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NASA Builds Ultra-light Wing that actively changes Shape to help Reduce Fuel Use

The wing also features actuators and computers that make it morph and twist to achieve the desired wing shape during flight

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NASA Aircraft. Flickr
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Washington, November 4, 2016: A team of NASA researchers and students is using emerging composite material manufacturing methods to build an ultra-light wing that actively changes shape to help reduce fuel use and improve flight efficiency.

Increased efficiency means less fuel is needed, which means less weight on the aircraft, which also increases efficiency.

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This “holy grail” of more efficient flight is always in the minds of the Mission Adaptive Digital Composite Aerostructure Technologies, or MADCAT, team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, NASA said in a statement on Thursday.

The ultra-light wing that actively changes shape could be an important part of the future of green aviation, said Kenneth Cheung, co-lead on the MADCAT project.

This type of wing could improve aerodynamic efficiency in future flight vehicles by reducing the amount of drag caused by rigid control surfaces like flaps, rudders and ailerons.

Earlier studies of aerodynamics showed that the shape of a wing has enormous effects on flight — but there is not just one “best” wing shape.

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The best shape in any moment depends on many factors: how much the aircraft weighs, the speed it is flying, and whether the pilot wants to climb higher or descend, for instance.

This means that a rigid wing with a limited number of moveable surfaces — also rigid — is only a compromise and cannot be the most efficient shape for the whole of any given flight.

The researchers explained that the shape-changing wing is constructed from building block units made of advanced carbon fibre composite materials.

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These building blocks are assembled into a lattice, or arrangement of repeating structures — the way that they are arranged determines how they flex.

The wing also features actuators and computers that make it morph and twist to achieve the desired wing shape during flight, the researchers said. (IANS)

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Chandra Observatory By NASA Back in Action

Scientists are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options were available to recover the gyro to operational performance

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NASA's Chandra Observatory back in action. Pixabay

NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory, observing the universe in high-energy light since 1999, is back in action after suffering a glitch due to the failure of the gyroscope and going into safe mode last week.

The cause of Chandra’s safe mode on October 10 has now been understood and the Operations team has successfully returned the spacecraft to its normal pointing mode, according to the US space agency.

“The safe mode was caused by a glitch in one of Chandra’s gyroscopes resulting in a 3-second period of bad data that, in turn, led the on-board computer to calculate an incorrect value for the spacecraft momentum. The erroneous momentum indication then triggered the safe mode,” NASA said in a statement late on Monday.

The team has completed plans to switch gyroscopes and place the gyroscope that experienced the glitch in reserve.

Once configured with a series of pre-tested flight software patches, the team will return Chandra to science operations which are expected to commence by the end of this week, NASA said.

On October 10, Chandra X-ray Observatory entered safe mode, in which the observatory is put into a safe configuration, critical hardware is swapped to back-up units, the spacecraft points so that the solar panels get maximum sunlight, and the mirrors point away from the Sun.

Chandra is 19 years old, which is well beyond the original design lifetime of five years. In 2001, NASA extended its lifetime to 10 years.

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres since March 2015, is also nearly out of fuel and might run out as early as October. Flickr

The US space agency said that it was also continuing to work towards resuming science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope that on October 5, entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) being used to point and steady the telescope failed.

Gyroscopes help spacecraft maintain proper orientation.

Scientists are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options were available to recover the gyro to operational performance.

Till that time, science operations with Hubble have been suspended.

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Besides Chandra and Hubble, NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope is also almost out of fuel. Kepler has found about 70 per cent of all known alien worlds to date.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres since March 2015, is also nearly out of fuel and might run out as early as October.

The space agency’s Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity too have faced issues of late. (IANS)