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Main article: Boeing

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 13

Boeing HorizonX invests in Berkeley aerospace battery tech startup

20:55 | 29 January

Boeing’s HorizonX is the aerospace company’s vehicle for making investments in promising next-generation startups and technology, and it just placed its latest bet: funding in Cuberg, a Berkeley-based battery tech startup that has a founding team including Stanford University researchers.

Battery tech is still one of the most frustrating roadblocks any company encounters when trying to build electric vehicles and other battery-powered technology and transportation. For Boeing, there are plenty of potential upsides to building out batteries that can last significantly longer than those available via today’s tech.

Cuberg’s work focuses on batteries with especially high energy density, while retaining thermal safety. That basically means they hope to be able to build a new type of battery cell that can hold a lot more power for vehicles to use, while also not catching fire.

That’s not all, however: Cuberg’s approach would result in a manufacturing process that could be used in exiting large-scale battery factories. The end result is a relatively smooth transition process from existing manufacturing to building next-gen cells, which obviously means a lot less upfront investment when it comes to taking the new manufacturing process to scale.

Cuberg was originally founded in 2015, and this market the first time Boeing HorizonX has invested in any energy storage companies since its inception last year. The funding, which is described as a “second seed” round, should help Cuberg grow its team and its facilities in preparation for fully automated manufacturing.

Featured Image: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

 


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Boeing’s prototype drone can carry 500 lbs of cargo

20:17 | 11 January

Boeing just revealed a prototype drone capable of carrying much more than a camera. The company tasked engineers with designing and building a cargo drone and the prototype they came up with is able to haul 500 lbs of goods.

The vehicle is huge and much larger than anything DJI sells. It weighs 747 pounds and is 15 feet long, 18 feet wide and 4 feet tall. Four arms hold two props each. It took Boeing engineers three months to design and construct the prototype, which just completed a test run in Boeing’s research lab in Missouri.

“This flying cargo air vehicle represents another major step in our Boeing eVTOL strategy,” said Boeing chief technology officer Greg Hyslop in a statement. “We have an opportunity to really change air travel and transport, and we’ll look back on this day as a major step in that journey.”

The company did not release official flight capabilities including range or speed. Those will come in time and chances are this vehicle will never be produced but used as a test bed for technologies that will lead to cargo and vehicle drones.

 


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Boeing invests in company building autonomous aircraft

17:33 | 19 October

Boeing’s HorizonX venture arm has invested in Near Earth Autonomy, a Carnegie Mellon spin-out company that focuses on building autonomous aircraft systems for things including site inspection, defence and potentially automated cargo delivery and personal transportation systems – i.e., flying taxis.

Near Earth Autonomy is led by CEO and co-founder Sanjiv Singh, along with his founding team Marcel Bergerman, Lyle Chamberlain and Sebastian Scherer, all of whom are former Carnegie Mellon faculty or students focusing on robotics at the world-leading robotic studies school. The company’s expertise ranges from collision avoidance, to motion planning, to navigating without GPS and more for safe operation of autonomous drone systems.

This is Boeing’s first investment in autonomous vehicle technologies since it was established earlier this year. Plus, in addition to the financial stake, Boeing is partnering with Near Earth Autonomy on future-focused tech around autonomous flight, including urban mobility.

The aerospace industry and Silicon Valley alike are increasingly excited about the potential for self-flying taxis and VTOLs for cargo, along with drone package delivery, so Boeing looking around for a good partner in the space makes a lot of sense.

 


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NASA launches satellite to relay data from Hubble, ISS and other spacecraft

17:54 | 18 August

NASA launched a new satellite on Friday morning, aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral. The launch occurred at just before 8:30 AM ET, after a brief delay from its original planned launch due to a minor technical issue with the booster that was promptly corrected by the launch team.

The satellite, TDSRS-M, will make its way to orbit and then add its capabilities to the existing TDRS constellation, which includes nine other satellites. The role of these geosynchronous spacecraft is to provide data back to Earth from the Hubble space telescope, the International Space Station, and a range of other spacecraft set out on exploratory missions in relatively close proximity to Earth. The expanding constellation is now better able to provide a near-continuous stream of data from those craft to Earth-based research and observation facilities.

