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NASA Transportation Science

NASA Green-lights $16.5M To Advance Future Jets 107

Posted by samzenpus
from the how-much-of-that-goes-to-leg-room? dept.
coondoggie writes "NASA said this week four research teams would split $16.5 million to continue developing quieter, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient jets that the agency says will be three generations ahead of airliners in use today. NASA said the money was awarded after an 18-month study of all manner of advanced technologies from alloys, ceramic or fiber composites, carbon nanotube and fiber optic cabling to self-healing skin, hybrid electric engines, folding wings, double fuselages and virtual reality windows to come up with a series of aircraft designs that could end up taking you on a business trip by about 2030."
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NASA Green-lights $16.5M To Advance Future Jets

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  • by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @01:46PM (#35735544) Homepage Journal

    I think the study cost more than that.

    Award that money to a university and you might get something for it. To a private company and you might get a mock up, which says "Huggies" on the composite carbon hull, if you peek around the back side of it.

  • by stewbacca (1033764) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @01:46PM (#35735548)

    I'm always surprised with the editorial tone of slashdot when they post a figure like $16.5 million and try to draw gasps, as if that's a huge amount of money. I'm on a military contract, and the training portion alone is at about $5 million. $16.5 million for something like a new jet is peanuts.

    • by g0bshiTe (596213) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @01:52PM (#35735652)
      Considering the cost of a new 747 is around $317.5 million, $16.5 million for r&d seems like a lowball figure.
      • Compared to the $110-115 million [www.cbc.ca] for a single F-35 [wikipedia.org] next generation fighter jet (per unit in quantity), it seems very low.

        Admittedly the research grant seems to be focused on just the jet engine, not the vehicle (jet airplane), it does still seem like a small amount to build even a single prototype. While a healthy grant as far as research grants so, it is still pretty small compared to other things. Then again, compared the average R&D spending of $0.0 (USD or Euro) in most areas of engineering and scie

      • by GooberToo (74388)

        If they are designing new 747s, then yes, you are right. If they are designing very focused elements which are to be used on a variety of jets, then not necessarily. I presumed its the later and not the former which we are talking about.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by h4rr4r (612664)

      We can't all waste money like the military. Maybe if they wasted a little less we could though.

      • Who said anything about wasting money? That's my whole point about slashdot editorializing...if you think $16.5 is a big waste, I'm telling you, that's a drop in the bucket and you really are griping about nothing, relatively speaking.

    • by Surt (22457)

      I'm surprised that anyone can read that and read an editorial tone into it. I see absolutely nothing to suggest we should be shocked by the size of the award. Neither was I shocked, nor do I see a slant myself.

    • "pff... my toilet paper costs $16.5 million" -Bill Gates
    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)
      16.5 million won't pay for the accountants needed to make sure they aren't wasting money.
  • by MAXOMENOS (9802)
    Will fuel for commercial flights even be available then, let alone affordable?
    • by Surt (22457)

      Tethered solar satellites will be providing juice to compose aircraft fuel straight from CHON by then.

    • by Wyatt Earp (1029)

      Yes, jet engines are pretty capable of burning a wide variety of fuels, the airlines and militaries like the US DoD have been certifying aircraft to run on biofuels, mixes of biofuels and regular fuels.

      Plus the USAF has been wanting to build synth fuel plants for some time, only to have it blocked by Congress.

  • Ugh (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by jimmerz28 (1928616)
    That's great, can we get that budget approved for high speed trains too while we're at it? I'm sick of having a horrid public transportation infrastructure. And highways are so 1950s...new please!
    • by khallow (566160)

      That's great, can we get that budget approved for high speed trains too while we're at it? I'm sick of having a horrid public transportation infrastructure. And highways are so 1950s...new please!

      The US had roads and airports. Where will high speed trains fit in? They can't beat roads at short distances because automobiles are point to point travel. They can't beat airports at long distances because planes are faster and don't have to stop every so often. Instead the money spent on US high speed rails seems better used to make faster and more convenient airport security and improve traffic flow on US roads.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        They are faster than air travel if you include the need to arrive early and the frequent cancellations of flights. Car travel sucks. you can't drink, you can't read, you can't do much of anything. Better yet would be to stop subsidizing roads so much and have better public transit in all forms. Let those who damage the roads pay for them, the shipping companies.

