Tag Archives: kerosene

NASA plans to make airplanes cleaner and 50% more fuel efficient by reviving the wing truss

NASA plans to improve today’s planes with a blast from the past — re-implementing a structure known as a wing truss would reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions of common commercial aircraft by as much as 50%, according to computational models.

Early aircraft were… Well they were horrible, really. These flimsy cloth-and-wire machines offered their pilots virtually no protection against the cold. Their open cabins also meant that it was impossible to create a pressurized environment so the pilots wouldn’t black out from lack of oxygen at high altitudes. Thankfully that wasn’t much of a problem as their engines barely had enough power to get them off the ground in the first place.

This meant that early pioneers of aircraft design had to squeeze every ounce of lift from their designs, while keeping them as light as possible. Designs such as the biplane, triplane and wacky multiplane generated enough lift even at low speeds but also huge amounts of drag, and were thus limited in maximum speed.

Another piece of technology from the era however, the wing truss, has recently caught NASA engineers’ as a possible avenue for improvement of modern designs.

A wing truss is a support structure connecting the body of the plane to the wing, and can be seen in modern ultra-light prop-planes such as the Cessna 182.

Trust in the truss.
Image credits wikimedia – author unknown.

By transferring part of the strain to the fuselage, trusses allow for longer, thinner but also lighter wings to be constructed without sacrificing lift. Lower weight and improved carrying capacity would translate into lower much more efficient use of engine power, according to NASA:

“Researchers expect the lighter weight, lower drag truss-braced wing to reduce both fuel burn and carbon emissions by at least 50% over current technology transport aircraft, and by 4 to 8% compared to equivalent advanced technology conventional configurations with unbraced wings.”

But there’s a reason trusses were abandoned in the first place: they add drag and disturb the flow of air around the aircraft. But, by using modern digital modeling techniques, engineers can design around this problem.

“Using computational results showing how air would flow around the model, they [the researchers] modify the dimensions and shape of the wing and truss to improve areas that may generate undesirable air flow that would increase drag and reduce lift. Then engineers test models in a wind tunnel using multiple experimental techniques to validate the computations and aircraft performance predictions.’

If higher fuel efficiency and reduced emissions aren’t enough to impress you, there’s another quieter benefit to consider: trussed wings produce less noise during flight, meaning you won’t hear jets roaring overhead anymore.


People watch the Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft which moves to the launch pad at the Jiuquan launch centre in Jiuquan, China's northwest Gansu province. Shenzhou-9 carried 9 astronauts (c) AP

China tests new rocket engine and slates moon landing for 2013

China is set on covering a lot of lost ground in its race of becoming a full fledged space super power, and its progress so far has been phenomenal. The latest news from the Chinese space agency comes in the wake of a successful test for a super-rocket engine, which will be deployed in the next-generation of boosters, and help the nation in its goals of building its own space station and landing on the moon. Speaking of which, Chinese officials have also recently announced  that it will blast off a lunar probe for the moon in the second half of 2013. If successful, the landing would be China’s first on the lunar surface and mark a new milestone in its space development.

People watch the Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft which moves to the launch pad at the Jiuquan launch centre in Jiuquan, China's northwest Gansu province.  Shenzhou-9  carried 9 astronauts (c) AP

People watch the Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft which moves to the launch pad at the Jiuquan launch centre in Jiuquan, China’s northwest Gansu province. Shenzhou-9 marked China’s fist successful docking in space, with the Tiangong-1 module. (c) AP

The new super-engine is based on  liquid oxygen (LOX) and kerosene, and has been designed for China’s planned Long March 5 rocket, which will be more powerful than the current Long March 2F that have been used to both deploy China’s test space station module, Tiangong-1, and transport a crew of three, including the nation’s first female astronaut, for a 13-day stay at the module.

The engine was subjected to rotational tests of almost 20,000 revolutions per minute, and was exposed to temperatures of up to 5,432 degrees Fahrenheit (3,000 degrees Celsius) for 200 seconds. It performed without flaws, much to the delight of Chinese officials. Also,  liquid oxygen and kerosene engine is non-toxic and pollution-free, according to officials. The engine  will be capable of 118 tons of thrust, compared to the 74-ton-thrust engines used on the Long March 2F rockets – this translates in around 25-ton payload carrying capability in satellite low-orbit, or 14-ton payload into geostationary orbit.

The Long March 5 is expected to aid in China’s efforts of deploying its own space station in orbit by 2020; efforts which so far have extremely promising, considering Tiangong-1 was a sound success and most of their projects have been deployed on schedule. The rocket’s maiden launch is expected to occur in 2014, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.

Concerning its moon ventures, China has announced that it will launch a probe in the second half of 2012 destined to land on the surface of the moon – marking another milestone. The communist state has launched two other probes to the moon before,  Chang’e 1 in 2007 and Chang’e 2 in 2010, both named for the Chinese goddess of the moon, but these didn’t land. The new project is destined to orbit, land on and return from the moon. According to China’s current space mission schedule, a manned landing on the moon is expected by 2025.

Despite China is currently pursuing goals already completed by the US or the URSS some 50 years ago, the amount of progress it has made in the past decade alone is astonishing.