Thursday, March 11, 2010

X-51 Waverider, Bullet Trains: Change Happens

"Air Force to Test New Hypersonic Aircraft" (March 9, 2010)

"The U.S. Air Force is gearing up for the first of four planned test flights of a hypersonic aircraft designed to operate for much longer durations and cover far greater distances than previous platforms of its type.

"The maiden flight of the X-51 Waverider aircraft — the first U.S. hypersonic vehicle to fly in six years — is scheduled to take place later in March. Boeing Defense, Space & Security Systems of St. Louis has been developing the aircraft since 2003 on behalf of the Air Force Research Laboratory and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

"The missile-shaped X-51 will be carried aloft under the wing of a B-52 bomber, Joe Vogel, Boeing's director of hypersonics, said in a Feb. 22 interview. It will be released from the jet over the Pacific Ocean and drop for four seconds until its rocket motor ignites and accelerates it to about 5,800 kilometers per hour, just shy of the widely accepted start of hypersonic flight at Mach 5, or about 6,100 kilometers per hour. At that point, its air-breathing scramjet — or supersonic combustion ramjet — engine, built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif., will kick in, shooting the craft to Mach 6, or more than 7,400 kilometers per hour...."

We're not at the point where someone can board a shuttle in Florida, spend a weekend at the Bigelow-Hilton in low Earth orbit, and be in Tokyo Monday afternoon. But we're not that far away, either. Entrepreneurs are racing to get the first and/or best spaceliners built and flying, at least one other is looking at developing rental properties in low Earth orbit, and at last count America has seven spaceports up and running.

A couple years ago, I ran into a review of the "crazy" architectural projects in the construction or planning stages in Dubai: including a rendering of a spaceport with a sort of retro-fifties look to it. The caption read: "The UAE Spaceport would be the first spaceport in the world if construction ever gets under way. I'm not joking..."

In common with so many interesting pages on the Web, this one was undated. By the time I read it, in 2008, Spaceport America was in operation.

This is an exciting time to be alive: blink and you'll miss a major development.

Like America moving into the 20th century, with our first "bullet train." I'd be more impressed, if more countries weren't dealing with aging high-speed rail infrastructure by now, with China running maglev service in the Shanghai area. (January 28, 2010) Better late than never, I suppose.

Change Happens: Deal With It

"Nothing endures but change."
(Heraclitus, 540 BC - 480 BC)

I think Heraclitus has a point. Things don't stay just the way they were. I'm okay with that, but quite a few folks don't seem to be.

Others don't seem to have noticed what's happened in, say, the last half-century. That's understandable. Here in America, 宇宙航空研究開発機構 and इस पृष्ठ का हिन्दी अनुवाद don't get as much coverage as, say, pro basketball or the latest Congressional shenanigans.

That was (painfully) obvious, in one online discussion about the reorientation that NASA's going through. At least one of the people seemed to be under the impression that if an American federal agency stopped sending people into low Earth orbit, all of humanity was going to be Earthbound. (January 29, 2010)

Even in the sixties, the Soviet Union was quite active in developing Earth-to-orbit transportation systems. They had a different approach to engineering: but that's more a cultural thing, I think. The point is: America has never been mankind's only hope for space exploration.

I don't think it helped that at least one American subculture got very technophobic four or five decades back. Yes: we did need to get serious about pollution controls. But the feeling that big, bad technology (and *shudder* industrial anything) was going to destroy poor, frail, delicate little Mother Nature? I've written about that before. (December 20, 2009)

I like to think that America as a whole has sobered up, and is starting deal with a world where change happens: very fast, these days.

For a look at what people can do, when they're open to new ideas:

"maglev train shanghai complete video presentation"

wowiejunior, YouTube (June 8, 2006)
video, 5:35
(Originally embedded in "Bullet Trains in America: United States Transportation Enters the 20th Century (It's About Time)" (January 28, 2010))

A phrase from the video's (English) narration, "...a city with a proud tradition, but always open to the new...." presents an idea I think Americans could seriously consider.

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