Category Archives: Engineering

75th Anniversary of the US Nuclear Weapons Complex

1.  Background

On 19 January 1942, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the production of an atomic bomb.  At that time, most of the technology for producing an atomic bomb still needed to be developed and the US had very little infrastructure in place to support that work.

The Manhattan Engineer District (MED, aka the “Manhattan Project”) was responsible for the research, design, construction and operation of the early US nuclear weapons complex and for delivering atomic bombs to the US Army during World War II (WW II) and in the immediate post-war period.  The Manhattan Project existed for just five years. In 1943, 75 years ago, the Manhattan Project transitioned from planning to construction and initial operation of the first US nuclear weapons complex facilities.   Here’s a very brief timeline for the Manhattan Project.

  • 13 August 1942: The Manhattan Engineer District was formally created under the leadership of U.S. Army Colonel Leslie R. Groves.
  • 2 December 1942: A team led by Enrico Fermi achieved the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in a graphite-moderated, natural uranium fueled reactor known simply as Chicago Pile-1 (CP-1).
  • 1943 – 1946: The Manhattan Project managed the construction and operation of the entire US nuclear weapons complex.
  • 16 July 1945: The first nuclear device was successfully tested at the Trinity site near Alamogordo, NM, less than three years after the Manhattan Project was created.
  • 6 & 9 August 1945:  Atomic bombs were employed by the US against Japan, contributing to ending World War II.
  • 1 January 1947:  The newly formed, civilian-led Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) took over management and operation of all research and production facilities from the Manhattan Engineer District.
  • 25 August 1947: The Manhattan Engineer District was abolished.

The WW II nuclear weapons complex was the foundation for the early US post-war nuclear weapons infrastructure that evolved significantly over time to support the US mutually-assured destruction strategy during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.  Today, the US nuclear weapons complex continues to evolve as needed to perform its critical role in maintaining the US nuclear deterrent capability.

2.  A Closer Look at the Manhattan Project Timeline

You’ll find a comprehensive, interactive timeline of the Manhattan Project on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) OSTI website at the following link:

https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/events.htm

The Atomic Heritage Foundation is dedicated to “supporting the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and capturing the memories of the people who harnessed the energy of the atom.”  Their homepage is here:

https://www.atomicheritage.org

A similar atomic timeline created by the Atomic Heritage Foundation is available for your browsing pleasure here:

https://www.atomicheritage.org/history/timeline

3.  The Manhattan Project National Historical Park

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park was authorized by Congress in December 2014 and subsequently was approved by the President to commemorate the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is an extended “park” that currently is comprised of three distinct DOE sites that each had different missions during WW II: 

  • Los Alamos, New Mexico: Nuclear device design, test and production
  • Oak Ridge, Tennessee: Enriched uranium production
  • Hanford, Washington: Plutonium production

On 10 November 2015, a memorandum of agreement between DOE and the National Park Service (NPS) established the park and the respective roles of DOE and NPS in managing the park and protecting and presenting certain historic structures to the public.

You’ll find the Manhattan Project National Historical Park website here: 

https://manhattanprojectnationalpark.com

Following is a brief overview of the three sites that currently comprise the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

3.1. Los Alamos, New Mexico

Los Alamos Laboratory was established 75 years ago, in early 1943, as MED Site Y, under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer. This was the Manhattan Project’s nuclear weapons laboratory, which was created to consolidate in one secure, remote location most of the research, design, development and production work associated producing usable nuclear weapons to the US Army during WW II. 

Los Alamos Laboratory main gate circa 1944. Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory

The first wave of scientists began arriving at Los Alamos Laboratory in April 1943.  Just 27 months later, on 16 July 1945, the world’s first nuclear device was detonated 200 miles south of Los Alamos at the Trinity Site near Alamogordo, NM.  This was the plutonium-fueled, implosion-type device code named “Gadget.”  

During WW II, the Los Alamos Laboratory produced three atomic bombs:

  • One uranium-fueled, gun-type atomic bomb code named “Little Boy” was produced. This was the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on 6 August 1945, making it the first nuclear weapon used in warfare.  This atomic bomb design was not tested before it was used operationally.
  • Two plutonium-fueled, implosion-type atomic bombs code named “Fat Man” were produced.  These bombs were very similar to Gadget.  One of the Fat Man bombs was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on 9 August 1945.  The second Fat Man bomb could have been used during WW II, but it was not needed after Japan announced its surrender on 15 August 1945.

The highly-enriched uranium for the Little Boy bomb was produced by the enrichment plants at Oak Ridge.  The plutonium for Gadget and the two Fat Man bombs was produced by the production reactors at Hanford.

Three historic sites are on Los Alamos National Laboratory property and currently are not open to the public:

  • Gun Site Facilities: three bunkered buildings (TA-8-1, TA-8-2, and TA-8-3), and a portable guard shack (TA-8-172).
  • V-Site Facilities: TA-16-516 and TA-16-517 V-Site Assembly Building
  • Pajarito Site: TA-18-1 Slotin Building, TA-8-2 Battleship Control Building, and the TA-18-29 Pond Cabin.

You’ll find information on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Los Alamos here:

https://manhattanprojectnationalpark.com/los-alamos-site

Also visit the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s webpage on Los Alamos here:

https://www.atomicheritage.org/location/los-alamos-nm

3.2. Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Land acquisition was approved in 1942 for planned uranium “atomic production plants” in the Tennessee Valley.  The selected site officially became the Clinton Engineer Works (CEW) in January 1943 and was given the MED code name Site X.  This is where MED and its contractors managed the deployment during WW II of the following three different uranium enrichment technologies in three separate, large-scale industrial process facilities:  

  • Liquid thermal diffusion process, based on work by Philip Abelson at Naval Research Laboratory and the Philadelphia Naval Yard.  This process was implemented at S-50, which produced uranium enriched to < 2 at. % U-235.
  • Gaseous diffusion process, based on work by Harold Urey at Columbia University.  This process was implemented at K-25, which produced uranium enriched to about 23 at. % U-235 during WW II. 
  • Electromagnetic separation process, based on Ernest Lawrence’s invention of the cyclotron at the University of California Berkeley in the early 1930s.  This process was implemented at Y-12 where the final output was weapons-grade uranium.  

The Little Boy atomic bomb used 92.6 pounds (42 kg) of highly enriched uranium produced at Oak Ridge with contributions from all three of these processes.

The nearby township was named Oak Ridge in 1943, but the nuclear site itself was not officially renamed Oak Ridge until 1947.

The three Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Oak Ridge are:

  • X-10 Graphite Reactor National Historic Landmark
  • K-25 complex
  • Y-12 complex: Buildings 9731 and 9204-3 

The S-50 Thermal Diffusion Plant was dismantled in the late 1940s. This site is not part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Following is a brief overview of X-10, K-25 and Y-12 historical sites. There’s much more information on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Oak Ridge here:

https://www.nps.gov/mapr/oakridge.htm

Also visit the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s webpage on Oak Ridge here:

https://www.atomicheritage.org/location/oak-ridge-tn

X-10 Graphite Reactor

X-10 was the world’s second nuclear reactor (after the Chicago Pile, CP-1) and the first reactor designed and built for continuous operation. It was intended to produce the first significant quantities of plutonium, which were used by scientists at Los Alamos to characterize plutonium and develop the design of a plutonium-fueled atomic bomb.  

X-10 was a large graphite-moderated, natural uranium fueled reactor that originally had an continuous design power rating of 1.0 MWt, which later was raised to 3.5 MWt. Originally, it was intended to be a prototype for the much larger plutonium production reactors being planned for Hanford.  The selection of air cooling for X-10 enabled this reactor to be deployed more rapidly, but limited its value as a prototype for the future water-cooled plutonium production reactors.

The X-10 reactor core was comprised of graphite blocks arranged into a cube measuring 24 feet (7.3 meters) on each side.  The core was surrounded by several feet of high-density concrete and other material to provide radiation shielding.  The core and shielding were penetrated by 1,248 horizontal channels arranged in 36 rows. Each channel served to position up to 54 fuel slugs in the core and provide passages for forced air cooling of the core. Each fuel slug was an aluminum clad, metallic natural uranium cylinder measuring 4 inches (10.16 cm) long x 1.1 inches (2.79 cm) in diameter.  New fuel slugs were added manually at the front face (the loading face) of the reactor and irradiated slugs were pushed out through the back face of the reactor, dropping into a cooling water pool.  The reactor was controlled by a set of vertical control rods.

The basic geometry of the X-10 reactor is shown below.

X-10 Graphite Reactor general arrangement.  Source: Department of Energy / Oak Ridge via https://en.wikipedia.org/
Workers load fuel slugs into the X-10 Graphite Reactor circa 1952.  Source: US Army / Manhattan Engineer District – Ed Westcott / American Museum of Science and Energy / https://en.wikipedia.org/

Site construction work started 75 years ago, on 27 April 1943. Initial criticality occurred less than seven months later, on 4 November 1943.  

Plutonium was recovered from irradiated fuel slugs in a pilot-scale chemical separation line at Oak Ridge using the bismuth phosphate process.  In April 1944, the first sample (grams) of reactor-bred plutonium from X-10 was delivered to Los Alamos.  Analysis of this sample led Los Alamos scientists to eliminate one candidate plutonium bomb design (the “Thin Man” gun-type device) and focus their attention on the Fat Man implosion-type device. X-10 operated as a plutonium production reactor until January 1945, when it was turned over to research activities.  X-10 was permanently shutdown on 4 November 1963, and was designated a National Historic Landmark on 15 October 1966.

K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant

Preliminary site work for the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant began 75 years ago, in May 1943, with work on the main building starting in October 1943. The six-stage pilot plant was ready for operation on 17 April 1944.  

