The solar aircraft that circled the globe, the NASA spacecraft on Jupiter, the algorithm that beat the best fighter pilot in the U.S, a novel aerial transport method and the hovercraft that will serve your lunch. A global point of view of this month’s events in aviation
The “Solar Impulse 2” aircraft, powered entirely by solar energy, completed its historic journey around the world which it began a year ago with the purpose of promoting the use of “green energy”. After flying over 40,000 kilometers and stopping 16 times without using any fuel, the aircraft landed in Abu-Dhabi. The aircraft has 71.9 meter long wings and has room only for two pilots. Its long wings are designed to absorb solar energy and are equipped with 17,246 solar cells.
In their journey, the pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg completed about 500 flight hours. This is the first time that the two flew around the world in the solar-powered aircraft, that had previously flew for five days over the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Hawaii, about 118 flight hours. Besides this achievement, the pilots logged another record: they were the first to fly over the Atlantic Ocean in a solar-power aircraft.
Luckily, the aircraft which underwent its test flight in 2014, did not malfunction heavily on its journey, except for a long stop in Hawaii in which the batteries were repaired. Piccard and Borschberg are already thinking forward: “We have no doubt that in ten years we will see electric planes everywhere, which will be able to transport 50 passengers to short and medium distances”.
Life on Jupiter
The NASA “Juno” Spacecraft, which has been wandering around in space for five years, made history this month and entered the orbit of the planet Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. Thanks to its main engine, “Juno” pulled through the extreme radiation around Jupiter and slided into orbit around the planet. In the coming year, the spacecraft will float around the poles of Jupiter in order to investigate its creation and development. “Jupiter is a planet on steroids”, joked Scott Bolton from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio Texas, the mission’s lead scientist. “Everything that happens in Jupiter is extreme”.
Since the 70’s, spacecraft have been orbiting Jupiter, positioned 805 million kilometers from the sun and came back with rare images of the “Great Red Spot” an ancient persistent storm raging on the surface of the planet – and its many moons. The most comprehensive research was performer by the “Galileo” spacecraft which surveyed Jupiter and its moons for 14 years. Unlike earth that is a terrestrial planet, Jupiter is a gas giant composed mostly of Hydrogen and Helium. Scientists do not know if it has a solid core or the levels of oxygen and water on the planet – information that might help reveal how the earth and solar system were created.
The “Juno” Space Probe is powered by solar energy: three large panels were designed to point at the sun throughout the mission. The solar wings are about 9 meters long and three meters wide.
In order to be protected from radiation, the instruments inside “Juno” were built with an aluminum casing. Following the completion of its mission in 2018, the probe will fall into Jupiter and burn. This finale was planned in order to prevent a scenario in which the probe crashes into Europe, one of the moons that orbit Jupiter.
How much is human intelligence worth today?
The best fighter pilot in the U.S lost to an artificial intelligence program this month, after beating dozens of similar programs. An artificial intelligence based aerial combat system called “Alpha”, defeated one of the most brilliant tactical minds in the USAF 1:0. Retired Col. Gene Lee who has piloted dozens of fighter jets and has extensive experience as a fighter pilot instructor, was downed again and again by an algorithm he described as “the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible AI I’ve seen to date.”
According to the manufacturers, aircraft guided by the program could fly alongside a human pilot and assist him in real-time decision making. The program has the ability to calculate 250 times faster than any human contender that faces it. “It seemed to be aware of my intentions and reacting instantly to my changes in flight and my missile deployment. It moved instantly between defensive and offensive actions as needed”, Col. Lee said. Surprisingly, the software isn’t very expensive and can be easily operated on a 35 dollar processor.
A New Age of Aerial Transport
The modular “Clip-Air” aircraft which is currently in development in Switzerland, may change aerial transport as we know it. The novel aircraft consists of an airframe, cockpit and engine system, with the unique part being the capsules, detachable pods that can act as cabins or cargo holds. The aircraft’s design allows efficient transportation of cargo from one capsule to another. The capsules or pods do not require unloading of their cargo before attachment to a different means of transportation.
The capsules themselves can be loaded onto trucks and trains, opening a new world of options for cargo transportation. They can be adjusted for human transportation as well, so imagine being able to travel around the world without leaving your seat. From a bus to a train and into the air, all while taking a nap.
7Eleven, the U.S based convenience store chain is on a mission to redefine the meaning of convenience. In an experiment it performed for its 90th birthday, it sent customers packages loaded with food to its customers via hovercraft. A chicken sandwich, a coffee and pastry, candy and fizzy drinks made their way in the air, connected to the GPS guided hovercrafts, reached their destinations and somehow succeeded not to spill any drinks on the way.
“Flirtey”, the company which provided the hovercrafts, chose to begin their project in the city of Reno, Nevada. One of the company’s hovercraft, who cooperates with the University of Nevada and even NASA, performed a delivery of medical supplies to a clinic in a rural area last year.