Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The future of flying nanobots - swarm technology.

If this is (dated) white-world technology - imagine what they are cooking up in the black world?

-Steve Douglass

NASA to unveil unmanned X-plane


By Guy Norris

A new U.S. Air Force X-plane designated X-56A will explore active control technology for potential use in future high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) reconnaissance aircraft.

Designed by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, the X-56A flying wing will also later be flown by NASA, and is an innovative modular unmanned air vehicle designed to test active flutter suppression and gust load alleviation. These technologies are considered vital for the successful development of the slender, lightweight, high-aspect-ratio wings that could be used by future transports as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance UAVs.

Formerly dubbed the Multi-Use Technology Testbed (MUTT), the UAV will test to the edge of the flight envelope where flutter occurs. Flutter is the potentially catastrophic dynamic coupling that can occur between the elastic motion of the wing and the aerodynamic loads acting on it. If a test goes too far and a wing fails in flight, the X-56A is fitted with a fuselage-mounted ballistic parachute recovery system.

Powered by twin JetCat P240 turbojets, and configured for easy wing replacement, the aircraft will be tested with stiff wings as well as multiple sets of flexible wings. The design also includes a hard point on the center upper deck of the aft fuselage that can either be adapted to house a third engine or the boom for a joined wing, thereby enabling testing of more advanced aerodynamic concepts.

The 28-ft.-span vehicle is the key test asset for the Air Force Research Laboratory-led Multi-utility Aeroelastic Demonstration Program (MAD). This is contributing to AFRL’s follow-on work to SensorCraft, a class of HALE vehicles intended for surveillance as well as telecommunication relay and environmental sensing. Following Air Force flight tests, the X-56A will be used by NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center for further work also aimed at lightweight structures and advanced technology for future low-emissions transport aircraft.

AFRL MAD Program Manager Pete Flick says the SensorCraft studies “led us to very different configurations that are inherently more flexible with high-aspect-ratio wings. Gust-load alleviation and flutter suppression are two key technologies we needed to pursue, and there was no testbed out there where we could test active flutter suppression without a lot of risk. So we went out to develop a vehicle specifically for that purpose. So that’s what motivated AFRL, and to work with NASA, which has a similar interest in pursuing configurations for future aircraft.”

The NASA flights will be conducted under the subsonic fixed-wing project and will help to develop guidelines and methodology for active dynamic structural control as well as provide flight-validated aircraft models for academia. The aeroelastic and lightweight structures research will also contribute toward long-range planning for the proposed X-54 low-boom supersonic demonstrator program.

Displaying clear design heritage from previous Lockheed SensorCraft concepts as well as flying wing designs including the P-175 Polecat, RQ-170 and DarkStar UAVs, the X-56A is characterized by a cranked delta planform. The flight-test package will include two identical center bodies measuring 7.5 ft. long, as well as four sets of constant-chord wings. One set will be stiff for baseline flight tests, as well as follow-on research, while the remaining three will be identical flexible wings made with lighter skin material for flutter testing.

Read the rest of the story at Aviation Week & Space Technology Magazine.

STS-107 - the death of Columbia remembered

So I'm lying in bed on a cold February morning. I know I should be awake by now but the room is cool and under the covers it feels toasty and good. I'm in that state between awake and asleep - floating. Suddenly my (then) wife comes into the room. She says, " Sorry to wake you but you have a phone call." "Who is it?" I manage to croak - stretching and now somewhat slightly miffed that anyone would be calling me so early in the morning. "Paul Hart - she says.

Paul is a friend of mine who worked at Northrop Grumman. I grumble and roll over. "Tell him I'll call him later." She leaves but in a few seconds she comes back in - phone in hand. "Talk to him." she says pushing the phone against my face. I pick it up and in a voice still cracking with sleep I manage a raspy "Hello."

The next words I hear - hit me like a thunderbolt. "Steve, Columbia is coming apart over Texas. It should be just south of Amarillo now.

Fully awake I spring out of bed. I rush into the living room and rummage with one hand in my always ready photog bag for my camera while juggling the phone in the other. Paul says "It's tracking now just to the south of Amarillo - looks like almost over Lubbock."

