I have mentioned before that I grew up in Rochester, New York and I even discussed the beauty of the fall foliage and the chore of raking up those dead leaves. Some of the most colorful trees are the many varieties of maple trees.
As youngsters we got a kick out of watching those maple trees drop their seeds and have them twirl like mini-helicopters in the air as they fell to the ground. We would often gather up a bunch of them and throw them in the air and let the wind keep them in the air a little longer than they normally would.
Those winged seeds are actually called double samaras with common descriptive names like helicopters or whirligigs. You might be wondering where I am going with this train of thought. Actually my topic this week is not about the Maple tree (Acer spp.) seeds that are spread in such a fascinating way. Instead, it is about a new device that looks and acts like these seeds.
An article from Physics.org titled Artificial “maple seeds” from rockets published March 8, 2018 by the Vienna University of Technology immediately grabbed my attention just because of its tittle. The project is called “Project Daedalus” and its purpose is to return rocket launched probes back to earth without the use of parachutes. Here’s how they describe the project: “Tubular measurement devices will be transported to an altitude of 80 kilometres by a rocket and will then return earth undamaged and entirely unassisted.” “Now the students’ association at TU Wien is joining forces with a student team from the University of Wurtzburg to make the idea of space probes autonomously returning to earth a reality.” This technology could really improve the collection of atmospheric data that could give meteorologists better information available to use in the preparation of their weather forecasts and other atmospheric research.
TU Wien or Technische Universität Wien is located in Vienna, Austria. According to their website “TU Wien is is among the most successful universities in Europe and is Austria’s largest scientific-technical research and educational institution.”
A collaboration among the German Aerospace Centre, the Swedish National Space Board, and the European Space Agency (ESA) forms “Rexus/Bexus. The plan is for the TU Wein Space Team to join up with one their two already planned launches of rockets and deploy their devices to prove the worth of the project. The TU Wein Space Teams own rockets are not capable of attaining the altitude needed for the project. The reason the larger rocket plan is revolutionary is that the rocket will reach 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) into the atmosphere while standard weather balloons attain only 30 to 40 kilometers (19-25 miles) in altitude before they burst and their parachute opens allowing the weather package to flutter safely to the ground. The added height could give meteorologists even better insight into the workings of the atmosphere above what is usually examined.
Three “winged” probes will be loaded into the rocket folded up. When they are ejected from the rocket they will open up allowing their wings to act as helicopter rotor blades giving the instruments onboard time to record acceleration, temperature, and air pressure. They will contain GPS modules so they can be found as soon as possible when the safely land.
The earliest scheduled launch date for this project was March 12th which has passed, but as far as I know the launch has not taken place as of publication of this article.
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