ISRO to launch 12 satellites next year

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will be launching 12 satellites designed by students from various academic institutions next year. The premier space agency has launched five student satellites since 2009.

ISRO Satellite
ISRO Satellite

ISRO Chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar said in Mysuru on Friday that 12 satellites are expected to be launched during the middle of next year.

During a talk on ‘India in Space’ at the first centenary lecture series at the University of Mysore here, he said the focus was on lighter satellites. The lifting of satellites into space becomes easier if the satellites are lightweight, he opined.

Therefore, opportunities were being given to students of academic institutions for designing satellites of lesser weight.

According to ISRO’s website, the five student satellites that had been launched are SRMSat, Jugnu, YOUTHSAT, STUDSAT and ANUSAT.

One of the satellites – STUDSAT – weighs less than 1 kg while YOUTHSAT weighs 92 kg.


New GE Plants Will Make Advanced Composites For More Efficient Jet Engines

A new low-pressure turbine using CMC blades. (Image credit: GE Aviation)
A new low-pressure turbine using CMC blades. (Image credit: GE Aviation)

General Electric this week announced plans to build two factories in Huntsville, Alabama, that will supply advanced composite materials to GE businesses and the U.S. Defense Department.

The $200 million facilities will particularly supply raw materials called ceramic matrix composites to the nation’s first CMC factory, a GE plant in Asheville, North Carolina.

Despite their name, ceramic matrix composites won’t shatter like a ceramic mug dropped on the floor. CMCs are as tough as metals but are two-thirds lighter and function at far higher temperatures.

By 2020, the material could allow engineers to increase jet engine thrust by 25 percent while reducing fuel consumption by 10 percent.

Sanjay Correa, vice president of the company’s CMC program, said that officials expect those engines to prompt a 10-fold increase in CMC demand over the next five years.

CMC parts like these could be used in engines for passenger planes and fighter jets. (Image credit: GE Aviation)
CMC parts like these could be used in engines for passenger planes and fighter jets. (Image credit: GE Aviation)

“Opening the new plants in Alabama is a key step in building up the supply chain we need to make CMC parts in large volumes,” Correa said.

The materials were previously difficult to produce and confined to spaceflight and fighter jets. GE’s process, however, embeds extremely thin silicon carbine fibers in a silicon carbide matrix and covers the material with a proprietary coating.

In addition to the Asheville factory, GE’s previous CMC “lean labs” in Delaware and Ohio are also looking into new applications for the materials.

The materials could enable more efficient power generation, as well. GE engineers previously placed CMCs into the hottest components of a gas turbine and ran it for thousands of hours without incident.

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Harvard Scientists Develop Aerial-Aquatic RoboBee


Engineers have been trying to design functional aerial-aquatic vehicles for decades with little success. The biggest challenge is conflicting design requirements: aerial vehicles require large airfoils like wings or sails to generate lift while underwater vehicles need to minimize surface area to reduce drag.

To solve this, engineers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science(SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University took a clue from puffins. The birds with flamboyant-colored beaks are one of nature’s most adept hybrid locomotors, employing similar flapping motions to propel themselves through air as well as through water to dive for fish.

“Through various theoretical, computational and experimental studies, we found that the mechanics of flapping propulsion are actually very similar in air and in water,” said Kevin Chen, a graduate student in the Harvard Microrobotics Lab at SEAS. “In both cases, the wing is moving back and forth. The only difference is the speed at which the wing flaps.”

Applying this in the lab, the team of researchers at SEAS and Wyss have demonstrated the first flying, swimming, insect-like robot — paving the way for future duel aerial aquatic robotic vehicles. The aerial-aquatic robot is an adaptation of the previously developed “Robobee”, a microrobot smaller than a paperclip that flies and hovers like an insect, flapping its tiny, nearly invisible wings 120 times per second.

The new research was presented recently in a paper at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Germany, where first author Chen accepted the award for best student paper. The paper was co-authored by SEAS/Wyss graduate student Farrell Helbling, SEAS/Wyss postdoctoral fellows Nick Gravish and Kevin Ma, and Robert J. Wood, who is the founder of the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, the Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS, and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute.

In order to make the transition from air to water, the team first had to solve the problem of surface tension. The RoboBee, designed in Wood’s lab, is so small and lightweight that it cannot break the surface tension of the water. To overcome this hurdle, the RoboBee hovers over the water at an angle, momentarily switches off its wings, and crashes unceremoniously into the water in order to sink.

