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MARS ROVER CURIOSITY LANDING - full colour panoramic pictures of the martian landscape

As most of us already know, the Mars rover Curiosity successfully landed in Gale Crater, Mars on August 6, 05:17:57 .3 UTC (or Coordinated Universal Time). Launched from Cape Canaveral on November 16 last year, Curiosity took almost ten months to reach Mars. 

(link)
The Curiosity mission is NASA's first astrobiology mission since the Viking probes of the 1970's. The rover costs $2.5 billion and is the most complex interplanetary rover ever built. Weighing over 900 kg, the Curiosity is packed with state-of-the-art scientific equipment and a generator that draws energy from nuclear power called a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. This power source, in contrast to the expected solar panels, will provide more power to the rover and avoids the problem of Martian dust blocking the panels from the sun.

Main Goals

Curiosity's main scientific goals in its 23 month long mission (668 Martian sols or Martian days) are (wiki):

  • determine mineralogical composition of the crater surface
  • attempt to detect chemical building blocks of life
  • interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils
  • assess the long timescale Martian atmospheric evolution processes
  • determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide
  • characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation
The Descent
EventTime of Event Occurrence at Mars (PDT)Time Event Occurrence Received on Earth (PDT)
Atmospheric Entry10:10:45.7 PM10:24:33.8 PM
Parachute Deploy10:15:04.9 PM10:28:53.0 PM
Heat Shield Separation10:15:24.6 PM10:29:12.7 PM
Rover Separation (from Descent Stage)10:17:38.6 PM10:31:26.7 PM
Touchdown10:17:57.3 PM10:31:45.4 PM
From the time of Curiosity reaching the outer edges of the Martian atmosphere to its landing took 7 minutes and has been aptly dubbed as the "7 minutes of terror" by NASA mission control (link)
As Curiosity entered the Martian atmosphere, it was travelling at 24 times the speed of sound and pulling up to 11 g's. With such a heavy load dropping down at such an immense speed, the descent system employs the world's largest supersonic parachute. Several rockets augment the deceleration of the rover in its final stages before touchdown. 

The Landing

Curiosity's first colour image of the Martian landscape (link)
After a 350-million-mile journey, Curiosity landed only 1.5 miles off the target area, a very impressive feat in comparison to previous Mars landings. This accuracy is also paramount to the mission success as the chosen landing site had an 18 000-foot mountain, called Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp, only 7 miles to the south. Aeolis Mons is the principle target for Curiosity's 2-year period of exploration. NASA scientists hope that the sedimentary deposits that are exposed on the mountain sides will provide a detailed geological history of Mars as well as providing clues or evidence of the historical presence of water or lifeforms. 

So Far...

Curiosity has spent the first four Martian days (sol) on Mars checking its systems to make sure no damage was sustained during its descent, performing minute science operations, and taking pictures of its surroundings. All these activities were suspended in the beginning of the fifth sol (Friday night, California time) as NASA scientists prepare to remotely install new computer software uploaded to the Rover while it was en route to Mars. This new software will allow NASA to safely drive the Rover on Mars. The previous software handled the complex tasks of atmospheric entry, descent, and landing. 

It will be a week and bit before Curiosity actually starts moving on the Martian surface as its myriad of systems will all need to be checked. 

Although it is planned that Curiosity's expected period of "life" will be up to 2 years, it is likely that the mission will go on for much longer. Opportunity, a previous Mars rover that landed in 2004, was planned to only run for 3 months but is still working as of today.

F-35 Lightning II Photo Gallery

Two F-35's in formation (link)
F-35 on display (link)
F-35 taking off vertically (link)
F-35 front view (link)
F-35 flying towards an aircraft carrier (link)

MODERN ATTACK AIRCRAFT RESEMBLES WWII FIGHTERS - A-29 Super Tucano, a counter insurgency powerhouse

(link)
Designed and built by Embraer Defense and Security, the EMB-314 Super Tucano (also named ALX and A-29) is a versatile turboprop aircraft aimed mainly for light attack, aerial support, and reconnaissance roles in low threat environments; attributes that are perfect for counter insurgency operations. Don't be deceived by its WWII-esque fighter aircraft airframe as the Super Tucano incorporates 4th-gen avionics and weapons systems to deliver precision guided munitions. Because of its low cost and high maneuverability (stemming from its light weight and low speed), the EMB-314 is also an ideal training aircraft. 

