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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.

Inflatable Habitats to Expand Space Research

Posted May 21, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Recently, SpaceX delivered an inflatable modular habitat to the International Space Station (video). Developed by Bigelow Aerospace, the BEAM - for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module - will help scientists better understand requirements for deep space habitats. Inflatable habitats could further research in fields like materials, medicine, and biology. They could also be used for space tourism. Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance have announced they will develop much larger inflatable modular habitats for these purposes. Deployment for Low Earth Orbit is targeted for 2020.

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6 comments; last comment on 05/24/2016
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NASA Wants to Lower the Boom of Supersonic Aircraft

Posted May 06, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

The goal: a "low-boom" demonstration aircraft capable of flying at supersonic speeds. Quiet Supersonic Technology is part of NASA's New Aviation Horizons initiative, introduced in the agency's fiscal year 2017 budget. The 10-year initiative seeks to reduce fuel consumption, emissions, and noise through innovations in aircraft design. In particular, it will pursue designs that depart from the conventional tube-and-wing aircraft shape.

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4 comments; last comment on 05/23/2016
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Return of the Airship

Posted March 31, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Engineers are busy preparing "the world's largest aircraft" for its maiden flight this spring. Not only is Airlander 10 a giant, stretching the length of a football field, it is designed to carry 10 metric tons of cargo. Other stats are equally impressive. The airship flies 70 knots fully loaded and a single tank of fuel will propel it halfway around the world. A mix of modern materials, moreover, replaces the traditional internal structure of previous airships. A related article explains how Airlander 10 achieves lift not only aerostatically, but also aerodynamically.

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2 comments; last comment on 04/04/2016
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Two Years Later, but No Leads for Doomed Flight MH370

Posted March 09, 2016 10:10 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: accident airplane drift modeling safety
User-tagged by 1 user

Another aerospace blog entry? Yes please.

Last week there was speculation that a mysterious airplane piece that washed up on a sandbar in the Mozambique Channel was from the doomed flight MH370. This would be notable because--if confirmed--it would be just the second recovered piece of wreckage from the plane that virtually vanished in March 2014, now two years ago.

To jog your memory: MH370 departed Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on March 8, 2014 for what was supposed to be a six hour flight to Beijing. After 45 minutes of flight time, all radio connection with the flight had ceased. Radar confirmed the plane never flew over Vietnam on its way to China; instead Malaysia military radar found the plane 200 miles northwest of Penang and nearly 400 miles off course. It seems a pilot had reversed the course of the plane and flew in the wrong direction for as long as six hours. This would be the last confirmed location for MH370, and outside of a piece of flaperon debris that washed ashore Reunion Island in July 2015, the plane has outright disappeared.

(Click map to enlarge)

Since March 31, 2014 a team of Australian, Chinese, and Malaysian searchers has been scouring 120,000² km of seafloor, and have yet to find anything. At first, the rugged underwater terrain required a bathymetric survey to be completed. Now three vessels--each towing an underwater equipment module with side-scan sonar, multi-beam echo sounders and video cameras--scour the area daily with no results yet. A fourth vessel deploys an underwater autonomous vehicle. To date they've covered nearly 75% of the search area, which to one search executive means that they'll inevitably find the wreckage sometime this year. The cost of this search stands at $148 million.

The confirmed MH370 component that washed ashore of France's Reunion Island, 2,500 miles west of the designated search area, is consistent with debris drift models. The part was a flaperon from a Boeing 777 that was confirmed to be part of MH370 after the part serial number was found with a borescope by French aviation officials. Ocean drift models predicted that about a year and half later debris would begin washing ashore along the east African coast. However only the flaperon is confirmed.

The new piece of potential wreckage is a scrap of metal with a fastener lodged in it that is part of a plane's horizontal stabilizer. It was found at the end of February by an amateur American scavenger looking for MH370 clues. There has been initial insight that the part definitely is Boeing and belongs to a 777 aircraft, but the person who found it believes the part could be too small to belong to a 777. Australia will take over analysis of the piece, which should only take a few days.

