Categories: General
      Date: Jun 12, 2014
     Title: MIRCE Science Events

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5 July 2020: Rocket Lab lost Electron Rocket 4 min after Lift-off

Rocket Lab launched the two-stage, liquid-fuelled Electron rocket at 5:19 p.m. EDT on July 4 from the company’s launch complex on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. The booster’s first stage separated as planned 2 min. 38 sec. after lift-off and the second stage ignited for what was intended to be a 6-min. 21 sec. burn. However, about 4 min. into the burn, the booster “experienced an issue that caused the complete loss of the vehicle and unfortunately the payloads,” founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a video posted on Twitter. The rocket was carrying seven satellites on a rideshare mission for Canon, Planet and a UK-based start-up called In-Space Missions. The largest of the satellites was Canon’s 147-lb. CE-SAT-1B Earth-imaging spacecraft. Electron entered commercial service in November 2018 following a pair of test flights, the first of which ended before the rocket reached orbit due to a problem with ground tracking equipment. Prior to this mission, the rocket had successfully reached orbit 11 times and deployed 53 satellites.  

17 June 2020: Covid-19 Pandemic Phenomena: Tail Strikes, Off-Course Flying by Near-Empty Jets

While the plunge in travel, due to Covid-19 pandemic,  has in many ways eased pressure on roads and the aviation system, it has at times had the opposite effect on safety. The rate of highway deaths has actually risen as motorists speed on empty roads. And the drop in airline passengers has triggered an unusual spate of incidents that are challenging flight safety, according to publicly available reports as well as government, industry and union officials. One nearly empty passenger jet “climbed like a rocket,” prompting the pilots to exceed their assigned altitude. Others have scraped their tails on takeoff, gone off course or strayed close enough to other aircraft to prompt mid-air collision alerts. Moreover, the slow rise in air traffic is creating its own demands as parked aircraft are restored to service and pilots who may have missed training sessions are recalled. The Commercial Aviation Safety Team, comprised of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, unions and airline officials, last month issued more than 50 warnings to carriers on the unusual factors they need to monitor more closely during the recent industry disruptions. They include tracking safety data related to unusually light aircraft, the stresses from employees fearing they could become infected by Covid-19 and possible fuel contamination on planes that were parked. Details of incidents have begun to trickle out through NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, which posts anonymous field reports after validating their authenticity. They include pilots reporting that unusually light airliners behaved unexpectedly, such as climbing so fast that they exceeded assigned altitudes or couldn’t maintain cabin air pressure. Others said the boarding process went so fast they forgot to finish safety paperwork. Thousands of airliners are parked, some of them on runways at major airports. Normal flight routines are being disrupted. Training is being postponed. And airline crews face the looming threat of infection and a loss of job security.

16 June 2020: FAA Recommends Boeing 777 Autothrottle Wiring Repair

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in USA, is urging Boeing 777 operators to change the grounding wires to eliminate the risk of uncommanded throttle advances while aircraft are on the ground. “The majority of events occurred during taxi, and in one event the autothrottles advanced after landing before the speed brakes were retracted,” the FAA said in a non-mandatory special airworthiness information bulletin issued June 11. “Investigation revealed that these events were probably caused by a short between grounding wires to the [takeoff/go-around] switches. When this occurs, the aircraft senses the . . . switches have been pushed, the autothrottles activate in [thrust-reference] mode and the thrust levers advance to set takeoff thrust.” In March 2019 Boeing issued a flight-crew bulletin that explains how pilots can monitor thrust-lever movement and prevent uncommanded changes. According to FAA this issue is not severe enough to warrant a mandatory change via an airworthiness directive.