Super Tucano has been very successful and is currently in service with many developing countries (Brazil, Dominican Republic, Burkina Faso, Ecuador, and Chile) where insurgency is a large problem. Several other countries have also ordered  EMB-314's, which, surprisingly, also included the United States. The Super Tucano won a USAF competition for a Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft, beating the AT-6 from Hawker Beechcraft.

The Super Tucano is based off the EMB-312 Tucano trainer aircraft used by the Brazilian Air Force. It was developed due to a rising need for a light attack aircraft to keep Brazil's borders secure. The Super Tucano also met the requirements of the air force's ALX project for a new trainer aircraft. 

The Super Tucano was planned to be equipped with the more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68C engines. With power came more weight in this case, so the fuselage of the original Tucano was extended fore and aft of the cockpit by 1.37-m total to restore the centre of gravity. The airframe was also strengthened, the landing gear reinforced, cockpit pressurization was introduced, and the nose was stretched to house the larger engine. Several prototypes were built and tested and in 1995, the Brazilian government granted Embraer $ 50 million to develop the Super Tucano for the ALX project. The initial flight of the production-configured Super Tucano happened on June 2, 1999.

Besides alterations to the airframe and overall structure of the baseline Tucano, the Super Tucano also had:
  • Kevlar armour protection
  • a .50 calibre machine gun mount
  • 5 hard-points on the wings (giving it a capacity to carry ordnances from cannon pods to air-to-air missiles)
  • a new Night Vision compatible cockpit
  • HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick) controls
  • Numerous new avionics systems including missile approach warning receiver systems (MAWS) and radar warning receivers (RWR).
Since its introduction in 2003, the Super Tucano has seen a large amount of military action, including Brazil's Operation Ágata 1,2, and 3. The operations involved rigorous military action over the borders of Brazil to rid them of illegal activities such as drug trafficking and non-permitted mining/logging. The Super Tucanos were also extensively used by the Columbian Air Force in its ongoing campaign against the rebel FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) guerilla forces.

Specifications (wiki)

General characteristics
  • Crew: One pilot on single seat version, one pilot plus one navigator/student on double seat version
  • Payload: 1,550 kg (3,420 lb)
  • Length: 11.42 m (37 ft 6 in)
  • Wingspan: 11.14 m (36 ft 7 in)
  • Height: 3.9 m (12 ft 9.5 in)
  • Wing area: 19.4 m² (209 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 3,200 kg (7,055 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 5,400 kg (11,905 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68C turboprop, 1,600 hp (1,193 kW)
Performance
  • Maximum speed: 590 km/h (319 knots, 367 mph)
  • Cruise speed: 520 km/h (281 knots, 323 mph)
  • Stall speed: 148 km/h (80 knots, 92 mph
  • g-limits: +7/-3.5 g)
  • Range: 720 nmi (827 mi, 1,330 km)
  • Combat radius: 550 km (300 nmi, 342 mi) (hi-lo-hi profile, 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) of external stores)
  • Ferry range: 1,541 nmi (1,774 mi, 2,855 km) 
  • Endurance: 8hrs 40mins
  • Service ceiling: 10,668 m (35,000 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 24 m/s (79 ft/s)

CHINA'S NEWEST ATTACK HELICOPTER - WZ-10

Manufactured by Changehe Aircraft Industries Corporation, the WZ-10 was first introduced to the People's Liberation Army in December 2010. It is categorized as an attack helicopter and designed mainly for anti-tank/anti-ground activities with a subsidiary air-to-air role. 



