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MIRCE Science Events

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Category: General

7 April 2020: The U.S. Space Force delays GPS 3 launch to minimise COVID-19 exposure

The U.S. Space Force will reschedule the April 29 launch of the third GPS III satellite as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The third GPS III will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, sometime after June 30, according to the Space and Missile Systems Centre.   “We do not make this decision lightly, however, given our GPS constellation remains strong, we have the opportunity to make a deliberate decision to maintain our mission assurance posture, without introducing additional health risk to personnel or mission risk to the launch,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, the head of the Space and Missile Systems Center and the program executive officer for space. “As the COVID-19 pandemic is a threat to national security, likewise, rescheduling the launch is in the interest of national security.” The National Reconnaissance Office's Don't Stop Me Now mission is on pause, though it still anticipates launching into orbit aboard an Electron rocket from Rocket Lab's New Zealand launch site. According to Thompson, the GPS constellation is currently in a healthy position with 31 satellites in orbit, allowing the Space Force to delay the launch without resulting in gaps to coverage or capability. The second GPS III satellite was officially declared ready for military use March 24. The Space Force said it is taking efforts to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19 while ensuring it is able to launch three GPS III satellites in 2020 as planned. “Some of the steps include procedural and facility modifications at the GPS III Launch and Checkout Capability (LCC) operations centre and reducing the onsite crew size to provide adequate physical distancing, per CDC guidelines,” said Medium Earth Orbit Space Systems Division Chief Col. Edward Byrne. “Once these efforts are completed, and the crews have rehearsed and are deemed proficient and ready to execute under these modified conditions, we fully intend to return to our launch cadence for deploying GPS III satellites.” The Space Force was able to successfully complete its first launch ever on March 26 from Cape Canaveral while reducing the number of on site personnel and practising social distancing.

20 March 2020: UK Declared F-35 Operational Despite from Availability, Infrastructure, Logistics and Security Issues, Auditors Say

The UK Ministry of Defence declared the F-35 operational even though the fleet was suffering from availability, infrastructure, logistics and security issues, auditors have revealed. The UK National Audit Office (NAO) found that the December 2018 initial operating capability (IOC) from land bases was granted with 67 exceptions, with almost one-third of those still yet to be resolved more than a year later. It is not clear on how many criteria IOC (Land) was judged. In its report studying how new capabilities are delivered into front-line operations, the NAO reported that in the run-up to the milestone there had been delays in the provision of synthetic training facilities. This impacted the availability of pilots and maintainers, while operational availability of the aircraft “hampered the ability to deliver training.” The report appears to confirm the reasons behind a 34-day flying break by the UK-based fleet in the late summer of 2018 reported by Aerospace DAILY. Plans to use simulators for training have been frustrated by “technical difficulties and delays in security vetting.” The NAO said the UK Ministry of Defense is able to use exemptions when bringing a new capability into service. Capabilities that do not meet specifications but are deemed good enough would be given an exemption. The NAO also says that IOC acceptance criteria for the F-35 was not finalized “until several years” after business case approval in the second half of 2017. 

4 March 2020: Northrop Grumman is DARPA’s  Commercial Partner for Servicing Satellite

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency selected Northrop Grumman as its commercial partner for the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites program. Thus, under the agreement, DARPA will provide the robotics payload for a Mission Robotic Vehicle that will be used to service satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit. The payload was developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. It consists of two dexterous robotic manipulator arms, along with several tools and sensors. Northrop Grumman’s SpaceLogistics division will provide the bus technologies it developed for the MEV. The agreement comes on the heels of Northrop Grumman’s successful operation of its first satellite servicing Mission Extension Vehicle. The MEV-1 launched in October 2019 and last month docked in-orbit with an Intelsat communications satellite in an effort to keep the spacecraft in operation for an additional five years. DARPA seeks to bring dexterous on-orbit servicing to spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit and to establish that inspection, repair, life extension, and improvement of valuable GEO assets can be made possible and even routine. The company is developing life-extension services for satellites known as Mission Extension Pods. The pods augment the propulsion system of aging satellites and provide six years of life extension. The vehicle that will be developed with DARPA will be used to install these platforms on existing in-orbit commercial and government satellites to extend their service lives.

