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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.

Big Wing Delivers Advanced Technology

Posted September 27, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS Engineering360 eNewsletter

Airbus claims it's the "largest single part made from composites" in commercial aircraft today. Measuring 32 m x 6 m, the Airbus A350-1000 wing incorporates a large number of advanced features. Droop-nose leading edge devices and adaptive dropped-hinge flaps will increase the jetliner's efficiency at low speeds. On-board computer systems will control the wing's moving surfaces during flight to lower drag and reduce fuel burn. SAE International reports that wings for the all-new wide-body airliner are now being assembled in North Wales.

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1 comments; last comment on 09/28/2015
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NASA's Next Launch is...a TV Channel

Posted September 16, 2015 11:12 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: entertainment NASA space tv

There seems to be a growing trend of space-based TV shows and movies. That's not to say there has ever been a lack of science fiction, but lately more media has been focusing on science near-fiction. Warp drives and phasers have been replaced by more probable narratives, like missions to Mars or a moon of Jupiter (apparently doable.) Examples please? Gravity. The Martian. Europa Report. Considering the foretold effects of global warming, Interstellar seems plausible. A couple of older films, Contact (minus the alien-wormhole thing) and Deep Impact, also deserve an honorable mention.

Well now the most scientifically factual entertainment ever created will be available in the United States. That's because NASA is launching an ultra-high-definition TV channel that will be available through cable subscriptions as well as online (yay cord-cutters!). Programming will feature daily operations aboard the International Space Station (ISS), views from the Hubble telescope, and other live space missions and launches. NASA promises the, "most breathtaking views of planet Earth and space station activities ever." There will also be remastered historical footage and clips from NASA centers back on Earth.

Transmitting footage in resolutions of 2160p60 requires some serious communications hardware, and NASA is doing it from space with infrastructure by Harmonic. After testing, the channel will launch on November 1. Transmission is made possible by the AMC-18C satellite that handles other NASA footage. NASA currently keeps Ustream, YouTube and a webpage for NASA TV, but in a much lower resolution. The new NASA channel will actually be the first 4K consumer channel ever.

No doubt, bringing space's most alluring and breathtaking views is going to foster imaginations like never before. Both science fiction and science near-fiction have always been driven by plots, so it will be a nice change to just enjoy the mesmerizing scenery.

But this is likely also an attempt by NASA to gain publicity for their underfunded but profound objective. NASA's 2015 budget is just over $18 billion, which is definitely a lot, but arguable not enough considering its significance. $18 billion is just 0.5% of the annual federal budget, when as recently as 22 years ago NASA had earned more than 1%. Reaching the populace, especially the next generation that will enter politics, is a smart strategy. It might also jumpstart some renewed interest for space tourism, which has taken a large hit recently due to the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crash.

I'll be looking to download the NASA channel once it is unleashed on Roku. Sure, it may not have the drama of reality television, but I prefer my reality TV based in reality anyhow. NASA channel here I come.

1 comments; last comment on 09/17/2015
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Drone Defense

Posted September 02, 2015 11:57 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: defense drone radar UAV

Last weekend I had my first experience of having a drone 'spy' on me. My friends and I were having an evening campfire in woods near my home, when--in between slurps of beer--the sound of a weedwhacker grew closer. We quickly realized no one was weedwhacking in the woods at 11 p.m., but soon spotted a red beacon hovering about 20 ft. over the tree canopy, where it stayed for a few minutes before continuing on its way. A pilot had likely spotted our fire and was curious about what was happening below--overall not much.

Overall, my first drone experience was pretty benign, especially considering the nuisance they've created for others recently. One man shot down a drone as he alleged it was spying on his sunbathing teenage daughters. Another hobby drone derailed a suspect search when it got too close to an LAPD helicopter. On the flip side, officers in North Dakota might be pursuing suspects with a drone, now that they've receive permission to mount tasers, tear gas and other non-lethal weapons on them.