10 June 2020: Airlines Struggling With Proper Cleaning Procedures for COVID-19

A pilot for an unnamed airline filed a NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System report in mid-May detailing an onboard smoke event. “[An] air carrier captain reported smelling a burning smell during cruise,” the report’s summary says. “Post-flight maintenance briefing advised the pilots that alcohol from wipes may be shorting out wires.” The unnamed airline reported that the issue had turned up on “several” aircraft. Aircraft manufacturers have published procedures on how to clean aircraft and what products to use for years. Events such as SARS and the current COVID-19 pandemic have prompted them to issue reminders and, as lessons are learned, provide updates. However, some operators are still struggling to follow procedures. An Air Line Pilots Association report issued in mid-May cited reports of non-compliance at 16 U.S. carriers and one in Canada. Most of the issues concern the frequency and thoroughness of aircraft-interior disinfecting and the materials being used. A common example is pilots being provided with hand wipes that are not on the Environmental Protection Agency’s E-list, which tracks products known to work against the novel coronavirus. In US the FAA and other regulators are hesitant to mandate aircraft-cleaning protocols, referring instead to health agency guidance, which focuses largely on aircraft cabins. Instructions on cleaning flight decks, such as in the International Civil Aviation Organisation guidance on protecting cargo pilots issued May 11, refer to manufacturers’ recommendations.

9 June 2020 U.S. Air Force Investigates Hypersonic Test Mishap

According to Aviation Week a scramjet-powered missile developed under the joint DARPA/U.S. Air Force Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program was destroyed in a recent test accident. The missile is believed to have inadvertently separated from a B-52 carrier aircraft during a captive-carry flight test, according to sources familiar with the evaluation. The cause of the mishap, which is thought to have involved an aircraft from the Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, California, is under investigation, but DARPA, the developing agency declined to provide any details. Aviation Week understands that pieces of the instrumented test article recovered after the accident suggests the mishap potentially occurred over land, rather than during transit for a wet dress rehearsal or live fire test over the Pacific range.   

4 June 2020: Airbus E-Delivers New Helicopters to Helitrans

Norway’s Helitrans is the first customer to take delivery of new Airbus helicopters using the OEM’s e-Delivery process devised to comply with Covid-19 health and safety restrictions. This Trondheim-based company formally accepted two new H125s into its fleet without the need for physical meetings or travel. The e-Delivery system relies on the customer accepting flight-test and inspection findings conducted by authorised Airbus staff in place of their own employees who usually perform those tasks, which include an expanded test flight, video inspection of the helicopter, loose object check, disinfection, and verification of aircraft documentation. Results were presented via online videoconference with Airbus representatives, dealer Østnes, and Helitrans, enabling the formal transfer of title to take place. The helicopters were then transported by road to Norway to be received by the customer at Trondheim.

2 June 2020: FAA Rule Targets Inaccurate Boeing 777 Fuel-Quantity Systems

The U.S. Federal Aviation Authorities (FAA ) will request operators  of B777 to validate the accuracy of fuel-quantity check systems following reports that inaccurate tank status data caused aircraft to depart with too little fuel for their planned missions, leading to at least 10 diversions. The issue affects centre wing tank (CWT) fuel quality indication systems (FQIS) data, the FAA explained in an airworthiness directive set for publication June 3. An FQIS “design flaw” causes the FQIS display to inaccurate amount of the fuel in the CWT. The FQIS reports the amount of fuel, via weight, in fuel tanks, and fuelling systems rely on this figure when adding fuel. If the FQIS overstates the amount of fuel onboard when fuelling starts, too little fuel can be loaded. According to FAA, “Comparing the fuel volume upload with the final fuel load mass, which also accounts for the remaining fuel in the tanks from previous flight, is not an easy calculation and is prone to significant inaccuracies”.  Onboard fuel management systems report fuel-quantity anomalies within the first several hours of a flight. Discrepancies trigger advisory messages that prompt crews to monitor the aircraft’s fuel system. In some cases, a misstated fuel load combined with a crew’s decision to continue flying can lead to diversions. The FAA said that it knows of “at least” 25 in-service events linked to fuel-quantity inaccuracies. Sixteen of the flights opted to continue, but 10 of those were forced to divert before reaching their destinations because of low-fuel conditions. While Boeing is developing a permanent fix for the FQIS problem, the FAA will require operators to perform a new FQIS validation process, the “refuelling station door cycling procedure,” within 30 days and following any CWT refuelling. The issue does not affect other tanks. Documentation of each check must be provided to flight crews, so they are aware that the validation has been done. The FAA also is requiring operators to document their general FQIS validation procedures and submit them to the agency.