25 February 2020: B737 MAXs To Get Nacelle Panel Work Before Service Return

To ensure that engine-control wiring has adequate protection from electromagnetic interference the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a raft directive for Boeing 737 MAXs that requires inspections and modifications to be made before further flight. This was prompted by Boeing’s review of the MAX following two fatal accidents and the model’s March 2019 grounding, affects composite engine nacelle panels. During production, gaps were left in protective foil lining inside some thumbnail and mid-strut fairing panels, located on top of the engine, meant to shield wires located just below. The FAA directive will apply to all MAXs. Boeing’s bulletin listed a subset of aircraft by serial number built from February 2018 through June 2019 that it believes have the issue. The FAA draft rule stats that, “Excessive rework of the surface of the metallic (aluminium foil) inner layer of those panels can result in cuts to that layer, This metallic layer functions as part of the shielding for aircraft wiring, including wiring associated with the engine control systems. Cuts to the metallic layer, depending on their size and location, could create the potential for [high intensity radiated fields] exposure or lightning attachment to induce spurious signals onto the underlying airplane wiring, including wiring associated with the engine control systems. Such spurious signals could cause a loss of engine thrust control.” Boeing is covering all work under warranty. The manufacturer also plans to modify aircraft it has in storage awaiting delivery to customers.

20 February 2020: XMM- Newton Reveals Giant Flare from a Tiny Star

A star with a catalogue number J0331-27 is characterised as an L dwarf.  It has so little mass that it is only just above the boundary of actually being a star. If it had any less mass, it would not possess the internal conditions necessary to generate its own energy.  It is approximately 8 % of the Sun’s mass.  However, astronomers spotted the enormous X-ray flare in data recorded on 5 July 2008 by the European Photon Imaging Camera (EPIC) onboard ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray observatory. In a matter of minutes, the tiny star released more than ten times more energy of even the most intense flares suffered by the Sun. Flares are released when the magnetic field in a star’s atmosphere becomes unstable and collapses into a simpler configuration. In the process, it releases a large proportion of the energy that has been stored in it. This explosive release of energy creates a sudden brightening, the flare, and this is where the new observations present their biggest puzzle. Energy can only be placed in a star’s magnetic field by charged particles, which are also known as ionised material and created in high-temperature environments. As an L dwarf, however, J0331-27 has a low surface temperature for a star, just 2100K, compared to the roughly 6000K on the Sun. Astronomers did not think such a low temperature would be capable of generating enough charged particles to feed so much energy into the magnetic field. So the conundrum is: how a super flare is even possible on such a star. The super flare was discovered in the XMM-Newton data archive as part of a large research project led by Andrea De Luca of INAF – Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica in Milan, Italy. The project studied the temporal variability of around 400 000 sources detected by XMM-Newton over 13 years A number of similar stars had been seen to emit super flares in the optical part of the spectrum, but this is the first unambiguous detection of such an eruption at X-ray wavelengths. The wavelength is significant because it signals which part of the atmosphere the super flare is coming from: optical light comes from deeper in the star’s atmosphere, near its visible surface, whereas X-rays come from higher up in the atmosphere. Understanding the similarities and differences between this new, and so far unique, super flare on the L dwarf and previously observed flares, detected at all wavelengths on stars of higher mass is now a priority for the team. Stars that flare more frequently release less energy each time, while this L dwarf seems to release energy very rarely but then in a really big event. Why this might be the case is still an open question that needs further investigation. (Source ESA)

19 February 202: Boeing Finds Debris in Grounded 737 MAX Fuel Tanks

During routine maintenance, linked with keeping its stored aircraft as close to flight-ready as possible, debris was found in “multiple” 737 MAX. Consequently, Boeing is inspecting all  MAXs it has in storage and adding factory-floor precautions after discovering foreign object debris (FOD) in the fuel tank. Boeing plans to inspect all MAXs that are awaiting delivery to customers, adding yet another step to the return-to-service checklist that includes ensuring the aircraft are in airworthy condition and have updated--yet to be approved--flight control computer software.  While not related to the flight control system logic and pilot-training changes being mandated for the MAX in the wake of two fatal accidents within five months, the FOD issue adds to a list of Boeing production quality-control concerns that have generated headlines. Deliveries of the KC-46 tanker to the U.S. Air Force have been halted multiple due to FOD-related issues that Boeing called “embarrassing.” Findings of FOD in Boeing 787s built in Charleston triggered concerns about that program, which were raised during a mid-2019 U.S. congressional hearing on issues that led to the MAX grounding.

