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Tomorrow’s Aerospace Engineers Go From Race Cars To Rockets

Engineering students from 100 universities are coming together to compete in the Formula SAE (Society of Automative Engineers). Held in Lincoln, Nebraska, the competition isn’t focused on speed alone, but the design, development, endurance, and presentation of small Formula-style race cars. The event is more than just a way for promising engineering students to show off their skills; it has become a talent pool for major aerospace and tech companies seeking new hires and interns.

FileSae endurancejpg

Image Source: Wikimedia

A Combination Of Passion Drive And Talent

SpaceX, the Hawthorne, CA based space exploration giant and aerospace manufacturer has used the Formula SAE as a regular recruiting opportunity. The company takes on 700 student interns each year, with anywhere between 50 and 60 of those students coming from Formula SAE. “For any candidate, the ones that are most successful at SpaceX have a combination of passion, drive and talent. And to me, (Formula SAE) plays into the passion piece,” said Brian Bjelde, SpaceX’s vice president of human resources.

Producing Under Pressure

Former head of SpaceX’s talent acquisition, Dolly Signh has pointed out how the process of designing, developing and putting Formula race cars to the test is reflective of the demanding production environment in aerospace engineering and manufacturing. “The great thing about (Formula SAE) is it’s a full production cycle. These kids build the car from scratch. They have to test in a high pressure situation and see how it performs.”

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Image Source: Wikimedia

Seeking An Eye For Design And Analysis

Scaled Composites, and aerospace company that’s now part of Northrop Gruman Corp., has also used the Formula SAE competition as a recruiting and mentoring opportunity. The company has shown special interest in recruiting students that are focused on the design and analysis of the cars. Executive assistant to Scaled Composites’ VP of engineering, Kelsey Gould has said, “We do look for engineers that are hands-on. They’re really committed to figuring things out on their own.”


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Electric Aircraft Makers Planning Affordable Shuttle Services

Aerospace engineers increasingly envision city skies buzzing quietly with electric air taxis. Known as eVTOL vehicles, or electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, the zero-emission aircraft can launch and land like helicopters, but without the noise and fossil fuel consumption. Investors foresee them operating from urban “vertiports” that connect with large airports or shuttle people between regional cities. Electric aircraft could cost less to use than helicopters and provide a viable transportation option to the public.

Speed And Range Capabilities

Archer, an eVTOL startup, expects to unveil its first aircraft in 2024. Designers say that it will have a range of about 60 miles and be capable of a maximum speed of 150 mph. A 1-hour car ride could become a 15 or 20-minute flight.

Heavy eVTOL Investment

Seeing potential in these small, short-range passenger vehicles, United Airlines has invested in the eVTOL startup Archer and ordered 200 aircraft for a cost of $1 billion.

Automaker money is on the table too for eVTOLs. The merger of the automakers Fiat Chrysler and PSA Peugeot formed the company Stellantis, which has also invested in Archer.

The companies Solvay and Vertical Aerospace have agreed to collaborate and build an eVTOL. Solvay brings advanced composite and adhesive materials to the venture, and Vertical Aerospace specializes in sustainable aviation technologies. They plan to present the world with a working prototype, the VA-1X aircraft, by September 2021.

The five-seater Joby electric aircraft

Safety And Cost Advantages

Electric motors are less vulnerable to breakdowns compared to conventional engines. Additionally, electric motors weigh less, which means a single aircraft could have many engines. Such redundancy would guard against the threat of total engine failure during a flight.

Electrical charging costs less than engines that directly burn fossil fuels. On top of reducing this expense, aerospace scientists are working toward autonomous eVTOLs operated by sophisticated software, which would eliminate the cost of paying a pilot.

How far do you think electric aerospace technology could go? Could it eventually work for long-range passenger flights?

ABOUT Archer

Our mission is to advance the benefits of sustainable air mobility. By creating the world’s leading air mobility network, we will help push the world towards a zero-emissions future.

  1. Build an aircraft to demonstrate the capabilities of electric VTOL
  2. Certify an aircraft that is just as safe as commercial airliners
  3. Launch commercial routes in cities & integrate autonomous systems for safety

ABOUT Solvay

Solvay is a science company whose technologies bring benefits to many aspects of daily life. Our purpose—we bond people, ideas and elements to reinvent progress—is a call to go beyond, to reinvent future forms of progress and create sustainable shared value for all through the power of science. In a world facing an ever-growing population and quest for resources, we aim to be the driving force triggering the next breakthroughs to enable humanity to advance while protecting the planet we all share.