Next, the team had to account for water’s increased density. “Water is almost 1,000 times denser than air and would snap the wing off the RoboBee if we didn’t adjust its flapping speed,” said Helbling, the paper’s second author.

The team lowered the wing speed from 120 flaps per second to nine but kept the flapping mechanisms and hinge design the same. A swimming RoboBee changes its direction by adjusting the stroke angle of the wings, the same way it does in air. Like a flying version, it is still tethered to a power source. The team prevented the RoboBee from shorting by using deionized water and coating the electrical connections with glue.

While this RoboBee can move seamlessly from air to water, it cannot yet transition from water to air. Solving that design challenge is the next phase of the research, according to Chen.

“What is really exciting about this research is that our analysis of flapping-wing locomotion is not limited to insect-scaled vehicles,” said Chen. “From millimeter-scaled insects to meter-scaled fishes and birds, flapping locomotion spans a range of sizes. This strategy has the potential to be adapted to larger aerial-aquatic robotic designs.”

“Bioinspired robots, such as the RoboBee, are invaluable tools for a host of interesting experiments — in this case on the fluid mechanics of flapping foils in different fluids,” said Wood. “This is all enabled by the ability to construct complex devices that faithfully recreate some of the features of organisms of interest.”

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

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Northrop Grumman wins LRS-B contract

The US Air Force has chosen Northrop Grumman to build America’s next stealth bomber in a landmark decision announced by service secretary Deborah Lee James at the Pentagon on 27 October.yourfile

Northrop’s victory in the $80 billion Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) competition has been described as “stunning upset” against the cashed-up team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and secures the B-2 creator’s place as a top-tier military aircraft manufacturer for decades to come.

The development contract includes options for the first 21 aircraft of what could become an at least 100-aircraft production run. Pentagon estimators place the cost of development at $23.5 billion in fiscal year 2016 dollars, and the aircraft itself valued at $564 million per copy.

Those costs hold up favourably against the $1.5 billion cost of each Northrop’s B-2 when adjusted for inflation, but the new aircraft will be $145 million higher than the supersonic Rockwell B-1B bomber, which cost $410 million each over a production run of 100 aircraft.

“Northrop’s victory in the bomber competition is a stunning upset, that demonstrates an underdog can still beat the best-endowed team in the industry,” says Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. “This completely changes the business outlook for Northrop, and makes it look far more resilient company with a bright future.”

The award to Northrop changes the face of the aerospace industrial base, and potentially averts the breakup of the company. Had the company lost the LRS-B contract, elements could have been sold off to the highest bidder, says Teal Group vice-president and consultant Richard Aboulafia.

Instead, Lockheed’s fortunes are secure with the F-35, Boeing’s KC-46 programme is gaining momentum, and Northrop has secured LRS-B.

The win is a major morale boost Northrop’s operations in Palmdale, California and Melbourne, Florida, but a devastating blow to Boeing’s combat aircraft sites in St Louis, Missouri, that were inherited from McDonnell Douglas.

Facing the end of F-15, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler by the end of the decade, Boeing will struggle to maintain its combat aircraft manufacturing capacity without winning more Super Hornet orders or the air force’s near-term T-X contract for the development and production of a next-generation fighter trainer.

USAF officials claim industrial base concerns were not a factor in the competition, but Northrop’s selection does potentially avert further consolidation of the industrial base, which has become a significant concern for the Pentagon following Lockheed’s acquisition of Sikorsky.

“The source selection criteria that was finalised when the [Request for Proposals] criteria went out in 2014 did not have industrial base in them, and those remain unchanged through to today,” says USAF acquisition chief William LaPlante. The Boeing/Lockheed team could still protest the contract award, and the air force says the debriefing process could start as early as Friday.

The loosing team expressed disappointed in a statement issued after the award, saying it is already considering its next move.

“We are interested in knowing how the competition was scored in terms of price and risk, as we believe that the combination of Boeing and Lockheed Martin offers unparalleled experience, capability and resources for this critically important recapitalisation program,” Boeing and Lockheed say in a joint statement.

While the announcement settles the question of the LRS-B manufacturer, most details about the winning design including performance and suppliers remain a heavily-classified mystery.

The engine manufacturer has not been disclosed, but engine maker Pratt & Whitney offered their congratulations to the winning bidder.

“P&W congratulates Northrop Grumman for their selection on this very important program,” the company says. “P&W declines to comment on any other questions regarding the Long-Range Strike Bomber program.”

US Air Force has declined to name any suppliers or provide any significant new information other than the prime contractor, and even the aircraft’s designation is still under consideration, it says.