2 June 2020 Fuel And Fuel Tanks In Parked Aircraft Require Additional Inspections

In this COVID-19 environment thousands of aircraft are parked and the chance of the fuel contamination is higher than normal. Fuel microbes thrive in heat and humidity, and if fuel becomes contaminated it can corrode fuel tanks and cause wing structure damage.  Hence, the fuel testing must be carried out more frequently in the current circumstances, especially on those aircraft standing idle in hot and humid places. Aircraft in tropical areas, much of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Australasia, are considered to be at higher risk of microbiological contamination, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Tests that used to be done at least once per year now need to be done about every other week, according to Conidia Bioscience corporation, which develops fuel tests for various industries. In addition to increased testing, operators are ramping-up fuel tank borescope or visual inspections for aircraft in a temporary parked situation. As operators or maintenance organisations run an aircraft to make sure the systems are working, the aircraft uses some fuel. This can leave residue in the tanks, which can cause problems. Any moisture in the fuel tank, due to heat or humidity, can cause contamination, The fungi has the ability to stick to the tank, so even if the fuel is free of contamination, parked aircraft in hot or humid areas face increased microbial contamination, which requires the extra inspections. For example, EasyJet has increased testing from once per year to once every 14 days, and the airline is testing in 21 locations instead of one. For many operators, the more frequent testing means more samples to be send the laboratory, which is where many test providers still process samples. To take fuel test samples, send them to labs, and wait for the results ordinarily takes 4-10 days. Today, when aircraft are scattered around airfields away from home bases, the process inevitably takes longer and requires more resources.

31 May 2020: SpaceX  Delivers Astronauts to ISS, for the first time

The first SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule to carry astronauts conducted a flawless approach and docking at the International  Space Station (ISS) May 31, completing a 19-hr. journey as part of a key demonstration mission in advance of commercial flight services.  So far, Crew Dragon’s Demonstration Mission-2 (Demo-2) flight test, the first with astronauts aboard, has gone extremely smoothly, according to SpaceX and NASA, which are conducting the mission jointly. Astronauts, Hurley and Behnken lifted off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 3:22 p.m. EDT on 30 May, marking the first time a private company has launched people into orbit and the first launch of astronauts from the U.S. since the space shuttles were retired in 2011. Both astronauts are test pilots and veterans of two shuttle missions, began their first full day in orbit with a 4:45 a.m. EDT wakeup call from SpaceX, which revived the tradition of using music to rouse the crew. For Hurley and Behnken it was “Planet Caravan” by Black Sabbath. After reaching orbit, Dragon Endeavour conducted five phasing burns to synchronise its flight path with the station’s, then began a slow approach, first from behind and then from directly in front of the orbital outpost. After astronauts performed a manual flight test, the capsule’s autopilot resumed control, driving it into the station’s Node 2 Harmony forward docking port at 10:16 a.m. EDT as the station sailed 262 mi. over the northern border of China and Mongolia. During the next two hours, Dragon Endeavour was integrated into the space station’s power, environmental control and communications systems, and two astronauts transferred into the ongoing Expedition 63 crew. The station with half of the usual six-member resident crew,  the result of U.S., purchased rides on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft coming to an end. Pending the results of Demo-2, it will be up to SpaceX to pick up crew ferry flights, possibly as early as Aug. 30, and return the station to full staffing.

22 May 2020: PIA Pakistan International Airlines flight accident in Karachi

An Airbus aircraft A320-214 (registration AP-BLD) was operating a domestic flight from Lahore and Karachi, Pakistan. It was PIA Pakistan International Airlines PK8303. The aeroplane was high on approach. During the communication with ATC it can be heard the PM (pilot monitoring) of the flight saying "we are comfortable now (?), we can make it“ : the aeroplane was between 3000 and 3500 ft at 5 NM final. All communications between ATC and pilots can be listened to here. During one of the communications, the read back of the clearance to land (which was basically a "roger Pakistan 8303"), it can be heard a "MASTER WARNING": there is no evidence yet of what was that about and how the crew reacted to it. The approach was continued. The aeroplane then touched the runway and went around. From an inspection to the Runway, the aeroplane touched down on the engines; the scrapes are clearly visible on the runway and also on the aeroplane, from a picture taken by a spotter close to the airport. Based on the Airbus A320 design and geometry, the only way to touch on the engine is to have the landing gear retracted.  Shortly after lift-off both engines failed, most probably because of having scraped the runway. This can be confirmed by the PM saying "we lost engines" and shortly after with a "mayday" call. The aeroplane flown a left visual circuit and was cleared to land for any of the runway 25 but, without engine power didn't managed to reach the runway and crashed over some buildings, slightly short of Runway 25L. Only 2 passengers survived. 