K-25 site circa 1944.  Source: http://k-25virtualmuseum.org/timeline/index.html

The K-25 gaseous diffusion plant feed material was uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) from natural uranium and slightly enriched uranium from both the S-50 liquid thermal diffusion plant and the first (Alpha) stage of the Y-12 electromagnetic separation plant.  During WW II, the K-25 plant was capable of producing uranium enriched up to about 23 at. % U-235.  This product became feed material for the second (Beta) stage of the Y-12 electromagnetic separation process, which continued the enrichment process and produced weapons-grade U-235.

As experience with the gaseous diffusion process improved and additional cascades were added, K-25 became capable of delivering highly-enriched uranium after WW II.

You can take a virtual tour of K-25, including its decommissioning and cleanup, here:

http://www.k-25virtualmuseum.org

Construction on the second Oak Ridge gaseous diffusion plant, K-27, began on 3 April 1945.  This plant became operational after WW II.  By 1955, the K-25 complex had grown to include gaseous diffusion buildings K-25, K-27, K-29, K-31 and K-33 that comprised a multi-building, enriched uranium production chain collectively known as the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant (ORGDP). Operation of the ORGDP continued until 1985.

Additional post-war gaseous diffusion plants based on the technology developed at Oak Ridge were built and operated in Paducah, KY (1952 – 2013) and Portsmouth, OH (1954 – 2001).

Y-12 Electromagnetic Separation Plant

In 1941, Earnest Lawrence modified the 37-inch (94 cm) cyclotron in his laboratory at the University of California Berkeley to demonstrate the feasibility of electromagnetic separation of uranium isotopes using the same principle as a mass spectrograph.

The initial industrial-scale design agreed in 1942 was called an Alpha (α) calutron, which was designed to enrich natural uranium (@ 0.711 at.% U-235) to >10 at.% U-235.  The later Beta (β) calutron was designed to further enrich the output of the Alpha calutrons, as well as the outputs from the K-25 and S-50 processes, and produce weapons-grade uranium at >88 at.% U-235.

The calutrons required large magnet coils to establish the strong electromagnetic field needed to separate the uranium isotopes U-235 and U-238. The shape of the magnet coils for both the Alfa and Beta calutrons resembled a racetrack, with many individual calutron modules (aka “tanks”) arranged side-by-side around the racetrack.  At Y-12, there were nine Alpha calutron “tracks” (5 x Alpha-1 and 4 x Alpha-2 tracks), each with 96 calutron modules (tanks), for a total of 864 Alpha calutrons.  In addition, there were eight Beta calutron tracks, each with 36 calutron modules, for a total of 288 beta calutrons, only 216 of which ever operated.

Due to wartime shortages of copper, the Manhattan Project arranged a loan from the Treasury Department of about 300 million Troy ounces (10,286 US tons) of silver for use in manufacturing the calutron magnet coils. A general arrangement of a Beta calutron module (tank) is shown in the following diagram, which also shows the isotope flight paths from the uranium tetrachloride  (UCl4) ion source to the ion receivers.  Separated uranium was recovered by burning the graphite ion receivers and extracting the metallic uranium from the ash.

General arrangement of a Beta calutron module (tank).  Source:  Oak Ridge drawing 42951, via Yergey & Yergey, 1997
An Alpha calutron “racetrack” comprised of 96 individual calutron modules (tanks).  Source: Department of Energy, Oak Ridge via https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Construction of Buildings 9731 and 9204-3 at the Y-12 complex began 75 years ago, in February 1943.  By February 1944, initial operation of the Alpha calutrons had produced only 0.44 pounds (0.2 kg) of U-235 @ 12 at.%. By August 1945, the Y-12 Beta calutrons had produced the 92.6 pounds (42 kg) of weapons-grade uranium needed for the Little Boy atomic bomb.

After WW II, the silver was recovered from the calutron magnet coils and returned to the Treasury Department.

3.3. Hanford, Washington

On January 16, 1943, General Leslie Groves officially endorsed Hanford as the proposed plutonium production site, which was given the MED code name Site W. The plan was to construct three large graphite-moderated, water-cooled plutonium production reactors, designated B, D, and F, in along the Columbia River.  The Hanford site also would include a facility for manufacturing the new uranium fuel slugs for the reactors as well as chemical separation plants and associated facilities to recover and process plutonium from the irradiated uranium slugs.

After WW II, six more plutonium production reactors were built at Hanford along with additional plutonium and nuclear waste processing and storage facilities.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Hanford are:

  • B Reactor, which has been a National Historic Landmark since 19 August 2008
  • The previous Hanford High School in the former Town of Hanford and Hanford Construction Camp Historic District
  • Bruggemann’s Agricultural Warehouse Complex
  • White Bluffs Bank and Hanford Irrigation District Pump House

A brief overview of the B Reactor and the other Hanford production reactors is provided below.  There’s more information on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Hanford here:

https://www.nps.gov/mapr/hanford.htm

Also visit the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s webpage on Hanford here:

https://www.atomicheritage.org/tour-site/life-hanford

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park does not include the Hanford chemical separation plants and associated plutonium facilities in the 200 Area, the uranium fuel production plant in the 300 Area, or the other eight plutonium production reactors that were built in the 100 Area. Information on all Hanford facilities, including their current cleanup status, is available on the Hanford website here:

https://www.hanford.gov/page.cfm/ProjectsFacilities

B Reactor

The B Reactor at the Hanford Site was the world’s first full-scale reactor and the first of three plutonium production reactor of the same design that became operational at Hanford during WW II.  B Reactor and the similar D and F Reactors were significantly larger graphite-moderated reactor than the X-10 Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge.  The rectangular reactor core measured 36 feet (11 m) wide x 36 feet (11 m) tall x 28 feet (8.53 m) deep, surrounded by radiation shielding. These reactors were fueled by aluminum clad, metallic natural fuel slugs measuring 8 inches (20.3 cm) long x 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in diameter.  As with the X-10 Graphite Reactor, new fuel slugs were inserted into process tubes (fuel channels) at the front face of the reactor. The irradiated fuel slugs were pushed out of the fuel channels at the back face of the reactor, falling into a water pool to allow the slugs to cool before further processing for plutonium recovery.

Reactor cooling was provided by the once-through flow of filtered and processed fresh water drawn from the Columbia River.  The heated water was discharged from the reactor into large retention basins that allowed some cooling time before the water was returned to the Columbia River.

Hanford production reactor general arrangement (Typical of B, D & F Reactor).  Source:  DOE/RL-97-1047, Department of Energy (DOE)
Hanford production reactor core general arrangement (Typical of B, D, F, H, DR and C).  Source: DOE
The front face (loading face) of B Reactor.  Source: DOE

Construction of B Reactor began 75 years ago, in October 1943, and fuel loading started 11 months later, on September 13, 1944.  Initial criticality occurred on 26 September 1944, followed shortly by operation at the initial design power of 250 MWt.

B Reactor was the first reactor to experience the effects of xenon poisoning due to the accumulation of Xenon (Xe-135) in the uranium fuel. Xe-135 is a decay product of the relatively short-lived (6.7 hour half-life) fission product iodine I-135.  With its very high neutron cross-section, Xe-135 absorbed sufficient neutrons to significantly, and unexpectedly, reduce B Reactor power. Fortunately, DuPont had added more process tubes (a total of 2004) than called for in the original design of B Reactor. After the xenon poisoning problem was understood, additional fuel was loaded, providing the core with enough excess reactivity to override the neutron poisoning effects of Xe-135.

On 3 February 1945, the first batch of B Reactor plutonium was delivered to Los Alamos, just 10 months after the first small plutonium sample from the X-10 Graphite Reactor had been delivered.

B Reactor plutonium production complex at Hanford, in its heyday.  Source: DOE
B Reactor at Hanford today.  Source: DOE

Regular plutonium deliveries from the Hanford production reactors provided the plutonium needed for the first ever nuclear device (the Gadget) tested at the Trinity site near Alamogordo, NM on 16 July 1945, as well as for the Fat Man atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on 9 August 1945 and an unused second Fat Man atomic bomb. These three devices each contained about 13.7 pounds (6.2 kilograms) of weapons-grade plutonium produced in the Hanford production reactors.

From March 1946 to June 1948, B Reactor was shut down for maintenance and modifications.  In March 1949, B Reactor began the first tritium production campaign, irradiating targets containing lithium and producing tritium for hydrogen bombs.  

By 1963, B Reactor was permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 2,090 MWt.  B Reactor continued operation until 29 January 1968, when it was ordered shut down by the Atomic Energy Commission.  Because of its historical significance, B Reactor was given special status that allows it to be open for public tours as part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

The Other WW II Production Reactors at the Hanford Site:  D & F

During WW II, three plutonium reactors of the same design were operational at Hanford: B, D and F.  All had an initial design power rating of 250 MWt and by 1963 all were permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 2,090 MWt.

  • D Reactor:  This was the world’s second full-scale nuclear reactor.  It became operational in December 1944, but experienced operational problems early in life due to growth and distortion of its graphite core.  After developing a process for controlling graphite distortion, D Reactor operated successfully through June 1967.
  • F Reactor:  This was the third of the original three production reactors at Hanford.  It became operational in February 1945 and ran for more than twenty years until it was shut down in June1965.

D and F Reactors currently are in “interim safe storage,” which commonly is referred to as “cocooned.”  These reactor sites are not part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Post-war Production Reactors at Hanford: H, DR, C, K-West, K-East & N

After WW II, six additional plutonium production reactors were built and operated at Hanford. The first three, named H, DR and C, were very similar in design to the B, D and F Reactors.  The next two, K-West and K-East, were of similar design, but significantly larger than their predecessors.  The last reactor, named N, was a one-of-a kind design.