        • by khallow (566160)

          They are faster than air travel if you include the need to arrive early and the frequent cancellations of flights.

          Hence, my point about funding more convenient airport security since that's the number one reason you need to arrive early. Even with "frequent" cancellations you get where you're going. High speed rail still has cancellations.

          Car travel sucks. you can't drink, you can't read, you can't do much of anything.

          You can drive to exactly where you're going. You can change your mind. You can carry several hundred pounds of cargo.

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            I can take a train there, I can change trains if need be and a train can haul many tons. Most importantly, I can have a beer while doing all this.

          • You can drive to exactly where you're going. You can change your mind. You can carry several hundred pounds of cargo.

            Yeah, that's exactly how I refer to my mother-in-law too!

          • by 517714 (762276)
            Defunding airport security is far more rational. If we want to fund theater, Shakespeare wrote better scripts than those used by the TSA.
      • by AJH16 (940784) *

        In fairness, high speed rail would be a huge boon for shipping and would take a huge burden off the roads. A lot of freight moves by truck in the US and that's really not ideal for road costs and would be much more cheaply done via rail. Commuter use of rail would be nice, but you are right, in the US it will likely always be secondary to air travel unless rail freight brought the cost down substantially for commuter use.

        • by khallow (566160)

          In fairness, high speed rail would be a huge boon for shipping and would take a huge burden off the roads. A lot of freight moves by truck in the US and that's really not ideal for road costs and would be much more cheaply done via rail. Commuter use of rail would be nice, but you are right, in the US it will likely always be secondary to air travel unless rail freight brought the cost down substantially for commuter use.

          I see no indication that any high speed rail systems in the US would carry freight. It'd also have to compete with regular freight rail which is more cost effective (more cars per engine, lower energy costs, etc).

          • by ackthpt (218170)

            In fairness, high speed rail would be a huge boon for shipping and would take a huge burden off the roads. A lot of freight moves by truck in the US and that's really not ideal for road costs and would be much more cheaply done via rail. Commuter use of rail would be nice, but you are right, in the US it will likely always be secondary to air travel unless rail freight brought the cost down substantially for commuter use.

            I see no indication that any high speed rail systems in the US would carry freight. It'd also have to compete with regular freight rail which is more cost effective (more cars per engine, lower energy costs, etc).

            Yet, it would still be used for freight. Extra airline capacity was sold to shipping companies as far back as the 1970's. (Just so you know, if you aren't filling the belly of that 737 or A320 with your luggage the airline is selling it to shippers for $$$) I worked for a logistics company which routed freight by whatever means were available - so if there's extra space on a high speed passenger train, you can count on that space being occupied by freight, as long as it is cost effective and timely.

            Ever

            • by khallow (566160)

              Ever wonder why there are apples from Chile or New Zealand, or Netherlands Hot-House tomatoes in the US supermarket produce sections?

              Nope. And it's worth noting that airplanes have a cleanly separated cargo and passenger system, so they can easily add cargo. Passenger luggage on a train has to go with the passenger. So you can't mixed passenger luggage and freight like you can on an airplane. Also, it's worth noting that very few high speed rail systems mixed passengers and freight.

          • by TheSync (5291)

            "I see no indication that any high speed rail systems in the US would carry freight."

            Moreover, the US has one of the world's best freight rail systems, and trying to mix high-speed rail and low-speed freight on the same tracks could be a disaster, see America's system of rail freight is the worldâ(TM)s best. High-speed passenger trains could ruin it. [economist.com]

        • by Wyatt Earp (1029)

          Rail in the US carries a lot of freight, 40% of the ton/miles of freight in the US is carried by trains.

          I wish I could find the letter from Warren Buffet about his purchase of BNSF, basically that rail freight is a growing and profitable sector.

