Engineering News (October 2018)

Elizabeth’s Jump Jets get green light for sea trials

Finally, after eight years, fighter jets have been launched and deployed from a British aircraft carrier. Trials of the F-35 Lightning IIs from HMS Queen Elizabeth have begun, and will be conducted over the next 11 weeks, with plans to make more than 500 takeoff and landings over that period.

Flight trials on the vessel will also involve a number of rotary wing aircraft, of which, the Wildcat HMA2 helicopters began tests last month. The Wildcat HMA2 is the replacement of the Super Lynx attack helicopter, which was retired from service after nearly forty years.

The introduction of the F-35s hit a major setback last week, when a US Marine Corps F-35B variant crashed in South Carolina. The pilot managed to eject safely, uninjured. An investigation into the crash has now begun.

The Queen Elizabeth can carry up to 24 F-35s, the number of which will vary depending on mission criteria. The trials, being conducted by the Integrated Test Force, a joint venture, consists of British and American personnel and specialists that have been brought in to oversee the introduction of the planes and the carrier itself into full operational service. Upon completion, the Fleet Air Arm’s own F-35s will be given the OK to commence operational service from the deck of the new carrier.

The commanding officer of Queen Elizabeth, Captain Jerry Kidd, was previously the commander of HMS Illustrious, the last British aircraft carrier which had a complement of Sea Harriers. “I am quite emotional to be here in HMS Queen Elizabeth seeing the return of fixed-wing aviation.”

The first two F-35Bs to land were piloted by Royal Navy Commander Nathan Grey and RAF Squadron Leader Andy Edgell. The F-35Bs, like their predecessor, the much-missed Harrier Jump Jet, landed vertically. Following this first, Gray then became the first pilot to take off from the carrier via the launching ramp.

The trials onboard the Queen Elizabeth, are currently taking place off the East Coast of the United States. Accompanied by HMS Monmouth, a Type 23 Frigate, and the USS Lassen, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, it is planned that after the trials, the carrier will visit New York, before returning to Portsmouth. The Elizabeth is expected to become fully operational by 2021. Queen Elizabeth’s sister ship, the HMS Prince of Wales, is currently at Rosyth dockyard, gradually becoming closer to completion, is expected to be commissioned in 2020.

Robot builders cement their new skills

In Singapore, two robots have been developed that can work together in order to print a 3D structure in concrete. The technology, developed at Nanyang Technological University, almost certainly heralds in a new construction age, when swarms of such robots can print large structures to order, and unique designs which are not possible using current systems. This is due to the development of a specially formulated cement for the 3D printing process.

At present, printing concrete structures in 3D requires equipment larger than objects being printed, which makes it an impractical proposition on construction sites with limited room to manoeuvre. By using a number of smaller, mobile robots printing together resolves the problem, allowing for larger structures and bespoke architectural constructs to be printed anywhere within reason, provided that there is enough room for these robots to work in.

On their trail run, the robots printed a concrete structure which measured 1.86m x 0.46m x 0.13m in approximately eight minutes. Even so, it still took two days to harden, and another week on top of that to cure properly and attain full strength before it could be installed on site.

Professor Pham Quang Cuong at NTU’s Singapore Centre for 3D Printing, published his results in the journal Automation in Construction – if the name sounds familiar, he is the scientist who designed the Ikea Bots, demonstrated when two robots assembled an Ikea chair in less than nine minutes earlier this year.

Professsor Pham is excited by the possibilities of the technology he has helped develop. “We envisioned a team of robots which can be transported to a work site, print large pieces of concrete structures and then move on to the next project once the parts have been printed.”

“This research builds on the knowledge we have acquired from developing a robot to autonomously assemble an Ikea chair. But this latest project is more complex in terms of planning, execution, and on a much larger scale.”

The process begins with a computer program which takes the design that will be printed and coordinates the process, assigning each robot with a printing schedule. By using collision detection algorithms, each robot can print the design concurrently without bumping into each other.