  • H Reactor:  This was the first plutonium production reactor built at Hanford after WW II. It became operational in October 1949 with a design power rating of 400 MWt and by 1963 was permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 2,090 MWt. It operated for 15 years before being permanently shut down in April 1965.
  • DR Reactor:  This reactor originally was planned as a replacement for the D Reactor and was built adjacent to the D Reactor site. DR became operational in October 1950 with an initial design power rating of 250 MWt. It operated in parallel with D Reactor for 14 years, and by 1963 was permitted to operate at the same maximum power level of 2,090 MWt.  DR was permanently shut down in December 1964.
  • C Reactor:  Reactor construction started June 1951 and it was completed in November 1952, operating initially at a design power of 650 MWt. By 1963, C Reactor was permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 2,310 MWt.  It operated for sixteen years before being shut down in April 1969.  C Reactor was the first reactor at Hanford to be placed in interim safe storage, in 1998.
  • K-West & K-East Reactors:  These larger reactors differed from their predecessors mainly in the size of the moderator stack, the number, size and type of process tubes (3,220 process tubes), the type of shielding and other materials employed, and the addition of a process heat recovery system to heat the facilities.  These reactors were built side-by-side and became operational within four months of each other in 1955: K-West in January and K-East in April.  These reactors initially had a design power of 1,800 MWt and by 1963 were permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 4,400 MWt before an administrative limit of 4,000 MWt was imposed by the Atomic Energy Commission. The two reactors ran for more than 15 years.  K-West was permanently shut down in February 1970 followed by K-East in January 1971.
  • N Reactor:  This was last of Hanford’s nine plutonium production reactors and the only one designed as a dual-purpose reactor capable of serving as a production reactor while also generating electric power for distribution to the external power grid.  The N Reactor had a reactor design power rating of 4,000 MWt and was capable of generating 800 MWe. The N Reactor also was the only Hanford production reactor with a closed-loop primary cooling system.  Plutonium production began in 1964, two years before the power generating part of the plant was completed in 1966.  N Reactor operated for 24 years until 1987, when it was shutdown for routine maintenance.  However, it never restarted, instead being placed in standby status by DOE and then later retired.

Four of these reactors (H, DR, C and N) are in interim safe storage while the other two (K-West and K-East) are being prepared for interim safe storage.  None of these reactor sites are part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) reported that the nine Hanford production reactors produced 67.4 metric tons of plutonium, including 54.5 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, through 1987 when the last Hanford production reactor (N Reactor) was shutdown.

4. Other Manhattan Project Sites

There are many MED sites that are not yet part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.  You’ll find details on all of the MED sites on the American Heritage Foundation website, which you can browse at the following link:

https://www.atomicheritage.org/history/project-sites

Another site worth browsing is the interactive world map created by the ALSOS Digital Library for Nuclear Issues on Google Maps to show the locations and provide information on offices, mines, mills, plants, laboratories, and test sites of the US nuclear weapons complex from World War II to 2016. The map includes over 300 sites, including the Manhattan Project sites.  I think you’ll enjoy exploring this interactive map. 

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=16D-GF2of9UXppSRknAN_ApFpHBg&ll=-3.81666561775622e-14%2C-101.79375970000001&z=2

Source: Google maps / ALSOS Digital Library for Nuclear Issues

5. Additional reading:

Following is a list of other online resources where you can find additional information related to this post.

Los Alamos:

J. Jadrnak, “Renovated museum casts spotlight on human history of Los Alamos,” Albuquerque Journal, 30 December 2016

https://www.abqjournal.com/917922/on-human-history.html

Oak Ridge site and uranium enrichment processes:

“Oak Ridge National Laboratory: The First Fifty Years,” REView magazine, Vol. 25, No 3, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, July 1992

https://www.ornl.gov/sites/default/files/ORNL%20Review%20v25n3-4%201992.pdf

Greene, Sherrell R., “A diamond in Dogpatch: The 75th anniversary of the Graphite Reactor – Part I: The War Years,” American Nuclear Society, November 2018

https://ssl.ans.org/cms/media/?m=946&n=Diamond+in+Dogpatch+Part+I.pdf

Yergey, A.L. and Yergey, A.K., “Preparative Scale Mass Spectrometry: A Brief History of the Calutron,” Journal American Society for Mass Spectrometry, 1997, 8, 943–953

https://ac.els-cdn.com/S1044030597001232/1-s2.0-S1044030597001232-main.pdf?_tid=0f2a0f81-5f1c-4fd4-9e26-768cae7cb179&acdnat=1545969861_a984720e2ba67c3820fb8253beefa002

“Uranium Enrichment Processes Directed Self-Study Course, Module 5.0: Electromagnetic Separation (Calutron) and Thermal Diffusion,” US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Technical Training Center, 9/08 (Rev 3)

https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1204/ML12045A056.pdf

“Uranium Enrichment Processes Directed Self-Study Course, Module 2.0: Gaseous Diffusion,” US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Technical Training Center, 9/08 (Rev 3)

https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1204/ML12045A050.pdf

Hanford site, plutonium production reactors and processing facilities:

“Hanford Site Historical District: History of the Plutonium Production Facilities 1943-1990,” DOE/RL-97-1047, Department of Energy, Hanford Cultural and Historical Resources Program, June 2002

https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/807939

Gerber, M.S.,  “The Plutonium Production Story at the Hanford Site:  Processes and Facilities History,” WHC-MR-0512, Westinghouse Hanford Company, June 1996

https://pdw.hanford.gov/arpir/pdf.cfm?accession=0081287H

“Operating Limits – Hanford Production Reactors,” HW-76327, Research and Engineering Operation, Irradiation Processing Department, 5 November 1963

https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/10189795

“Manhattan Project – B Reactor – Hanford, Washington, World’s first full-scale nuclear reactor,” US Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management, 2009

https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc925808/m2/1/high_res_d/952590.pdf

“Hanford’s Historic B Reactor – Presentation to PNNL Open World Forum March 20, 2009,” HNF-40918-VA, Department of Energy, 2009

https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/951760

Nave, R., “Xenon Poisoning,” HyperPhysics, Georgia State University

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/NucEne/xenon.htm

Lots of Land Speed Record (LSR) Action in 2018

The first land speed record (LSR) at greater than 400 mph (643.7 kph) was set on 17 July 1964 by UK driver Donald Campbell in the wheel-driven, gas turbine-powered streamliner named Bluebird CN7. Regarding his new official land speed record of 403.10 mph (648.73 kph) in the measured mile, a disappointed Campbell is reported to have said, “We’ve made it – we got the bastard at last.”  Campbell thought the Bluebird CN7 was capable of much higher speeds, but did not mount another LSR challenger with that car.

This year, 54 years after Campbell’s record run, Team Vesco’s Turbinator II became the first wheel-driven vehicle to exceed 500 mph (804.7 kph).  In addition, there are several LSR contenders in diverse vehicle designs that regularly are making runs in the 400 – 500 mph range.  Donald Campbell might be impressed with the current state of the “sport.”  Let’s take a look at what’s happened in 2018.

1. Governing land speed records

The FIA (Fédération Internationale de L’Automobile) establishes the process for making world land speed record (LSR) attempts and certifying the resulting speeds.  FIA record attempts are standardized over a fixed length course (mile and kilometer) and averaged over two runs in opposite directions that must be completed within one hour.  The FIA’s home page for land speed records is at the following link:

https://www.fia.com/fia-world-land-speed-records

You’ll find the FIA’s technical regulations governing LSR attempts in Appendix D at the following link:

https://www.fia.com/appendix-d-regulations-land-speed-record-attempts-2018

The FIA defines four basic categories of LSR vehicles:

  • Category A LSR vehicles are purpose-built, wheel-driven automobiles that may be powered by any of a variety of engines, including Otto cycle (4-cycle), Diesel cycle (2-cycle), rotary, electrical, gas turbine, or steam, or any hybrid combination of these engines. 
  • Category B LSR vehicles are derived from series production automobiles, with the same basic engine options as Category A (as long as you can stuff it into a series production automobile). 
  • Category C applies to “special automobiles,” including LSR vehicles that are not wheel-driven, but instead are powered by the thrust of jet and/or rocket engines.
  • Category D LSR vehicles are drag racing automobiles.

Within Categories A and B, the FIA defines Groups based on fuel type and Classes based on engine displacement and vehicle weight.  In Category C, Groups may be defined based on engine type.

World motorcycle LSR records are managed separately by the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme).

In contrast to FIA LSR rules, US National land speed records are the average of two runs going in the same direction over a two-day period.  The rationale is that national events such as Bonneville Speed Week involve too many vehicles to swap directions on the course in less than 60 minutes.  The basic processes defined by the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) and used during Speed Week are as follows:

For each run on the Bonneville five-mile long course, five different speeds are determined:

  • The first speed reported is referred to as the “quarter” and is the average speed over a 1,320-foot (quarter mile) timing trap that starts at the 2-mile marker. 
  • Next, times are recorded and average speeds are determined over three flying mile intervals: from mile 2 to mile 3, from mile 3 to mile 4 (the “middle mile”), and from mile 4 to mile 5. Official time slips refer to these as Mile 3, Mile 4, and Mile 5.
  • The final timing number is called “exit speed”, or terminal speed, which is an average speed measured over a 132-foot trap at the end of Mile 5.

When a car makes a first run at a speed greater than an existing record, it goes into “impound,” where the following process applies:

  • After being impounded, the team has four hours to work on the car. 
  • The team must be back at the track by 6 AM the next day, when it has another hour of prepare the car for the second run (i.e., add fuel, ice coolant, etc.). 
  • The car must be at the start line by 7 AM, ready to make its second run. 

If the average between the two runs is greater than the existing record, a new National record is awarded.

The SCTA defines several vehicle categories, with their Category A (special construction vehicles) being comparable to FIA Category A. 

2. Category C LSR contenders in 2018

Category C LSR contenders, with jet or rocket propulsion, have been the fastest LSR vehicles in the world since Craig Breedlove set the absolute land speed record at 407.447 mph (655.722 kph) in the measured mile at Bonneville on 5 August 1963 in the turbojet-powered, three-wheeled Spirit of America.  The FIA considered this to be an unofficial record because Spirit of America only had three wheels.  This record later was ratified by the FIM. Since 1963, six other Category C LSR vehicles have held the absolute land speed record:  Wingfoot Express, Green Monster, Spirit of America Sonic 1, Blue Flame, Thrust2 and ThrustSSC (supersonic car).

