NASA Devise Method for Making Fuel-Efficient Large Jet Planes

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NASA was successful in demonstrating a manufacturing technique to make large hybrid aircraft possible. Compared to the conventional jet planes, a hybrid aircraft is more fuel-efficient and produce less noise.

Before the NASA demonstration, there were four generally known airplane shapes – a tube with wings, a blended wing body, a hybrid wing, and a flying wing. The last three discard the use of the tube for a flatter chassis that has an almost rectangular cross-section. The body on these three designs also act like wings giving additional lift to the aircraft. It gives the advantages of reduced weight and drag resulting to higher top speeds and less fuel consumption. However, aerospace engineers have always faced the dilemma that flying wings cannot transport large number of people. The US military use a dozen of flying wings aircraft, but these are generally small aircraft that do not necessarily consider that comfort of the soldiers that use it. The B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber of Northrop Grumman is the probably the most popular example of a hybrid aircraft.

In the space agency’s demonstration, NASA showed a manufacturing method of making a hybrid flying wing aircraft that can be big and comfortable enough for commercial travel. The new technique can reduce up to 25 percent of the aircraft’s structural weight. NASA hopes that in a decade or two, this manufacturing technique can be use to build commercial jet planes.

The hybrid flying wing is part of NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) project. The project started in 2009 and aims to reduce the impact of aviation on the environment.

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NASA Announce Plans to Launch Inflatable Spacecraft

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NASA announced that a prototype inflatable space module, designed by Bigelow Aerospace will be tested aboard the International Space Station.

The inflatable space module is predicted to play an important role in future space research and exploration. Lori Garver, NASA’s deputy administrator hailed the concept of inflatable spacecraft as both cutting-edge and affordable.

‘This partnership agreement for the use of expandable habitats represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably, and heralds important progress in U.S. commercial space innovation,’ she said.

‘The International Space Station is a unique laboratory that enables important discoveries that benefit humanity and vastly increase understanding of how humans can live and work in space for long periods.’

The inflatable technology also has the potential to into deep space, a quality that greatly interests NASA.

The experimental unit, Bigelow Expendable Activity Module, is designed to be launched easily as it is smaller than conventional spacecraft and then it can inflate to a bigger size when in space. Aside from being a practical solution to space research, Bigelow also hopes that the modules can serve as accommodation and workspace for astronauts while in orbit.

Bigelow had previously launched two inflatable spacecraft – Genesis 1 in 2006 and Genesis 2 in 2007. It was used to test if the spacecraft can maintain a constant temperature and pressure.

Among the potential plans of Bigelow is to create a moon base using the inflatable modules. It can be used for research as well as space hotels for companies planning to take tourists into orbit.

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NASA Orion Spacecraft Passed First Parachute Test

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On December 20, 2012, NASA completed a series of parachute test for the Orion spacecraft that will have its first flight test on 2014. At the US Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, the Orion proved that it can still land safely even if one of its drogue parachutes failed to open.

Orion’s mission is to take human further into space than ever before. But unlike previous spacecraft, Orion multi-purpose vehicle will use parachutes to safely land from space. Because it will land from a greater distance, Orion will reenter the atmosphere at speeds of more than 20,000mph and after re-entry the parachutes are the only mechanism that will lower the astronauts-carrying capsule back to Earth.

“The mockup vehicle landed safely in the desert and everything went as planned,” said Chris Johnson, a NASA project manager for Orion’s parachute assembly system. “We designed the parachute system so nothing will go wrong, but plan and test as though something will so we can make sure Orion is the safest vehicle ever to take humans to space.”

Orion has three main parachutes measuring 116 feet wide and two 23 feet wide drogue parachutes. The spacecraft only needs two main parachutes and one drogue, but have extra parachutes for back-up in case the primary parachutes malfunction.

The test verified that the Orion can land safely with just one drogue parachute by dropping a mock-up of the spacecraft from a plane flying over the Arizona desert at 25,000 feet. It simulated a failure for one of the drogues and about 30 seconds after the mock-up was dropped, the second drogue parachute opened and slowed down the descent. It was enough time for the three main parachute to open so the capsule can safely land.

