X-Plane… Better than X-Men

Forget about X-Men and say hello to X-Plane. Now, of course, you want to know what the heck it is. X-Planes are NASA projects to produce all different types of aircraft that will be fueled with green energy, constructed of revolutionary materials and featuring innovative designs. Their energy consumption requirements and noise pollution contributions will be cut in half.

In response to Obama’s challenge to the agency to provide clean transportation, NASA launched the New Aviation Horizons initiative. The goal is to unveil experimental aircraft within a decade, hence the “X” of the X-Plane, and green aviation technologies.

Technology demonstrations have been happening for about six years now. With lightweight composite materials, shape changing wing systems, special coatings and revolutionary propulsion systems, researchers are predicting the airline industry will save hundreds of billions of dollars within the first two decades of putting the X-Planes into service.

In the future people will no longer be launched through the heavens in an aluminum tube. Hi-tech composite materials will create a craft where the wings blend into the body and have smart flaps that shape-shift to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency. Special surface coatings will reduce drag further by making it possible for things like bugs that get splatted, stick and disrupt fine aerodynamics to just slide their slimy guts right off the surface of the aircraft.

Engines will not be limited to being wing or tail mounted. They can also be a part of the fuselage. The gringa envisions literally flying through the clouds, straddling a rocket, bug guts never sticking to my teeth. Preliminary models of super-efficient subsonic aircraft depict elongated fuselages that are twice as wide as the average subsonic aircraft with narrow wings, electric propulsion and an embedded engine.

With the development of an X-Plane that is supersonic, those sonic booms heard from time to time will become a thing of the past, or at least a sonic “poof” is all that will be heard. With a propulsion system fueled by low carbon bio-fuel, aircraft will be much quieter as they break the sound barrier.

Depending on how things go, NASA expects the first of the X-Planes to be in service by 2020. This, of course, all depends on funding, field tests and the cooperation of airports, airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration.

NASA test pilots have already performed successful test flights for the Tecnam P2006T. This Italian production aircraft features electric propulsion and is similar to some X-Planes already in development. One model is a hybrid concept integrating the wings into the aircraft fuselage and engines mounted at the top rear of the plane. The turbofan engines are flanked by two tails that serve as buffers to engine noise.

However, by following the lead of the Italians and focusing on electric propulsion, future commuter aircraft would be environmentally friendly and reduce noise pollution. One such model NASA is working on is called Sceptor (Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology and Operations Research). This aircraft is based on the Italian produced Tecnam P2006T. However, it is modified to have a different wing configuration that features integrated electric motors. Developers hope to test the performance of both the Tecnam P2006T and Sceptor and compare their capabilities. This goal is probably about three years away.

To test the experimental wings, they mount the wing to the top of an 18-wheeler truck cab and then drive like the dickens through the desert, reaching speeds in the 70 mph range, to simulate a wind tunnel. This allows researchers to gather data on drag, lift, pitching and rolling. I don’t know about you, but driving that truck sounds like fun. The gringa would like to have that job for a day.

Technology, aviation, chemistry, truck driving, computer modeling… the future for our youth has something for everyone. With each generation we need to cultivate the minds of our future scientists and innovators. And, with programs like X-Planes, what an inspiration for kids everywhere!

Source and Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov




A Happy, Hopeful Astronaut

The gringa is happy to announce that she is one step closer to realizing her astronaut dreams! The media has given so much attention to SpaceX and their contractual relationship with NASA that the wonders of Blue Origin have not received their due. And, for aspiring astronauts like myself, this is a terrible injustice that the gringa hopes to rectify with this humble blog post.

Blue Origin is making it possible for astronaut hopefuls to reach dizzying heights above the Earth. Space pioneers will soon launch into Earth’s atmosphere in the New Shepard capsule that is perched above a sixty foot rocket that has proven its re-useable capabilities long before SpaceX claimed such fame. They had successful launches and landings November, 2015, and this month, January, 2016.

The New Shepard can sit a six man crew and accelerate past 3G’s, that’s faster than Mach 3. And, although each crewman does have duties aboard ship, there is plenty of time for space explorers to kick back and gaze out some enormous windows upon the vastness of outer space that surrounds our beautiful planet. Once the New Shepard capsule separates from the rocket booster, passengers then experience weightlessness in the perfect stillness of the vacuum of space.

Where does all of this amazingness happen? Practically in the gringa’s back yard, right here in Texas, west Texas to be more exact. Very soon Flyboys and Flygirls will begin arriving at the launch site and go through a two day training course on what to expect as well as what your astronaut responsibilities will be. There are flight simulations, safety briefings and in-depth flight training on procedures, communications and maneuvering.

Launch day starts at sunrise for pre-flight checks and final clearance. Once the go ahead is given, space explorers climb in, batten down the hatch, strap in, and COUNT DOWN. The launch is a 150 second burn of the ride of your life! In no time the blue sky fades to black, yeah, just like the Metallica song. Astronauts get to explore the weightlessness of zero gravity, contemplate man’s place in the Universe, and make spaceflight history.

Earthbound mission control will signal when it’s time to get your feet back on the ground. So, strap back in and be prepared for an even faster trip back down (over 5Gs!) that will be slowed by eight drag brakes (technical-speak for parachutes). Right before touch down the rocket engine fires up and slows the booster for a 5 mph landing very close to the launch area.

Blue Origin’s motto is “Gradatim Ferociter” which is Latin for “step by step, ferociously”. Step by step they have built upon one success after another and broken new ground in the spaceflight industry. They are making it possible for EVERYONE (that has enough money, that is) to be an astronaut. In fact, Blue Origin wants to make it possible for millions of people to eventually live and work in outer space.

Although SpaceX has gotten more media attention for building a reusable rocket system, Blue Origin experienced this success first. With each flight, the cost of spaceflight becomes more and more affordable. Maybe it will be within the gringa’s budget in another five or ten years. Who knows?! But, one day, I’m going!

Blue Origin is perfecting their New Shepard flight program with ongoing tests of unmanned test flights. They have yet to put a crew up into the heavens. But, each test brings the day closer when astronauts like you and I, dear reader, will climb on board and make history!

And, if you’re not interested in getting shot up into the sky, you can still be a part of history by working for Blue Origin because they need lots of folks with skills! Just a few slots they need to fill:  Aerodynamics Engineer, Aerospace Technician, Avionics Engineer,  Avionics Software Development Engineer, Composite Structural Engineer, Dimensional Inspector, Director of Safety and Mission Assurance,  Dynamic & Loads Engineer, HelpDesk Technician, and the list goes on and on.

And you don’t have to necessarily relocate to West Texas to have one of these fantastic jobs. Blue Origin has facilities in Washington State and Florida, too. So, if you believe in no limits, are passionate about the space industry, and have something to offer to Blue Origin’s collaborative efforts, you need to check them out.

Source & Photo Credit:  www.blueorigin.com