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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Malloy Hoverbike

When I was drafting the outline for my second book, I asked myself a question:  "What's something I've always wanted to have?"  Since I had set up a world in the first book in which nearly anything was possible, the second book allowed me to play a little bit in that world.  So I decided I should give my protagonist something that I had always wanted, but what should that something be?

The answer I came up with - A Flying Motorcycle

Of course the great thing about writing fantasy is whatever you can imagine can happen.  There are no prototypes required.  No components to design, stress to failure, and then refine, no physical restrictions to overcome.  There have been plenty of flying motorcycles in films and literature - where they're so easy to create - but none in the real world where the challenges of actually making one are so daunting.

Until now.

As I type this, an ambitious inventor in Australia is working to bring that fantasy to a flying motorcycle dealer near you.  Christopher Malloy, a Sydney helicopter pilot, has devoted large amounts of his own time and money designing and developing the prototype you see pictured here.  That prototype is generating quite a bit of interest from the dreamers among us.  If all goes well, that enthusiasm will translate to dollars and expertise that will, hopefully, allow this project to literally get off the ground (if anyone reading this would like to help there are opportunities available through Malloy's website ).

The design seems so simple, you might find yourself wondering: "Why hasn't someone done this before?"  But I think something like this might have been impossible or prohibitively expensive 20 years ago before engines were as powerful, materials as light and strong, and computers as capable as they've become in recent years.  The vehicle uses a carbon fiber structure that brings weight in at an amazing 240 lbs ( for comparison, Yamaha claims a wet-weight for their ultra high-performance YZF-R1 of 454 lbs ), and that light-weight structure is powered by a 110 hp BMW boxer engine.

As a motorcycle enthusiast, I was a little curious regarding the engine choice since there are more powerful motorcycle engines available.  I assume the key to the the BMW engine is it is one of the most powerful and sophisticated air-cooled engines currently available.  When low weight is the priority, a liquid cooled engine can add a lot of weight and complexity.

Safety has clearly been considered and Malloy included redundant systems and parachutes built into the unit (and an advantage of the open design is that an operator can wear a personal parachute as well).  Software is currently being refined and tested (as illustrated in the below video) with a scale model of the vehicle.

It will be classified as an 'ultralight' which will make it much easier to own and operate from a regulatory perspective than more traditional aircraft ( more information on ultralight regs here: )

I wish Mr. Malloy success with this endeavor.  Unfortunately, I don't have the money and/or technical expertise to help him in any significant way, but while my resources are limited, hopefully someone reading this may have more to offer.

There is contact information on the official website ( )  and you can follow progress on facebook (!/pages/Hoverbike/118248294912613 ).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Orion Spacecraft

In July 2011 an era ended when the Space Shuttle flew its last mission - STS 135.  So what's next?

The Orion Spacecraft has been touted as the shuttles 'replacement', but I'm not sure if that's an accurate description because Orion will have very different capabilities than the shuttles.

Superficially, the Orion 'crew module' appears very similar to the Apollo capsule, but it is scaled up in a way that isn't visually obvious.  The crew module will have 2.5 times the interior volume of the Apollo capsule and will be able to support a crew of up to six astronauts compared the Apollo maximum of three.  Like the Apollo craft, the Orion will also have a 'service module' to accompany the actual capsule.

While the Orion may, because of its similarity to Apollo, seem a 'step back' from the shuttle, it incorporates vastly superior technology and capabilities and is the product of lessons learned from both the Shuttle and Apollo programs. One notable advance over the Apollo craft is a 'launch abort system' that encloses the crew module and can pull the module off the launcher and to safety in the event of an emergency during launch.

The idea of a reusable space 'plane' seemed very attractive forty years ago when the Shuttle was first conceived, but the time and cost associated with reconditioning the spacecraft for flight after each mission made the efficiency and apparent cost savings of such a system questionable.  The shuttle also anchored us to near-earth orbit, because while it performed it's primary task of building and servicing the space-station reasonably well, it was never designed for deep-space missions.

Like the Apollo craft, Orion would have the ability to leave Earth's orbit and is designed to perform missions to the moon, near-earth objects (such as asteroids or comets), and, eventually, Mars.

Orion is currently undergoing extensive testing and on-schedule for it's first unmanned mission in 2014.

You can learn more about Orion and track its progress at NASA's website  and you can also find links there to follow them on Twitter, Facebook etc.