Solar unmanned aircraft for perpetual flight

luglio 18, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Just a few days after reading the news about the first ultralight solar powered plane being able to fly nonstop for a full day and night, today we get to read about an ongoing attempt of breaking the endurance record, currently set at approximately 30 hours, for unmanned solar aircraft.

The Zephyr plane, produced by QinetiQ, derived from a previous prototype which has been unofficially flying for more than 82 hours, is already flying since more than a week in the skies over the Arizona desert. It is a solar powered plane that with the light of day can fly thanks to solar panels mounted on its wings, particularly designed and with a span of over 22 meters.

Solar panels are as thick as a sheet of paper, and cover the entire surface of the wings which, thanks to their innovative aerodynamic shape, to the T-shaped tail and to an overall weight of only 50 kgs (allowing for the vehicle to be launched by hand), make Zephyr capable of achieving better performance while minimizing energy consumption.

The energy harnessed during the day is used to charge electric engines which activate at sundown, making it possible to fly during the wee hours, and once again accumulating power by day. Therefore, Zephyr is theoretically capable of flying perpetually, unlike many other aircraft, with or without pilot, which need to touch base every now and then.

Its characteristics open interesting opportunities not only in the field of aerial surveillance, allowing for reconnaissance missions that can last up to weeks or months, by installing the correct photo, video, GPS and transmission equipment. Other possible applications for Zephyr might include observation for scientific use or its usage as a “flying antenna” to relay military or commercial telecommunications.

Thwarting terrorist attacks and finding drugs thanks to radiation

luglio 18, 2010 Technology No Commenti

One day, maybe not too far, it might be possible to detect explosive, chemical or biological weapons (the so called “dirty bombs”), as well as the presence of drugs, thanks to optical systems which can detect their presence within a 20-meter range.

This is made possible by the fact that each and every substance emits electromagnetic radiations in the Terahertz (THz) spectrum according to a specific “footprint”, which travels through all materials except metals and liquids. Scientist from the New York state Rensselaer Polytechnic are working on a system that allows to analyze those electromagnetic waves and determine the substance that emits them, in a totally harmless way.

The process is carried out by using two laser light beams, which are pointed together in the air, thus creating a plasma which reacts to the presence of THz waves. By analyzing this fluorescence, its characteristics and the color, scientists are then able to identify the material that emits the radiation, even though the material is tucked away from view, for example inside a cabinet or hidden somewhere in a car.

At the current stage, the test analysis of Terahertz radiations is being carried out only inside scientific labs, but the final aim is to study the possibility to apply this technology to portable instruments, in order to be able to use them for example to scan and search baggage in an airport, to look for explosives hidden in areas at risk of terrorist attacks, or to detect leaks in pipes that carry chemical substances.

The research project, under the wing of the US Department of Defense, aims at using this technology for defensive and industrial purposes within a few years, once the best way to make it portable has been identified.


luglio: 2010
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