26 January 2020: Boeing 777X Starts Flight Test Campaign

WH001 will continue to conduct initial airworthiness, basic envelope expansion and flutter clearance testing.  Much of the testing will focus on the performance of the new 235.4-ft. span wing, of which almost 24 ft. is made up of the folding wing tip sections. The wing is Boeing’s fourth generation large composite design and incorporates a modified trailing edge variable camber system derived from the 787 as well as a maneuver load alleviation system to limit stresses on the wing and reduce structural weight. The folding tip feature, which performed as expected with rapid deployment and retraction before and after take-off, will also require a slightly greater-than-usual emphasis on ground testing. However, on landing the system is designed to automatically fold after touchdown as soon as ground speed slows below 50 kt. The folding wing tips are the first of their kind to feature on a commercial airliner and will be tested to ensure they meet a set of special certification conditions developed by the FAA. Tests will cover checks of additional safeguards to ensure against accidental retraction in flight or unlocking during take-off, as well as checking robust performance in gusting winds. Test standards for the wing tips are designed to conform with the same certification requirements as other moving surfaces such as ailerons and flaps.First deliveries of the 777-9 are expected to begin to launch customer Emirates in 2021.

25 January 2020: European Space Walking Record

Spacewalk, which lasted five hours and 55 minutes, was the last in a four-part series to extend the life of the particle physics detector that was not designed to be maintained in space. Installed on the outside of the International Space Station in 2011, the instrument out-performed its expected three-year mission time to provide researchers with invaluable data on cosmic rays that bombard Earth. When the cooling pumps for AMS-02 began to malfunction, plans were made to service the instrument in space and give it a new lease on life and science. During the first three spacewalks Luca and Drew replaced the old cooling system with a new one using a tube-tying technique known as swaging that was quite the feat to perform in space gloves. On this final spacewalk, where Drew held the lead role of EV1, the pair set out to check the tubes that connect the cooling system to the larger instrument for any leaks. When a leak was found in tube number five, Luca tightened this connection and waited around an hour before checking the tube again. Upon this second check, a leak was still present, but thankfully after retightening once more and waiting again the leak was overcome and the system was declared leak-free. In between these leak checks, the duo worked on get-ahead tasks, activities that often set the stage for future spacewalks, should the astronauts have extra time on their hands. Once all leaks were addressed, Luca and Drew wrapped things up by installing a mud flap between the new pump and vertical support beam before removing a cover known as a shower cap to expose the new radiator system. This maintenance task broke the European record for the most time spent spacewalking. He has now clocked in 33 hours and nine minutes, beating previous record holder Swedish ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang’s 31 hours and 54 minutes.

20 January 2020: Grounding Cost  Growing for Boeing 737 MAX

A new report this month shows that Boeing faced a bill of more than $8 billion in compensation for airlines alone. In December, when Boeing announced the MAX production halt, it was estimated that customer concessions alone could reach $11.7 through the end of the first quarter of 2020. For starters, new costs such as flight simulator training already are known but have yet to be publicly explained by Boeing. It is expected that simulator training likely will add almost $5 billion to the cost of the grounding, using Southwest [Airlines] as a benchmark for the 4,543 [737 MAXs] in backlog at the third quarter of 2019 and the 385 in existing fleets, all of which were sold before the grounding. Then there are costs for carrying the inventory of roughly 400 MAXs parked by Boeing, as well as potential further changes to the 3,100-aircraft program accounting block basis.  Also, there is the ongoing delay in aircraft certification and change in production cadence could generate another $3.6 billion charge to Boeing’s earnings. Several industry analysts and consultants also believe Boeing will have to support its supply chain financially to some degree, so providers are able to ramp-up MAX production rates again as efficiently as possible. Other costs loom, too, such as final compensation to victims’ families through legal action. Similarly, shareholder lawsuits may emerge that require spending to litigate. Last but not least, there will be additional costs from taking on more debt, which Boeing is expected to do rather than cut shareholder dividends.