We bond with customers and partners to address today and tomorrow’s megatrends. As a global leader in Materials, Chemicals and Solutions, Solvay brings advancements in planes, cars, batteries, smart and medical devices, water and air treatment, to solve critical industrial, social and environmental challenges. You can count on our innovative solutions to contribute to safer, cleaner and more sustainable future.

ABOUT Vertical Aerospace

Vertical Aerospace believes passionately in the power of electric flight to change the way the world travels because you shouldn’t have to sacrifice the planet you live on to get from A to B.

Founded by greentech entrepreneur Stephen Fitzpatrick in 2016, Vertical Aerospace has been disrupting the way aircraft are developed. Combining the rigour and discipline of aerospace with the pace and agility of F1 enables Vertical to develop cutting-edge electric aircraft.

VA-1X, Vertical’s flagship aircraft, is a piloted all-electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) which will carry four passengers for 100 miles at cruise speeds of 150mph. It is currently in development with flight testing taking place in 2021, followed by certification in 2024 with initial commercial services starting shortly afterwards.

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NASA’s Chainmail Tire Is Ready For Extraterrestrial Terrain

What happens when your planetary rover punctures its wheel and the nearest service station is about 34 million miles away? That’s a real problem for NASA and their plans to send another rover to Mars in 2020. Curiosity, the rover currently exploring the red planet, has been hindered by punctures in its aluminum wheels, but a new type of tire could make travel much smoother for NASA’s future Mars missions.

Durability testing at JPL

Image Source: NASA

Updating For Durability And Flexibility For The Unfamiliar

Based on the Resilient Wheel design from the original 1970 Lunar Roving Vehicle, a new type of airless, woven tire has been developed to prevent punctures and reliably travel across unfamiliar planetary terrain. After years of development and challenges in achieving the right balance of durability and traction, NASA engineer, Colin Creager and materials scientist Santo Padula created a stoichiometric nickel-titanium alloy wheel that’s durable, flexible, and is able to spring back to shape even after its deformed.

Durability testing at JPL

Image Source: NASA

A Prototype With Promise

The wheel is comprised of a series of interlocking coils, similar to chainmail. While the original Resilient Wheel used steel mesh, the updated version provides better spring deflection and traction on rough terrain. Tests of the new prototype show promise, although NASA has not yet confirmed whether this specific design will be the one that’s used on its 2020 Mars rover. The chainmail wheels may however, play an integral role in the next crewed exploration vehicle, which would allow for speedier travel and more weight capacity than the Curiosity rover.


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Inflatable Habitat May Become A Home On Mars

The B330 is an inflatable module that may someday enable humans to live and work in orbit around the moon, and even on Mars. The endeavor belongs to Bigelow Aerospace, a company that is now working with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to get their inflatable lunar orbit station into space.

Image Source: Engadget

Compact, Lightweight, Suitable For Space

Bigelow Aerospace has had previous success launching inflatable units beyond Earth’s atmosphere. The company created BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module), which was added to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2016, extending the station’s living space after an easy set up. Other advantages that include durability and a compact, lightweight structure that lends itself well to transport aboard a cargo capsule.

Future Plans For Low Lunar Orbit

B330, the newest module, could be launched into low lunar orbit as soon as 2022 after hitching a ride on ULA’s Vulcan 562 rocket. This module is larger than BEAM, offering 330 cubic meters of volume—about a third of the size of the ISS. It’s spacious enough to accommodate a crew of six. Once B330 enters orbit around the moon, Bigelow Aerospace will outfit the habitat and ensure that it’s fully functional. It may then serve as a base for future Moon-based developments and as a training and research location for astronauts and long term space exploration prep.

Image Source: Engadget

Part Of A Return To The Moon

ULA and Bigelow Aerospace’s partnership on this endeavor—sometimes called “the lunar depot”—could be a springboard into more ambitious plans for returning to the Moon. While NASA has expressed interest in merging its own lunar exploration plans with Bigelow Aerospace and ULA, it’s not yet clear if, or how soon, funding for a return to the Moon will be available.


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