The next test scheduled on February 2013 will verify if the Orion can land safely when one of is three main parachutes fails to open.

In 2014, the unmanned Orion spacecraft will launch on Exploration Flight Test-1. It will travel 3,600 miles above the Earth’s surface, which is 15 times farther than the orbit of International Space Staion and farther than any spacecraft carrying humans have gone in over 40 years. The launch will test the heat shield performance of the Orion’s at speeds generated during a return from deep space. The spacecraft will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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NASA Announces New Mars Rover for 2020

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Following the success of the landing of Curiosity spacecraft on Mars, NASA announces an extensive multi-year Mars program highlighted by a new Mars rover to be launched on 2020.

The new rover will follow the design of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) architecture, which successfully transported Curiosity to Martian surface. By basing the new rover’s design on the MSL, the cost and risk can be maintained as low as possible. The design of the new rover will be essential the same as Curiosity but it will carry a different set of science instruments. The specific payload and science instruments for the 2020 rover mission will be openly competed.

“The challenge to restructure the Mars Exploration Program has turned from the seven minutes of terror for the Curiosity landing to the start of seven years of innovation,” NASA’s associate administrator for science, and astronaut John Grunsfeld said. “This mission concept fits within the current and projected Mars exploration budget, builds on the exciting discoveries of Curiosity, and takes advantage of a favorable launch opportunity.”

The missions included in the Mars program are the 2013 launch of the MAVEN that will study the upper Martian atmosphere, the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, which will study the deep interior of Mars; and participation in ESA’s 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing “Electra” telecommunication radios to ESA’s 2016 mission and a critical element of the premier astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.

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WWII Warship Artifact to be Displayed in Veteran’s Home in France

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The USS Arizona is one of the ships sunk by the Japanese bombers at Pearl Harbor in the early morning of December 7, 1941. The sinking of the battleship caused 1,100 lives of its crewmen making it the biggest casualty on an U.S warship.

A piece of the historic artifact found its way to Maine Veteran’s Home in Paris, France through the help of U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe’s office.

“I am incredibly pleased the Maine Veterans’ Home in South Paris has been bestowed with a section of the USS Arizona, which can now be proudly displayed for the community and visitors alike,” Snowe wrote in an email to the Sun Journal on Tuesday afternoon. “Since 1995, this tremendous facility has provided indispensable services to our state’s heroic veterans with the highest levels of quality and commitment to their well-being. It is certainly fitting that South Paris is now home to this piece of American history, honoring all who lost their lives aboard the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941.”

The veteran’s home collects military artifacts that embody the sacrifices of the men and women in service and displays the artifacts to honor the men and women in uniform that secures the United States of America.

The artifact is a 10- by 30- inch metal piece from the warship’s rear mast. The unveiling of the artifact will be held on December 7, the National Pearl Harbor Remenbrance Day.

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Huge Dust Storm Endangers Mars Rover

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Curiosity might be hogging the headlines and getting a Time Person of the Year nomination, but it is not the only spacecraft roaming the surface of Mars.

The Mars rover Opportunity has been exploring the red planet for nine years. It landed on Mars in 2004 along with its twin, Spirit. Spirit has stopped sending back signals in 2010, but Opportunity have pulled through all these years exploring Mar’s Endeavour crater. But the upcoming weather in Mars might spell trouble for the sturdy spacecraft.

A dust storm is brewing in Mars southern hemisphere. A November 18, 2012 image taken by the NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed the storm a little more than 800 miles from Opportunity, but it has the potential to grow big and cover the whole planet.

If the storm takes over the whole planet and blocks out the sun, it can disrupt the energy supply of Opportunity which runs on solar panel. Curiosity, which runs on plutonion can fare better. The dust storm effects will be limited to hazy images and higher air temperatures that can affect how the rover measures the surface on Mars.

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Future NASA Spacecraft Can Possibly Land Like Helicopters

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A new rotor landing system is being tested by NASA. The space agency is trying to enable its future space capsule to land like helicopters. The tests are conducted in the 550 foot fall Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Washington.

The idea behind the new landing system called auto-rotation is to replace parachutes with spinning blades to allow soft and controlled landings of the spacecraft on land instead of the ocean. It has been proven efficient on helicopters, but never been tried on a spacecraft. NASA considered using a rotor re-entry landing system for the Apollo spacecraft in the 1960s, but it never progressed.