19 January 2020: SpaceX Crew Dragon Completed High-Altitude Abort Test

The last major milestone before a crewed flight test to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as March this year was successfully completed when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Kennedy Space Center and intentionally shut down 85 sec. later, setting the stage for a 131,000 ft., (40 km) Mach 2.2 test of a Dragon capsule launch escape system. As planned, the rocket, which included a fully fuelled second stage, tumbled and broke apart in a fireball about 9 seconds later, showering debris over the Atlantic Ocean. The Crew Dragon capsule, which ignited its eight Super Draco thrusters as soon as the booster’s engines shut down, fired for 8 sec., keeping the spacecraft more than 0.5 mi. up and away from the rocket, simulating an inflight launch abort. Upon reaching apogee 2 min. 25 sec. after launch, Dragon jettisoned its unpressurized trunk section and used its smaller Draco thrusters to reorient its heat shield for atmospheric re-entry. At 4 min, 48 sec.  after launch, at an altitude of 20,000 ft., Dragon jettisoned a panel near its nosecone, allowing mortars to fire to deploy a pair of drogue parachutes. A minute later, with Dragon about 6,500 ft above the ocean, four main parachutes, each 116 ft. in diameter, unfurled, slowing Dragon’s descent to 20-25 ft. per sec. The capsule splashed down about  20 mi. offshore completing the flight test after less than 9 min.

13 January 2020: First Airbus BelugaXL Enters Service

European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certified Airbus’s first whale-shaped oversized air transport aircraft BelugaXL.  It is based on the Airbus A330-200 freighter and it incorporates several newly developed elements, including its lowered cockpit, a highly enlarged cargo bay structure, and a modified rear and tail section. Because it is 7 meters longer and 1 meter wider than the ST version, the XL allows for 30 percent extra transport capacity and can carry two A350 XWB wings while the ST can carry only one. The aircraft’s wingspan extends 60.3 meters, overall length stretches 63.1 meters, and its height tops 18.9 meters. Airbus plans to introduce a further five BelugaXLs by 2023, providing them with much-needed extra transport capacity it needs to support the ongoing production ramp-up of its commercial aircraft programs. The company delivered 863 aircraft to 99 customers in 2019, outpacing its previous output record set in 2018 by 8 percent and marking the 17th yearly production increase in a row, according to the company. Its backlog at the end of 2019 stood at 7,482 aircraft. Like its predecessor, the BelugaST, the BelugaXL will carry complete sections of Airbus aircraft from different production sites around Europe to the final assembly lines in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany. Two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 turbofan engines suspended on under wing pylons power the aircraft, which carries a range of 2,200 nautical miles (4,074 km) and a maximum payload of 51 tonnes.

13 January 2020: Piston Seals Linked Pratt A320neo Engine Failures

IndiGo airline reported that  fractured mid-turbine frame (MTF) piston seals have been linked about half of the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G-JM engine failures that damaged low-pressure turbines (LPTs). Providing an update on the A320neo engine s operators said the repetitive check is helping identify seals with excessive wear before the they fail, meaning that a number of engines have been removed based on this inspection. The long-term fix is a more durable blade, which Pratt has developed and is installing on new engines and making available to operators for the in-service fleet.  India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has ordered India’s Go Air and Indigo to fast-track introduction of modified engines to eliminate the LPT blade-fracture risk and several other issues plaguing their A320neo fleets. In the meantime, mitigation measures are put in place, including the inspections, seals, and use of a less aggressive “alt-climb” procedure (at least a dozen engine failures to the practice) that should help in containing the engine failures on-wing. DGCA ordered in November to  IndiGo to ensure its entire fleet of PW1100G-JMs contain the modified standard by Jan. 31 following four in-flight shutdowns within a week. LPT failures leading to operational disruptions jumped in 2019, totalling 17 through July globally, including seven within India, compared to six and five, respectively, in all of 2018. The new update gives the airline until May 31, and said the number of engines it will need has climbed to 135 from 120, to account for engines removed following seal inspections “and other reasons,” DGCA said. “No aircraft with [an] unmodified engine in IndiGo’s fleet shall be allowed to fly after that,” it added. The LPT issue is one of several that has plagued PW1100G-JM operators, hitting Indian carriers particularly hard. Part of the reason is India’s demanding operating environment, which regularly exposes engines to sand, dust, and high ambient temperatures. IndiGo has 103 Pratt-powered A320neos in service and 49 on order.

