Lego-like composite could cut aircraft costs dramatically
Los Alamos National Laboratory and Composite Optics Inc., San Diego, have developed a process for making strong, lightweight composites structures that snap together like a child's model aircraft. The researchers say that the method is two-thirds faster and 60% less expensive than other fabrication design methods. Working with Composite Optics, Los Alamos built the first all-composite spacecraft structure--the FORTƒ satellite--from the material. Flat laminates of the graphite/epoxy composite are precut using a high-pressure water jet. The parts, many of which are modular and interchangeable, are easily assembled by a built-in, self-fixturing technique not unlike mortise-and-tenon joining used by woodworkers. Composite structures have zero thermal growth, in contrast to aluminum structures that expand and shrink as temperatures fluctuate. FAX Tim Thompson at (505) 667-3559.
NASA to employ Delta Clipper for reusable rocket research
Following the successful completion of test flights conducted for the Air Force by McDonnell Douglas, the Delta Clipper-Experimental (DC-X) will be transferred to NASA's Office of Space Access and Technology for use in the Reusable Launch Vehicle technology program. The unpiloted, single-stage rocket (see Design News 9/7/92, p. 58) lifts off and lands under its own thrust. "What we learn by testing the DC-XA will enable us to reduce hardware design changes downstream to save both time and money," says project manager Dan Dumbacher of the Marshall Space Flight Center. Enhancements, to be performed by McDonnell Douglas, will include: an aluminum-lithium, liquid-oxygen tank, a composite liquid-hydrogen tank and intertank, and a liquid-to-gas converter assembly in the flight reaction control system. The upgrade will cost about $50 million. FAX (205) 544-5852 .
United Technologies to market Russian rocket engines
What type of rockets will power future Delta Clipper vehicles? They could be Russian-made. United Technologies' Pratt & Whitney unit has agreed to form a joint venture with NPO Energomash to market two of the Russian company's rocket engines in the U.S. The venture's immediate hopes are to offer an engine for the reusable-rocket program. The venture highlights how aerospace companies in both countries, experiencing dwindling orders from their governments, are hurting. However, NASA, currently writing a policy for the use of foreign components in the new generation of reusable rockets, will have to balance security concerns with the program's main goal of developing low-cost alternatives for putting satellites into space. Pratt executives contend that the Russian RD-120M engine, said to be the lowest in cost of any now available based on its abilities, will be a clear winner in that competition. FAX (407) 796-7258 .
Skunk Works delivers refurbished SR-71 reconnaissance jets
After a five-year pause in service, the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird--the world's fastest and highest flying jet--returned to the Air Force's inventory. In a ceremony at the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, CA, company officials presented the first of two refurbished SR-71s to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, CA. The wing operated SR-71s until 1990, when budget pressures led to the retirement of the fleet. However, Congress had second thoughts and allocated funds to have "two or more" SR-71s taken from storage and reconditioned. Many of the Blackbirds went to museums and a small number were put in storage for possible future use. Three were loaned to NASA for scientific research flights. Lockheed Martin designed and built the Blackbirds at the Skunk Works in the 1960s. They flew missions over trouble spots throughout the world for 24 years. FAX Jim Ragsdale at (805) 572-4163.
Tough aerospace alloy offered as tool-steel upgrade
A variation of AerMet® 100 alloy, developed originally by Carpenter Technology Corp. as an aerospace material, can now help add ultra-high strength and fracture toughness to tools. The new grade, called AerMet-for-Tooling, has the same chemical composition as the AerMet 100 alloy, but is formulated to tool-steel tolerances. It consists of nickel-cobalt strengthened by carbon, chromium, and molybdenum. The alloy can be heat treated to HRC 53.5-55.0, and exhibits Charpy V-notch impact resistance in excess of 30 ft-lb longitudinally. Its toughness and ductility are well in excess of that for any tool steel, according to Carpenter Marketing Manager Jan Musser. FAX (610) 208-2858 .
