Moon, meaning suit durability is more important as well.

Enter the Z-2, NASA's most current prototype and predecessor to the Z-3 suit that NASA hope to send to the ISS in 2020. (For the record, the Z-1 was a straight-up Buzz Lightyear knockoff.) The Z series eliminates convolute joints for bearing joints, making knees and elbows more easily flexed. The Z-2 can also be entered from a hatch, instead of worn and attached. This makes it quicker and easier to enter and exit, and suits could be mounted externally on the ship and entered solely via suitports. A hands-free display is also a necessity to help keep track of time and suit performance. NASA also credits 3D printing and scanning as essential components to its current prototyping, but also as a way to ensure a perfect fit for space scientists. To improve hand tactility and reduce stresses, the Z-2 currently has 62 glove configurations. There are still many years of testing and development ahead, but for a piece of equipment so important it's never too early to product design.

The Z-2, just as with all the space suits of the past 50 years, will be manufactured by ILC. As long as it gets the job done, I don't think many people are going to be checking the label.

4 comments; last comment on 12/09/2015
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One Drone, Up Close and Personal

Posted November 12, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS Engineering360 eNewsletter

With drones permeating air space, and news about drones permeating air waves,Engineering360 contributor and former aerospace engineer Rick DeMeis decided to personally test the Parrot Bebop Drone. First impression: simplicity of design. The only moving parts are the four prop motors. Flying the Bebop requires a smartphone, tablet computer, or dedicated Skycontroller unit. DeMeis tried all three and favors the two-stick Skycontroller. It is costly, but offers better range and more controllability. Learn what DeMeis considers as positive features - for instance, exceptionally smooth video thanks to image stabilization - and the drawbacks he discovered.


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Where Aerospace and Music Collide

Posted November 09, 2015 12:00 AM by joeymac

An aerospace engineer's love of music has created quite the mixture of his two passions. Jerry Mearini is the founder of Genvac Aerospace Inc., an aerospace company that coats various optical lenses and windows with an extremely hard, diamond-like carbon, making them able to withstand battle conditions. During the last nine years they have been extremely busy with optical elements that go into thermal sighting systems for military aircraft, military scopes, and tank windows.

As the military work slowed down, Mearini had the opportunity to play with other applications for the aerospace technology. He saw the opportunity to mix his technology with his first passion which was music: using his diamond-like carbon coating on guitar picks. After more than two years of development, Rock Hard Picks, a line of almost indestructible guitar picks that create almost no friction was created. Each pick is made of stainless steel and is coated in diamond-like carbon. This results in guitar strings that last far longer and a very crisp, distinct sound. So as long as you don't lose it, you should never have to buy another guitar pick again.

Genvac's CEO doesn't want to stop there either. Eventually he wants to build an entire Rock Hard guitar. Now wouldn't that be cool that if they could develop an almost indestructible guitar. I also have to wonder if being near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had anything to do with the inspiration since Genvac is located in Cleveland, Ohio. As a fan of rock and roll it'll be interesting to see what else this aerospace technology can do with music.

3 comments; last comment on 11/12/2015
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