‘BIG BLUE’ Glider Zooms to New York

Contact: Dan Adkins

 

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BIG BLUE – unique among Mars exploration projects because of its use of inflatable-wing technology – has been a senior design project at the UK College of Engineering since 2002. In all, nearly 200 students have contributed to the project under the oversight of mechanical engineering associate professor Suzanne Weaver Smith.

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 15, 2005) -- Experimental wings designed by University of Kentucky engineering students for Mars exploration will be part of an exhibition focused on technical textiles at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York.

BIG BLUE, which stands for Baseline Inflatable-wing Glider, Balloon-Launched Unmanned Experiment, is a series of high-altitude test experiments to demonstrate new inflatable-wing technology. Like the current Mars rover airbags, the UK-developed wings are designed to be delivered to Mars in a compact package and would be deployed in the upper Martian atmosphere while descending under a balloon or parachute that would permit the wings to inflate and harden in sunlight.

The aircraft would then detach to fly autonomously and gather a broad variety of scientific data as it glided to the planet’s surface.

Wings that inflated and hardened during the May 1, 2004, BIG BLUE experiment after being “launched” under a high-altitude weather balloon from near Denver, Colorado, are part of “Extreme Textiles: Designing for High Performance,” an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City from April 8 through Oct. 30.

The exhibition explores recent advances in technical textiles from a wide range of areas, including architecture, apparel, medicine, transportation, aerospace and the environment.

BIG BLUE – unique among Mars exploration projects because of its use of inflatable-wing technology – has been a senior design project at the UK College of Engineering since 2002. In all, nearly 200 students have contributed to the project under the oversight of mechanical engineering associate professor Suzanne Weaver Smith. The project has involved students in mechanical engineering led by Smith and associate professor Jamey Jacob and in electrical and computer engineering led by associate professors James Lumpp and William Smith and assistant professor Dan Lau.

Among the students was Benjamin Franzini, who now works on Long Island for SAIC and was part of the project’s second phase that produced the wings featured in the exhibit.

BIG BLUE is sponsored by the NASA Workforce Development Program via the

Kentucky Space Grant Consortium. BIG BLUE is being developed in partnership with

engineers at ILC Dover Inc., designers of NASA's spacesuits, Mars lander airbags and other engineered soft goods products, and with members of Edge of Space Sciences, a group of amateur radio and high-altitude ballooning enthusiasts. More information is online.


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