The current FIA absolute land speed records are: 

  • 763.035 mph (1,227.986 kph) for the measured mile, and 
  • 760.343 mph (1,223.657 kph) for the measured kilometer

These records were set on 15 October 1997 by the UK LSR vehicle Thrust SSC, which completed the required two runs in opposite directions within one hour on a track in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.  Thrust SSC was driven by Andy Green when it became the first supersonic LSR vehicle, achieving an average speed through the measured gates of Mach 1.016.

In 2018, the two primary Category C LSR contenders were the UK Bloodhound SSC, which is under development and successfully completed low speed trials (> 200 mph, 322 kph), and the US North American Eagle, which has been running for many years and has reached a maximum speed of > 500 mph (805 kph).  Following is a brief review of these Category C LSR programs.

Bloodhound SSC – Did it die in 2018, or is there still hope? 

In posts in March 2015, September 2015 and January 2017, I reported on the ambitious UK project to create a 1,000 mph land speed record car known as the Bloodhound SSC. 

In 2006, Lord Drayson, the UK Minister of Science, proposed developing a new UK LSR vehicle to LSR holders Richard Noble (Thrust 2) and Andy Green (Thrust SSC).  This led to the formation of the Bloodhound SSC project, which was announced on 23 October 2008, along with an associated education component designed to inspire future generations to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The Bloodhound SSC project website is here:

http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/project

Original plans were for the Bloodhound SSC to make its LSR runs on the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa (see my March 2015 post), with initial trial runs starting in 2016.  As development of Bloodhound SSC continued, the dates for the initial LSR runs slipped gradually to 2017, 2018 and most recently to the end of 2019.

In 2017, Bloodhound SSC conducted five weeks of testing, including its first successful public “shakedown” run on 26 October 2017, on the 9,000 foot (1.67 mile, 2.7 km) runway at the Cornwall Airport in Newquay, UK.  Powered by its Rolls-Royce EJ200 jet engine and driven by Andy Green, Bloodhound SSC reached a modest top speed of 210 mph (378 kph) on this short runway.  

Bloodhound SSC at Newquay. Source: http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/news/

You’ll find a YouTube video of the Newquay trial runs here:

The trials at Newquay demonstrated the satisfactory performance of vehicle systems and provided confidence for further development and testing. In 2018, Bloodhound SSC remained in the UK, but no further trial runs were made.

In 15 October 2018, Bloodhound Programme Ltd., the UK company behind the Bloodhound SSC, entered into “administration,” which is comparable to a Chapter 11 filing in the US and is intended to give a company in financial difficulties protection from creditors for a limited period while it attempts to reorganize and seek new financing. Bloodhound Programme Ltd. was seeking about $33 million (about £25 million) to fund the program through the actual land speed record attempts in South Africa in 2020 – 2021.

Source: http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/news/

On 7 December 2018, BBC News reported that the attempts to reorganize had failed.  Joint administrator Andrew Sheridan reported, “Despite overwhelming public support, and engagement with a wide range of potential and credible investors, it has not been possible to secure a purchaser for the business and assets.” You can read the BBC report here:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-bristol-46480342

Plans are being implemented to return or sell assets.  Driver Andy Green said the Bloodhound SSC vehicle was now available for sale at a price of about £250,000 ($318,275).

Let’s hope that the Bloodhound SSC project can find a last minute investor and a route to recovery.

North American Eagle – Continuing to make progress in 2018

Ed Shadle and Keith Zanghi started the North American Eagle LSR project 20 years ago, in 1998.  Their idea was to take a surplus Lockheed F-104 jet fighter fuselage with a General Electric J-79 jet engine and afterburner and create a viable absolute LSR challenger.  The result of their efforts, with assistance from a team of volunteers and support from many sponsors, is the North American Eagle LSR vehicle shown below. 

Source:  https://www.landspeed.com

 The North American Eagle team website is here:

https://www.landspeed.com

You can view a YouTube video on the North American Eagle LSR program here:

Here’s a shorter video of the September 2016 speed run in the Alvord Desert in Oregon. During this run, driver Jessi Combs achieved a maximum speed of 477.59 mph (768.60 kph):

The North American Eagle team website reports:  “To date, we have made over 57 test runs, already attaining a top speed of 515 mph. This is only the beginning though.  In September 2018, with Jessi Combs at the helm, she made a 483.227 mph (run).  In 2019 she will attempt (to exceed) the 512 mph Fastest Woman record, as well as the single engine speed record. Both of these are major milestones on the road to 800 mph.”

Founder Ed Shadle died on 7 September 2018.  Jessi Combs is now the primary driver and the team is expecting to continue its LSR program in 2019.

3. Category A LSR contenders in 2018

At the beginning of 2018, the FIA land speed record for wheel-driven, piston-powered vehicles was held by Speed Demon, which set the record on 17 September 2012:

  • 439.024 mph (706.540 kph) for the measured mile, and
  • 439.562 mph (707.408) kph for the measured kilometer 

The FIA record for wheel-driven, turbine-powered vehicles was held by Turbinator, which set the record on 18 October 2001:

  • 458.444 mph (737.794 kph) for the measured mile, and
  • 458.196 mph (737.395 kph) for the measured kilometer 

2018 was an exciting year in Category A, with the two primary Category A LSR contenders, Challenger 2 and Turbinator II, raising their respective speed records for wheel-driven vehicles and Turbinator II making the first unofficial Category A one-way run at > 500 mph (805 kph). Five different LSR vehicles made runs at > 400 mph (644 kph) during the SCTA Bonneville Speed Week, which was held from 11 – 17 August 2018: 

  • Challenger 2 
  • Turbinator II 
  • Speed Demon 
  • Flashpoint 
  • Carbiliner 

At the rain foreshortened Bonneville World Finals held on 2 October 2018, the following three LSR vehicles made runs at > 400 mph (644 kph):

  • Turbinator II
  • Speed Demon
  • Eddie’s Chop Shop streamliner

Following is a brief review of these Category A LSR programs.

You’ll find the complete results from Speed Week 2018, World Finals 2018 and other SCTA events on their website:

http://www.scta-bni.org/home.html

Challenger 2 – Raised the wheel-driven, piston engine LSR in 2018

On 9 September 1960, Mickey Thompson, driving the four-engine, wheel-driven Challenger 1 streamliner, achieved a one-way speed of 406.60 mph (654.36 kph) in the flying mile on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Unfortunately, Challenger 1 was was unable to make the second run required by the FIA for an official land speed record.  Thus, the existing absolute and Category A LSRs set on 16 September 1947 by John Cobb driving the Railton Mobile Express continued to stand at 394.19 mph (634.39 kph) for the measured mile and 394.196 mph (643.196 kph) for the measured kilometer.

Cobb’s absolute LSR was eclipsed on 5 August 1963 by Craig Breedlove, driving the turbojet-powered (Category C, not wheel-driven) Spirit of America to a speed of 407.447 mph (655.722 kph) in the measured mile on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

The following year, Cobb’s wheel-driven LSR was further eroded on 17 July 1964 when Donald Campbell set a Category A record of 403.10 mph (648.73 km/h) in the measured mile in the wheel-driven, Proteus gas turbine-powered Bluebird CN7 on the dry salt bed at Lake Eyre, Australia.

Cobb’s wheel-driven, piston engine LSR record and Campbell’s wheel-driven LSR both fell on 12 November 1965 when Bob Summers drove the four-engine Goldenrod LSR car to 409.277 mph (658.526 kph) in the measured mile on the Bonneville Salt Flats.  By then, several turbojet-powered Category C LSR vehicles and had raised the absolute LSR to more than 555 mph (893 kph).

In an effort to regain the Category A LSR crown, Mickey Thompson built the greatly improved Challenger 2 for a planned LSR challenge in 1968. The unblown (not supercharged), two-engine Challenger 2 ran at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1968 with trial speeds approaching 400 mph (644 kph), but rain prevented an LSR run that year.  Following the loss of key LSR sponsors in 1969, Mickey Thompson mothballed the Challenger 2 for almost two decades.

Mickey Thompson and son Danny removed Challenger 2 from storage in January 1988 and developed plans for a 1989 LSR challenge. These plans were cancelled following the tragic murder of Mickey Thompson and his wife in March 1988. Once again, Challenger 2 was placed in long-term storage. In 2010, Danny Thompson began efforts to prepare Challenger 2 for an LSR run intended to “vindicate his father’s faith in the streamliner.”  The modernized Challenger 2 retained the original chassis and hand-formed aluminum skin, resulting in an almost unchanged external appearance.  The original engines and drive trains were removed and replaced by more powerful dry block, nitromethane-fueled, unblown Hemi V8 engines in an all-wheel drive configuration. Other modifications were made to comply with current FIA and SCTA regulations for LSR attempts. You’ll find details on the updated Challenger 2 on the Thompson LSR website here:

http://thompsonlsr.com/about/

Challenger 2 test runs started in June 2014 and speed runs on Bonneville’s full-length course began in September 2014.  

On 12 August 2018, during Bonneville Speed Week and 50 years after its original runs at Bonneville, Challenger 2 driven by Danny Thompson set a new class record of 448.757 mph (772.204 kph) for the measured mile, breaking the record held by Speed Demon since September 2012.  This record currently stands as the fastest overall wheel-driven, piston-powered land speed record.  You can view a YouTube video on the Challenger racing team and the 2018 LSR run here:

Challenger 2. Source: http://thompsonlsr.com 

The Challenger 2 is now retired. Thank you Danny Thompson for resurrecting this amazing car and mounting a successful LSR challenge. Your Dad, Mickey Thompson, would be very proud of you and your team.

