October 23, 2016

Vector rocket will be second stage of DARPA spaceplane for cheap daily microsatellite launches

DARPA has contracted Vector to help develop a microsatellite launcher. Vector will tweak its first-stage "Vector-R" rocket for use as a second-stage rocket on DARPA's spaceplane. Second, Vector will develop a smaller "advanced prototype" Vector-R upper stage -- this time for NASA.

Success in both efforts should accelerate Vector's progress toward building "a fully functional two-stage flight test vehicle" for itself, as well as advancing DARPA's and NASA's respective objectives.

DARPA's XS-1 Spaceplane project is a new "drone" spacecraft that will fly to the verge of space under its own power and there launch a smaller onboard rocket to boost satellite payloads the last few miles into actual orbit. That accomplished, XS-1 will land back on Earth like an airplane (or space shuttle), refuel, reload, and be ready to launch a new payload within 24 hours.

In fact, DARPA is targeting turnaround times and consistency of operation that would permit XS-1 to launch "10 times in 10 days."

The cost of building XS-1 would be spread out among so many deliveries as to dramatically decrease the cost of space launch -- perhaps to as little as $5 million for a two-ton cargo.

Three industry teams have been hired to work on prototyping a spaceplane for DARPA: Boeing, working in collaboration with Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin; Northrop Grumman, working with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic; and privately held Masten Space Systems, working with also-private XCOR Aerospace.

Experts estimate that by 2020, companies could be launching as many as 500 such "microsatellites" annually. At launch prices ranging from $250,000 per launch (CubeCab) to $1.5 million (Vector) to $10 million (Virgin Galactic), that implies an annual market size of up to $5 billion -- a market in which Vector is targeting a 12% share.

The Vector-R launch vehicle is the world's only launch vehicle dedicated to servicing the micro satellite market by providing a dedicated 50kg launch mass to orbit. The Vector-R is an advanced vehicle made of an all carbon fiber airframe, lightweight pressurized propulsion systems and an agile modern avionics system. Appropriately sized for today's rapidly growing micro satellite market, the Vector-R launch vehicle will host frequent flights and a range of independence made possible through its unique capacity and mobile launch operations. Vector-R will become fully operational by 2018 and is accepting reservations on its rapidly expanding payload manifest.

Vector Space Systems, a micro satellite space launch company comprised of new-space industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas and Sea Launch, today announced that NASA has selected its Phase II proposal under the 2015 SBIR/STTR program to continue development of an advanced prototype of the upper stage for the Vector-R launch vehicle. The contract, proposed through Vector's acquired Garvey Spacecraft Corporation subsidiary, complements an earlier SBIR award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that addresses the use of the Vector-R first stage as a second stage for the XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane. In conjunction with the awarded contracts, totaling approximately $2.5M, Vector is investing in related infrastructure and range site preparations to enable high performance flight testing by the fourth quarter of 2017.

Under this NASA Phase II STTR project, the Vector team is finishing the design and will then transition into assembly, integration and checkout of a full-scale prototype of the Vector-R upper stage engine. Vector will then integrate this stage with a prototype first stage engine, gained from a contract with DARPA, to create a fully functional two-stage flight test vehicle. The team members include academic partner University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Alaska Aerospace Corporation (AAC). The AAC hosted precursor ground operation pathfinder tests at its launch facility on Kodiak Island during Phase I that validated the feasibility of this site for the upcoming high performance mission.

Industrial robots are getting Deep Learning capabilities which will faster at adapting to production changes

The USA and Canada have been losing jobs to offshore competition for almost half a century. From 2000 to 2010 alone, 5.6 million jobs disappeared. Only 13 percent of those jobs were lost due to international trade. The vast remainder, 85 percent of job losses, stemmed from “productivity growth” — another way of saying machines replacing human workers.

