When will Airbus shift to an all-composite fuselage? Could it still happen for the A350? Those are burning questions as Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner continues to sell at a torrid pace. According to the Wall Street Journal, Boeing’s order book for the Dreamliner is moving past 600, while Airbus has less than 148 “less-firm” orders for the A350. The 787 has many advantages: it’s more fuel efficient, easier to maintain and more comfortable than A350. Airbus has been tweaking the design in an effort to catch up. A new variant, dubbed the A350XWB, will have a composite main fuselage skin on an Al/Al-Li frame. Even that could change, however, to an all-composite fuselage. Each shift pushes back the effective service dates for the flagging A350. The Dreamliner probably will have at least a five-year head start.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
The amount of plastic clogging the ocean continues to grow. Some startling, not-so-good news has come out recently about the roles plastic is playing in the ocean, as well as more heartening news about efforts to collect and reuse it.
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