Then, in a precisely choreographed operation, the robots can then position themselves and begin to print. During the process, each robot ensures that there is a slight overlap between the joints of each others work. Only then will the specialised liquid concrete mix be blended and applied in synchronisation with the construction process to ensure that the cement printed is of a perfect and even consistency. The next goal of the team is to scale up the printing process, by printing larger structures using the algorithm developed, optimising it for more robots, and improving the concrete mix in order to speed up the curing process.

Maezawa first space tourist bound for moon

Last week, SpaceX finally announced and named its first fare paying passenger as Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese businessman for a trip around the moon and back scheduled to take place before 2023, using SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR for short). Elon Musk made the announcement last week in a press conference. The other passengers will be artists – their trip has been paid for by Maezawa, in order to create art that will ‘inspire humanity’.

Maezawa was one of two people who had originally put down a deposit for Tesla’s original and then abandoned 2018 trip around the moon. Estimated costs for the BFR system could be as much as $10 billion dollars, and that’s before it gets launch approval.

Musk praised Maezawa for his courage in undertaking the expedition, but has warned that the mission won’t happen if the technology isn’t considered to be safe.

The BFR should be 118 metres tall and capable of lifting 150 tons into Low Earth Orbit, which is more powerful than the huge Saturn V rocket that originally took men to the moon. This potentially could be a gamechanger – SpaceX’s lofty goal is to carry a payload of 100 people into space, and the technical systems to keep them alive once they’re up there. Plans to launch the BFR on a test flight in 2019 are already well in place. These would be straightforward proving flights that would be designed to test take-off and landing systems.

This would make the 2023 target date realistic, but given SpaceX’s past performance, this could be delayed; the original Falcon Heavy rocket was supposed to have its first launch in 2013, eventually flying earlier this year with the somewhat dubious payload of a Tesla Roadster with a dummy in the driving seat. The moon trip was also scheduled originally to happen this year using a tried and tested Dragon capsule. The name of the rocket could also change. Musk has already said that he wants the first BFR heading to Mars to be named the Heart of Gold, after the craft stolen by Zaphod Beeblebrox in Douglas Adam’s Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books.

Musk has also been in the news the last couple of weeks for more dubious reasons. Last weekend, he reluctantly agreed to step down as Tesla chairman, paying a £15 million ($20 million) fine following tweets which suggested that he had funding to take Tesla private, following a decision by the American Securities and Exchange Commission to sue him for alleged securities fraud.

Ada Lovelace Day

A new exhibition at the Institute of Engineering and Technology in London launches this week which will showcase women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), on the same day as Ada Lovelace Day (Tuesday 9th October), an annual celebration of important and famous role models in STEM, which aims to increase the profile of women in STEM and encourage new ones to come to the fore.

The exhibition – called Ada Lovelace Day Live! after the first female computer programmer and mathematician – in the Mountbatten Exhibition room will present the current winners and finalists of the IET’s Young Woman Engineer of the Year (YWE) Awards, and delegates can learn about the initiatives that the IET are promoting, such as the Portrait of an Engineer photography series, the the #SmashStereotypesToBits campaign, and the work it is doing that sheds light on the accomplishments of women engineers to date.

Ada Lovelace Day is held every year on the second Tuesday of October, and one of its features is a ‘science cabaret’ in London, where women in STEM give talks about their research, or about the women in STEM that have inspired them, as well as short comedy or musical pieces, all with a STEM theme at their heart.

This year, featured guests include Chanuki Seresinhe, renowned computer scientist, Susie Maidment the palaeontologist, Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist, Hilary Costello, an engineer, Emma McCoy, a mathematician, and Diva Amon, marine scientist to name but a prestigious few.

One particular exhibit in the Watson-Watt room is a retrospective look at the role and effect that women in engineering have had, looking at their incredible contribution to STEM over the years, taking a look at the go-getters, risk takers, movers and shakers of the last few hundred years, and the impacts of their discoveries and research on modernity in context.

Diversity and inclusion manager at the IET Jo Foster recently shared her thoughts on the exhibition. “Ada Lovelace Day Live! is an important event not only to celebrate women in STEM but to understand how far we have come in breaking down gender stereotypes. It is great to see more powerful woman role models in the industry and the exhibitions showcase just that.”


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Engineering News – September 2018

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