Aerial robot flies autonomously, retrieves metal disks
The International Aerial Robotics Competition held at Georgia Institute of Technology recorded a major first this year. A helicopter entered by Stanford University not only flew autonomously for almost three minutes, but it retrieved metal disks from a bin, something that no other competitor had accomplished in the five-year history of the event. For its first-ever effort, Stanford received $7,000 of the $10,000 in available prize money, the largest amount ever awarded a single school. Stanford was also the first team to use the global positioning system for navigation. Second place and $1,000 went to Technische Universitat Berlin's blimp. Third place and $500 went to the University of Texas at Arlington's tailsitter. Both entries flew autonomously for more then 30 seconds, but were unable to retrieve the metal disks. "This was an outstanding competition," reports Rob Michelson, president of the sponsoring Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. "Performance was very good. Even the teams that had problems and were not able to fly made great improvements over previous years." FAX (404) 894-6983 .
Neural network computer system spies on enemy aircraft
KTAADN, Inc., Newton, MA, has developed an inexpensive way to rapidly identify multiple, noncooperative radar targets. The Aircraft Recognition Evaluator (AIRE) uses neural network computer technology to analyze raw radar cross-section data from a conventional surveillance radar system. A pattern of details is extracted that leads to aircraft-type identification. It can even determine whether the target is carrying stores, according to KTAADN project manager Illya Schiller. There is no need to dwell on the target, Schiller adds, which might activate its electronic countermeasure systems. The technology can be used with next-generation, frequency-hopping radars. FAX (617) 527-9321 .
Redesigned Advanced Tactical Fighter turbine tests a success
The F-22 Advanced Tactical Fighter program has completed a key milestone with the successful demonstration of a redesigned turbine for its Pratt & Whitney F119 engines. The testing, conducted at the Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC), Tullahoma, TN, validated that the new design eliminates high vibratory stress levels, while improving turbine efficiency. Trial runs of the original turbine design had yielded higher vibratory stresses and lower performance than the program's original goals. Continued testing at AEDC and Pratt & Whitney, using rapid prototyping hardware, provided data to guide the engineers and verify aspects of the design. "Our program's Integrated Product Team arrangement allowed us to bring a manufacturable and supportable design from a clean sheet of paper to engine demonstration in less than 18 months," boasts Captain Nathan Ply, F119 turbine manager. FAX (513) 476-4022 .
Defense technology adapted for pavement distress analysis
Loral Defense Systems-Arizona has received a one-year contract to provide the Federal Highway Administration's Pavement Performance Div. with an automated means of analyzing pavement distress. Dubbed ADAPT (automated distress analysis for pavement), the system should allow the FHWA to interpret and analyze faster and more accurately 35-mm film recorded at pavement test sites. ADAPT uses Loral's automatic target recognition (ATR) and exploitation software, which allows the user to zoom in on an area for detailed examination. The technology was originally developed for defense applications. The film will be digitized and the data recorded on a CD-ROM. ADAPT will then analyze the film frame-by-frame to interpret the types of distress recorded. After undergoing a series of quality assurance checks, the data will be uploaded to the National Information Management system, where it will be accessible to highway engineers, researchers, and others. FAX (202) 366-7909 .
Space radioactive debris issue appears to be a myth
Several large clouds of particles in space have recently been attributed to leakage of liquid metals from Soviet satellite nuclear reactors. Origin of these particles, numbering as high as 70,000, was based on data from the Haystack radar facility in Massachusetts. This data confirmed the concentration of these clouds near the 1,000-kilometer level and in 65-degree orbits, corresponding to the orbits of the stowed Soviet reactors. Polarization data also implied that the tiny spheres contained a mixture of sodium and potassium, the coolant leaking from the reactors. A recent issue of the Space Flight Environment International Engineering Newsletter, however, suggests hazards have been over-stated in two ways. First, there is considerable doubt that the coolant is radioactive and would be unsafe to hold in one's hand. Second, dissipation of these droplets to lower orbits has been very slow. At this time, "there is apparently no significant additional risk even to long-life missions," the newsletter states. Phone Joel Edelman at (301) 236-9311 .
Aerospace award to establish fellowships for space study
The 1995 $250,000 international Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Aerospace Prize, the world's largest award for aerospace achievement, went to the Apollo Space Program. The award not only honors Apollo's successful moon project, but attempts to re-ignite global interest in space exploration for the 21st century. "I can think of no greater aerospace achievement than that performed by the men and women of the Apollo Program," said Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, in making the announcement. The prize, administered by the Association Francios-Zavier Bagnoud in Lutry, Switzerland, will be divided into scholarships awarded to aerospace students in master programs. FAX Carlos Bouverd at +41-21-791-6230 .