Turbinator II – Raised the wheel-driven vehicle LSR record in 2018

Team Vesco has been a long-time contender in land speed record racing.  You’ll find a history of and their many projects and LSR challenges on the team website here:

http://www.teamvesco.com/home.html

Team Vesco introduced the original Turbinator to the public in 1996 with the goals of setting a new wheel-driven LSR and becoming the first wheel-driven vehicle to exceed 500 mph.  Turbinator was powered by a single, stock 3,750 hp Lycoming T55 gas turbine engine (a former turboshaft helicopter engine) delivering power to a four-wheel drive system.  On 18 October 2001, the Turbinator, driven by Don Vesco, eclipsed Donald Campbell’s 37-year old land speed record, raising the FIA Category A LSR to 458.440 mph (737.788 kph). 

A 2011 paper in the University of Leicester (UK) Journal of Physics Special Topics, by Back, Brown, Hall and Turner, estimated the top speeds of the Turbinator to be 486 mph (782 kph) and its follow-on, the Turbinator II with a 4,400 hp engine, to be 509 mph (819 kph).  You can read this paper here:

https://journals.le.ac.uk/ojs1/index.php/pst/article/view/1995/1897

Turbinator II is an update of the original Turbinator, using an uprated Lycoming gas turbine delivering somewhere between 4,300 – 5,000 hp power to all four wheels. You can see what a high speed run in Turbinator II looks like in the following video made on 13 August 2018 when driver Dave Spangler raised the fastest mile speed to 463.038 mph (745.187 kph) during Bonneville Speed Week.

Just six weeks after Danny Thompson raised the LSR for wheel-driven, piston-engine vehicles to 448.757 mph (772.204 kph) with Challenger 2, Team Vesco raised the wheel-driven vehicle National class record to 482.646 mph (776.743 kph) on 15 September 2018 with Dave Spangler driving Turbinator II at the Bonneville World of Speed time trials hosted by the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association (USFRA). 

Source: https://autoweek.com/

Read more about this Turbinator II LSR record for wheel-driven vehicles at:

https://autoweek.com/article/racing/team-vesco-eclipses-wheel-driven-land-speed-record-482-mph-run-bonneville#ixzz5Z9hfMeon

At the Bonneville World Finals on 2 October 2018, Turbinator II made a one-way run through the measured mile of 493.996 mph (795.009 kph), with an exit speed of 503.332 mph (810.034 kph). Turbinator II became the world’s first wheel-driven vehicle to exceed 500 mph and 800 kph.  Weather precluded making the second run needed for an official record. You can view this speed run here:

With continuing improvements being made to the vehicle, Turbinator II appears to be a good candidate for being the first LSR vehicle to set an FIA land speed record at > 500 mph.

Speed Demon

On 17 September 2012, Speed Demon, driven by George Poteet at Bonneville, established an FIA Category A land speed record of 439.024 mph (706.540 kph) for the measured mile and 439.562 mph (707.408 kph) for the measured kilometer.  For this record run, Speed Demon was powered by a turbocharged, 2,200 hp, 368 cubic inch small block Chevy engine driving the rear wheels. This record stood until 12 August 2018 when it was eclipsed by Danny Thompson in the Challenger 2.

Source:  http://landspeedevents.com/blog/poteet-and-main/

The original Speed Demon was destroyed on 12 September 2014 after a crash at 375 mph (606 kph) during a speed run at Bonneville, possibly due to a temporary loss of traction on the salt track.  You can read a synopsis of George Poteet’s recollection of this crash here:

https://www.good-guys.com/hotnews/george-poteet-recalls-375mph-bonneville-crash/

In an all-new Speed Demon II, George Poteet returned to land speed racing in 2016.  The new Speed Demon is powered by a single, twin-turbocharged, small-block V8 engine delivering over 2,600 hp to the rear wheels.  You’ll find details on Speed Demon’s V8 piston engine here: 

http://blog.diamondracing.net/inside-team-speed-demons-400mph-ls-engine

The Speed Demon II. Source: Speed Demon Racing

In its current incarnation, Speed Demon is a strong LSR challenger that appears to have the potential to exceed 500 mph.

  • During Bonneville Speed Week in August 2018, Speed Demon made three runs at > 400 mph, with the fastest being 452.255 mph.
  • During the foreshortened Bonneville World Finals in October 2018, Speed Demon made one run at 431.435 mph.

You’ll find more information on the Speed Demon team homepage here:

http://speeddemon.us

Flashpoint Streamliner

Flashpoint streamliner made its debut on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2013. It is powered by a 482 cubic inch, nitromethane burning blown Hemi V8. In its 2013 debut, the streamliner achieved a top speed of 395 mph (636 kph). The team has announced a goal of exceeding 500 mph (805 kph).

The Flashpoint team homepage is at the following Facebook site:

https://www.facebook.com/Flashpoint7800/

On 16 September 2018, during the USFRA World of Speed at Bonneville, the Flashpoint Streamliner achieved a speed of 436.308 mph (702.170 kph) on its first run of the five-mile long course, with an exit speed of 451.197 mph (726.131 kph). On the second run, a tire failed at 427 mph (687 kph), causing a spectacular rollover crash.  Fortunately (and incredibly), driver Robert Dalton was uninjured.

Source: Murilee Martin/Autoweek
Aftermath of the crash.  Source: TheDrive

You can read more about the crash at the following link:

http://www.thedrive.com/news/23726/heres-what-a-427-mph-crash-on-the-bonneville-salt-flats-looks-like

Hopefully, the Flashpoint team will rebuild and we’ll see the next iteration of the potent Flashpoint Streamliner back in action in the future.

Carbinite LSR streamliner (Carbiliner)

Source, both photos above:  Carbinite LSR

The Carbiliner was designed and built over a seven-year period and made its first appearance at the Bonneville Speed Week in 2016.  It is a radically designed Category A streamliner, similar in design to successful Category C jet- and rocket-powered LSR vehicles from the early 1970s.  The Carbininte LSR team notes:

“Past efforts and current mindset in building Streamliners has focused on keeping the car aerodynamically neutral (no lift or downforce). This necessitates the addition of significant amounts of ballast to obtain enough traction for acceleration, resulting in two problems:

  1. The racing surface at Bonneville is not as flat as it once was due to deterioration of the salt. This causes the car to skip across the salt at higher speeds, breaking traction.
  2. The increased weight of the cars leads to slower acceleration. Cars may run out of track prior to reaching maximum speed.

The Carbinite LSR Streamliner design has addressed these problems.”

On means is through the use of active aerodynamic control surfaces on the rear wings (NACA 66-018 profile) that support the rear wheels and house the drive shafts.  The control surfaces are designed to generate over 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) of downforce with minimum drag.  At low speed, the aerodynamic control surfaces are “full-up” at the start of acceleration.  As speed increases, the flaps are lowered to maintain the same amount of downforce. The flaps, speed-based boost control and fuel injection are managed by a Holley engine control unit (ECU).

Source, both photos above: https://www.carbinitelsr.com/index.html
Note the aero surfaces in the up position at the start of the run. Source: screenshot from video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQSt4ULIje0

The Carbiliner is powered by a single, twin-turbocharged, 540 cubic inch Chevy V8 burning methanol (starting in 2017) and delivering 2,400 – 2,800 hp to the the unsprung (no suspension) rear wheels. You’ll find a good technical description of the vehicle here:

http://blog.diamondracing.net/inside-team-carbinites-streamliner-and-the-quest-for-a-400mph-record

The team’s primary goal is “to break the 500 mph barrier at the next Bonneville Speed Week and become the fastest wheel driven car on the planet”.  In 2018, it was one of five LSR vehicles to exceed 400 mph during Speed Week, making runs of 406.750 mph (654.601 kph) and 413.542 mph (665.531 kph).  The team has work to do, but this radical LSR may have the potential to achieve their primary goal.

Source: Popular Mechanics, https://www.popularmechanics.com/

You’ll find more information on the Carbinite LSR team home page is here:

https://www.carbinitelsr.com

Like the Bloodhound SSC project, the Carbinite LSR team has established an education program “to excite the next generation of students about careers in STEM, and to inspire students to think big!  Our program is geared for high school physics and shop students, as well as college engineering students.”  You’ll find a good video describing the Carbiliner’s aerodynamics and the STEM education program here:

Eddie’s Chop Shop streamliner

Ed Umland, of Orangevale, CA, reportedly built his 29-foot blown gas, aluminum bodied streamliner in 18 months with the goal of being able to exceed 400 mph at Bonneville.  The streamliner is powered by a single, twin-turbo, 439 cubic inch V8 engine driving the rear wheels.

Source:  Eddie’s Chop Shop

On 2 October 2018, during the foreshortened Bonneville World Finals, this streamliner achieved a speed of 403.996 mph (650.169 kph) in the measured mile, with an exit speed of 411.209 mph (661.777 kph).  Ed Umland has achieved his original goal, and his streamliner appears to have the potential to achieve higher speeds in the future.

Source:  Brandan Gillogly / https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/08/17/

You can view a short YouTube video of the Eddie’s Chop Shop streamliner running at Bonneville here.

More information is available on the Eddie’s Chop Shop Facebook page here:

https://www.facebook.com/Eddies-Chop-Shop-166750176726708/

4. In conclusion

The upper echelon of land speed racing is alive and well, in spite of the likely demise of the Category C Bloodhound SSC program.  There is great competition among the Category A wheel-driven LSR contenders in the 400 – 500 mph range, with records being raised in 2018 and the 500 mph and 800 kph “barriers” being broken for the first time. Next year should be pretty interesting, especially if the salt flats are in good condition.

I hope the Bloodhound SSC program will get a last-minute (last second) reprieve and, as in the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail,  be able to say, “I’m not dead yet.” 

25 December 2018 Christmas Day Update:  Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

On Monday 17th December, the Bloodhound Project announced that its business and assets were bought by Yorkshire-based entrepreneur Ian Warhurst, who stated: “I am delighted to have been able to safeguard the business and assets, preventing the project breakup. I know how important it is to inspire young people about science, technology, engineering and math, and I want to ensure BLOODHOUND can continue doing that into the future.”

Thank you Ian Warhurst for your Christmas gift to the Bloodhound Team and the land speed racing community.


