The pioneering Swiss project to build an airplane that operates entirely on sunlight began an epic leg of the journey this morning. Pilot Bertrand Piccard took off at 6:12 a.m. PST from Moffett Airfield near San Francisco. He is expected to land in Phoenix sometime after midnight.
The Solar Impulse aircraft’s wingspan is as long as a Boeing 747 but it weighs only about 3,500 lbs., about the same as a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Four 10-horsepower electric engines, which draw the energy they need from a skin of high-efficiency solar cells covering the wing and stabilizer dorsal surfaces, power it. Read our stories about the project to get some background.
The journey will continue with four other legs: Phoenix-Dallas-St. Louis- Washington, D.C.-New York City. It is expected to conclude in July.
Check out this live feed from Solar Impulse, or go to the mission website to see the full dashboard.
Virginia Tech researchers are testing new road technologies that enable cars to interact with one another. The say that vehicles in constant communication with one another will be able to suggest route changes to avoid accidents, construction and congestion, and coordinate with each other, signal lights and lane markers for efficient, safe travel.
A fleet of test vehicles run by the Connected Vehicle/Infrastructure University Transportation Center is already operating on testbeds in Virginia.
Such machine networks that connect vehicles to each other, road infrastructure and other devices could prevent 80 percent of crashes. Virginia Tech and other universities are working on a number of fronts to bring autonomous vehicles and systems that support them into reality.
The seemingly magical magnetic-levitation (maglev) train, cruising at ultra-high speeds a few inches above the track rather than on it, is capable of hitting 250 to 300 mph because there’s no friction. They use electro- and permanent magnets to induce currents in the guideway, creating an air cushion that the cars ride on. The technology is expensive, and high costs have killed some maglev projects (including a Berlin to Munich line in 2008), but this train of tomorrow has long since moved past the experimental stage.
But the rail innovation that was invented by Americans, strangely, has taken off just about everywhere but in the U.S., where there’s nothing but test tracks and ambitious plans.
The Central Japan Railway, for instance, recently showed off a maglev train capable of more than 310 mph that’s designed to link Tokyo’s central Shinagawa Station with Nagoya circa 2027. A conventional bullet train now takes 90 minutes to run the route, but the maglev will do the trip in 40.
University of Washington researchers are working on a new design for a fusion-driven rocket that they say could cut a round-trip voyage to Mars to 90 days or less.
“The future of manned space exploration and development of space depends critically on the creation of a dramatically more proficient propulsion system for in-space transportation,” wrote the project team in a paper on their propulsion design. “Nuclear fuel contains energy densities that dwarf the energy of any chemical combustion. The fusion-driven rocket … offers a realistic approach to fusion propulsion systems.”
If their design works as they believe it will, their engine could propel a Mars-bound spacecraft at more than 12 miles per second. If they were able to build a working craft by 2020, the red planet would be around 36 days travelling time from Earth at that speed. According to astronomy professor Courtney Seligman, in October of that year the two planets will be a relatively close 38.6 million miles apart.