          • I never realized how large the US freight network was either until I landed on a project that dealt with refurbishing rail cars and rail car tracking. The volume of rail traffic alone was staggering. I had never heard of the company who sponsored the project so I did a little research and discovered just this one company was generating billions in profit and there were bigger companies out there providing the same services in the industry.
      • by mspohr (589790)
        I lived in Switzerland for 3 years. I used to commute to work on the train and bus. This was 25 km and took me the same amount of time as driving would have (less time if you count the rush hour traffic). Fast, easy convenient, low stress. That's the "short distance case".

        We also used the train for weekend trips to go hiking, biking and skiing to Switzerland, Italy and France. Again, it was cheaper, faster, low stress, convenient. That's the mid-distance case.

        The only other place I traveled was Africa

        • Same with Germany and Australia. I could take bus and train anywhere and everywhere without the stress of driving, listen to my ipod, take a nap, not have to think about driving while being much faster.

          That's what I want in America.

      • by Surt (22457)

        They can vastly outperform airlines in a number of scenarios:
        Medium distance, where their shorter load and takeoff times mean that their difference in average speed is canceled out.
        High volume routes, where their lower price per pound due to not having to climb to altitude or provide any lift pays off.

  • Three generations ago would be the DC-3 (1935).
  • I just cant put my finger on it

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockwell_X-30 [wikipedia.org]

  • Chump change to Bill Gates, Nathan Myrhvold, Steve Jobs. But, being government money, most of it will go to bureaucratic waste.

    And then there's the whole "quieter, cleaner, more efficient" angle. That hasn't really paid off well with cars, has it? Well, per car, yes, but how many people switched to pickup trucks and SUV's simply because the cars with these new requirements no longer met their needs/wants?
    • by Entropius (188861)

      It's mostly that people's needs/wants changed to "be bigger than everyone else on the road".

      I and a friend did a three-week camping roadtrip last summer in my '09 Toyota Yaris (42 mpg highway), driving on some pretty shitty dirt roads in national forests in Oregon and Idaho. No problems at all.

      • by CompMD (522020)

        ...and a Yaris is small and lightweight. This is not impressive. 42mpg is only a marginal improvement (10-12%) over cars that existed 30 years ago. Personal experience: I own a 2002 Volvo V70, 2.4L Turbo I5, and a 1983 Chevy Suburban, 6.2L Diesel V8. The Suburban weighs 2000 lbs MORE than the Volvo and has a much larger engine, and they get THE SAME fuel economy. Technology improvements leading to better fuel economy? Yeah, right.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          One is gas the other is diesel. One of those fuels is a lot more energy per unit volume.

          • by ChipMonk (711367)
            I think the metric you want for this is cost per distance. The easy way to get it, is to divide the cost per volume (dollars per gallon, or euros per liter) by the fuel efficiency (miles per gallon, or kilometers per liter). The distance denominators cancel out, giving cost per distance.
  • Any clue how this 'hybrid turbo-electric engine' is supposed to work? Jet fuel is a good two orders of magnitude more dense than conventional batteries. Even taking account for projected advances in nanowire batteries, and the inefficiencies of gas turbine engines, you're still looking at kerosene containing several times the usable energy per unit mass than batteries. Weight is everything in aircraft, and fuel already accounts for the bulk of weight in airliners. The only thing I could see this useful
    • by Caratted (806506) *
      I'm not extremely knowledgeable on the matter, nor mechanical in regards to engineering - but, I do believe this is the same technology used by cruiseliners and other relatively large watercraft. The amount of gas consumed is slightly more to power the electrical generators, as opposed to powering the engines directly, this is indeed a con. The pros come in the form of torque distribution (i.e. 0 to 100% torque available with a flip of your DC switch, no clutching involved) and, as you yourself mention, t
      • by wagnerrp (1305589)

        On large ships, they're used for two reasons. The use of an electric transmission allows them to place the generator and electric motor anywhere they wish. There is no mechanical drive shaft they have to worry about for placement. This makes the ship design more flexible, and the ship maintenance or replacement easier. Second, they are typically used as azimuth thrusters, where instead of a static propeller with a rudder, the propeller is mounted to a pod, and the whole thing can swivel 360 degrees. It

    • How about fuel cells powering an electric motor to assist during takeoff. Extra power for the few minutes you need it, and smaller jet engines for the rest of the flight.