20 May 2020: Air France Brings Forward A380 Retirements

In the context of the current COVID-19 crisis and its impact on anticipated activity levels, the Air France-KLM group announces today the definitive end of Air France Airbus A380 operations. The group had previously planned to phase out its super-jumbo fleet by the end of 2022 as part of a broader strategy of rationalising and simplifying its fleet in a bid to improve competitiveness and profitability. Five of the A380s in the fleet are owned by Air France or on finance leases, while four are on operating leases. According to Aviation Week Network’s FleetDiscovery database, all nine aircraft are in storage: 5 at Charles De Gaulle (CDG) in Paris; 2 at Tarbes–Lourdes–Pyrénées (LDE) in southwest France; and 2 at Spain’s Teruel Airport (TEV).  The overall impact of the A380 phase-out to amount to a write-down of €500 million ($550 million) and the group said that would be booked in the second quarter of 2020 as a non-current cost/expense. Air France said the A380s will be replaced by A350s and Boeing 787s.  

30 April 2020: Volcanic Eruption triggered by rain!

Scientists from the University of Miami in the USA, have used information from satellites, including the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission, to discover that a period of heavy rainfall may have triggered the four month-long eruption of Kilauea volcano in 2018, in Hawaii, USA. The eruption generated around 320 000 Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of lava that reshaped the landscape, destroyed hundreds of homes and caused the collapse of the summit caldera, which was one of the most destructive in volcano’s recorded history. In a paper published recently in Nature, the authors, Jamie Farquharson and Falk Amelung suggested that heavy rainfall may have been the culprit. In the months prior the eruption, Hawaii was inundated by an unusually prolonged period of heavy, and at times extreme, rainfall. The rainwater would have found its way through the pores of the volcanic rock and increased the pressure within, decreasing the rigidity of the rock and allowing magma to rise to the surface.  Authors stated that, “We knew that changes in the water content in the Earth's subsurface can trigger earthquakes and landslides. Now we know that it can also trigger volcanic eruptions. Under pressure from magma, wet rock breaks easier than dry rock. It is as simple as that.” Using a combination of ground-based and satellite measurements of rainfall, They modelled the fluid pressure within the volcano's edifice over time (a factor that can directly influence the tendency for mechanical failure in the ground) ultimately driving volcanic activity. This is not an entirely new theory, but it was previously thought that this could only happen at shallow depths. Here, the scientists conclude that the rain increased pore pressure deep down, at depths of up to 3 km. The results highlighted that fluid pressure was at its highest in almost half a century immediately prior to the eruption, the fact they propose facilitated magma movement beneath the volcano. Their hypothesis also explains why there was relatively little widespread uplift around the volcano in the prior months. Normally, the ground inflates, or ‘uplift’ before an eruption as the magma chamber swells. Authors used radar information from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 ESA mission to see that the amount of inflation was low. This lack of substantial inflation suggested that the intrusion–eruption could not only have been triggered by an influx of fresh magma from depth, but that it was caused by a weakening of the rift zone. A fact that must be considered when assessing volcanic hazards is that increasing extreme weather patterns associated with ongoing anthropogenic climate change could also increase the potential for rainfall-triggered volcanic activity. The Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission is a constellation of two identical radar satellites offering the capability to monitor ground deformation with the technique of interferometry and provides the capability to image part of the globe in the same geometry every six days. 

10 April 2020 Rolls Royce Scrambles To Adjust To Coronavirus Crisis

Coronavirus was still a distant problem to most Europeans at the beginning of March. Italy was only in the early foothills of its grisly climb to about 1,000 deaths per day and national lockdowns were not in place. Similarly, industry has not yet understood the impact the virus would have. For example, Rolls Royce was forecasting that contracted engine flying hours would increase by 8-9% in 2020 and that the number of shop visits would rise from just under 1000 in 2019 to 1100-1200 this year. Less than a month later that expectation has been trashed, as Rolls Royce reported a 50% reduction in its widebody engine flying hours for March and a 25% fall for the first quarter. Even further, the British OEM also warned of “an expected further deterioration in April and beyond,” 

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