According to Discovery News, the new rotor re-entry landing system is designed for capsule-inspired spacecraft like the Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle that is projected to launch before the end of the decade. Right now, engineers are trying to determine how to deploy the blades the right way. They think they can come up with a similar mechanism used in bombs whose fins flick open at high-speed. They want a mechanism that deploys the blades and start them spinning immediately. Using a scale model suspended at 480 feet above the floor, they are testing ways to get the blades spinning with drop tests at the VAB. Engineers are using a helicopter radio-control unit to change the rotor’s pitch and slow-down the capsule.

Succeeding rotor re-entry landing tests will eventually get more complicated. Future tests will involve full-scale models dropped form high-altitude balloons.

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NASA Scheduled Test Launch for New Spacecraft for 2014

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NASA’s newest spaceship Orion will have its first unmanned launch test on September 2014. The Orion space capsule is designed to carry humans far beyond the moon, asteroids, and Mars. It is the first new spaceship that NASA developed after the space shuttle program of the 70s.

“I think having a test flight in ’14 is huge — people can see it right there,” Orion program manager Mark Geyer told in September. “It’s a really important goal.”

Originally, Orion was called the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle under the NASA’s abolished Constellation program. But the Orion design was resurrected and it is now called the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

The first flight test of the Orion will be called the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFS1.) It will test half of the system that will be usedin the finished Orion including the heat shield, which is made of a new composite material and has an ablative coating system to stop the burn-off when the spaceship re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere.

Testing the capsule’s primary capsule design, avionics and computer systems are included in the EFT1.

NASA projected that the Orion will carry humans onboard for the first time in 2021. NASA had relegated travel to low-Earth orbit to the private sector, to allow the agency to focus in traveling in the farther areas of space.

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NASA Spacecraft Curiosity Scoops Mars Soil

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The Mars Rover ingest its first sample of Mars soil using the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument of the spacecraft. It will analyze the solid sample to determine the minerals it contains.

“We are crossing a significant threshold for this mission by using CheMin on its first sample,” said Curiosity’s project scientist, John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “This instrument gives us a more definitive mineral-identifying method than ever before used on Mars: X-ray diffraction. Confidently identifying minerals is important because minerals record the environmental conditions under which they form.”

The martian soil is about as much as a baby aspirin. Curiosity’s robotic arm scooped it out of a windblown patch of dusty sand called “Rocknest,” then delivered it to rover’s inlet funnel on October 17th. It is the third scoop of Martian soil by Curiosity. The first scoop was used for cleaning, to remove any residue carried from Earth. The second scoop was discarded because of small bits of light toned material that scientist suspected to be debris from the spacecraft, but later assessed to be native Martian material.

“We plan to learn more both about the spacecraft material and about the smaller, bright particles,” said Curiosity Project Manager Richard Cook of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. “We will finish determining whether the spacecraft material warrants concern during future operations. The native Mars particles become fodder for the mission’s scientific studies.”

Curiosity has a two-year mission on Mars. It will use its 10 instruments to determine whether the planet has ever offered suitable conditions to support micro-biological life.

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SpaceX Launch Succesful Despite Glitches

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The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket still on track to deliver cargo to the Internationa Space Station even after encountering glitches during the launch. The spacecraft successfully sent the Dragon capsule full of science and food supplies to the ISS. This is the first among 12 flights contracted by NASA.

On Sunday, seconds after the launch, one of the nine engines of the SpaceX rocket failed because of pressure loss. The engine did not explode, but it sent the rocket into a lower orbit than expected. Fortunately, the spacecraft’s flight computer calculated a new path to the ISS and the capsule expected to arrive on Wednesday.

“Falcon 9 did exactly what it was designed to do,” the California based SpaceX said. “Like the Saturn V, which experienced engine loss on two flights, Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine out situation and still complete its mission.”

But the Falcon 9 cannot deliver on its secondary mission. It is supposed to deploy an industrial communications satellite for Orbcomm of Virginia but because of the engine failure it cannot fire its second stage engines needed to deploy the satellite.

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