      Or forget the fuel cells and just charge a bank of capacitors from the jet engines themselves...or better yet, on the ground before takeoff.

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        But you don't need extra power on take off. Even at cruise, big turbofans are still generally running at 80% or better of peak power output. Gas turbines like to run under full load. They're most efficient under full load. You're also looking at supplementing the output of an engine rated at maybe 30MW for a small airliner, to upwards of 70-80MW for a big GE90 on a 777. You're talking about an absolutely huge electric motor and battery to have any meaningful effect.
    • by Solandri (704621)

      Any clue how this 'hybrid turbo-electric engine' is supposed to work? Jet fuel is a good two orders of magnitude more dense than conventional batteries. Even taking account for projected advances in nanowire batteries, and the inefficiencies of gas turbine engines

      http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1740906&cid=33119430 [slashdot.org].

      Like you, I'm a little skeptical the energy savings will be worth the additional weight. But that's why this is a research project. They'll probably build one to see how well realit

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        In response to one of the remarks in your other comment about the ability to turn the engine off, I doubt that would ever be done until the airplane was safely on the ground. Gas turbine lifetime is measured more in cycles than operational hours. The thermal expansion and contraction from being turned on and off causes more wear than a several hour flight. You would never want to turn the engine off on descent, and risk an extra cycle because of a foul up on the runway or bad weather causing you to loite
      • by fotoguzzi (230256)
        Remember, this is three generations ahead of where we are now. It will all work out by then.
    • Any clue how this 'hybrid turbo-electric engine' is supposed to work?

      They are going to use wind turbines to extend the limited gas range. Expect to see wind farms extablished on the top of most commercial airplanes soon.

  • This sounds great, but why does NASA have to fund this? Can't the plane manufacturers pay for their own R&D?
    • Why NASA? Because aeronautics research is NASA's job.
      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        I thought they were just the advertising arm of the globalwarming fanatics?

        • So, how does it actually feel to be an idiot? Does it hurt? And if so, in what manner? Sharp stings? A constant burning?
          • by ArsonSmith (13997)

            So, how does it actually feel to be a humorless schlub? Does it hurt? And if so, in what manner? Sharp stings? A constant burning?

        • This is true when they aren't shilling for Elon Musk!
      • by k6mfw (1182893)

        Why NASA? Because aeronautics research is NASA's job.
        --
        If the lessons of history teach us any one thing, it is that no one learns the lessons that history teaches.

        We can learn from Ames' history. NACA is NASA’s predessor:

        (from a NASA photo file):

        Dr. Ames was a founding member of NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), appointed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915. Ames took on NACA’s most challenging assignments but mostly represented physics. He chaired the Foreign Service Committee of the newly-founded National Research Council, oversaw the NACA’s patent cross-licensing plan that allowed manufacturers to share technologies.

        Ames

  • We're gonna' need that more and more!
  • The current airlines are like Chevy's and Chrystler's. They want to switch over to something like Kia's and Yugo's.

  • I was thinking about this a couple of days ago - the LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor [wikipedia.org]) might actually be a feasible candidate for providing the heat energy to run one or two really big fans. One of the many advantages of the LFTR is that it can be sized for particular applications, and it's just possible that it might be made small enough to fit on a large airplane. The LFTR is a high temperature, low pressure reactor and also (IIRC) requires much less shielding than U-238 reactors.

    So it's possible t

  • Yay! Slower, less comfortable clean, green jets. The wildlife will be thrilled.
  • The world isn't lacking good ideas, it's lacking people who make them real.

    We can barely find people who know the difference between crippling buckling. The not-horrible ones we can find have been working on the F35 for so long they think 2 years to finish one rib is about right.

    If anyone wants to make an ambitiously weird new plane, they are going to have to invest billions just to get bright people back into this business. I wouldn't be surprised if it would cost hundreds of billions to get get a commerci

  • Do we already know what they are?
  • Since the current planes were mostly built in the 70's, 40 years ago, and these new ones NASA makes won't be out until 2030, which is another generation, and generations are usually 20 years, wouldn't any new jet be considered 3 generations ahead. I want a jet released this year that is a generation or two ahead of now!

"Irrationality is the square root of all evil" -- Douglas Hofstadter

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