San Francisco Airport uses tech to meet runway safety standards

For the most part, major airports like San Francisco International avoid closing runways whenever possible. But on May 17, SFO will cut its number of active runways in half just as the summer travel season begins.

The reason isn't the low clouds that often slow air traffic at the Bay Area's largest airport, but rather the last phase of a $214 million project designed to bring SFO's runways up to federal safety standards. Airport officials insist the project will result in only minimal delays, but a looming deadline to complete the work means that the airport has … Read more

With VTOL X-Planes, DARPA aims for a futuristic lift

The helicopters of the future may not look much like helicopters at all, at least in one scheme that DARPA is cooking up.

That's because DARPA, the arm of the Pentagon known for its fanciful and even sci-fi approach to military technology, wants "radical improvements" in aircraft that are capable, as helicopters are and fixed-wing planes are not, of vertical takeoff and landing, or VTOL.

The brainstorming agency has now moved a bit closer to realizing its vertical-lift ambitions. Through its VTOL X-Plane program, DARPA has awarded contracts to four companies -- heavyweights Boeing and Sikorsky, and … Read more

15 space organizations join hunt for missing Malaysian jet

As the latest piece of technology to be enlisted in the search for missing Malaysian flight MH370, satellites have the eyes of the world watching them as they watch us.

On Monday, a crowdsourcing platform called Tomnod, along with parent company DigitalGlobe, launched a crowdsourcing campaign to enlist the help of citizens in scouring satellite images to search for the plane that disappeared on March 7.

China has followed that up by activating the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters to join the hunt on Tuesday. The goal of the charter is to enlist space data from 15 member organizations to provide assistance in the case of a "natural or technological disaster." The charter describes such a disaster as "a situation of great distress involving loss of human life or large-scale damage to property, caused by a natural phenomenon, such as a cyclone, tornado, earthquake, volcanic eruption, flood or forest fire, or by a technological accident, such as pollution by hydrocarbons, toxic or radioactive substances."… Read more

Boeing test-flies another maritime surveillance aircraft

Boeing has another oceangoing patrol airplane up its sleeve.

The defense contractor this week said that its descriptively named Maritime Surveillance Aircraft demonstrator recently made its first flight, a four-hour test of airworthiness from Pearson International Airport in Toronto. The next two months will bring additional airworthiness tests.

A little more than a week ago, Boeing was talking up its other, and bigger, maritime patrol aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, saying that it was shifting to full-rate production of the plane under a $2.4 billion contract from the US Navy. Boeing has delivered 13 of the Poseidons to the the … Read more

The P-8A Poseidon adventure begins for the Navy

The US Navy likes to dip into Greek and Roman mythology to name the aircraft it puts on the front lines of maritime patrol missions and antisubmarine warfare.

Once there was the P-2 Neptune, which went into service not long after World War II and has long since been retired. The early 1960s brought the P-3 Orion, the scions of which are still on active duty today. Now, to replace the venerable Orion, comes the P-8A Poseidon.

At the beginning of December 2013, a half-dozen Poseidons arrived at Kadena Air Base on the island of Okinawa for the aircraft's … Read more

Storm-tracking NOAA satellite system gets a technology boost

A three-satellite storm-tracking system run by the U.S. government is getting some updates that will support a complete technological refresh.

Raytheon said today that it has booked $185 million in new business for the Joint Polar Satellite System's Common Ground System. The JPSS, a collaborative system between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, is a polar-orbiting environmental system designed to both track storms and other weather events and take and send back to Earth imagery showing changes in the planet's environment over time.

Currently, the contract for the JPSS ground control system is worth $1.… Read more

DARPA's hot for futuristic helicopter-like delivery drones

In hard-to-reach war zones, it can be near impossible to get supplies to ground soldiers or conduct rescue missions without coming under enemy fire or landing in minefields.

Spurred by these logistical issues, the US Department of Defense in its DARPA division is pushing to develop unmanned helicopter-like aircraft -- aka drones -- for supply runs, airborne reconnaissance missions, and casualty evacuations.

Not your ordinary drones, these futuristic machines will be designed to carry up to 3,000 pounds, have their own power system, fuel, digital flight controls, and remote command-and-control interfaces. As envisioned by DARPA, troops will be able … Read more

Airbus A350 heads to northern Canada for tests in cold, snow

Anyone suffering from cold winter weather in the United States should think of the plight of 48 Airbus employees who have taken a test version of the company's new A350 XWB passenger jet to Iqaluit, Canada.

Airbus specialists began testing the new twin-aisle jet in Iqaluit, a small town on Baffin Island, north of Newfoundland and west of Greenland, the company said Tuesday. Airbus debuted the energy-efficient A350 XWB at the Paris air show in June 2013, pitting it chiefly against Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.

The cold-weather testing is geared to confirm that the jet can operate successfully, to … Read more

This dwarf planet may contain more freshwater than Earth

For the very first time, water vapor has been detected on an object in the asteroid belt, providing definitive proof that Ceres, the dwarf planet, contains both an atmosphere and a surface of ice. If that ice were to melt, scientists postulate, the tiny planet only 590 miles in diameter may possibly contain more freshwater than all of Earth.

The discovery, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, was made by a team at the European Space Agency (ESA) under the Herschel mission, using the infrared telescope of the same name -- the largest, most powerful ever to fly in space -- to help scientists study the evolution of the universe and its various celestial components. Herschel also is pivotal in contributing to coinciding NASA projects, namely the mission seeing the Dawn spacecraft to Ceres at this very moment. … Read more

Why I want to live in space: Mars One book to show human side

Despite the understandable delays and roadblocks to its original timeline, the colonization initiative Mars One has succeeded wondrously in one of its less tangible goals: planting seeds in our collective subconscious.

For instance, what would it be like to live out your last days on the Red Planet, surrounded by only a handful of others in close proximity? What are the psychological effects? What will the limitations of the confirmed live stream be, and what happens when something inevitably goes wrong? These are questions the public is now seriously considering, thanks to the mission's open application process and its insistence on a one-way trip to get Earth's Mars colony up and running sooner rather than decades from now, when a return trip may be possible. … Read more