This new addition to the network will also help extend the mission, allowing communications through the id-2020s, according to NASA, and it’ll spend the next three to four months becoming operational. This satellite was built by Boeing, as have all of the most recent TDRS constellation members.

 


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NASA seeks to build a quieter supersonic plane for passenger flight

20:21 | 24 July

NASA has designed a supersonic plane that it hopes will help reduce flight time for international travelers, and its design is intended to reduce the noise of the jet to well below that of the Concorde.

Starting in August, Bloomberg reports, NASA will seek bids from aircraft manufacturers to bring their design to life with a full-scale mode, with a budget of nearly $400 million from the space agency to commit to the project over the next five years.

The plan is to create a commercially viable aircraft that can help address the growing demand for high-speed air transit, which is encouraged by trends like distributed workforces and international corporate conglomerates. It’s something that NASA hopes to eventually share with airplane OEMs, including Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing and even smaller startups already working on addressing the same market, including Colorado’s Boom Supersonic.

When I spoke to Boom CEO Blake Scholl earlier this year, he confirmed that one of their challenges coming to market would be reducing the noise of the engine used in their final plane, which is partly responsible for regulations that prevent supersonic flight over land in the U.S. Boom’s initial routes are all cross-ocean, so that it can work on addressing those regulations (in place since the Concorde’s active years) before adding other routes.

NASA’s design was made in part by Lockheed (whose concept craft design is depicted above), and it is targeting sound levels equivalent to what you’d hear while driving a luxury car on the highway, Bloomberg reports, or around 60 to 65 decibels, compared to the Concorde’s 90 decibels.

Ultimately, NASA hopes the contract will result in live vehicle tests over populated communities by 2022, which should give it ammunition for changing applicable regulations. Boom hopes to test fly their own demonstration craft starting sometime next year, so now it looks like there will be some spirited competition in this long-dormant area of transportation tech over the next decade.

Featured Image: Lockheed Martin

 


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Boeing wants to turn satellites into a cheaper, highly-automated business

23:01 | 21 February

Aerospace company Boeing is in the process of changing the way satellites are built and made operational, according to the Wall Street Journal, with an eye toward automating much of the process and making it easier to ramp production while also increasing overall efficiency. Boeing’s efforts reflect the general transformation of the private space industry, driven by pressure put on incumbents by new entrants with a more nimble approach to getting the job done, including SpaceX, and nanosatellite startups like Planet and Kepler Communications.

For a long time (basically since the advent of the private space industry, in fact) the rarefied atmosphere occupied by private contractors like Boeing has not been very crowded, and has proven a place for the companies that do exist to make lots of money out of lucrative government contract that span multiple years and have big built-in margins. But pressure from smaller players like SpaceX, which drastically undercuts Boeing on the cost of rocket launches, has meant the legacy operators need to rethink how they do business.

Boeing’s satellite business lead Paul Rusnock told the WSJ that his company is now talking measures like employing more 3D printing wherever possible, and sampling the designs of the satellites themselves so they require fewer moving parts in order to minimize error rates and speed up production.

Like rockets, satellites have, until now, been largely dependent on specialized, one-off parts that are expensive and time-consuming to produce. Use of more standard, cross-purpose and modular satellite components is driving new efficiencies in production and reducing overall cost and time. The WSJ also notes hat there’s a lot that can be done with simulated testing, and self-check protocols run by satellite themselves that replace previous costly efforts to achieve the same results.

With upstart providers offering cost of construction for new satellites that run at roughly 1/100th the price of what Boeing has traditionally charged, and production cycles that can create new ones in a small fraction of the time the being providers have typically needed, it’s likely necessity more than anything else that has pushed Boeing to rethink how it approaches the industry. But it’s good to see smaller players having an outsized impact on pushing the industry forward in general.

Featured Image: Wesley Nitsckie/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-SA 2.0 LICENSE

 


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Boeing shows off the spacesuit astronauts will wear on the Starliner

02:49 | 27 January

The commercial spaceflight industry is doing a great job creating new rockets, launch vehicles and all that good stuff, but spacesuits have seen few alterations. Until now. Boeing has publicly debuted what astronauts on its Starliner craft will be wearing, and it looks like a big improvement.