The development of the WZ-10 was the result of failed foreign ventures in the late 1900's to purchase helicopters dedicated to meet the "attack" role. China realized that they needed a solution to counter large armoured formations and their fleet of civilian helicopters converted to military roles were simply inadequate. At that time, China did not have a strong aviation industry and so sought after foreign produced aircraft, evaluating several candidates such as the Italian Agusta A129 Mangusta and the US AH-1 Cobras. A contract was secured for the latter but this was subsequently cancelled due to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the ensuing arms embargo. Further offers to the Russians and Bulgarians for the Mil Mi-28 were rejected. 

What was left over were the indigenous programs: the Armed Helicopter Development Team (武装直升机开发工作小组) and the China Medium Helicopter (CHM) program. The Gulf War ushered in a new urgency for a dedicated air-to-ground attack helicopter and in 2000, China abandoned all ventures on foreign purchase with another failed deal with the Russians. The WZ-10 program accelerated and in April 2003, a prototype made its maiden flight at Lumeng airfield. In the coming years, numerous prototypes were built and by January 2006 after three rigorous testing phases, weaponry and sensory tests that included live ammunition were taking place.  
Avionics

The WZ-10 incorporates top end technology in its avionics. The helicopter uses a holographic HUD and the first indigenous helicopter to use HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick). Also, unlike previous home brewed helicopters, the WZ-10 navigation systems are fully integrated and many instruments are designed to be easily replaced by upcoming technology that is still in development. 

The electronic warfare system of the WZ-10 is the first Chinese system that integrates all the key components: radar, radar warning receivers, laser warning receivers, electronic support measures, and electronic counter-measures. The aircraft also has an advanced electro-optics system comprising a colour daytime TV camera, night vision camera, imaging infrared camera, and a laser targeting system. The entire system is integrated with the HMS (Helmet Mounted Sight) system. 

Engines

The WZ-10 is currently powered by foreign engines as it was clear Chinese manufacturers will not be able to deliver a suitable powerplant for the helicopter. However, the future long term engines will all be indigenously built. 

Weaponry

The WZ-10 has a modular design concept and can be armed with a variety of weaponry, of Soviet and Western origin. The helicopter's armament consists of a chin-mounted heavy autocannon (30 mm calibre) and 4 hardpoints on the stub wings. Each hardpoint can hold up to 4 missiles. Smaller calibre machine guns and automated grenade launchers can also be mounted in the turret form in lieu of the autocannon.

Scandal 

In June of this year, the United States charged United Technologies and two of its subsidiaries for selling the necessary engines codes to operate the WZ-10. The Chinese government denied buying the software but United Technologies agreed to settle the charges for more than $75 million (Yahoo News). 

Specifications (jczs)

General characteristics
  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 14.15 m (ft)
  • Rotor diameter: 13.0 m (ft)
  • Height: 3.85 m (ft)
  • Empty weight: 5,540 kg (lb)
  • Loaded weight: 7,000 kg (lb)
  • Useful load: 1,500 kg (lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 7,000+ kg (lb)
  • Powerplant: 2 × WZ-9 turboshaft, 1000 kw (1340 shp) each
Performance
  • Maximum speed: 300 km/h
  • Cruise speed: 270 km/h
  • Ferry range: 800 km
  • Service ceiling: 6,400 m (ft)
  • Rate of climb: over 12 m/s (ft/min)

A VENERATED GIANT'S WEAKNESS? - F-22 excels at long-range, but not as much in traditional dogfights

Eurofighter Typhoons
Since its introduction, the F-22 Raptor has been known as the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world. This is certainly not an exaggeration. With its stealth capabilities, state-of-the-art detection equipment (e.g. radars), powerful computers, and potent engines, the aircraft was years ahead of the best fighter aircraft fielded by any other country out there. It was also a Hollywood icon, appearing in multiple Blockbusters such as Iron Man, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and The Avengers.


However, in a recent (this June) mock military exercise of an international scale called the Red Flag training exercise in Alaska, the F-22 found itself equally matched by Europe's finest fighter aircraft, the Eurofighter Typhoon, in traditional dogfighting. This comes as a surprise since during the 2006 Red Flag exercise, the F-22's had a 144:0 kill ratio; an undefeated giant. As such, the German pilots that confronted the Raptors had initially went in doubtful of their own aircraft's performance and only when the mock aerial duelling start did they realise they could match the F-22 almost turn for turn. 