At this point, a new dialogue on drones and privacy needs to occur. When drones have reached the point where they're sold at local pharmacies, and also available at steep discounts on sites like Groupon, they've officially matured from a niche technology to a realized market. Some predictions expect 30,000 FAA drone licenses to be issued by 2020--and there will likely be many more people who don't need a license or won't apply for one.

Many states have passed or are reviewing legislation that would require police to obtain a warrant before using a drone to collect evidence. The larger threat is likely from private owners who will use their drone to spy as voyeurs or to access networks, say to steal credit card data or hack computers. Currently drone tools are limited by weight and power supply, but continuing innovations will provide more powerful models enabling a better array of tools-and threats. For example, engineers at the University of California, San Diego have created a cloaking device that could make drones invisible.

Are individuals going to be buying drone detectors to safeguard their homes? Probably not, but a variety of detection technologies and detector proposals have garnered interest. Audio, visual and thermal detection technologies would likely be useless in urban landscapes. Radar has taken some steps forward, but most radar technologies have trouble identifying drones, including those on the ground or water. It seems radio frequency detection holds the most promise. Three or more RF detectors identify all transmitters operating on know drone frequencies and can triangulate drone position. Alerts are sent to a phone or computer.

The evil side of drones is of course genuinely about human-human relationships, not human-technology relationships. I doubt the average person will need to concerned with UAV invasions, but there will always be someone trying to take advantage of others.

When the drones come to your door, how welcoming will you be?

20 comments; last comment on 10/02/2015
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Who's Ready for Hypersonic Airplanes?

Posted August 26, 2015 1:13 PM by HUSH

Ever since the jet engines of the Concorde were extinguished nearly 12 years ago, the world has awaited the next supersonic transport (SST). Amid rising fuel costs, diminished government discounts, a fatal crash, reduced air travel and a manufacturer that eliminated maintenance services, the Concorde was essentially forced into retirement.

This left a niche branch of air travel that remains unfulfilled. Whether it be for novelty or functionality, there remains a need for a new generation of SST. The technology is there, as it has been since 1963, but airplane OEMs and operators haven't felt compelled to rush a new supersonic plane into service. After all, a Boeing 747 can carry thrice the passengers while using the same amount of fuel.

There have been a few developments of note, however. Since last check-in, Supersonic Aerospace International has re-envisioned its Quiet SST concept as a 737-sized supersonic passenger transport. SAI believes it has eliminated sonic booms with a redesigned fuselage and by using extremely powerful electric turbofans for propulsion that receive power from a superconductive electrical storage system. SAI is expected to release feasibility studies in 2015, but for the second time in five years, it seems the SAI QSST is on hiatus.

This is just one of a number of SST concepts that have gone quiet recently. In late 2013 a Gulfstream executive said that there isn't a current viable market for its supersonic x-54A concept. The Tupolev Tu-444 has seemingly been cancelled. Other projects, like the Lockheed N+2 and HyperMach SonicStar, are promised to be available in the 2020s. Meanwhile Aerion Corporation has begun taking orders for its $120 million AS2 business-class supersonic jet, yet it won't be delivered until 2021, at earliest. The Spike S-512 seems poised to launch in 2018 or 2019. Right now it's a two-horse race for SSTs.

Despite the considerable development still ahead of all these planes, engineers are already envisioning the subsequent generation of aerospace travel: hypersonic transportation. Supersonic planes travel over Mach 1, but hypersonic planes will travel Mach 5 (3,800 mph). In July, the U.S. Air Force announced its intention to have a hypersonic aircraft ready by 2023, and a full weapons platform in its hands by 2040. Considering most supersonic passenger planes won't ready until after this deadline, it seems the military is rushing the maturity of this technology a bit.

Nonetheless, commercial hypersonic planes are on the horizon too. Airbus recently filed a patent on hypersonic plane technology. The concept aircraft would use regular jet engines to take-off before rocket boosters would send the plane on a steep ascent. Once above the atmosphere, ramjet engines would propel the plane to 3,400 mph. Of course, patents typically are intellectual property tactics and don't always represent realized technologies. But leading aerospace engineers believe the day will come when flying Tokyo to Paris takes just three hours.