8 January 2020: Ukraine International Airlines B737 Shot Down at Teheran Airport

Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) operated Boeing 737 was accidentally shoot down by missiles, killing all 176 people on board. Before the flight PS572 took off from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport that day, there was an Qatar Airways aircraft airborne with a further three Iranian air-companies taking off after flight PS752. The airport was fully operational and there was no suspension from Iran aviation authorities, no warnings. UIA operated five weekly services from Kiev to Tehran. PS572 on Jan. 8 used the same flight patterns like all other previous UIA flights.The crew followed instructions from the Air Traffic Control center in Tehran. It was a routine flight. Communication between cockpit and the airport continued until the very end.  Flight PS572 is UIA´s first fatal crash since the airline launched operations 27 years ago.

7 January 2020: A380 Program Moves into Operational Support - Aftermarket Phase

Early in 2019, Airbus accepted the harsh reality that the market for new A380s was too slow for production to be sustained beyond 2021. They now seem to have concluded that the second-hand market also is weaker than they thought. Thus, the program is moving to a phase where the keywords will be “dispatch reliability” and “spare parts,” rather than “new operator.” Lufthansa had just announced it would return six of its 14 A380s to Airbus in 2022 and 2023. Air France has begun retiring its A380 fleet, as they publicly criticized the aircraft’s performance, saying “This is the poorest operating aircraft in the fleet. We have enormous amounts of delays on this aircraft and this fleet has the highest rate of cancellations.” However, some of the operators (: Lufthansa and Qantas) have planned significant cabin upgrades, simultaneous with D checks. Airbus is keeping a close eye on the schedule for the first such 90-day-long overhaul. They will begin soon, as they are done every 12 years. The airframer wants the A380 D checks, a major event in an aircraft’s life—to be as smooth as possible. The outlook for the A380 leasing market is gloomy, as the  A380 market has been challenging for some time and has been aggravated by Airbus announcing the production stop earlier this year; further A380s will be withdrawn from flight operations in the coming years and this will not make it any easier, which means that investors cannot expect the high single-digit percentage returns originally projected and will have to make do with lower single digits. As of Nov. 30, 2019, Airbus had delivered 240 A380s to 15 operators. The backlog still contains 10, mainly earmarked for Emirates. One will be handed over to All Nippon Airways.

2 January 2020: Pilot Unresponsive at the Controls of a Plane Coming into Landing

Just minutes from landing BA633 from Athens the first officer had slumped at the controls, as they were experiencing a "fume event", when toxic air enters the aircraft. In the Air Safety Report (ASR) of that event the captain notes that he experienced strong smells and then became concerned that his co-pilot wasn't responding to questions and had started breathing rapidly. "By this time his head was dropping forward and he was not really usefully conscious. Approximately seven miles to touchdown, I immediately donned my oxygen mask and stated that I had control. [I made] a quick assessment and decision to continue to land. P2 [Pilot 2] now fully unresponsive." British Airways denies that the first officer passed out saying that “he was feeling unwell but neither of the pilots in the cockpit say he fainted." The company also points out that all passengers disembarked safely and that the incident has been referred to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