Dividing by Zero

In 1967, the old Marchant electromechanical calculators in the physics lab were replaced by silent Wang electronic calculators.

The Marchant SCM Transflo Model TR shown below, manufactured after 1962, was a contemporary of the calculators replaced by the Wang.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marchant_calculator

The Wang 300-series electronic calculators were introduced in October of 1965, and the first machines went into production in March 1966.  The physics lab got a Wang system that looked like this.

Source: http://www.oldcalculatormuseum.com/wang360.html

This was the end of an era.  I could no longer vent my frustration at a calculation gone wrong by dividing by zero on several Marchant machines and leaving the room.

Why was this a problem for an electromechanical calculator?  These machines performed multiplication as a series of sequential additions and division were performed as a series of sequential subtractions.  The electromechanical Marchant calculator performed fully automatic division and would grind on until the final result was reached with a balance of zero in the “accumulator”, or until the last register on the machine had been filled and a small positive balance remained in the accumulator.

For example, 16 divided by 3 would be performed as:

16 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3

At this point, the accumulator would be in “overdraft” (a negative value), the last subtraction would be cancelled by adding back +3, yielding a balance of +1 in the accumulator after 5 subtraction cycles. For a result set up for one decimal point accuracy, the calculation would continue as:

1 – 0.3 – 0.3 – 0.3 – 0.3

Again, the accumulator would be in “overdraft”, the last subtraction would be cancelled by adding back + 0.3, yielding a balance of + 0.1 in the accumulator after 3 subtraction cycles.

In this case, the result for 16 divided by 3 would be reported as 5.3.

Division by zero is the sequential subtraction of zero, over and over and over again. It’s an endless loop and the Marchant’s fully automatic division process was happy to oblige until someone got tired of the all the gear noise and cancelled the calculation (or pulled the plug).  These were durable machines.  I came into the lab one morning and found one Marchant still grinding away in an endless loop that probably started late the previous evening (I didn’t do it!).

Watch five old-school calculators grapple with division by zero here:

https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/g19695670/watch-five-old-school-calculators-grapple-with-division-by-zero/?src=nl&mag=pop&list=nl_pnl_news&date=040918

I guess you had to be there.

BLOODHOUND SSC Making Progress Toward a World Land Speed Record Attempt in 2017

The BLOODHOUND Project bills itself as an international education initiative focused around a 1,000 mph World Land Speed Record attempt.

“The primary objective of the Project is to inspire the next generation to pursue careers in science, engineering, technology and math – by demonstrating how they can be harnessed to achieve the impossible, such as a jet and rocket powered car capable of setting a new World Land Speed Record.”

Since my first post in the BLOODHOUND Project on 2 March 2015, the project team has made great progress in designing, developing, constructing and testing the BLOODHOUND SSC (supersonic car) and its many components and systems.  This will be a very interesting year as the BLOODHOUND Project works up to a world land speed record attempt currently planned for November 2017 on Hakskeen Pan in South Africa.

You’ll find the BLOODHOUND website, with its many resources, at the following link:

http://www.bloodhoundssc.com

You can subscribe to the BLOODHOUND newsletter here:

http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/newsletter-signup

The project team has established an extensive video record of their work on YouTube. Starting at their YouTube home page at the following link, you can navigate through a very interesting video library.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsBrBl7xmnNBkosxCeHGqPA

On 9 January 2017, the BLOODHOUND Project announced that they had launched a new series of short video programs that will take viewers through the inner workings of the land speed record car. The first video in the Anatomy of the Car series is at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bfL2XC0Fa0

BLOODHOUND SSCBLOODHOUND SSC X-raySource, both images: The BLOODHOUND Project

You can subscribe to the BLOODHOUND videos directly on their YouTube home page.

I hope you will share my enthusiasm for this inspirational international project and take time to understand the remarkable systems integration work being done by the BLOODHOUND Project.

Mechs are not Just for Science Fiction any More

Mechs (aka “mechanicals” and “mechas”) are piloted robots that are distinguished from other piloted vehicles by their humanoid / biomorphic appearance (i.e., they emulate the general shape of humans or other living organisms). Mechs can give the pilot super-human strength, mobility, and access to an array of tools or weapons while providing protection from hazardous environments and combat conditions. Many science fiction novels and movies have employed mechs in various roles. Now, technology has advanced to the point that the first practical mech is under development and entering the piloted test phase.

Examples of humanoid mechs in science fiction

If you saw the 2009 James Cameron’s movie Avatar, then you have seen the piloted Amplified Mobility Platform (AMP) suit shown below. In the movie, this multi-purpose mech protects the pilot against hazardous environmental conditions while performing a variety of tasks, including heavy lifting and armed combat. The AMP concept, as applied in Avatar, is described in detail at the following link:

http://james-camerons-avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Amplified_Mobility_Platform

 Avatar AMP suitAvatar AMP suit. Source: avatar.wikia.com

 The 2013 Guillermo del Toro’s movie Pacific Rim featured the much larger piloted Jaeger mechs designed to fight Godzilla-size creatures.

 Pacific Rim JaegersJaegers. Source: Warner Bros Pictures

 Actual fighting mechs

One of the first actual mechs was Kuratas; a rideable, user-operated mech developed in Japan in 2012 by Suidobashi Heavy Industry for fighting mech competitions. Kuratas’ humanoid torso is supported by four legs, each riding on a hydraulically driven wheel. This diesel-powered mech is 4.6 meters (15 feet) tall and weighs about five tons.

kuratas Kuratas. Source: howthingsworkdaily.com

Suidobashi Heavy Industry uses its own proprietary operating system, V-Sido OS. The system software integrates routines for balance and movement, with the goal of optimizing stability and preventing the mech from falling over on uneven surfaces or during combat. While Kuratas is designed for operation by a single pilot, it also can be operated remotely by an internet-enabled phone.

suidobashi-heavy-industrys-ceo-kogoro-kurataKuratas cockpit. Source IB Times UK

For more information on Kuratas’ design and operation watch the Suidobashi Heavy Industry video at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29MD29ekoKI

Also visit the Suidobashi Heavy Industry website at the following link:

http://suidobashijuko.jp

It appears that you can buy your own Kuratas on Amazon Japan for  ¥ 120,000,000 (about $1.023 million) plus shipping charges. Here’s the link in case you are interested in buying a Kuratas.

https://www.amazon.co.jp/水道橋重工-SHI-KR-01-クラタス-スターターキット/dp/B00H6V3BWA/ref=sr_1_3/351-2349721-0400049?s=hobby&ie=UTF8&qid=1483572701&sr=1-3

You’ll find a new owner’s orientation video at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iZ0WuNvHr8

A competitor in the fighting mech arena is the 4.6 meter (15 feet) tall, 5.4 ton MegaBot Mark II built by the American company MegaBots, Inc. The Mark II’s torso is supported by an articulated framework driven by two tank treads that provide a stable base and propulsion.

Megabot Mark IIMegaBot Mark II. Source: howthingsworkdaily.com

Mark II’s controls are built on the widely-used Robot OS (ROS) operating system, which is described by the OS developers as:

“….a flexible framework for writing robot software. It is a collection of tools, libraries, and conventions that aim to simplify the task of creating complex and robust robot behavior across a wide variety of robotic platforms.”

For more information, visit the ROS website at the following link:

http://www.ros.org/about-ros/

An actual battle between Kuratas and MegaBot Mark II has been proposed (since 2014), but has been delayed many times. On October 2016, MegaBots, Inc. determined that the Mark II was unsafe for hand-to-hand mech fighting and announced it was abandoning this design. Its replacement will be a larger (10 ton) Mk III with a safer cockpit, more powerful engine, higher speed (10 mph) and faster-acting hydraulic valves. Development and operation of MegaBot Mark III is shown in a series of 2016 videos at the following link:

https://www.megabots.com/episodes

Here’s a look at a MegaBot Mark III torso (attached to a test base instead of the actual base) about to pick up a car during development testing.

Megabot Mark IIIMegaBot Mark III. Source: MegaBot

Worldwide  interest in the Kuratas – MegaBot fighting match has spawned interest in a future mech fighting league.

Actual potentially-useful mechs

South Korean firm Hankook Mirae Technology has developed a four-meter-tall (13-foot), 1.5 ton, bipedal humanoid mech named Method v2 as a test-bed for various technologies that can be applied and scaled for future operational mechs. Method v2 does not have an internal power source, but instead receives electric power via a tether from an external power source.

The company chairman Yang Jin-Ho said:

“Our robot is the world’s first manned bipedal robot and is built to work in extreme hazardous areas where humans cannot go (unprotected).”

See details on the Hankook Mirae website at the following link:

http://hankookmirae.tech/main/main.html

As is evident in the photos below, Method v2 has more than a passing resemblance the AMP suit in Avatar.

Method v2Method v2. Source: Hankook Mirae Technology

A pilot sitting inside the robot’s torso makes limb movements that are mimicked by the Method v2 control system.

Method v2 torsoMethod v2 torso mimics pilot’s arm and hand motions. Source: Hankook Mirae Technology

Method v2 cockpitMethod v2 cockpit. Source: Hankook Mirae Technology

The first piloted operation of the Method v2 mech took place on 27 December 2016. Watch a short video of manned testing and an unmanned walking test at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9y34ghJNU0

You can read more about the test at the following link:

http://phys.org/news/2016-12-avatar-style-korean-robot-baby.html

New Safe Confinement Structure Moved into Place at Chernobyl Unit 4

Following the Chernobyl accident on 26 April 1986, a concrete and steel “sarcophagus” was built around the severely damaged Unit 4 as an emergency measure to halt the release of radioactive material into the atmosphere from that unit. For details on the design and construction of the sarcophagus, including many photos of the damage at Unit 4, visit the chernobylgallery.com website at the following link:

http://chernobylgallery.com/chernobyl-disaster/sarcophagus/

The completed sarcophagus is shown below, at left end of the 4-unit Chernobyl nuclear plant. In 1988, Soviet scientists announced that the sarcophagus would only last 20–30 years before requiring restorative maintenance work. They were a bit optimistic.