Over the last 20 years, inflation-adjusted U.S. manufacturing output has increased by almost 40 percent, and annual value added by U.S. factories has reached a record $2.4 trillion. While there are fewer jobs, more is getting done.

Today’s industrial bots are typically programmed to do a single job very precisely and accurately. But each time a production run changes, the robots then need to be reprogrammed from scratch, which takes time and technical expertise.

Machine learning offers a way to have a robot reprogram itself by learning how to do something through practice. The technique involved, called reinforcement learning, uses a large or deep neural network that controls a robotic arm’s movement and varies its behavior, reinforcing actions that lead it closer to an end goal, like picking up a particular object. And the process can also be sped up by having lots of robots work in concert and then sharing what they have learned

Fanuc, one of the world’s largest makers of industrial robots, announced that it will work with Nvidia, a Silicon Valley chipmaker that specializes in artificial intelligence, to add learning capabilities to its products.

In a 2014 trip to factories in Shenzhen, 60 percent of it was automated and 40 percent of it was still people. And it’s all a question of choice. You say, “is that just because of low cost?” No, no. These are actually high-pay, high-skill jobs. Adaptability is key, and people are more adaptable. So when they set up the machine line and it’s all machines, there is a huge amount of retooling to shift from line one to line two, whereas the people are much more easy to shift.

Therefore, adding AI to make the robots more adaptable will mean fewer people needing for retooling to shift lines.

There needs to be faster training and better education for people. Augmented reality can be used to help people become productive more quickly.

SOURCES -Technology Review, McKinsey, TechCrunch

October 22, 2016

Next generation planes will either by large or they will use new engines that switch between performance and fuel efficiency

The United States Air Force is in the process of completing its initial research on a next-generation air superiority capability to replace the Boeing F-15C Eagle and Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighters. Once such research is completed, the service will embark on an 18-month analysis of alternatives (AOA) starting this coming January to determine exactly what kind of capabilities it will need to gain and maintain control over the skies in the post-2030 threat environment. By then—in the year 2035—the stealthy F-22 will be 30 years old while most the F-15C fleet will be more than 50 years old.

Current generation fighters like the F-22 and the Lockheed Martin F-35 carry only a couple of missiles internally, which could be a limitation during future combat operations.

China and Russia would also be able to attack refueling tankers which would reduce the operating range of US fighters.

A future PCA might be a significantly larger aircraft that today’s fighters—designed to operate at far greater ranges while carrying a far greater ordnance load. Those requirements for range, persistence and payload will have to be balanced against the need for stealth, electronic warfare capabilities, speed, maneuverability and other traits.

Many of the Air Force’s potential future requirements might seem to be contradictory, but new technology might make such a plane technically feasible. Indeed, a very large fighter with a very large payload, huge range which is also extremely stealthy while being extremely maneuverable would be an extreme technical challenge with current technology. However, new technology such as adaptive cycle engines—which the Air Force is currently developing with General Electric and Pratt and Whitney—will likely solve many of those potentially contradictory requirements. “The bottom-line is it’s going to have to be a variable-cycle engine to meet those kinds of needs and not be a humongous airplane,” Jeff Martin, General Electric’s expert on sixth-generation fighter propulsion told me some time ago.

Adaptive Cycle Jet Engines

Thrust and fuel efficiency have always seemed destined to remain mutually exclusive – the higher the one, the lower the other – inevitably forcing jet engine designers to make calculated trade-offs between the two.

If the US Air Force's Adaptive Engine Technology Demonstrator (AETD) programme goes to plan, allowing future generations of aircraft to take to the skies that can switch from high-speed performance to maximum economy - and back again - as the need arises.

It is an ambitious goal, with a huge range of possible applications across the spectrum of fighters, bombers and tactical combat aircraft.