And despite previously saying it would provide the quantity of engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) aircraft included in the development contract, the air force has reneged and will instead keep that information secret. Even the development timeline for the LRS-B programme remains shrouded by vague terms of budget documents, with air force officials saying the new bomber force is expected to be fielded by the mid-2020s.

The LRS-B fleet is needed to replace the Boeing B-52H and Rockwell B-1B fleets that lack low observability to radar. The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office directed the three-year-long prototyping, risk-reduction and source selection process with each side’s design being brought up to the preliminary design review stage. A contract award was originally expected last spring, but was delayed for months with no explanation.

With the manufacture decided, Mark Gunzinger of Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments says the bomber should be delivered as quickly as possible to fill America’s “long-range-strike gap”.

He says the current B-2 fleet can generate 12 to 13 sorties per day at best, and an “all-aspect stealth” aircraft is critically needed to boost those numbers and keep ahead of Russia and China.

“To the extent we delay boosting that capacity, we’re assuming risk. A lot of risk,” he says. “If we lose our ability to hit any target in the world when needed and directed by the president, we lose something as a superpower. It’s not surprising Russia and China aspire to have that kind of capability.”

CNN selects New Zealand company Altus UAS drone for news gathering


CNN has acquired A Delta X8 from Altus Unmanned Aerial Solutions of New Zealand to advance its efforts to employ unmanned aircraft for their aerial newsgathering over public and property.  Selected as one the Federal Aviation Administration’s three Pathfinder organizations, CNN has been actively engaged in identifying and evaluating UAS systems that meet both the functionality and safety requirements of this demanding role.

After meeting with CNN in May 2015, Altus UAS was chosen to demonstrate the capabilities, redundancies and safety features of the Delta X8 unmanned aerial system.  Later Altus UAS, in conjunction with their US partner Blue Chip Unmanned Aerial Solutions, further demonstrated the Delta X8 to the FAA and the Pathfinder Program leaders.  Blue Chip UAS holds current Section 333 Exemptions for commercial UAV flight operations across multiple industries, one of which is aerial filming and photography.

Since the purchase of the Delta X8 by CNN the current arrangement has Altus UAS providing technology and support, while Blue Chip UAS will provide operators and training to CNN, with all three parties reporting on the system to the FAA’s Pathfinder Program.  In addition, Blue Chip UAS has facilitated the comprehensive testing of the system airworthiness, capabilities, safety and procedures at the National Institute of Aviation Research (NIAR) located in Wichita, Kansas.  Blue Chip UAS will oversee the continued testing of the Delta X8 at the NIAR facilities in coordination with CNN, and report back to the FAA.

Read Original Story Here.

Assembly complete for NASA’s asteroid sample return spacecraft

OSIRIS-REx Solar Array test
OSIRIS-REx Solar Array test

NASA’s first asteroid-sampling probe, OSIRIS-REx, has been assembled at a Lockheed Martin satellite factory in Colorado and is now being tested to ensure it can withstand the harsh journey to an asteroid and back.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is now set for a sequence of tests simulate the conditions it will encounter on a round-trip journey to asteroid Bennu, where it will attempt to retrieve at least 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of material for return to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx is short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer.

The eight-year journey begins Sept. 3, 2016, when the mission’s 39-day launch window opens. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral will occur aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, flying in a rarely-used configuration with one strap-on solid rocket booster.

The mission, with a cost of approximately $1 billion, has a tight window to depart Earth and reach its destination.

“We entered the testing phase right on schedule, but we do have plenty of schedule margin still available as well,” said Erin Morton, OSIRIS-REx’s communications lead at the University of Arizona in Tucson, the home institution for the mission’s chief scientist, Dante Lauretta.

The mission must launch in September or October 2016 or else wait 18 months for the next flight opportunity, a restriction caused by the alignment of Earth and Bennu, a near-Earth object about 500 meters, or 1,600 feet, in diameter.

Artist’s concept of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA
Artist’s concept of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA

In a business where precision is paramount, calculations have already determined what time the mission must launch to head off on the proper course toward Bennu, Morton said, resulting in an estimated launch window opening at 7:10 p.m. EDT (2310 GMT) and extending 90 minutes each day.

The times could be adjusted slightly as the launch date nears.

The launch period is set to allow OSIRIS-REx, with its five science instruments and sampling mechanism, to arrive at asteroid Bennu in late 2018 after a gravity-assist slingshot flyby of Earth in 2017.