Sarcophagus overview photoThe completed sarcophagus at left end of the 4-unit Chernobyl nuclear plant. Source: chernobylgallery.com

Sarcophagus closeup photoClose-up of the sarcophagus. Source: chernobylgallery.com

Inside-sarcophagusCross-section of the sarcophagus. Source: chernobylgallery.com

The sarcophagus rapidly deteriorated. In 2006, the “Designed Stabilization Steel Structure” was extended to better support a damaged roof that posed a significant risk if it collapsed. In 2010, it was found that water leaking through the sarcophagus roof was becoming radioactively contaminated as it seeped through the rubble of the damaged reactor plant and into the soil.

To provide a longer-term remedy for Chernobyl Unit 4, the  European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) funded the design and construction of the New Safe Confinement (NSC, or New Shelter) at a cost of about €1.5 billion ($1.61 billion) for the shelter itself. Total project cost is expected to be about €2.1 billion ($2.25 billion).

Construction by Novarka (a French construction consortium of VINCI Construction and Bouygues Construction) started in 2012. The arched NSC structure was built in two halves and joined together in 2015. The completed NSC is the largest moveable land-based structure ever built, with a span of 257 m (843 feet), a length of 162 m (531 feet), a height of 108 m (354 feet), and a total weight of 36,000 tonnes.

NSC exterior viewNSC exterior view. Source: EBRD

NSC cross section

NSC cross-section. Adapted from phys.org/news

Novarka started moving the NSC arch structure into place on 14 November 2016 and completed the task more than a week later. The arched structure was moved into place using a system of 224 hydraulic jacks that pushed the arch 60 centimeters (2 feet) each stroke. On 29 November 2016, a ceremony at the site was attended by Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, diplomats and site workers, to celebrate the successful final positioning of the NSC over Chernobyl Unit 4.

EBRD reported on this milestone:

“Thirty years after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the radioactive remains of the power plant’s destroyed reactor 4 have been safely enclosed following one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects.

Chernobyl’s giant New Safe Confinement (NSC) was moved over a distance of 327 meters (1,072 feet) from its assembly point to its final resting place, completely enclosing a previous makeshift shelter that was hastily assembled immediately after the 1986 accident.

The equipment in the New Safe Confinement will now be connected to the new technological building, which will serve as a control room for future operations inside the arch. The New Safe Confinement will be sealed off from the environment hermetically. Finally, after intensive testing of all equipment and commissioning, handover of the New Safe Confinement to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant administration is expected in November 2017.”

You can see EBRD’s short video of this milestone, “Unique engineering feat concluded as Chernobyl arch reaches resting place,” at the following link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH1bv9fAxiY

The NSC has an expected lifespan of at least 100 years.

The NSC is fitted with an overhead crane to allow for the future dismantling of the existing sarcophagus and the remains of Chernobyl Unit 4.

Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE and Lunar XPrize are Paving the way for Commercial Lunar Missions

Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE and Lunar XPrize are two competitions promoting the development of technologies, vehicles and systems by private firms for landing unmanned vehicles on the Moon and demonstrating functional capabilities that can support future lunar exploration missions. The legal and regulatory framework for U.S. commercial space activities was greatly simplified in November 2015, when the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act was signed into law. See my 31 December 2015 post for details on this Act.

On 3 August 2016, Lunar XPrize competitor Moon Express became the first private enterprise to be licensed by the U.S. Government (the Federal Aviation Administration) to conduct a mission to the lunar surface. Other Lunar XPrize competitors also are seeking similar approvals in preparation for lunar missions before the end of 2017.

Let’s take a look at how the private sector got this far.

Northrop Grumman / NASA Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE

In October 2007, XPrize and Northrop Grumman, in partnership with NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, launched the $2 million Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE, in which competing teams designed small rocket vehicles capable of routine and safe vertical takeoff and landing for lunar exploration and other applications. You’ll find details on the Lunar Lander XChallenge at the following link and an overview in the following text:

http://lunarlander.xprize.org

Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE badge   Source: XPrize

The XCHALLENGE was divided into two levels.

Level 1:

  • Required a rocket to take off from a designated launch area; climb to a low, fixed altitude of about 50 meters (164 feet); and fly for at least 90 seconds while translating horizontally to a precise landing point on a different landing pad 100 meters (328 feet) from the launch point. The flight must be repeated in reverse within a two and a half hour period.
  • Armadillo Aerospace, of Mesquite, TX won the $350K Level 1 first prize in October 2008. Masten Space Systems of Mojave, CA won the $150K Level 1 second place prize on 7 October 2009 when their Xombie rocket completed its flight with an average landing accuracy of 6.3 inches (16 cm).
  • You can watch a short video on the 2008 Level 1 competition and Armadillo Aerospace’s winning Level 1 flight at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhnY5tT4YeE

Armadillo Level 1 winner Armadillo Aerospace Level 1 winner. Source: NASA

Level 2:

  • Similar to the Level 1 flight profile, but required the rocket to fly for 180 seconds before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface constructed with craters and boulders 100 meters (328 feet) from the launch point. The minimum flight time was calculated so that the Level 2 mission closely simulated the power needed to perform a real descent from lunar orbit down to the surface of the Moon.

XCHALLENGE lunar landing siteLevel 2 landing site. Source: NASA

  • Masten Space Systems won the $1M Level 2 first prize with the flight of their Xoie rocket on 30 October 2009. Xoie completed its Level 2 flight with an average landing accuracy of about 7.5 inches (19 cm). Armadillo Aerospace took second place and a $500K prize with the 12 September 2009 flight of their Scorpius (Super-mod) rocket, which had an average landing accuracy of about 34 inches (89 cm). These prizes were awarded on 5 November 2009 in Washington D.C.

Xoie winning Level 2 flightMasten Aerospace Xoie: Level 2 winner. Source: NASA.

  • You can watch a short video summary on the XCHALLENGE results, including the winning flight by Xoie at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAvZxa1VXKI

Armadillo Scorpius Level 2Armadillo Aerospace’s Scorpius: Level 2 second place. Source: NASA

  • You can watch a short video on the Scorpius 2009 flight at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALKvai4p7OE

The other XCHALLENGE competitors, TrueZer0 and Unreasonable Rockets, failed to qualify for Level 1 or 2.

Google Lunar XPrize

The Google Lunar XPrize was created in 2007, overlapping with the Northrop Grumman / NASA Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE. The Lunar XPrize is intended to actually deliver payloads to the Moon and “incentivize space entrepreneurs to create a new era of affordable access to the Moon and beyond.” The motto for the Google XPrize is: “Back to the Moon for good.”

The basic mission requirements are:

  • Land a privately funded rover on the Moon at a site announced in advance.
  • Travel at least 500 meters along a deliberate path on the lunar surface.
  • Transmit two “Mooncasts” from the surface of the Moon, including specified types of videos and still images.
  • Receive specified data uplinks from Earth and re-transmit the data back to Earth.
  • Deliver a small payload provided by XPrize (not to exceed 500 grams).
  • Private funding for 90% of the total mission cost. No more than 10% government funding, including the value of in-kind support.
  • Launch contract in place by the end of 2016 and mission completion by the end of 2017.

The primary incentives are large financial award to the first and second teams that accomplish all of the mission requirements: $20 million Grand Prize and $5 million for second place. In addition, there are several other financial prizes that add up to total awards of more than $40 million. Of course, the winner will have bragging rights for a long time to come.

  • Milestone prizes: $5.25 million already has been awarded to teams that demonstrated robust hardware in three categories: landing, mobility, and imaging. The following Milestone prize winners have been announced:

Milestone prize winnersSource: XPrize

  • Bonus prizes: Up to $4 million for successfully completing additional scientific and technical tasks not in the mission requirements
  • Apollo Heritage Bonus Prize: $4 million for making an Apollo Heritage Mooncast from the site of an Apollo moon landing.
  • Heritage Bonus Prize: $1 million for making a Mooncast from another site of interest to XPrize.
  • Range Bonus Prize: $2 million for a rover that can traverse five kilometers on the Moon’s surface.
  • Survival Bonus Prize: $2 million for successfully operating on two separate lunar days.
  • Water Detection Bonus Prize: $4 million for producing scientifically conclusive proof of the presence of water on the Moon.

The Google Lunar XPrize home page is at the following link, where you can navigate to many details on this competition and sign up for an XPrize newsletter:

http://lunar.xprize.org

The Google Lunar XPrize began with 29 teams and now 16 remain. As noted above, five teams already have won Milestone prizes.

The three teams that competed in the landing milestone competition are taking different approaches. Astrobotics is using a lunar lander developed by Masten Aerospace. Indus and Moon Express are developing their own lunar landers.

So far, only two teams have launch contracts:

  • On 7 October 2015, the Israeli team SpaceIL became the first Lunar XPrize team to sign a launch contract. They signed a launch services contract with Spaceflight Industries for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher in the second half of 2017.
  • On 8 December 2017, XPrize verified the Moon Express launch contract with Rocket Lab USA. Moon Express contracted for three launches using an Electron booster, which, as of mid-2016, is still being developed.

By the end of 2016, all competitors that intend to continue into the finals must have a launch contract in place.

So far, only three nations have made a soft landing on the Moon: USA, Russia and China. In 2017, a privately funded team may be added to that list.  That would be a paradigm shift for lunar exploration, opening the door for private teams and commercial firms to have regular, relatively low cost access to the Moon.

Update 23 December 2016: Google Lunar XPrize Status

On 22 December 2016, author Daniel Clery posted an article, “Here’s who could win the $20 million XPrize for roving on the moon—but will any science get done?” The author reports that six teams claim to have booked flights to the moon for their lunar landers / rovers. The following chart provides a summary for five of the competitors. The small (4 kg) rover for the sixth competitor, Japan’s Team Hakuto, will be delivered to the moon on the same lander as India’s Team Indus.