MIRCE Science Functionability Events and Actions studied in 2019

  • 16 December 2019: Boeing Will Halt MAX Production In January As Grounding Drags On
  • 12 December 2019: Secret Life above Thunderstorms Uncovered
  • 12 December 2019: 3D Printing Can Keep Aging US Air Force Aircraft Flying
  • 11 December 2019: Quality Control Issue Halted F-35 Deliveries to US Governement
  • 10 December 2019: A380 Ram Air Turbine Checks Mandates by EASA
  • 6 December 2019: Boeing Knowingly Installed Faulty 737 Parts
  • 26 November 2019: Widebody MRO Averaged $1,452 Per Flight Hour In 2018
  • 22 November 2019: Investigators Unable To Explain Rolls-Royce Trent Panel Failures
  • 19 November 2019: Space Repair of ISS Equipment Not Design to be Repaired
  • 18 November 2019: Soyuz Launch Abort Traced to Damaged Sensor, According to NASA
  • 8 November 2019: £2.4 Billion  Redesign Cost of Failed TEN Rolls-Royce Engine
  • 7 November 2019: Ryanair Grounds Three 737-800s Due to Pickle Fork Cracks
  • 25 October 2019: Eight GE90s Targeted For Work Following Engine Failure
  • 24 October 2019: EasyJet Taps Inertia-Sensor Data to Monitor Turnaround Times
  • 22 October 2019: Automating Collision Avoidance by ESA
  • 20 October 2019: Qantas Completed World's Longest Commercial Flight from New York to Sydney
  • 18 October 2019: FedEx Uses Drone in first-of-its-kind Trial Flight
  • 16 October 2019: New Engine Inspections after Third Swiss A220 Incident
  • 10 October 2019: Southwest Grounds two 737NGs with Structural Cracks
  • 4 October 2019: Russell retirement in Russian GP due to Wheel Nut Retainer
  • 18 September 2019: Impact of Emerging Technologies on the Aviation Aftermarket
  • 18 September 2019: Comair Suffers From South African Airways Technical Mismanagement
  • 16 September 2019: Japan Airlines Completes Virtual Maintenance Training Trial
  • 12 September 2019: USAF Identifies Critical New Boeing KC-46 Design Flow
  • 11 September 2019: Lufthansa Blocks Last Row Of A320neo Seats because of CG Issues
  • 10 September 2019: A Burst of Asteroid Activity in Europe
  • 9 September 2019: Roll-Royce Accelerates Trent Blade Swaps, after Modifying its Blade-life Prediction Methods
  • 7 September 2019: Boeing Suspends 777X Loads Tests After Pressure Failure
  • 27 August 2019: Cathay Launches Investigation Into Oxygen Bottle Discharge
  • 26 August 2019: B737 MAX Problem  Changes FAA’s Pilot Feedback
  • 23 August 2019: Paperless Maintenance at Porter Airlines
  • 20 August 2019: Lightning strikes Caused Power Cut on National Grid in UK
  • 10 August 2019: British Airways' New A350 Misses Flight After Incident
  • 10 August 2019: Norwegian 787 Inflight RR Engine Failure
  • 5 August 2019: C-46 Boom Actuator Redesign Cost Set At $55.5 Million
  • 31 July 2019: American Airlines Sets MD-80 Final Flights
  • 25 July 2019: Chinese iSpace Achieves Orbit with Historic Private Sector Launch
  • 25 July 2019: SpaceXSsuccessfully Launched a Dragon Cargo Spacecraft to the International Space Station
  • 23 July 2019: Airbus A321neo Implement Temporary centre-of-gravity limitation
  • 22 July 2019: India Successfully Launches Second Moon Mission
  • 11 July 2019: No Disruptions Expected From New Airbus A380 Checks
  • 10 July 2019: Pilot Input Caused Air France’s Abnormal A340 Takeoffs
  • 9 July 2019: In-service Cracks Trigger Airbus A380 Wing-Spar Inspections
  • 4 July 2019: Dust Storm Swirl at the North Pole of Mars
  • 25 June 2019: Beginning of Commercial On-Orbit Servicing
  • 18 June 2019: Boeing to Supply Airbus A320 Parts to British Airways
  • 29 May 2019: The radiation challenge for Mars exploration
  • 28 May 2019: RR Trent 1000-Suffering Air New Zealand Orders GEnx