June 30, 2010

Supersonic Concept Plane Would Shush Sonic Booms

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Government Policies, Military, Space Ships — bferrari @ 10:32 am
This future aircraft design concept for supersonic flight over land comes from the team led by the Lockheed Martin Corporation

This future aircraft design concept for supersonic flight over land comes from the team led by the Lockheed Martin Corporation

A new design concept for a futuristic faster-than-sound aircraft could break through legal barriers to supersonic flights over land by shushing the sonic booms created by such vehicles.

The concept aircraft, envisioned by aerospace company Lockheed Martin, would revolutionize supersonic cruising by relying upon a so-called “inverted-V” engine-under wing configuration, where the engines sit atop the wings rather than beneath, NASA officials said in a statement.

A Lockheed illustration of the supersonic concept released by NASA is just one of several designs presented in April to the space agency’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate following a call for studies on advanced aircraft that could take to the skies sometime around 2030 or 2035.

NASA also has high hopes for air-breathing scramjet technology that could efficiently propel vehicles at hypersonic speeds and potentially help boost future space planes into Earth orbit. [Air Force’s plans for hypersonic weapons.]

The United States and other nations previously banned overland supersonic flights because of their classic sonic boom and rattle effect that can ruin anyone’s morning cup of coffee.
That prevented the now-defunct Concorde airliner from going supersonic except over water during transatlantic trips. Since then, NASA has performed several studies with supersonic flights aimed at shushing supersonic booms.

Such considerations also matter for ongoing hypersonic tests. DARPA tested its HTV-2 hypersonic glider prototype off the southern coast of California in late April, but lost contact with the vehicle early on during the flight.

The U.S. Air Force used the same Pacific corridor when it achieved the longest hypersonic flight in May with its X-51A Waverider. But the X-51A has yet to break the hypersonic speed record of NASA’s X-43A project, which achieved Mach 9.6 in November 2004.



June 15, 2010

Japanese Asteroid Probe Makes Historic Return to Earth

Filed under: Asteroids, Cool, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Space Ships — bferrari @ 6:13 am
An artist's illustration of the sample return capsule from Japan's Hayabusa asteroid probe returning to Earth on June 13, 2010 to end its 7-year mission.

An artist's illustration of the sample return capsule from Japan's Hayabusa asteroid probe returning to Earth on June 13, 2010 to end its 7-year mission.

A Japanese space capsule returned to Earth and plunged through the atmosphere over the Australian outback Sunday, capping a seven-year space journey that took it to a nearby asteroid in a historic attempt to collect pieces of a billion-year-old space rock.

The capsule, released by Japan’s Hayabusa asteroid probe, returned around 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) in the Woomera Prohibited Area of South Australia.

The re-entry capsule, which may contain a precious space rock sample, separated from the rest of the spacecraft about three hours before it plummeted down to Earth.

The small 16-inch wide canister planned to land with the help of a parachute and a heat shield to protect it from the fiery temperatures of reentry. The rest of the Hayabusa spacecraft was expected to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. [Graphic: How Japan’s Hayabusa Asteroid Mission Worked]

The probe will be recovered and transported back to Japan, where scientists will open it and find out whether it succeeded in returning a piece of the asteroid.

The return was monitored by an envoy from NASA, which sent scientists to observe the probe’s re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere to study how its heat shield performed.

“The capsule comes in with the speed of a natural meteor – an asteroid if you like,” said Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., principal investigator of the NASA observation project. “The velocity is incredible.”

A precious sample

Hayabusa, a mission of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), had a long and tumultuous voyage of roughly 1.25 billion miles (2 billion kilometers). In 2005, the probe landed on the asteroid 25143 Itokawa and attempted to dig up a sample to return to Earth.

Glitches during this process prevented the sample collection from going as planned, but scientists are still hopeful that the probe was able to pick up some asteroid dust or pebbles to bring back with it.

“We won’t know for a long time because the capsule will be recovered, hopefully, and then brought to Japan and opened there,” Jenniskens told

Even of “only a couple of particles much smaller than a grain of sand” were collected, they would be extremely useful for scientific research, since they would be the first pieces of a space rock ever returned by a robotic mission, said NASA’s Don Yeomans, the U.S. project scientist for the Hayabusa mission.

Long journey

Over the years Hayabusa has run into a number of snags that forced an extra three years to be added on to its mission. A fuel leak, communications loss and ion engine problems were just a few that threatened to kill the asteroid probe before it could ever return home.

“They’ve had so many challenges they’ve overcome,” Yeomans said. “They lost their batteries, they lost their attitude control system, they lost two of the three reaction wheels.”

“They’ve had to start using duct tape and bailing wire and chewing gun to correct for these things,” he joked.

That’s why it’s so gratifying to many of the researchers who’ve worked on the project that the spacecraft is finally home safe.

“It’s very exciting,” Jenniskens said. “It’s an incredible achievement by JAXA to actually go and visit an asteroid, land on it, try to collect materials and bring it back to Earth. The fact that they’ve been able to bring it back to Earth is incredible.”


June 4, 2010

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Launches, Despite Snags and Delays

Filed under: Gadgets, Government Policies, Military, Space Exploration, Space Ships — bferrari @ 3:19 pm

SpaceX's Falcon 9 blasts off on its maiden voyage.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 blasts off on its maiden voyage. (FoxNews)

Following a few hours delay and an aborted initial attempt, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket — one of an emerging class of private rockets intended to take the U.S. space program into the 21st century — finally took to the skies.

The Falcon 9 is carrying a mock-up of the company’s spacecraft, named Dragon. The goal of the test flight is to put the capsule into orbit. Eventually, Dragon may be a replacement for the space shuttle.

The launch was hailed as a great achievement by the Planetary Society, a group dedicated to exploring outer space and seeking other forms of life.

“It’s hard not to launch into hyperbole at the success of the first Falcon 9 test flight,” the group stated. “In advancing commercial spaceflight, today’s flight of Falcon 9 could be the first small step towards relieving NASA launchers of the burden of low-Earth orbit, thus freeing the U.S. space agency to reach new worlds.”

At 2:45 p.m. the two-stage booster rocket, which was initially scheduled for launch at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), blasted off into the skies over Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The ship made it into Earth orbit, where it will remain for an indefinite amount of time.

The first attempt to launch the Falcon 9 rocket was aborted mere moments before the planned 1:33 p.m. launch; the company reported that the abort occurred following “involved an out-of-limit startup parameter.”

Following launch errors or glitches, rockets are designed to put themselves into safety shut down mode, to prevent a cascading series of errors and a cataclysmic conclusion. SpaceX argues that the launch abort is in fact a successful test of the system, proving that safety mechanisms designed to prevent a disaster were working as designed.

“100 percent success would be reaching orbit,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told reporters during a Thursday teleconference. “Given that this is a test flight, whatever percentage of getting to orbit we achieve would still be considered a good day. If just the first stage functions correctly, it’s a good day. It’s a great day if both stages function.”

With what appears to be a successful test of the rocket, Musk will certainly call this a great day for SpaceX.


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