It the piece does turn out to belong to MH370? It will confirm that the plane broke apart, either on impact or in the air. There were previous reports that MH370 likely landed intact, which would explain the lack of flotsam.

No matter what, we're one day closer to resolving a dark day in airline travel.

12 comments; last comment on 03/14/2016
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Two Innovations to Make Airplane Comfort Just a Little Bit Worse

Posted February 24, 2016 8:33 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: airplane parachute safety seat

There are few things worse than an uncomfortable plane trip home from a vacation. And the better the vacation, the worse the plane trip can feel. As if I wasn't already depressed enough leaving Jamaica last week, I also had a late flight, a seat separate from my party, and got to sit near someone who brought the entire McDonald's menu aboard.

Of course I've whined about plane travel before, and others certainly recognize the torture. But some recent ideas are really about to kick up to torture factor of airline travel.

First, we'll go with the technology that is likely to be implemented, and few people will want to see. Airline seats are manufactured according to measurements made in 1962, when the average American butt was 14 inches for men, 14.4 inches for women. Forty years later, Air Force measurements determined averages for both were at the time over 15 inches, but airliner seat sizes have remained, while presumably butts get bigger. And the seat pitch (equivalent points on subsequent seats) has shrunk by at least four inches since the 1970s. While a Tennessee senator is proposing laws about minimal seat dimensions, Airbus is taking a design approach to this issue: bench seats.

Bench seats replacing traditional airline seats would be important for a few reasons. First, the bench seat would be sold differently than a traditional seat. Passengers would be charged for the space they use, and how their weight affects fuel performance, much like how air freight is charged. Basically this means that two overweight fliers could share a bench seat, or a family of four with two small children could occupy the same space. The seat has several seat belt and arm rest configurations.

However, most people would still be sitting three across on the bench, so there likely won't be any extra room, and those folks would just get a less comfortable seat instead. It it's unlikely an airline would grant a "weight discount" if someone wanted to purchase the whole bench and take a nap. However if there is money to be made in Airbus's bench seat, you can bet your butt you'll see it soon.

On the contrary, this is a technology that many flyers want to see, but just won't happen in our lifetime unfortunately: the detachable plane cabin. The idea is so simple that it was just described.

Instead of the plane cabin being an integral part of the airplane, it would be a capsule that is filled with passengers and cargo and then secured to the rest of the plane. If an emergency were to happen, pilots release the capsule during flight. Parachutes slow the descent of the capsule, and airbags soften the landing and keep it buoyant if it lands on water. Click this link to the video to watch a 1:30 animation of the concept.

I recently flew with an anxious flyer, and while something like this might put her at ease, it is incredibly unrealistic. First, airliner deaths are so rare, it might not demand the expense (on the airline's part, of course). Developing traditional airplanes can cost $300 million, so it's not farfetched that the capsule cabin plane could cost double that, or more, to innovate. There are a hundred more questions than answers. And how do you steer a detached capsule? How do you test these? Are they going to be any safer than riding down with disabled-but-still-flying airplane? Does anyone care about the pilots? (It this the equivalent of an ejection seat for automobiles?)

So we're not really sure what the future of passenger aviation holds, but if either of these innovations see reality, it looks uncomfortable.

9 comments; last comment on 02/29/2016
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Lessons from the Challenger Disaster, 30 Years On

Posted February 19, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in the sky 30 years ago this year. For many people of a certain age, the disaster remains fresh in their memories with the infamous O-rings front and center of any discussion. Even so, they may not recall the circumstances and events leading up to the accident. Two engineers, in retrospect, were heros in this dark story. Why were their warnings unheeded? This special report recounts the events leading up to the tragedy and reassesses the lessons learned.

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5 comments; last comment on 02/21/2016
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