Ion Engines Could Work on Earth too, to Make Silent, Solid-State Aircraft

A new MIT plane is propelled via ionic wind. Batteries in the fuselage (tan compartment in front of plane) supply voltage to electrodes (blue/white horizontal lines) strung along the length of the plane, generating a wind of ions that propels the plane forward. Credits:Image: Christine Y. He/MIT

Ion engines are the best technology for sending spacecraft on long missions. They’re not suitable for launching spacecraft against powerful gravity, but they require minimal propellant compared to rockets, and they drive spacecraft to higher velocities over extended time periods. Ion thrusters are also quiet, and their silence has some scientists wondering if they could use them on Earth in applications where noise is undesirable.

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Glowing Helicopters on Mars

This is an artist’s concept of a glow surrounding a drone at Mars during flight. The glow, exaggerated for visibility, might happen if the drone’s spinning rotor blades generate an electric field that causes electric currents to flow in the Martian air around the craft. Although the currents generated by the drone in the atmosphere are small, they might be large enough to cause the air around the blades and other parts of the craft to glow a blue-purple color. Credits: NASA/Jay Friedlander

If the Ingenuity helicopter would fly at night on Mars, its very possible the whirring rotors would create enough static electricity in the extremely dry Martian atmosphere to cause the air around the craft to glow.

“The faint glow would be most visible during evening hours when the background sky is darker,” said William Farrell, from Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of a paper on this topic. “NASA’s experimental Ingenuity helicopter does not fly during this time, but future drones could be cleared for evening flight and look for this glow.”

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Aircraft Could fly at Mach 17 on Shockwaves From Continuous Detonations

Ever felt the need to get somewhere really, really quickly?  Would Mach 17 work?  That’s the speed a new prototype engine from researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) could potentially hurl an aircraft through the skies, making a trip from New York to Los Angeles in under half an hour.  At the heart of this new technology is a new propulsion technology that stabilizes detonations and then uses their shockwaves to provide hypersonic propulsion to an aircraft.

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Chuck Yeager, the First Man to Break the Sound Barrier has Died. He was 97

Capt. Charles E. Yeager (shown standing next to the Air Force's Bell-built X-1 supersonic research aircraft) became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound in level flight on October 14, 1947. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On Dec.7th, 2020, World War II flying ace and legendary test pilot General Chuck Yeager passed away while in hospital in Los Angeles. He was 97 years of age and is survived by his second wife, Victoria Yeager (nee Victoria Scott D’Angelo), and his three children, Susan, Don, and Sharon. Yeager is interred at Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington D.C. with full military honors.

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What Would a Realistic Space Battle Look Like?

An air-to-air left side view of an F-15 Eagle aircraft releasing an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile during a test. Credit: USAF

Science fiction space movies can do a poor job of educating people about space. In the movies, hot-shot pilots direct their dueling space ships through space as if they’re flying through an atmosphere. They bank and turn and perform loops and rolls, maybe throw in a quick Immelman, as if they’re subject to Earth’s gravity. Is that realistic?

No.

In reality, a space battle is likely to look much different. With an increasing presence in space, and the potential for future conflict, is it time to think about what an actual space battle would look like?

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This is What an Air-Breathing Electric Thruster’s Intake Would Look Like

A drawing of an air intake collector for use on electric air thrusters on satellites. Image Credit: ESA/VKI/Politechnico di Milano

Like all other technologies, satellite technology has grown in leaps and bounds in the past couple decades. Satellites can monitor Earth in increasingly high resolutions, aiding everything from storm forecasting, to climate change monitoring, to predicting crop harvests. But there’s one thing still holding satellites back: altitude.

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NASA Will Be Building a Quiet, Supersonic Aircraft: the X-59

AA-1 Arrival at Edwards AFB, Ca.

NASA’s X-Plane Program has been around for 70 years. Over the course of those decades, the agency has developed a series of airplanes and rockets to test out various technologies and design advances. Now NASA has cleared the newest one, the X-59, for final assembly.

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X-37B Lands After 780 Days in Orbit Doing ???

The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility Oct. 27, 2019. The X-37B OTV is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. Image Credit: U.S. Air Force

The X-37B, the US Air Force’s experimental, Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) has come back down to Earth after 780 days. It landed at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on Oct. 27, 2019, at 3:51 a.m. after breaking its own record for time in space. The X-37B has now spent 2,865 total days in orbit.

The question is, what’s it doing up there?

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NASA Has a New, All-Electric Airplane

This artist's concept of NASA's X-57 Maxwell aircraft shows the plane's specially designed wing and 14 electric motors. Credits: NASA Langley/Advanced Concepts Lab, AMA, Inc.

Currently, commercial air travel accounts for 4 to 9% of the anthropogenic greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. What’s worse, airplane emissions are on the rise thanks to rising populations and the increasingly globalized nature of our economy. Hence why NASA has been pursuing the development of electric aircraft these past few decades.

Much like reusable spacecraft and infrastructure, electric aircraft are part of NASA’s pursuit to make aerospace cheaper, more efficient and less harmful to the environment. Their efforts bore fruit in the form of the X-57 Maxwell – the first all-electric experimental aircraft – which was recently delivered to the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) in Edwards, California.

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Airplane Contrails are Contributing to Global Warming Too

A commercial airliner produces a condensation trail in the skies over California. Credit: Mick West

To the scientifically uninitiated, it might seem like a frivolous idea: That those slight, wispy clouds that trail behind jet aircraft at such high altitudes could contribute to climate change. But they do.

Scientists love to measure things, and when they measured these contrails, which is short for condensation trails, they found bad news. Though they look kind of beautiful and ephemeral on a summer day, they pack an oversize punch when it comes to their warming effect.

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