While it has all the makings of a potential game changer for the sector, the fundamental principle behind the idea remains fairly straightforward. Conventional jet engine designs are optimised either for range or speed primarily by reference to two key factors: the fan pressure ratio of the air pressure discharged from the fan relative to the input pressure, and the bypass ratio of the air flowing around the engine core relative to the air passing through it. Thus, commercial airliners and military airlifts have high bypass / low fan ratios to yield greater efficiency, while strike aircraft exhibit low bypass / high fan pressure ratios, sacrificing fuel economy in the interests of maximising thrust.

With adjustable fans and controllable air ducts, the thinking goes, you can increase the flow around the engine and raise the bypass ratio to improve cruising fuel efficiency, or force more air into the core to gain a burst of extra thrust, flexibly toggling between Grand Prix speed, or super-Mini economy.

Mars Schiaparelli probe exploded on impact

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has identified new markings on the surface of the Red Planet that are believed to be related to Europe's Schiaparelli test lander, which arrived at Mars on Oct. 19.

The new image shows a bright spot that may be Schiaparelli's parachute, and a larger dark spot interpreted as resulting from the impact of the lander itself following a much longer free fall than planned, after thrusters switched off prematurely. It was taken by the Context Camera (CTX) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

This comparison of before-and-after images shows two spots that likely appeared in connection with the Oct. 19, 2016, Mars arrival of the European Space Agency's Schiaparelli test lander. The images are from the Context Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Accelerating Universe Expansion evidence is much weaker 20 years later with analysis of over ten times the number of Type Ia supernovae

Five years ago, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three astronomers for their discovery, in the late 1990s, that the universe is expanding at an accelerating pace.

Their conclusions were based on analysis of Type Ia supernovae – the spectacular thermonuclear explosions of dying stars – picked up by the Hubble space telescope and large ground-based telescopes. It led to the widespread acceptance of the idea that the universe is dominated by a mysterious substance named 'dark energy' that drives this accelerating expansion.

Now, a team of scientists led by Professor Subir Sarkar of Oxford University's Department of Physics has cast doubt on this standard cosmological concept. Making use of a vastly increased data set – a catalogue of 740 Type Ia supernovae, more than ten times the original sample size – the researchers have found that the evidence for acceleration may be flimsier than previously thought, with the data being consistent with a constant rate of expansion.

Nature Scientific Reports - Marginal evidence for cosmic acceleration from Type Ia supernovae

Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge which can enable clusters of quantum computers

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

“People have already built small quantum computers,” says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. “Maybe the first useful one won’t be a single giant quantum computer but a connected cluster of small ones.”

Distributing quantum information on a bridge, or network, could also enable novel forms of quantum sensing, since quantum correlations allow all the atoms in the network to behave as though they were one single atom.

The joint work with Harvard University used a focused ion beam implanter at Sandia’s Ion Beam Laboratory designed for blasting single ions into precise locations on a diamond substrate. Sandia researchers Ed Bielejec, Jose Pacheco and Daniel Perry used implantation to replace one carbon atom of the diamond with the larger silicon atom, which causes the two carbon atoms on either side of the silicon atom to feel crowded enough to flee. That leaves the silicon atom a kind of large landowner, buffered against stray electrical currents by the neighboring non-conducting vacancies.

Though the silicon atoms are embedded in a solid, they behave as though floating in a gas, and therefore their electrons’ response to quantum stimuli are not clouded by unwanted interactions with other matter.

Science - An integrated diamond nanophotonics platform for quantum optical networks

Russia claims progress on new Pak DA strategic bomber which will have hypersonic missile weapons

The Tupolev PAK DA (or PAK-DA) is a proposed Russian next-generation strategic bomber and it is expected to have a 30-ton weapons payload, range of 6,740 nautical miles, first flight in 2021 and deliveries in 2023.

Some of the technology and components from the PAK DA will be derived from existing aircraft. The current engine is a non-afterburning variant of the NK-32 used on the Tu-160, certain avionics such as the radar will be based on those developed for the PAK FA project

Russia claims to have made substantial progress on the project and is believed to have started construction of a prototype.