The spacecraft will conduct several touch-and-go maneuvers, dropping to Bennu’s surface and firing compressed gas into the asteroid to force dust and rock fragments into a collection chamber.

OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to drop off a re-entry canister in 2023 with samples collected from Bennu for a parachute-assisted landing in Utah.

Scientists believe the specimens will help them learn about how water and the building blocks of life were delivered to Earth billions of years ago. Asteroids may have played a role in seeding Earth after its formation at the birth of the solar system.

NASA also bills the mission as a pathfinder for future spacecraft that could steer near-Earth objects away from Earth before a potential impact.

OSIRIS-REx’s sample collection arm is tested inside Lockheed Martin’s factory near Denver in this picture shared on the blog of Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator. Credit: Dante Lauretta
OSIRIS-REx’s sample collection arm is tested inside Lockheed Martin’s factory near Denver in this picture shared on the blog of Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator. Credit: Dante Lauretta

OSIRIS-REx’s road to the launch pad continues over the next five months with a series of environmental tests to mimic the the vibrations and extreme temperatures the spacecraft will experience during launch and interplanetary flight.

“This is an exciting time for the program as we now have a completed spacecraft and the team gets to test drive it, in a sense, before we actually fly it to asteroid Bennu,” said Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “The environmental test phase is an important time in the mission as it will reveal any issues with the spacecraft and instruments, while here on Earth, before we send it into deep space.”

The test series include acoustic, separation and deployment shock, vibration, electromagnetic interference and thermal vacuum tests, according to NASA.

“This milestone marks the end of the design and assembly stage,” Lauretta said in a statement. “We now move on to test the entire flight system over the range of environmental conditions that will be experienced on the journey to Bennu and back. This phase is critical to mission success, and I am confident that we have built the right system for the job.”

The solar-powered spacecraft will be shipped from Lockheed Martin’s satellite plant near Denver to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in May, where will be fueled and encapsulated inside the Atlas 5’s payload fairing, then hoisted atop the rocket weeks before lift off.

Boeing boost for Make in India

James McNerney, chairman, The Boeing Company speaks at “India’s Time to Fly” Aerospace Innovation Summit. (PTI photo)
James McNerney, chairman, The Boeing Company speaks at “India’s Time to Fly” Aerospace Innovation Summit. (PTI photo)

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ campaign got a major boost on Friday with American aviation major Boeing joining the bandwagon. Boeing chairman James McNerney said here that the company could assemble fighter planes and either the Apache or Chinook defence helicopter in India. “Even (building a commercial aircraft wing or fuselage in India) is closer than you think,” McNerney said, making Boeing the biggest global company to commit to the ‘Make in India’ programme.

Last month, Boeing had got a $3-billion contract for supplying 22 Apaches and 15 Chinooks to India. While finalizing the chopper order, the defence ministry had said that contract will have a 30% offset clause and bring in business worth $1 billion for the Indian defence industry. “Make in India is a very important mission for the country. Over the last two to three decades, the capability of the Indian people has been obvious and clear. Modi’s initiative takes up those capabilities two to three levels,” McNerney, who met Modi on Thursday, said.

“Make in India is not just someone handing you a blueprint and you make it. It can’t be that way. I think the vision of the Prime Minister is more than that. India will get technology that can be used elsewhere in manufacturing … Make in India is for India and globally. Given the global nature of our products, we can play at the centre of that,” he said.

Boeing sees huge potential in India for civil aviation growth and it projects the country will need 1,800 aircraft over the next two decades. “Boeing sees this market as a civil aviation opportunity as conversion of only 1% of people travelling in trains to aviation can double the market size here. We are also looking at producing more fuel-efficient, green and longer-flying capable planes to bring down the cost of flying to attract more customers,” McNerney said.

Appreciating India’s low cost Mars mission, he said Boeing was keen to partner India in space technology. Given the shrinking size of satellites, he hinted at using India’s launch capabilities for Boeing’s satellites. “If the politics here allows this initiative, to continue with the same momentum that it has today, for the next five years, the goal of moving the manufacturing contribution to the economy from 14% to 25% is achievable. The capability is here.”

“The civil nuclear deal (between India and US) unlocked everything … India is now better poised to make investments for us after the new government has come in,” he said. However, Boeing said India needed to resolve issues like the uncertain tax regime and the long time it takes to resolve a dispute here. He gave credit to Modi for trying to address these issues. “Under the new leadership, the country is moving towards the manufacturing dream. The efforts of changing tax regime and working towards speedy dispute resolution are some of the things that this government is working on and it is an encouraging feeling.”