Tuesday, May 25, 2021

SMBC Aviation Capital orders Boeing 737 MAX jets

SMBC Aviation Capital announced Tuesday they have ordered 14 additional Boeing 737-8 jets, growing its 737 MAX portfolio. The new order comes as airlines prepare for a robust return to air travel and modernize their narrowbody fleets to reduce fuel use and carbon emissions.

SMBC says it is seeing increased customer demand for the 737 MAX jet following its successful return to service.

The new purchase builds SMBC Aviation Capital's 737 MAX portfolio to 121 jets, expanding their investment in Boeing's single-aisle family. In the first quarter of 2021, the lessor delivered 13 737-8s to customers, including 11 planes to Southwest Airlines in the U.S. and two planes to TUI in Europe.

The SMBC Aviation Capital purchase follows recent orders and commitments from Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines. The total number of gross orders and commitments for the 737 MAX this year now exceeds 250 airplanes.

A member of the 737 MAX family, the 737-8 is designed to offer more fuel efficiency, reliability and flexibility in the single-aisle market. The 737-8 can fly 3,550 nautical miles – about 600 miles farther than its predecessor – allowing airlines to offer new and more direct routes for passengers. Compared to the airplanes it replaces, the 737-8 also delivers superior efficiency, reducing fuel use and CO2 emissions by 16% and also reducing operating costs.

SMBC Aviation Capital is one of the world's leading aircraft lessors, with 85 airline customers in 36 countries. As of March, the company owned and managed 496 aircraft.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Next Starliner flight will test capabilities to carry astronauts on future missions

NASA's Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station is scheduled for launch in July. This will be the second uncrewed flight test of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

Liftoff on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Starliner is targeted for 2:53 p.m. EDT July 30, from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The uncrewed mission will test the end-to-end capabilities of the Starliner spacecraft and Atlas V rocket from launch to docking to a return to Earth in the western United States. Following a successful completion of the OFT-2 mission, NASA and Boeing are targeting late 2021 for NASA's Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT), Starliner's first flight with astronauts aboard. Currently, NASA launches U.S. astronauts to the space station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft and U.S. SpaceX Dragon vehicles.

OFT-2 and CFT will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying Boeing's crew transportation system for regular flights with astronauts to and from the space station.

The rollout of the Starliner spacecraft from Boeing's Commercial Cargo and Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is scheduled for 4 a.m. EDT July 17.

NASA's laser communications demonstration launch

NASA's Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will fly as a payload on STPSat-6, the primary spacecraft of the third Space Test Program (STP-3) mission for the Department of Defense. STP-3 is scheduled to lift off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket June 23, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

LCRD represents a significant step toward making operational laser, or optical, communications a reality. The payload's microwave-oven-size optical modules will send and receive data over infrared lasers – not visible to the human eye – at 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit to Earth. At that rate, it's possible to download a two-hour movie in about 20 seconds.

Once LCRD is in orbit and positioned more than 22,000 miles above Earth, engineers will beam data between LCRD and optical ground stations located in Table Mountain, California, and Haleakalā, Hawaii. Experiments will allow engineers to refine the transmission process, study different operational scenarios, and refine tracking systems. LCRD will generate essential data and information to prepare laser communications systems for operational missions, as engineers cannot replicate the same conditions with ground tests.

Later in its mission, LCRD will conduct optical communications relay services with a future terminal on the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS terminal is expected to launch on a commercial resupply services mission in 2022. These operations could prove the viability of using laser communications in future crewed missions to the Moon and Mars.

The LCRD mission is led by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Partners include NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

Virginia rocket launch may be visible in US mid-Atlantic region

A NASA sounding rocket mission, launching Wednesday, will study radio waves that escape through the Earth’s ionosphere impacting the environment surrounding Global Positioning System (GPS) and geosynchronous satellites, such as those for weather monitoring and communications.

Launching from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, a Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket will carry the Vlf trans-Ionospheric Propagation Experiment Rocket, or VIPER. The mission is scheduled for at 9:15 p.m. EDT. The launch may be visible in the mid-Atlantic region.

VIPER is studying very low frequency radio, or VLF, waves that are produced by both natural (e.g. lightning) and artificial means. During the day these waves are trapped or absorbed by the Earth’s ionosphere. At night, however, some of the waves escape through the ionosphere and accelerate electrons in the Van Allen Radiation Belt.

“At night, the lower layers of the ionosphere are much less dense, and more of the VLF can leak through, propagate along the Earth's magnetic field lines,” said John Bonnell, the project’s principal investigator from the University of California, Berkeley.

“Those belts of intense energetic electron fluxes cover a range of distances from the Earth, from as close as 14,300 miles altitude out to 23,500 miles altitude. GPS satellites and geosynchronous satellites orbit the Earth at these altitudes. So, satellites in those orbits are often engulfed by the Van Allen Radiation Belts and have to tolerate the effects those energetic particles have on electronics and materials,” said Bonnell.

In addition to the in-situ measurements made by VIPER as it flies through the area of interest, the mission also will employ numerous ground-based systems, including those in Maine, North Carolina, Georgia, Colorado and Virginia.

“It was surprising to find that while lots of ground-based and orbital observations of the VLF absorption/reflections/transmission had been made, there's not been any measurements right in the region where all the action happens. While we have good models of what to expect in such regions, actual measurements are key to pin down the details of those models, as well as to develop the instruments required to explore more challenging regions,” said Bonnell.

The two-stage Terrier-Improved Malemute rocket will carry the VIPER payload to an altitude of about 94 miles before descending and landing in the Atlantic Ocean. The payload will not be recovered.