This, however, is not a big problem for the F-22 Raptor. The aircraft mainly excels in long-range combat where it is able to track down and lock on to the target miles before the enemy can do the same or do it at all. In fact, according to two German officers that were present at the exercise, Col. Andreas Pfeiffer and Maj. Marco Gumbrecht, the F-22 was far superior compared to the Eurofighter at long range, being able to target the fighter 20 miles out. This is probably why it was so dominant in Red Flag 2006. 

F-22 Raptor
In light of the training exercise, many US military officials have come out to defend the Raptor, arguing primarily that the Raptor and Eurofighter were designed for two different aspects of combat and thus hard to be compared. Much of this reaction stemmed from the F-22's hefty price tag of an estimated $ 420 million while the Eurofighter costs less than half as much at just under $ 200 million.

The Red Flag training exercise is a two week ordeal where the air forces of countries allied to the United States meet to undergo simulated air wars, pitching the pilots in a variety of missions. Red Flag takes place in the US annually. You can watch the 2004 Red Flag exercise in the IMAX documentary, Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag

BEE SWARM DELAYS PLANE - pittsburgh int. airport

On Wednesday night last week, a Delta commuter flight bound for New York in Pittsburgh International Airport was delayed by a most unexpected thing; a honeybee swarm that had decided to take refuge under the left wing of the aircraft. However bizarre this might seem to outsiders, these bee swarms are not uncommon to the airport's maintenance crews. In fact, the swarm is the fourth one discovered this year.


To fix this problem, no act of cruel massacre was performed (nor was it truly an act of kindness as the honey bees are a protected species and thus required by law to be moved). Instead, the airport called in Master beekeeper Stephen Repasky of Meadow Street Apiaries to safely relocate the bees (most likely his fourth time this year at the airport). Repasky worked his magic and scraped the bees off with a light thistle brush into a box later for release.

According to Repasky, swarms of wayward honey bees form when a colony becomes overpopulated. They show up most anywhere to rest before moving to find a new home. Of course, when the ignorant citizen sees these bees, there's not knowing what s/he would do from fear of seeing such a large cluster of black and yellow. However, Repasky urges the people not to fear upon seeing a swarm as honey bees are extremely docile and would sooner move on if left alone.

Repasky worked swiftly but gently and the flight was again underway to JFK airport in about 20 minutes. The sentiment on the plane was not that of annoyance but fascination as some took out their phones for pictures and videos. The delay caused by the bees were in fact, irrelevant, as the flight was still going to be delayed going into JFK due to congestion issues. 

CONCEPT AIRCRAFT - airbus 2050


Airbus's envisioning of their newest airliner in 2050 is massive, elegant, and luxurious. The company unveiled the "concept cabin" to the public in advance of the 2011 Paris Air Show "Le Bourget". The cabin sacks the traditional cabin classes that we all despise (economic, business, first class) and replaces them with different seating zones. First, there is the "vitalising zone" where the air is enriched with vitamins and antioxidants, mood lighting, aromatherapy, and acupressure treatments. Second, there is the "interactive zone" where virtual pop-up projections can bring you to an activity you are interested in such as golf or even a changeroom (for the proactive shoppers). Third, there is the "smart tech zone" that is focused on the passengers that need to work and is described by Airbus to have a "chameleon style" offering where seats can change shape according to your preferences among other things.

Airbus emphasizes its incorporation of nature into the concept cabin and the imaginary high tech fuselage is a prime example. The airframe's bionic structure of an exoskeleton mimics the efficiency of bird bone where strength is applied where strength is most needed. Apart from the skeletal frame, the rest of the frame will be built with plant based material that will allow the fuselage to have sections that can turn transparent to provide a panoramic view of the sky.


The aircraft exterior layout will also emphasize comfort with high tech wing designs and engines placed in the rear that will lower engine noise for passengers.


