On May 14, 1973, NASA launched the Skylab Orbital Workshop atop its last Saturn V. During liftoff the workshop’s meteoroid shield broke loose and ripped off one of its two main solar panels. The problems were immediately apparent to NASA technicians monitoring the launch. Telemetry went bad soon after the ignition of the mighty Saturn’s second stage, and ground-based radars detected multiple pieces of debris coming off of the station. Skylab entered orbit and jettisoned its large payload fairing as planned, but it was severely damaged….
[W]ith limited data it was difficult to determine a path forward. More data is always useful when dealing with unknown situations, and soon an offer of help came from an unusual corner, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which managed and operated the nation’s top secret intelligence collection satellites.
Major General David Bradburn, who was then the head of the Office of Special Projects, one of the NRO’s component offices and based in Los Angeles, quickly proposed that a GAMBIT-3 spacecraft, also known as the KH-8, readying for launch on May 16, be used to take a photograph of Skylab to assist NASA in planning a repair mission. The manned Skylab 2 mission, which had now become a repair mission, was scheduled to launch on May 25. That short turnaround time meant that the first phase of the GAMBIT’s photographic mission would have to be cut short in order to return the photos earlier so they could be used for planning the repair mission….
Bradburn was able to propose this mission because, for approximately six months, a group of junior Air Force officers in the Special Projects Office had been developing computer algorithms for using a GAMBIT-3 to photograph Soviet spacecraft. Their effort had been instigated by Soviet tests of an anti-satellite capability that the Soviets had declared operational in February 1973. They wanted the capability to take a photograph of a Soviet ASAT vehicle if one ever approached an American spacecraft. Because the computer programs were ready, the NRO was able to respond quickly to the Skylab problem—something that Bradburn was able to tell his superiors, and undoubtedly contributed to them approving the mission.
Cheap, clean water may soon be available for the whole planet. According to Reuters, defense contractor Lockheed Martin has developed a filter that will hugely reduce the amount of energy necessary to turn sea water into fresh water. The filter, which is five hundred times thinner then others currently available, lets water pass through but blocks all salt molecules. It will use almost 100 times less energy than other methods for making salt water drinkable, giving third world countries another way of expanding access to drinking water without having to create costly pumping stations.
An ambitious private manned mission to Mars aims to launch a two-person crew to fly around the Red Planet and return to Earth in 501 days, starting in January 2018.
This bold undertaking is planned by the Inspiration Mars Foundation, a non-profit company founded by millionaire and space tourist Dennis Tito that was officially unveiled on Feb. 27 after early details leaked. Though the spacecraft would not land humans on Mars or even put them in orbit, it would bring people within a few hundred kilometers of the Martian surface — roughly the same distance between the International Space Station and Earth — and represent a major milestone in human spaceflight. If successful, the mission would go down in history as the first time a private company accomplished something government agencies were unable to do in space.
The mission is extremely ambitious, well beyond anything previously accomplished by the private sector and it faces plenty of obstacles. The company has an aggressive schedule to keep if it wants to hit its 2018 mark and needs to make sure the necessary technology is developed and well-tested. Despite its deep-pocketed backer, the mission has nowhere near the funding it needs to launch and will require raising greater sums than have ever been done for a private space endeavor. Its designers also need to figure out exactly how to keep the crew healthy, both physically and psychologically, for the 501-day duration of the flight as they face dangers from radiation, bone and muscle loss, fatigue, and depression. Mission designers will have to ensure they can get the crew safely to the ground when the capsule returns to Earth at a screaming 30,000 mph.
Every day we have to interact with thousands of strangers, from people we pass on the street to people who touch our food to people we enter short-term business relationships with. Even though most of us don’t have the ability to protect our interests with physical force, we can all be confident when dealing with these strangers because — at least in part — we trust that the legal system will intervene on our behalf in case of a problem. Sometimes that problem involves people who break the rules of society, and the criminal courts deal with them; when the problem is a disagreement between two parties, the civil courts will. Courts are an ancient system of justice, and modern society cannot function without them.
