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Washington Beat

Washington Beat

President's budget proposal cuts R&D 14% by 2002

Federal funding for R&D will decline another 14% in inflation-adjusted dollars by 2002 under President Clinton's latest budget proposal. That follows a 3.3% reduction over the past three years. So finds an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The group presented the study at its annual Colloquium on Science and Technology Policy in Washington, DC. The president's budget for fiscal 1998 sets aside $75 billion for R&D, an increase of 1.8% over the current funding level. After adjustment for inflation, however, the president's request represents a cut of 0.8%, the analysis finds. Future budget projections call for still-bigger slices. The House Science Committee, meanwhile, submitted its own budget recommendations to the House Budget Committee. Supported by a majority of both Democrats and Republicans on the committee, this plan calls for a 3% increase in the civilian science programs under its jurisdiction. Science Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., drafted the plan. The ranking Democrat on his committee, George E. Brown, Jr., comments: "I was happy to see that he went beyond the president's minuscule 1% increase for civilian science programs."

Stronger fuselages, tanks seen in patented composite material

..The U.S. government has issued a patent on a perforation-proof material that promises to strengthen many types of structures. The material is a reinforced polymer composite embedded with nitinol fibers. Nitinol is a shape-memory alloy of nickel and titanium that can stretch and rebound like a rubber band. Developed at the Center for Intelligent Material Structures and Systems at Virginia Tech, the nitinol-reinforced material has the potential to strengthen airplane wings and bodies, the shields on tanks and other vehicles, and containers for hazardous materials. The new composite protects against impacts of up to 200 ft/sec, such as bullets from handguns or collisions between birds and planes. Researchers hope to use the material in helmets and other body armor. The patent is owned by Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc., a nonprofit corporation affiliated with the Blacksburg, VA-based university.

NASA plans hypersonic vehicles that fly without rocket engines

..During the next two years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) intends to develop four experimental "air-breathing" drones that will fly up to MACH 10 or 12. Until now no vehicle has obtained speeds above Mach 5 without rocket propulsion. NASA officials say a new non-rocket propulsion system designed for this $33.4 million project could find its way into future fighter planes and missiles. The first flight in the project--called Hyper-X--is to take place off the coast of southern California in mid or late 1999. A booster rocket launched from a B-52 airplane will take each craft to its test altitude at Mach 3. Then the Hyper-X vehicle will start scooping oxygen from the atmosphere for its own engine. Unlike the space shuttle, the Hyper-X would not have to carry its own heavy load of compressed oxygen. The test planes will be about 12 feet long with wingspans of 5 feet. NASA contracted MicroCraft Inc., Tullahoma, TN, to build the four drones.

Improved pyroelectric detector could reduce false alarms

..Safety and security products containing pyroelectric detectors could benefit from acoustic refinements made by government researchers. A pyroelectric detector contains a material that produces a charge when heated. When placed between electrodes and connected to a sensing circuit, the material generates a current. Unfortunately, noise often sets off false signals from products such as infrared motion detectors, automotive pollution sensors, burglar alarms, and some military applications. Engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology found a way to embrace two or more pyroelectric domains within a single crystal. This, they say, significantly reduces the noise problem and simplifies construction of the detectors.

New products for designers include A-to-E plotter

..Xerox Engineering Systems introduced its latest printer for engineering reprographic and CAD plotting environments at the FOSE '97 technology show in Washington, DC. The Xerox 8830 can automatically switch between paper rolls of sizes from A to E. The machine, priced at about $25,500, has 400-dpi resolution and sustains speeds of up to 3 inch/sec. Also at the show, Defense Logistics Services Center, Battle Creek, MI, demonstrated its Military Engineering Data Asset Locator System. It allows customers to access more than 29 million Department of Defense technical drawings. Everex Systems Inc., Fremont, CA, unveiled its StepStation(R)Pro workstation for design engineers. It runs on an Intel Pentium 440FX chip set. Finally, Integraph Federal Systems, Reston, VA, introduced Imagineer(R) Technical 2-D design software for Windows 95 and NT.

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