September's top stories: Mars rover takes first drive and GE safety concerns

While Nasa's Curiosity rover began its first major drive across the surface of Mars, GE aircraft engines were inspected following two safety incidents. Aerospace-technology.com wraps up the key headlines from September 2012.


Nasa launches first RBSP dual-spacecraft mission

Nasa

Nasa successfully launched its first dual-spacecraft mission radiation belt storm probes (RBSP) into orbit aboard an Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, US.

The first RBSP spacecraft separated from the Atlas rocket's Centaur booster, while the second spacecraft followed 12 minutes later.

Each of the two satellites, weighing just less than 1,500lbs, have been specifically created to probe into the hazardous regions of the near-Earth area, called the radiation belts.

Lack of bidders halts KAI stake sale

"Korean Air Lines (KAL) emerged as the sole preliminary bidder."

A shareholders plan to sell a 41.75% stake in Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), South Korea's only aircraft manufacturer, for KRW1.05trn ($925m) failed because of a lack of bidders.

Korean Air Lines (KAL) emerged as the sole preliminary bidder, but national-security law requires the submission of two or more bids for the auction to proceed.

Shareholders now plan to meet to decide whether to run another auction, but that is likely to draw only a limited number of bidders as the country's law requires only domestic companies to hold equity in KAI.

Airbus predicts global aircraft demand will soar

Airbus

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus predicted a need for an extra 28,200 passenger and freighter aircraft valued at almost $4tn during the next two decades.

In its latest global market forecast for 2012-2031, the company gave its forward-looking view of the sector's growth after considering various factors, such as urbanisation, environmental impact, emerging markets, population growth and innovation.

Of the total 28,200 aircraft, more than 27,350 will be passenger aircraft, worth $3.7tn.

Mars rover Curiosity to takes its first major drive

Mars rover

Nasa's Curiosity rover began its first major drive across the Mars surface in September and started surveying rocks in order to understand if the planet was once habitable.

Scientists took the control from engineers for the first time following instrument checks, software updates and test drives on Curiosity's 2.1m long arm for some five-and-a-half weeks.

According to Nasa Curiosity mission manager Jennifer Trosper, the rover performed well during all the tests, and is expected to drive towards Glenelg, a location where three kinds of terrain intersect.

NTSB recommends frequent GE engine testing following concerns

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) carries out frequent inspections on General Electric aircraft engines, type GEnx-1B and GEnx-2B, following two safety incidents.

"NTSB has found that engine fan shafts on the GEnx engines were vulnerable."

GE manufactures the GEnx dual-rotor turbofan engine for the Boeing 787 and 747-8 aircraft.

NTSB has found that the engine fan shafts on the GEnx engines were vulnerable to cracking at the forward end of the shaft, where a retaining nut is installed.

Boeing unveils ecoDemonstrator with fuel-efficient technology

Boeing

Also in September, Boeing unveiled a new prototype aircraft equipped with fuel-efficient technology in collaboration with American Airlines and the US Federal Aviation Administration.

Boeing flight tested the next-generation 737-800 ecoDemonstrator aeroplane for 45 days at Glasgow, Montana, before showcasing it at Reagan National Airport in Washington DC.

American Airlines loaned the next-generation aircraft to Boeing in order to test the advanced technologies.

Ireland's Avolon places $2.4bn order for 737 planes

Beoing

There was more good news for Boeing this month when Irish aircraft leasing firm Avolon finalised a firm order for ten of its 737 MAX 8s, five 737 MAX 9s and ten Next-Generation 737-800s aircraft.

With a current list-price value of $2.4bn, the order was first announced by Avolon at the UK's Farnborough Airshow in July.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes Leasing Sales vice president Bill Collins said the Next-Generation 737 was a reliable commercial jet, and that the 737 MAX further built on this efficiency and reliability.

ISS in danger of debris from old Russian satellite

ISS

The International Space Station (ISS) may have to be manoeuvred out of its path in order to avoid collision with two pieces of debris from an old Russian satellite and a fragment from an Indian spacecraft.

Nasa said that the avoidance manoeuvre would be done using the European Space Agency's (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle-3 (ATV-3), which was scheduled to undock from the ISS on 25 September, but had to be postponed due to a communications error.