Chris Ferguson, former astronaut and now leader of Boeing’s Starliner Crew and Mission Systems, showed off the suit for the cameras yesterday.

This one isn’t for doing spacewalks, but rather for getting the astronaut from the staging area of the launch to the relative safety of the space station, and vice versa. It still needs to be airtight and resistant to extreme temperatures and other “extremis” situations — just not to hard vacuum and cosmic radiation. But there was definitely room to improve on the bright orange Advanced Crew Escape Suits made by NASA since the 1990s.

“We’ve simplified the suit,” Ferguson said in a Boeing video. “Astronauts formerly had these relatively bulky heavy suits with thick neck rings, and we learned throughout the years maybe we didn’t need that.”

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The “Boeing Blue” suits weigh 12 pounds to the ACES’ 30, and are more compact while still building in plenty of functionality. They’re cooler inside, more flexible, have comms built into the helmet and lack the big metal neck ring — instead, the helmet attaches with a zipper and hangs back like a hood when not in use.

The shoes, designed by Reebok, are more like giant soft runners than boots, and the gloves come with that all-important 21st-century feature: they’re touchscreen-friendly.

Boeing plans to send its first commercial crew up on the Starliner CST-100 launch vehicle in 2018, and they’ll be wearing these suits.

Now the question is, will SpaceX leapfrog Boeing with an even cooler suit? Chances are we’ll find out soon — they can’t afford to let Boeing hog the spotlight for too long.

 


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A new private space race as Boeing CEO says he’ll beat SpaceX to Mars

21:56 | 5 October

Competition breeds progress, so it’s a bit thrilling to hear Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg say that he’s going to beat SpaceX to Mars in terms of delivering real humans to the surface of the red planet.

Muilenburg said that he’s “convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket,” speaking at a conference in Chicago Tuesday, according to Bloomberg. Boeing is working on a heavy-lift rocket project called the Space Launch System that would aim for a similar goal to what SpaceX is hoping to achieve with its Interplanetary Transport System, the details of which SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared last week in a keynote presented at an international aeronautics convention.

Boeing and SpaceX are already close competitors when it comes to commercial spaceflight contracts from NASA, and Boeing’s approach to its system designed for reaching Mars reflects similar tensions to those present in the ongoing battle between the two for space missions closer to home. Boeing’s plan involves at least $60 billion in NASA-funded development prior to a human-crewed Mars mission in the late 2030s, at the earliest.

Musk’s approach with SpaceX will seek to reduce costs to more manageable levels of around $200,000 per person by the time proper colonization begins, sourced from a variety of places, including potential public and private funding (including from Musk himself).

Provided this isn’t just boastful public remarks and Boeing really does hear SpaceX’s footsteps, hopefully this will set in motion competition that pushes forward both endeavors, which should help make Mars a more realistic destination in the end.

 


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Bigelow Aerospace partners with ULA to launch private space habitats

07:04 | 14 April

Through a new partnership announced this week, United Launch Alliance (ULA) will work with Bigelow Aerospace to launch a large inflatable habitat on an Atlas V rocket in 2020. The size of the habitat will be based off of Bigelow’s B330 module, which is named for its total expanded volume of 330 cubic meters.

Illustration of B330 habitat / Image courtesy of Bigelow Aerospace

The announcement comes shortly after Bigelow Aerospace had their smaller habitat BEAM sent to the International Space Station (ISS) on a SpaceX launch. At 16 cubic meters, BEAM is just a fraction of the size of a B330 module, but will be used to validate and test the expandable technology in the harsh environment of space.

“This innovative and game-changing advance will dramatically increase opportunities for space research in fields like materials, medicine and biology. And it enables destinations in space for countries, corporations and even individuals far beyond what is available today, effectively democratizing space.” – Tory Bruno, ULA President and CEO

Whether the habitat, tentatively named the XBASE or Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement, would orbit as a stand-alone module or be attached to the ISS is yet to be determined.

Robert Bigelow, founder and president of Bigelow Aerospace, said that they are speaking with NASA to discuss the possibility of attaching it the ISS. If that were to happen, a B330-sized module would increase the total internal volume of the ISS by 30 percent.

