A quick aviation and space roundup

A View from the Edge

There is too much going on in the cutting edge of flight technology development to explain everything in detail, so here’s a quick overview of this month’s news…

The U.S. Energy Department (the folks who control all nuclear material and uses) and NASA have selected three designs for high-assay low-enriched uranium fueled reactors in space. Yes, we already have several nuclear mini-reactors in orbit, but these three designs are for propulsion — rocket motors to you and me.

The race to space requires more launching pads, more space launch facilities, more component factories for all aviation. Mexico has become one of the top “best cost” locations on the planet with more than 300 suppliers setting up shop there. But with COVID and the U.S./Mexico arguments on illegal immigration, many suppliers were walking away. That is until Mexico assured the aviation community that it was an “onshoring” trusted ally/partner.

Some USA aviation suppliers are currently off-shoring manufacture that China could steal secrets from. Mexico is aligning its security with the USA with Biden’s help and aviation and space suppliers are eyeing the benefits.

Meantime, Russia, realizing that it cannot compete with the incredible wizardry (or cost) of the F-35 and futuristic war planes the U.S. is developing, and desperately needing export orders, their engineers have come up with a warplane that may prove, in numbers alone, one of the world’s most popular. The Sukhoi LTA program was developed from the wizardry (but expensive to buy, run and maintain) Sukhoi-57 but scaled back. Yes the engine and vertical V tails are fully movable, giving the plane incredible agility up to 10gs, but, and here’s the catch: The plane is mostly molded in giant sections, then glued together. The estimate is that you can buy five base models for the price of one F-35.

OK, with all those flights to space, who’s tracking everything? Well, air traffic control for USA space required a new center, which just opened in Warrenton, Va. Run by the FAA at their Ait Traffic Control System Command Center, every flight to space over the USA is now tracked, approved, sanctioned from that facility. The stuff put into space outside of the USA is monitored, only, by NORAD.

A company called Sakowin has developed a “green machine”  — methane recycling into green hydrogen (for future jet propulsion), propane for domestic use and chunks of solid carbon for agriculture and industry. Where’s the methane from? A by-product of natural gas and garbage dumps across the USA. Waste? Zero.

Meantime, the weapons development of cruise missiles, hypersonic and sub-sonic, continues apace. Fearful of what the Russians and Chinese are doing, Lockheed Martin and others have a whole range of recently unveiled weapons, led by the successfully tested ARRW (air launched rapid response weapon), which can be fired from a bomber at altitude, then travel 500 miles or more to an accurate target.

Oh, and it’s not really new. It’s being deployed next year. The ones we can’t hear about yet are, no doubt, already in trials like the Skunk Works’ “Speed Racer” or the P-95X project. The significance of the Skunk Works’ projects is that they are digitizing everything, to enable new concepts to fly within months instead of years and be in full production within a few years instead of decades.

Last, but by no means least, is a repair truck for space. Northrup Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) flew successfully all the way to 25,000 miles above earth to the geostationary orbit of Intelsat 901 — a defunct geostationary satellite worth (in today’s cost) over a billion dollars. MEV-1 attached itself to the satellite (hooked up), refueled it, fixed a computer issue and made it work perfectly well for at least five more years.

Anyone want a tow truck driver’s job in space?


Writer Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.

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