What matters in this system are the facts and the laws. Courts are intended to be impartial and fair in doling out their justice, and societies flourish based on the extent to which we approach this ideal. When courts are unfair — when judges can be bribed, when the powerful are treated better, when more expensive lawyers produce more favorable outcomes — society is harmed. We become more fearful and less able to trust each other. We are less willing to enter into agreement with strangers, and we spend more effort protecting our own because we don’t believe the system is there to back us up.
The court of public opinion is an alternative system of justice. It’s very different from the traditional court system: This court is based on reputation, revenge, public shaming, and the whims of the crowd. Having a good story is more important than having the law on your side. Being a sympathetic underdog is more important than being fair. Facts matter, but there are no standards of accuracy. The speed of the internet exacerbates this; a good story spreads faster than a bunch of facts.
This court delivers reputational justice. Arguments are measured in relation to reputation. If one party makes a claim against another that seems plausible, based on both of their reputations, then that claim is likely to be received favorably. If someone makes a claim that clashes with the reputations of the parties, then it’s likely to be disbelieved. Reputation is, of course, a commodity, and loss of reputation is the penalty this court imposes. In that respect, it less often recompenses the injured party and more often exacts revenge or retribution. And while those losses may be brutal, the effects are usually short-lived.
DARPA plans to buy a second Hellads high-energy laser system from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), to provide to the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for the demonstration of a laser weapon system against targets relevant to surface ships.
Hellads is a liquid-cooled, solid-state laser that has been under development for DARPA for several years. GA-ASI is building a 150kW Hellads laser to be integrated with an existing US Air Force beam control system for a ground demonstration in 2014….
After focusing its directed-energy research for years on the free electron laser, ONR has launched a program to mature available solid-state electric laser technology with a goal of getting laser weapons on ships more quickly.
Hellads is designed to meet a weight goal of less that 5kg/kW, enabling a high-energy laser weapon to be integrated onto tactical aircraft. DARPA and the Air Force Research Laboratory are planning a follow-on flight demonstration under the Electric Lasers on Large Aircraft (ELLA) program.
The design is based on combining a series of unit cell modules together to produce a single 150kW laser. DARPA says GA-ASI demonstrated the required power output and optical performance with a single module, then showed that two unit cells could be integrated to produce more than 34kW.
Fabrication of the 150kW laser was planned to be completed the end of 2012. Plans for 2013 include its integration with the power, thermal management, beam control, and command-and-control subsystems to produce a laser weapon ready for low-power testing. Shoot-down tests against targets such as surface-to-air missiles and rockets will follow in 2014.
A small, microwave-detecting camera that can see through solid materials in real time has been developed. Soon, the device could be adapted and used in law enforcement and security where, among other uses, its inventors envision airport scanners that screen passengers for weapons or explosives as they walk by.
The camera features a one-dimensional aperture made from a copper-based metamaterial. Fashioned from plastics or metals, metamaterials behave in ways that ordinary materials naturally do not. Some can cloak objects. Others can reveal them. Here, scientists used the copper-based metamaterial as an aperture for microwaves, the telecommunications workhorses that populate the longer end of the electromagnetic spectrum. By connecting the aperture to an image-reconstructing computer, the researchers can capture information from a scene in real time, with no moving parts.
Arguing it is costly and complex to send large numbers of warships to forward operating areas - and that the energy and logistics needed to deploy lower-cost unmanned systems over oceanic distances limits their usefulness - DARPA has come with another idea.
That idea is to pre-deploy “deep-ocean nodes” in forward areas years in advance. These would be commanded from a safe stand-off distance to launch to the surface and release waterborne or airborne unmanned systems to disperse and provide ISR or “non-lethal effects” over a wide area in contested environments.
The program is called Upward Falling Payload (UFP).
[… and I am not at all certain that this isn’t an early April Fool’s joke.]