I step outside in only my shorts - and it is freezing. I look to the south and see an ugly chalk mark etched into the ice-blue sky. It is Columbia and it is falling

I raise my camera and shoot a few frames - both the winter chill and the chilling site taking my breath away. I watch as the plume arcs to the Southeast towards central Texas. I tried not to imagine what was falling out of the sky near Dallas.

"It's on the TV now." my wife shouts to me.

I come in and see live video of the shower of debris that was once a great ship and a brave crew - raining down on Texas.

It strikes me as tragically ironic that Amarillo's favorite astronaut son - Rick Husband - died, along with his brave crew within sight of his hometown.

I also find it severely weird that his classmate (me) would document his tragic end from the back balcony of my apartment, standing in my underwear.

I attended Crockett Junior High- withe Rick - and although I didn't know him well - I did know him.

We both shared a passion for aviation and spaceflight and occasionally our paths would cross - his as an aviator and NASA astronaut - mine as an aviation journalist and photographer. I was extremely proud when I learned he had been selected to command STS-107.

Rick - we hardly knew ye - and I wish I had known you better. Thoughts and prayers go out to your family and friends on a day (an anniversary) of one of the most shocking days in our lives.

I remembered Rick and his crew this morning by standing on that same balcony and silently staring into a cool blue sky.

-Steve Douglass

February 1, 2012 is the eighth anniversary Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, which claimed the lives of all seven crew members.

The shuttle disintegrated during reentry after superheated gases penetrated a damaged spot on its left wing. The initial damage had occurred shortly after launch, when a briefcase-sized piece of insulating foam broke off from an external fuel tank and smashed against the wing.

Columbia disintegrated about 15 minutes before it was scheduled to touch down at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

As a result of the disaster, President Bush announced his eventual goal to retire the remaining space shuttles but assured the public that the manned space program would continue. "The cause in which they died will continue," he said. "Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on."

Late January also marks the dates of two other dark moments for NASA and the nation's manned space program. See the following links for more images commemorating the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967 and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986.

The Columbia Space Shuttle disaster claimed the lives of Commander Rick D. Husband, Pilot William C. McCool, Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist David M. Brown and Mission Specialist Laurel Clark.


Secret document outlines Taliban dependency

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The Taliban in Afghanistan depend on Pakistan for support, even though they do not necessarily welcome it, a secret NATO report says, according to a journalist who has read it.

"It is a marriage of convenience," Times of London reporter Jerome Starkey said Wednesday, citing the report. The Taliban see Pakistan as manipulative, but they see no alternative to accepting its support, he said.

The Taliban are absolutely confident of victory, he said the report found, based on 27,000 interviews with over 4,000 detainees ranging from senior Taliban commanders to Afghan civilians.
They also include mid- and low-level Taliban, al Qaeda, and foreign fighters, he said.

The leaked NATO document revives the longstanding accusation that elements in Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency are aiding the insurgency in Afghanistan.

It says the ISI knows the whereabouts of all senior Taliban commanders, Starkey said.
Pakistan denies helping the Taliban Pakistan denies NATO report claims Progress in Afghan peace talks.

NATO downplayed the importance of the report Wednesday, after it was leaked, while Pakistan rejected key conclusions entirely.

A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said Wednesday not to read too much into it.

The classified report is based on the "opinions or ideals" of Taliban detainees -- and represented only their opinions, not the actual progress of NATO against the Taliban, Lt. Col. Jimmie E. Cummings said.

He said it was "extremely important not to draw conclusions based on Taliban comments or musings" and that the report "should not be used as any interpretation of campaign progress" against the insurgency.

Pakistan firmly dismissed the accusation it was helping the Taliban across the border.
"We are committed to non-interference in Afghanistan," Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said Wednesday.

"This is frivolous, to put it mildly," Basit said.
"Pakistan has suffered enormously because of the long conflict in Afghanistan. A stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in our own interest and we are very much cognizant of this," he said.
The alleged contents of the report would be consistent with international concerns that elements within Pakistan's powerful ISI agency are helping the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The U.S. intelligence community said Tuesday that Afghanistan's insurgents remain "resilient" and senior Taliban leaders "enjoy safe haven in Pakistan."



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