Could Hypersonic Air Travel Become a Reality?

Air travel has become the norm within today’s fast past society, from the extremely affordable ticket prices coupled with the package holiday’s that have become part of many people’s yearly quest for adventure. But, what is next for air travel? Can it be developed to the point whereby consumers are able to fly to for example Australia from the UK in less than 22 hrs?

Well, a potentially sizeable development is on the horizon after Orbital in conjunction with NASA has developed and preliminarily tested what is known as a “3D printed hypersonic engine combustor at NASA’s Langley Research Centre in Virginia”. This could potentially facilitate air travel at amazing speeds of up to 3,425 mph (5,500km/h) or 4.5 times the speed of sound, which is fast.

Below is an image of a concept hypersonic plane which has been modelled within design software that is used for the purposes of aerodynamics, it certainly looks fascinating for a ground level design. The combustor was created through a manufacturing process known as “powder bed fusion” (PBF). Within this is a layer of “metal alloy powder that is printed before a laser fuses areas together based on the pattern which is fed into the machine by a software program

The combustor has as you would expect been put through a series of hypersonic flight conditions over the course of 20 days. Orbital have also stated that one of the most complex parts with which to develop is the Scramjet combustion system which needs to maintain stable combustion within an extremely volatile environment. This technique could also have the potential to be used within future versions of NASA’s X-43 experimental hypersonic aircraft which is pictured below alongside the Langley Research Centre in Virginia.

In case you’re wondering, the definition of a Scramjet is an air-breathing aircraft that carries only “hydrogen fuel, the aircraft pulls the oxygen needed and burns it from the atmosphere; this is instead of the traditional method of fuel and the required oxygen to provide acceleration

These developments could pave the way for a future whereby consumers could, in theory, be whizzing around the globe by hypersonic power.

Boeing Denied ISS Supply Contract by NASA

Today NASA revealed that they will be delaying its awarding of the next round of the multi-billion dollar ISS supply contract until late January. At the same time, NASA also informed Boeing that their bid to win the contracts had been rejected.

This is the third time that the announcement of the contracts have been delayed since June this year. The current ISS supply contracts, named CRS or Commercial Resupply Services are held by SpaceX and Orbital, who won the contracts back in 2008. These CRS contracts are due to continue until 2017, at which point the new program operated by the winners of the new CRS2 contracts will run from 2018 until at least 2024.

Oddly, Boeing’s rejected offering was an adaptation of the CST-100 Starliner craft, which is already planned to carry astronauts too and from the ISS from as soon as 2017. Current contract holders SpaceX and Orbital are still in the running for the contracts after their current CRS contract was recently extended, despite having two failed supply runs in the past year. Despite this, their design is time proven to be able to make repeated, reliable runs to and from the ISS. Another competitive offering comes from Sierra-Nevada with their Dream Chaser spaceplane. This design is more based on the space shuttle than a traditional rocket, touting re-usability as a key feature. The Dream Chaser, like Boeing’s CST-100 is a result of the Commercial Crew program, however Sierra-Nevada’s craft lost out in that contest.

Sierra-Nevada’s shuttle-like Dream Chaser design

So with the winners of the crew carrying missions out of the running, will it be the old guard of SpaceX and Orbital retaining the delivery contracts, or Sierra-Nevada’s more reusable design? I guess we’ll just have to wait until January to find out!

Fly from New York to China in 2 Hours by 2020

Have you ever sat in your 19 floor beach-side mansion and thought to yourself: “If only I could fly to Bejing and back in one day, that would make it much easier to attend Francine’s ballet recital”? Well now for those with copious amounts of funding, it’s going to be made possible.

Set for release in 2020, Sub-orbital commuter flights will be jet setting the worlds top 0.01% across the globe at a blistering pace of 40,000 miles per hour. Compared to the current 500 mph of commercial airliners, the speed does however come at a great price – between $90,000 and $250,000 we’ve learned.

Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson has indicated he’s looking into this business model to bring it to the public sector.

Aaron Pressman from Yahoo Finance commented on some issues with this technology development, showing it’s not quite ready for the general business man or woman:

“These [jets] can only take off and land in very special places like the spaceport that’s in New Mexico . That’s not going to help the 0.1% get from New York to London or Australia. So it’s going to take a while before these rockets become more like normal airplanes that can land at normal airports. [sic]” Yahoo

However, if this technology is worked on and improved, we could possibly see our grandchildren jet-setting across the globe in minimal time for current commercial airliner pricing.

Image courtesy of Neowin

Skybox Imaging Provides First Full-HD Video Of Earth From Space

Skybox Imaging based in San Francisco has been working on revealing the first public high resolution and definition video footage of Earth from 600 km above. The image resolution is fairly high, where anyone can easily observe objects such as cars, trucks, shipping containers, using the video recorded by the company’s satellite, named SkySat-1, which was launched in November.

“There’s an enormous amount of knowledge that we can glean from analyzing movement – supply chain monitoring, maritime awareness, industrial plant activity, environmental monitoring, and humanitarian relief monitoring – and we are excited to explore the breadth of possibilities with this unique data source. skybox official website”

The satellite is said to be capable of capturing full HD, 1920 x 1080 pixels, images at a 30 FPS for up to 90 seconds. Comparing a normal ground camera snapshot or clip with an orbital one is clearly not an option, since the two are completely different things. And having a satellite camera capable of recording a full HD clip for 90 seconds, given that the requirements for capturing an orbital imagery is quite high, is a big improvement.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCrB1t8MncY[/youtube]

Skybox is making progress and innovation with its Start-Up program, and for anyone interested in more details about the project can have a look at their web page here.

Thank you MB MAG for providing us with this information
Image and video courtesy of Skybox Imaging