At top, the Northrop Tacit Blue technology demonstrator — aka the famed flying Twinkie! At bottom, the Boeing Bird of Prey (via Urban Ghosts)
Top secret aircraft, even those that have been publicly disclosed, remain mysterious long after emerging from the black world. When – and if – secret planes are declassified, they’re treated differently from other military aircraft, and the specifics of their hardware may remain under wraps for decades. While some ultimately go to museums, others are placed into storage well away from prying eyes, awaiting a fate that may take years to arrive.
One such fate that has befallen crashed, retired or failed projects over the decades is burial. Aircraft have literally been dragged into deep pits miles from public land, often near the enigmatic Groom Lake test site in Nevada, famously known as Area 51. Not only does Groom serve as a testing ground for the U.S. government’s most advanced programmes, it also serves as the final resting place of many of its most secret aircraft. Some of these classified planes have never been publicly acknowledged.
On the surface, it’s all about protecting Russian kids from internet pedophiles. In reality, the Kremlin’s new “Single Register” of banned websites, which goes into effect today, will wind up blocking all kinds of online political speech. And, thanks to the spread of new internet-monitoring technologies, the Register could well become a tool for spying on millions of Russians.
Signed into law by Vladimir Putin on July 28, the internet-filtering measure contains a single, innocuous-sounding paragraph that allows those compiling the Register to draw on court decisions relating to the banning of websites. The problem is, the courts have ruled to block more than child pornographers’ sites. The judges have also agreed to online bans on political extremists and opponents of the Putin regime….
The new system is modeled on the one that is used to block extremist and terrorist bank accounts. The Roskomnadzor (the Agency for the Supervision of Information Technology, Communications and Mass Media) gathers not only court decisions to outlaw sites or pages, but also data submitted by three government agencies: the Interior Ministry, the Federal Antidrug Agency and the Federal Service for the Supervision of Consumer Rights and Public Welfare. The Agency is in charge of compiling and updating the Register, and also of instructing the host providers to remove the URLs. If no action by the provider follows, the internet service providers (ISPs) should block access to the site in 24 hours…. Most importantly, however, the new Roskomnadzor system introduces DPI (deep packet inspection) on a nationwide scale.
About a year ago, my niece and her new husband bought an older house on the edge of Denver. From the looks of it, it had been built in the late ‘30s and had some additions but very little in the way of actual renovation — a cute, well-maintained little bungalow in a pleasant old-fashioned sort of neighborhood.
There was one little architectural detail that puzzled them as they showed me the house: a pass-through nook, maybe a foot wide and little taller, with a shelf about a foot square and another shelf below with about a six inch gap between them. This was in the wall between the kitchen and living room.
They had no idea what it was. Readers my age and older will remember: it’s a phone nook.
I explained to them that, once upon a time, before they were born, telephones were expensive items wired to the wall, and a lot of people only had one. That nook was where it had gone, and it was a pass-through so people could reach it conveniently from both the kitchen and the living room.
This had never occurred to them. They remembered wired phones — both of their families still had land lines but they considered them a little silly, and the notion of having only one phone for the whole house seemed unbelievably primitive — you just plugged in a $10 phone in any room you wanted, or you got a wireless. Or, of course, you do what they do, and don’t bother with a land line. They already have phones….
Fifty years ago, I was a seven-year-old boy in Alamosa, Colorado. We were reasonably well-off with the family business; we lived in a pretty big, older house, and we had a phone in the phone nook and an extension phone in my parents’ bedroom. But we had a septic tank even though we were right in town — when the house had been built there were no sewer lines — and the fireplace was arranged with extra ducts to let you heat the house with it, albeit inefficiently.
The lady that babysat me and my siblings, and who also did ironing for my mother, lived about four miles out of town, and they’d just gotten indoor plumbing to her house a year or so before. There were still a fair number of houses, especially rural houses, that didn’t have indoor plumbing. We had a black and white TV, and we got three channels since the community antenna was installed a couple of years earlier. Before then, all we could get was KOAA in Albuquerque, and that was chancy.