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Washington Beat

Washington Beat

Aerospace Rivals Form Joint Design Team

How well will design engineers at Boeing mesh with those at McDonnell Douglas? For decades they have been fierce rivals. Now they are teaming up to compete against other firms for initial contracts to build a next-generation space shuttle. In announcing the plan in Washington, DC, officials from the two firms predicted the joint effort will be "seamless." From 50 to 100 designers will draw up concepts for the X-33, a prototype for a reusable rocket ship. The X-33 must exhibit low-cost maintenance and rapid turnaround between flights. McDonnell engineers will offer experience drawn from designing, building, and flying the Delta Clipper-Experimental, a re-usable demonstration rocket using advanced technology. Boeing engineers, the companies said, will offer special talents in efficient manufacture and service. "We resonate quite well," commented Livingston Holder, Jr., program manager of Reusable Launch Vehicle Programs at the Boeing Defense & Space Group. The biggest design challenge will be adding "aircraft-type" safety margins and maintenance requirements into rockets, McDonnell Douglas Program Manager William Gaubatz told Design News. "It's not the way we usually design rockets. But it's more of a cultural challenge than an engineering challenge."

Supercomputers Track Glowing Paint on Models

Aircraft designers seated at their computers soon may watch and control tests at far-off wind tunnels. Ames Research Center, of NASA, has been working on such a project for the past year. Researchers described the system at a recent supercomputer conference in Washington, DC. Technicians spray a pink fluorescent paint on a test model of an aircraft. The paint is sensitive to pressure. During a test, the pressure of the wind on the model causes the paint to fluoresce. Digital camera images translate the data into color maps of pressure. The technique allows much more data to emerge than with conventional techniques, say NASA engineers. Supercomputers enable engineers at home offices to integrate the wind-tunnel experiments in real time with simulations using computational fluid dynamics. Result: big savings in design time.

Missile Warning Network Getting New Look

The Pentagon has drawn up plans for a new missile warning system. Called Space-Based Infrared (SBIR), the program calls for layers of satellites from low orbits to geosynchronous positions 22,000 miles up. SBIR would replace satellites now in the Defense Support Program and sharply revise plans for an Alert, Locate and Report Missiles program. For this fiscal year, the defense budget earmarks $111 million for adapting the Heritage infrared sensor for missile alarms. Most of that money, however, cannot be spent until Congress ponders an independent study on the cost and technical feasibility of various warning systems. The study is due February 15.

Patent Awarded System for Vibration Detection

A system for measuring mechanical torsional vibrations on-line has won a U.S. patent. Called Rotational Vibration Monitoring (RVM), the system is a spinoff from advanvced technology in digital signal processing for antisubmarine warfare. RVM's creator is Monitoring Technology Corp., Fairfax, VA. The firm says its non-invasive RVM detects defects in the shafts, rotors, and vanes of turbines, pumps, and compressors that mechanics previously had to disassemble to inspect. RVM technology also can reveal the nature, size, and location of defects, claim engineers. For example, RVM's sensors can spot a hairline crack in a small blade in a half-million pound turbine while it is operating. Rick Vosburgh, the company's president and CEO, says RVM's sensitivity to a defect signal against background noise is one part in a trillion. He adds: "It's like comparing the diameter of a BB pellet to the distance from the earth to the sun."

Research Grants Back Auto Parts Research

The government is getting serious about encouraging automobile designers to use more composite materials. That was clear in a recent batch of contracts it issued under its Advanced Technology Program. The Commerce Department program shares costs with U.S. industry to develop commercially promising technologies. Several new projects propose to develop better methods for making automobile parts from composites, not steel. One intends to refine structural reaction injection molding to effectively produce large parts, such as the box of pickup trucks. Some contracts fund research into large automotive components that are easy to design and manufacture, require no painting, and are recyclable. One project aims to devise a better method for making strong, lightweight flywheels from composites such as graphite and glass-reinforced epoxy polymer.

TAGS: Aerospace
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