Experimental aircraft breaks record for hypersonic flight

The experimental Boeing X-51A Waverider scramjet managed to break a hypersonic flight record Wednesday during a test flight.

An artist's rendition of the Boeing X-51A Waverider

The United States Air Force (USAF) said that the scramjet was able to fly for 200 seconds, achieving a top speed of around Mach 5 and setting a new record for what the Air Force called “the longest supersonic combustion ramjet-powered hypersonic flight.” The previous record of twelve seconds was set by the NASA X-43 in 2004. This hypersonic flight, also the first to use hydrocarbon fuel, was hailed by US government officials as a success. Despite an unknown failure which caused the X-51 to lose acceleration, an X-51 program manager said that the USAF was “ecstatic” about the event’s accomplishments.

The X-51 is 14 feet (4.2 metres) long and has no real wings, allowing it to withstand the shock wave created during flight. The aircraft launched around 10 a.m. PDT (1700 UTC) from Edwards Air Force Base in California. It was carried by a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress to a height of 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) and then released over the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range. The X-51 was then propelled by a solid rocket booster to Mach 4.8.

After about 200 seconds in flight, Boeing said that “something then occurred that caused the vehicle to lose acceleration. At that point, the X-51A was terminated as planned.” Although it was expected to fly for about 300 seconds and reach Mach 6, the scramjet only managed Mach 5 at a height of about 70,000 feet (21,336 metres), possibly due to an engine blowout. The aircraft landed in the ocean as planned, and there are no plans to retrieve it.

This test is the first of four planned flights for the X-51 program, with the other three planned for this coming fall. Previously, the X-51 had flown twice, but was attached to the B-52 both times.

Plane crashes into Toronto office building

A Cirrus SR-20 aircraft crashed into an office building in Markham, a town near Toronto, at 12:30 p.m. local time yesterday. Both people on board were killed.

Cirrus SR20 aircraft

The aircraft, which crashed into the roof of the two-storey building at Woodbine and Hooper streets, was engulfed in flames. Witnesses say that it looked as if the pilot was trying to find somewhere to land and that the aircraft was trailing smoke and rolled before it crashed.

First reports state that the pilot and passenger were killed on impact, and the 14 employees at Thinkway Toys manufacturing all escaped the two-storey building and explosions from the crash.

The crash site is near Buttonville airport where many amateur and flight training flights occur.

Source: wikinews.org

Oil spill in Alaska closes 800 miles of pipeline

800 miles of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System were closed down following a spill of thousands of barrels of crude oil south of Fairbanks, Alaska. A power failure following a routine fire-command system test caused relief valves to open and crude oil overflowed near the Fort Greely pump station 9. The valves opening allowed a pressure release for the system and oil flowed on a pad to a tank that can hold 55,000 barrels (2.3 million gallons). As of Wednesday afternoon, the tank vents were still leaking probably from thermal expansion inside the tank. Another secondary containment area below the tanks capable of holding 104,500 barrels was not yet filled to capacity.

The spill coordinator for the Department of Environmental Conservation, Tom DeRuter, said that the oil spill contamination should be confined to the graveled oil containment liner. “Safety is their No. 1 objective right now. As soon as it is safe to move in, then they’ll get the power on and try to empty that tank out. As long as everything is in that liner, it gives us time,” DeRuter explained.

40 people had been evacuated from the Fort Greely site, and the Prudhoe Bay station has been reduced by 84%. “We’re going to take as long as we need to make sure the site is safe before we start back up,” said Alyeska Pipeline Service Company spokesperson Michele Egan. There is capacity in reserve tanks for 48 hours during this slow down of production.

About 650,000 barrels per day run through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline between Prudhoe Bay to the Port of Valdez oil tankers. The majority of shares in Alyeska are held by BP Exploration, Alaska (BPXA) which is also currently addressing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP addressed a 267,000 gallon crude oil spill in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in 2006 resulting in a lawsuit against BP Exploration.


Veteran Astronauts Gorie And Olivas Leave NASA

HOUSTON — Veteran astronauts Dominic Gorie and John “Danny” Olivas are leaving NASA. Olivas’ last day with the agency was Tuesday, May 25 and Gorie’s is June 4.

Gorie, a retired U.S. Navy captain, is a veteran of four space shuttle flights. He has traveled more than 18 million miles in space during his missions, serving as pilot and commander. Gorie served as pilot on shuttle mission STS-91 in 1998 and STS-99 in 2000. He served as commander on STS-108 in 2001 and STS-123 in 2008.

“Dom is a superlative leader of people who consistently treats others with respect and professionalism,” said Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We will sincerely regret the loss of his candor, humor and professionalism.”

Olivas has flown on two shuttle flights and has accumulated more than 668 hours in space. He served as a mission specialist on STS-117 in 2007 and on STS-128 in 2009 and conducted five spacewalks. Olivas accumulated more than 34 hours of extravehicular time in space.

“Danny’s expertise in spacewalking and materials engineering will be sorely missed with his departure,” Whitson said.

STS-132 Commander: Entry and Landing Were ‘Smooth as Silk’

Space shuttle Atlantis and six astronauts ended a journey of more than 4.8 million miles with an 8:48 a.m. EDT landing Wednesday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The flawless landing wrapped up a highly successful mission to deliver the Russian-built Mini Research Module-1, known as “Rassvet” (“dawn” in Russian), to the International Space Station.

“It was smooth as silk,” STS-132 Commander Ken Ham said of Atlantis’ entry and landing. “We were clearly riding in the middle of a fireball, and it was spectacular. The windows, all of them, were bright, brilliant orange. One of the neatest things was when we flew right into orbital sunrise.”

This was the final scheduled flight for Atlantis, which has logged more than 120 million miles during its 25 years of service. The orbiter will go through standard prelaunch preparations as the “launch-on-need” vehicle for Endeavour’s STS-134 mission. That flight currently is targeted for November.

“Atlantis treated us very well. She was just an incredible ship,” Mission Specialist Michael Good said, citing the precision of the deorbit burn as an example of Atlantis’ performance. “The engines had it trimmed out to within .01 of what the burn was supposed to be.”

The all-veteran astronaut crew will head home to Houston on Thursday. The public is invited to attend the welcome ceremony for the crew Thursday at 4 p.m. CDT at Ellington Field’s NASA Hangar 276.

“We’re thrilled, because we accomplished the mission that was put in front of us,” Ham said. He explained that in addition to the technical objectives of the 12-day mission, the astronauts also wanted to enjoy themselves and share their enthusiasm of spaceflight with the world.

“We’ve been hearing stories about how folks have been having fun and enjoyed watching us have fun, and that’s really important to us.”

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