NASA Readies New Electric X-Plane For First Flight

Since 1951, NASA (known in those pre-space days as NACA) and the United States Air Force have used the “X” designation for experimental aircraft that push technological boundaries. The best known of these vehicles, such as the X-1 and X-15, were used to study flight at extreme altitude and speed. Several fighter jets got their start as X-planes over the decades, and a number of hypersonic scramjet vehicles have flown under the banner. As such, the X-planes are often thought of as the epitome of speed and maneuverability.

So the X-57 Maxwell, NASA’s first piloted X-plane in two decades, might seem like something of a departure from the blistering performance of its predecessors. It’s not going to fly very fast, it won’t be making any high-G turns, and it certainly won’t be clawing its way through the upper atmosphere. The crew’s flight gear won’t even be anything more exotic than a polo and a pair of shorts. As far as cutting-edge experimental aircraft go, the X-57 is about as laid back as it gets.

But like previous X-planes, the Maxwell will one day be looked back on as a technological milestone of its own. Just as the X-1 helped usher in the era of supersonic flight, the X-57 has been developed so engineers can better understand the unique challenges of piloted electric aircraft. Before they can operate in the public airspace, the performance characteristics and limitations of electric planes must be explored in real-world scenarios. The experiments performed with the X-57 will help guide certification programs and government rule making that needs to be in place before such aircraft can operate on a large scale.

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A 3D Printed Kinematic Camera Mount

[Enginoor] is on a quest. He wants to get into the world of 3D printing, but isn’t content to run off little toys and trinkets. If he’s going to print something, he wants it to be something practical and ideally be something he couldn’t have made quickly and easily with more traditional methods. Accordingly, he’s come out the gate with a fairly strong showing: a magnetic Maxwell kinematic coupling camera mount.

If you only recognized some of those terms, don’t feel bad. Named for its creator James Clerk Maxwell who came up with the design in 1871, the Maxwell kinematic coupling is self-orienting connection that lends itself to applications that need a positive connection while still being quick and easy to remove. Certainly that sounds like a good way to stick a camera on a tripod to us.

But the Maxwell design, which consists of three groves and matching hemispheres, is only half of the equation. It allows [enginoor] to accurately and repeatably line the camera up, but it doesn’t have any holding power of its own. That’s where the magnets come in. By designing pockets into both parts, he was able to install strong magnets in the mating faces. This gives the mount a satisfying “snap” when attaching that he trusts it enough to hold his Canon EOS 70D and lens.

[enginoor] says he could have made the holes a bit tighter for the magnets (thereby skipping the glue he’s using currently), but otherwise his first 3D printed design was a complete success. He sent this one off to Shapeways to be printed, but in the future he’s considering taking the reins himself if he can keep coming up with ideas worth committing to plastic.

Of course we’ve seen plenty of magnetic camera mounts in the past, but we really like the self-aligning aspect of this design. It definitely seems to fit the criterion for something that would otherwise have been difficult to fabricate if not for 3D printing.

[Ben Krasnow] Shows Us How A Crookes Radiometer Works

[Ben Krasnow] is tackling the curious Crookes Radiometer on his Applied Science YouTube channel. The Crookes Radiometer, a staple of museum gift shops everywhere, is a rather simple device. A rotor with black and white vanes rotates on the head of a needle. The entire assembly is inside a glass envelope. The area inside the glass is not at a hard vacuum, nor is it filled with some strange gas. The radiometer only works when there is a partial vacuum inside.

The radiometer’s method of operation was long misunderstood. Sir William Crookes and James Clerk Maxwell both believed that the vanes moved due to the pressure of the photons hitting the vanes. If that were true though, the radiometer would spin in the opposite direction it normally does when held near a light source.  It was eventually discovered that the system is a thermodynamic one. [Ben] proves this by cooling down the radiometer’s glass with a can of freeze spray.  The radiometer immediately begins spinning backwards, with no light source present.

From there [Ben] mounts the rotor of a radiometer inside his vacuum chamber, which many will recognize as the chamber from his DIY electron microscope. As expected, the vanes don’t spin at a hard vacuum. In fact, [Ben] find the vanes spin fastest when the pressure is about 7 mTorr.

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