LunarXPrixe competitors Dec 2016

Click on the graphic above to enlarge. Source: G. Grullón/Science

As I noted previously, all competitors that intend to continue into the Lunar XPrize finals must have a launch contract in place by the end of 2016, and the mission to the moon must be completed by the end of 2017.

You can read Daniel Clery’s complete article on the Sciencemag.org website, at the following link:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/12/heres-who-could-win-20-million-xprize-roving-moon-will-any-science-get-done?utm_campaign=news_daily_2016-12-22&et_rid=215579562&et_cid=1068715

Update 23 January 2018: Google Lunar XPrize Competion Cancelled

After concluding that none of the remaining competitors could meet the extended 31 March 2018 deadline for landing on the Moon, this competition came to a close, with the $30M in prizes remaining unclaimed.

 

 

NASA’s Valkyrie (R5) Humanoid Robot is Being Groomed to Support Future Space Exploration Missions

The design of National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) humanoid robot R5, commonly known as Valkyrie, started in October 2012 and it was unveiled in December 2013.

NASA Valkyrie robot  Source: NASA

Valkyrie was developed by a team from NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, in partnership with the University of Texas and Texas A&M and with funding from the state of Texas to compete in the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency’s (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC).  You’ll find a technical description of Valkyrie on the IEEE Spectrum website at the following link:

http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/military-robots/nasa-jsc-unveils-valkyrie-drc-robot

In the 2013 DRC Trials Valkyrie was a Track A entry, but it failed to score any points, largely due to unforeseen data communications problems.  An assessment of the developmental and operational problems encountered during the 2013 DRC Trials and another assessment of Valkyrie by the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) is reported on the IEEE Spectrum website at the following link:

http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/update-nasa-valkyrie-robot

Valkyrie did not compete in the 5 – 6 June 2015 DRC Finals. Instead, NASA brought two Valkyrie robots to the DRC Finals for display and demonstration and to help promote NASA’s Space Robotics Challenge (SRC), which was announced in March 2015.

NASA describes the SRC as follows:

“The Space Robotics Challenge is currently contemplated as a dual level, two-track challenge. The Level I challenge would involve a virtual challenge competition in software simulation and the Level II demonstration challenge would involve use of software to control a robot to perform sequences of tasks. Both Levels of the challenge would have a Track A and Track B option. A competitor would pick only one track in which to compete. Track A would utilize the Robonaut 2 platform and focus on simulated in-space tasks such as spacecraft maintenance and operations in transit to Mars, while Track B would utilize the R5 platform robot to perform simulated tasks on planetary surfaces, such as precursor habitat deployment on Mars, or disaster relief in an industrial setting on Earth.”

The highest scoring teams from the Level I (simulation) challenge will be given access to NASA-provided robots to prepare for the Level II (physical) challenge.

You can download a NASA Fact Sheet on SRC at the following link:

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/fs_space_robotics_150908.pdf

As part of SRC, NASA awarded Valkyrie robots to two university groups that competed in the DRC Finals. The winners announced in November 2015 were:

  • A team at MIT under the leadership of Russ Tedrake. Team MIT placed 6th in the 2015 DRC Finals with an Atlas robot built by Boston Dynamics
  • A team at Northeastern University under the leadership of Taskin Padir, who formerly was Co-PI of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) – Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) team that placed 7th in the DRC Finals with an upgraded Atlas robot known as Warner.

Each team has possession of a Valkyrie robot for two years; receives up to $250,000; and has access to onsite and virtual technical support from NASA. NASA stated that, “The robots will have walking, balancing and manipulating capabilities so that future research may focus on the development of complex behaviors that would advance autonomy for bipedal humanoid robots.” These two teams will not compete in the SRC Level I challenge, but will be eligible to compete in the Level II challenge.

An assessment of Valkyrie’s potential roles in future missions to Mars was published in 23 June 2015 on the IEEE Spectrum website. You can read this article at the following link:

http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/nasa-wants-help-training-valkyrie-robot-to-go-to-mars

The types of activities a humanoid robot might perform on a Mars mission are expected to become tasks to be demonstrated by each team choosing Track B in the SRC.

In the time between the DRC Finals and the SRC Level II competitions, I’m sure we’ll see substantial improvements in humanoid robot performance.

Solar Impulse 2 is Making its way Across the USA

If you have been reading the Pete’s Lynx blog for a while, then you should be familiar with the remarkable team that created the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft and is attempting to make the first flight around the world on solar power.  The planned route is shown in the following map.

Solar Impulse 2 route map

Image source: Solar Impulse

I refer you to my following posts for background information:

  • 10 March 2015: Solar Impulse 2 Designed for Around-the-World Flight on Solar Power
  • 3 July 2015: Solar Impulse 2 Completes Record Solo, Non-Stop, Solar-Powered Flight from Nagoya, Japan to Oahu, Hawaii
  • 27 February 2016: Solar Impulse 2 Preparing for the Next Leg of its Around-the-World Journey

Picking off where these stories left off in Hawaii, Solar Impulse 2 has made four more flights:

  • 21 – 24 April 2016: Hawaii to Moffett Field, near San Francisco, CA; 2,539 miles (4,086 km) in 62 h 29 m
  • 2 – 3 May 2016: San Francisco to Phoenix, AZ; 692 miles (1,113 km) in 15 h 52 m
  • 12 – 13 May 2016: Phoenix to Tulsa, OK; 976 miles (1,570 km) in 18 h 10 m
  • 21 – 22 May 2016: Tulsa to Dayton, OH; 692 miles (1,113 km) in 16 h 34 m

From the above distances and flight times, the average speed of Solar Impulse 2 across the USA was a stately 43.6 mph (70.2 kph).  Except for the arrival in the Bay Area, I think the USA segments of the Solar Impulse 2 mission have been given remarkably little coverage by the mainstream media.

SI2 flying above the USAImage source: Solar Impulse

Regarding the selection of Dayton as a destination for Solar Impulse 2, the team posted the following:

“On his way to Dayton, Ohio, hometown of Wilbur and Orville Wright, André Borschberg pays tribute to pioneering spirit, 113 years after the two brothers succeeded in flying the first power-driven aircraft heavier than air.

To develop their wing warping concept, the two inventors used their intuition and observation of nature to think out of the box. They defied current knowledge at a time where all experts said it would be impossible. When in 1903, their achievement marked the beginning of modern aviation; they did not suspect that a century later, two pioneers would follow in their footsteps, rejecting all dogmas to fly an airplane around the world without a drop of fuel.

This flight reunites explorers who defied the impossible to give the world hope, audacious men who believed in their dream enough to make it a reality.”

Wright Bros and SI2 pilotsImage source: Solar Impulse.

You can see in the above route map that future destinations are not precisely defined. Flight schedules and specific routes are selected with due consideration for en-route weather.

The Solar Impulse 2 team announced that its next flight is scheduled to take off from Dayton on 24 May and make an 18-hour flight to the Lehigh Valley Airport in Pennsylvania. Following that, the next flight is expected to be to an airport near New York City.

If you haven’t been following the flight of Solar Impulse 2 across the USA, I hope you will start now. This is a remarkable aeronautical mission and it is happening right now. You can check out the Solar Impulse website at:

http://www.solarimpulse.com

If you wish, you can navigate to and sign up for e-mail updates on future flights. Here’s the direct link:

http://www.solarimpulse.com/subscribe

With these updates, you also will be able to access live video feeds during the flights. OK, the videos are mostly pretty boring, but they are remarkable nonetheless because of the mission you have an opportunity to watch, even briefly, in real time.

There’s much more slow, steady flying to come before Solar Impulse 2 completes its around-the-world journey back to Abu Dhabi. I send my best wishes for a successful mission to the brave pilots, André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, and to the entire Solar Impulse 2 team.

 

 

 

Polymagnets® will Revolutionize the Ways in Which Magnets are Used

The U.S firm Correlated Magnetics Research (CMR), Huntsville, AL, invented and is the sole manufacturer of Polymagnets®, which are precision-tailored magnets that enhance existing and new products with specific behaviors that go far beyond the simple attract-and-repel behavior of common magnets. Polymagnets have been granted over 100 patents, all held by CMR. You can visit their website at the following link:

http://www.polymagnet.com

CMR describes Polymagnets® as follows:

“Essentially programmable magnets, Polymagnets are the first fundamental advance in magnets in 180 years, since the introduction of electromagnets. With Polymagnets, new products can have softer ‘feel’ or snappier or crisper closing or opening behavior, and may be given the sensation of a spring or latch”.

On a conventional magnet, there is a North (N) pole on one surface and a South (S) pole on the opposite surface. Magnetic field lines flow around the magnetic from pole to pole. On a Polymagnet®, many small, polarized (N or S) magnetic pixels (“maxels”) are manufactured by printing in a desired pattern on the same surface. The magnetic field lines are completed between the maxels on that surface, resulting in a very compact, strong magnetic field. This basic concept is shown in the following figure.

Polymagnet field comparison

The mechanical 3-D behavior of a Polymagnet® is determined by the pattern and strength of the maxels embedded on the surface of the magnet. These customizable behaviors include spring, latch, shear, align, snap, torque, hold, twist, soften and release. The very compact magnetic field reduces magnetic interference with other equipment, opening new applications for Polymagnets® where a conventional magnet wouldn’t be suitable.

The above figure is a screenshot from the Smarter Every Day 153 video, which you can view at the following link. Thanks to Mike Spaeth for sending me this is a 10-minute video, which I think you will enjoy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IANBoybVApQ

More information on Polymagnet® technology, including short videos that demonstrate different mechanical behaviors, and a series of downloadable white papers, is available at the following link.

http://www.polymagnet.com/polymagnets/

This is remarkable new technology in search of novel applications. Many practical applications are identified on the Polymagnet® website. What are your ideas?

If you really want to look into this technology, you can buy a Polymagnet® demonstration kit at the following links:

https://www.magnetics.com/product.asp?ProductID=164

or,

http://www.mechanismsmarket.com/kits/

Polymagnet demo kit   Source: Mechanisms Market