Is it too early to innovate hypersonic technologies? Probably not. But a lot remains to be seen-especially financially-with the next era of supersonic travel.

11 comments; last comment on 09/10/2015
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Utilities Put Drones on Patrol

Posted August 25, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS Engineering360 eNewsletter

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more commonly referred to as drones, are expanding the frontiers of utility operations. Perhaps the biggest benefit is that using drones improves safety by keeping workers farther from high voltage lines. And when human intervention is required, UAVs can help workers make the best decisions about how to proceed in a given situation. Drones are uniquely suited for flying close to equipment and using visible and thermal photography to inspect and monitor power distribution assets. The information can be viewed in real-time and/or recorded for future comparison and analysis.

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Rise of the Drones

Posted August 02, 2015 12:00 AM by Texas Instruments

2015 is quickly becoming the year of drones. So what exactly is a drone? According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a drone is an unmanned aircraft system comprising the unmanned aircraft (the drone) and all of its associated support equipment: control station, data links, telemetry, navigation equipment, etc. To fly a hobbyist drone (weighing less than 55lbs), you don't need the FAA's approval, as long as you keep it within your line of sight and away from populated areas/full-scale aircrafts. Flying a drone for business purposes does require FAA approval.

According to CBInsights, as of May 31, drone startups have raised more funding in 2015 than the previous three years combined (Figure 1). While the defense industry has used drones for more than a decade, they are coming into their own in the commercial space.

Figure 1: Drone Investment activity reported by CBInsights

So what exactly is a drone? A drone is an unmanned aircraft. An unmanned aircraft system is the unmanned aircraft (drone) and all of the associated support equipment such as control station, data links, telemetry, navigation equipment, etc. To fly a hobbyist drone that weighs < 55lbs, you don't need FAA's approval as long as you keep it within your line of sight and away from populated areas/full scale aircrafts. But, to fly a drone for business purpose, you do need to obtain FAA's approval.

What makes drones so attractive for business purposes? They have certain unique abilities that are opening up new applications and markets every day. Drones can overcome terrain challenges and are deployable anywhere. They can also carry flexible payloads (the lighter the load the longer the flight time) and can measure and record everything in their path from an aerial perspective. The convergence of advanced smartphone software and processing capability; very high-resolution, lightweight video-capturing equipment; and advanced flight-control algorithms are unlocking new possibilities for drones.

Commercial applications include:

  • Camera drones - to capture extreme sport enthusiasts' adventures.
  • Agriculture - noted as having the highest potential commercially. Drones further the precision-agriculture movement by identifying and applying pesticides and fertilizers exactly where they are needed, which is better for the environment and the farmer's bottom line.
  • Search and rescue - thermal-imaging cameras can locate missing people when the general search area is known.
  • Surveying/geographic information systems (GIS) mapping.
  • Unmanned cargo delivery - delivering that last-minute anniversary gift or your favorite pizza.
  • Riot-control drones - loaded with pepper sprays or paintballs designed to disperse crowds. (This one makes me uneasy.)

One of the challenges with drones is the flight time. Could you imagine having to stop a search effort or your pizza not making it all the way to your house due to low battery? Limited flying time in every application scenario leads to a less desirable outcome. Although there are a few gas-powered drones, most are powered by lithium-ion (Li-ion) or lithium polymer (LiPo) rechargeable batteries. The many ways to extend flight time include making the payload as light as possible, flying in the right weather conditions, and choosing a higher capacity/higher-cell-count battery pack. Mainstream drone batteries have evolved from 3-4 cells in series to higher capacity greater than 5 cells in series. TI has a variety of battery chargers, gauges and protectors to cover the spectrum of drone application needs, including a device that can perform charging, gauging and protection all in one package - the bq40Z60.

That was a quick overview of drones, their applications and outlook. Even though every new generation of drone increases run time, you always want to remember to carry an extra battery pack or two so the fun can continue uninterrupted. Stay charged!

To learn more about TI's battery management portfolio, please visit

(Editor's Note: This is a sponsored post brought to you by Texas Instruments.)

8 comments; last comment on 08/09/2015
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