Other high tech amenities include an integrated neural network that will identify and respond to passengers' needs including changing the shape of seats or bringing snacks/beverages. The seats of the plane will also be made of self repairing and self cleaning materials, and like the rest of the cabin, will be 100% recyclable. In keeping with the theme of environment, the seats will have body heat energy harvesting technology that will help power the personal holographic screen among other things. The aircraft will also feature double doors for faster boarding and luggage drop off right at the aircraft door.

A 2012 UPDATE OF THE AIRBUS 2050


GROUND-TO-AIR LASER RECHARGES AIRCRAFT - LaserMotive's laser power system

Lockheed Martin Stalker
Lockheed Martin's recent test of LaserMotive's new laser powering system on the Lockheed Martin's Stalker, a small, silent UAV used by US special forces since 2006, showed that drones of the future might not need to land to be recharged. 

A visual summary of how the system works.
Credits to techcentre.in
In the test, the Stalker was modified for compatibility with LaserMotive's laser recharging system through the installation of special photo voltaic cells on the drone (as you can deduce, the way this system works is very similar to that of solar panels). The Stalker was then placed to fly in a wind tunnel under flight conditions so the laser does not have to constantly track and adjust for the drone's position that would have been necessary if it was actually in fight. Results were overwhelmingly positive as the drone seemed to be able to stay in flight indefinitely with the battery power being higher than when the test started. The test team only stopped at 48 hours because it was already greatly passed their originally set endurance goals. Without the laser power system, the Stalker's battery can only last a maximum of 2 hours. 

Although this tremendous rate of power transfer by LaserMotive's wireless recharging systems will be a huge step forward for electric aircraft flight endurance and wireless recharging technology overall, it definitely isn't good news for birds everywhere. 

SUPERSONIC BIPLANE - the resurrection of the biplane

Japanese computer model of a
commercial supersonic biplane
The biplane/triplane designs largely died out in the 1930's due to their inefficiency compared to monoplanes but we may very well see the rise of them again in the next decade or two. Recently, university teams in Japan and the United States are working on a supersonic biplane design conceived by aviation engineer Adolf Busemann in the 1930's. The concept produces a greatly reduced sonic boom and might mean the revival of commercial supersonic air travel.

Busemann's concept; as you can see,
it requires symmetrical wings
For Busemann's design to work, the plane's wings had to be in specific angles so shockwaves would destructively interfere as they left the wing cavity. The only problem was, even though the concept aircraft performs well in supersonic flight, it cannot fly at subsonic speeds. This is because the wings are symmetrical, which does not allow for the low-pressure/high-pressure difference between the top and bottom of the wings, respectively, to create enough lift. Also, when approaching supersonic speeds, the two wings create tremendous drag. Now, eight decades later, modern aviation engineering teams in opposite sides of the world are using computer simulations to improve upon Busemann's work and have come up with two different approaches to solve this drag problem.

The Japanese Tohoku University's research team is experimenting with a plane that has movable wings, eliminating the lift/drag problem in subsonic speeds. The US Stanford/MIT research team has come up with a stationary wing design but with greater wing separation to increase air flow, smoother inner wing surfaces, and curved out wing edges (reduces drag at supersonic speeds). At supersonic speeds, this model is even more flight efficient than the Concorde.


WHAT ARE SONIC BOOMS and why they are so detrimental to supersonic civilian planes

As a plane nears supersonic speeds, tremendous pressure builds up in front of the plane as air-pressure waves (created by the displacement of air by the plane) are compressed together. As the plane exceeds the sound barrier, these pressure waves combine to form shock waves that are similar to wake waves generated by a fast moving boat. The sonic boom is heard during the sharp release of pressure after the shock wave passes through. It is this loud sound that greatly annoys civilians and wildlife alike and is one of the main causes of the premature retirement of the Concorde and the subsequent avoidance for the development of newer supersonic passenger jets. Fortunately, it is possible that the supersonic biplane might breath life back into commercial supersonic air travel.

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