@BigelowSpace B330 model at #SpaceSymposium Press Conference for @ULA partnership pic.twitter.com/rZIr4QMM3E

— Robert Clark (@rg_clark) April 11, 2016

Although this may be a relatively short-term option for Bigelow Aerospace as the ISS is currently only supported through 2024. Once Congress and NASA decide to decommission the station, it will be forced to de-orbit into Earth’s atmosphere and crash into the ocean.

At an estimated total cost of $100 billion, NASA wants to squeeze as much useful research out of the ISS before it’s gone forever. Bigelow Aerospace’s expandable module would help accomplish that goal. In a press release, ULA stated that the “the craft will support zero-gravity research including scientific missions and manufacturing processes.”

Visualization of BEAM expansion/inflation on the ISS / Image courtesy of NASA

However, it costs the U.S. an additional $3 billion each year to maintain the space station. With their sights set on farther destinations like asteroids and Mars, NASA will eventually shift focus – and budget – to other deep space projects.

Without the ISS, Bigelow Aerospace has other viable options. In order to send humans into deep space, NASA will need suitable habitats for the crew. Expandable modules are especially attractive for these inherently costly missions because they’re relatively lightweight and compact compared to rigid alternatives, making them potentially cheaper and easier to launch.

The company’s expandable modules could also orbit as a standalone station around the Earth similar to the company’s first uncrewed modules, Genesis 1 and Genesis2, launched in 2006 and 2007 and still in orbit today.

In addition to acting a lab for microgravity research, expandable modules could function as space hotels for tourists.

Transportation to Bigelow Aerospace habitats would be provided by NASA’s current commercial crew providers, Boeing and SpaceX, whose crew capsules are just a year or two away from their first crewed flights.

Specifics of the ULA – Bigelow Aerospace contract have yet to be released, but the companies noted that the development of the B330 is well underway as well as its integration to the Atlas V rocket.

 


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New Air Force Satellites Launched To Improve GPS

05:14 | 6 February

This morning, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched a Boeing-built satellite into orbit as part of the U.S. Air Force’s Global Positioning System (GPS).

This $131 million satellite was the final addition to the Air Force’s most recent 12-satellite GPS series, known as the Block IIF satellites.

GPS satellites are operated by the Air Force and provide global positioning, navigation and timing services both for the military and civilian users. We can all access GPS from our phones because of this very constellation.

Back in 1978, the first GPS satellite was launched into orbit. Since then, the Air Force has improved their satellite design and released new versions of GPS satellites in blocks. Starting with Block I, the Air Force has moved through Block IIA, Block IIR, Block IIR-M, and today they’ve completed the launch of their Block IIF series.

While only 30 GPS satellites are currently operational, 50 have been launched in total. The most recent group of Block IIF satellites were launched between May of 2010 and today.

Col. Steve Whitney, the director of the Global Positioning System Directorate, said that the last leg of launches had “one of the most aggressive launch schedules of the last 20 years.” There were 7 Block IIF satellites launched in just over 21 months.

Image courtesy of Boeing

The GPS Block IIF satellites were launched to improve the accuracy of GPS. Col. Steve Whitney, the director of the Global Positioning System Directorate, said that before the Block IIF series, the accuracy of GPS could be off by 1 meter. With the new Block IIF satellites in place that error is down to 42 centimeters.

The change won’t mean much to the average civilian, but it could mean the difference between life and death for the military who uses GPS to guide munition to specific targets.

In order to make room for today’s satellite, the Air Force will move one of the older Block IIA satellites that was launched in 1990 out of its orbit. Impressively, the satellite is still operational and will continue to serve the GPS constellation as a back-up satellite.

Now that Block IIF is up and running, the Air Force will shift its focus to the next series of Block III satellites for the GPS-3 constellation. Block III satellites will continue to improve the accuracy and reliability of GPS navigation and will have upgraded anti-jamming and security capabilities for military signals.

Maintaining an up-to-date fully functioning GPS is pertinent to national security. For these reasons, selecting a company to launch these assets is an important decision. There’s been some controversy recently over which company (ULA or SpaceX) should launch the Air Force’s next block of satellites. The decision has not yet been made.

The first GPS 3 satellites are scheduled to be launched in 2018.

Featured Image: GPS Maplock

 


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