General Anatoly Zhikharev has said that an unmanned strategic bomber may follow the PAK DA after 2040.

On 30 August 2013, a Russian Defense Ministry source revealed that the PAK DA will be equipped with advanced types of precision guided weapons, including hypersonic weapons. The bomber itself will fly at subsonic speeds. A Russian hypersonic missile is in development, but is currently only able to fly for a few seconds.

China to get first 4 Su-35 Fighter Jets from Russia in 2016 and they will reverse engineer the AL-117S engine

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Air Force (PLAAF) is slated to receive the first four out of 24 Russian-made Sukhoi Su-35 multirole fighter jets, the governor of Khabarovsk Krai, a federal subject located in the Russian Far East, said in a speech during the opening of a new aircraft production plan on September 15, according to local media reports.

From 2016 to 2018 the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production plant will deliver 24 Su-35 combat aircraft to China, the governor said.

The Su-35 (NATO reporting name: Flanker-E) is a Fourth++ generation, twin-engine, highly maneuverable multirole fighter jet powered by two AL-117S turbofan engines. The Russian aircraft’s powerful turbofan engine is also the most likely reason why China is interested in acquiring Su-35 fighters

The most advanced Chinese-made military turbofan currently in use is the WS-10, which, however, also underperforms, according to some reports

The izdeliye 117S (AL-41F1S) is an upgrade of the AL-31F that uses technology from the AL-41F. The engine produces 142 kN (32,000 lb) of thrust in afterburner and 86.3 kN (19,400 lb) dry. It features a fan 3% larger in diameter (932 millimetres (36.7 in) versus 905 millimetres (35.6 in)), advanced high- and low-pressure turbines, an all-new digital control system, and provisions for thrust-vectoring nozzles similar to the AL-31FP.

October 21, 2016

4DS Memristor achieves technical milestone of memory cells denser than 3D flash with commerciallization in the 2019 timeframe

4DS has demonstrated Interface Switching ReRAM cells at a 40 nanometer geometry, representing significant progress in scalability and yield.

This 40nm geometry, demonstrated by 4DS, is smaller than the latest generation of 3D Flash - the most dominant non-volatile memory technology used in billions of mobile devices, cloud servers and data centers.

In 2016, 4DS has

  • Demonstrated scalability, consistency and behaviour of memory cells with high yield at 40nm
  • 40nm is a breakthrough development at a scale smaller that existing 3D Flash, the most dominant non-volatile memory technology
  • JDA with HGST renewed in July 2016 taking the collaboration into its third year

4DS Memories Ltd. (West Perth, Western Australia) claims to have achieved 40-nanometer resistive random-access memories (ReRAMs) that are denser than flash and rival the recently reported Crossbar Inc.'s (San Francisco)

4DS claims its 40-nanometer ReRAM is a first, but many other labs besides 4DS and Crossbar are known for serious ReRAM efforts using memristors including Adesto Technologies, Elpida, Fujitsu, Global Foundries, Hewlett Packard, Hynix, IBM, Macronix, Nanya, NEC, Panasonic, Rambus, SanDisk, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, ST Microelectronics, Winbond, and several research-only labs like Imec collaborating with foundry partners like TSMC.

Flash is reaching the end of its ability to scale linearly, prompting the move to 3D, such as Samsung's, Toshiba's and Western Digital's recent demonstrations of 64-layer stacked-die flash memories.

The bit-cell stack controls its resistance by the migration of oxygen ions between the opposing metal electrodes.
(Source: 4DS)M

4DS also claims to have invested only $12 million to research and develop its recent demonstration chips. The demo chips, 4DS claims, prove its ReRAM memory cells are faster, cheaper and lower power than 3-D flash, giving the company hope at carving out a segment of the $40 billion global market for flash.

Beyond 2016: Commercial deal or strategic action most likely

From the current state of technological development, we essentially see three scenarios for 4DS going forward; firstly, a scenario in which the company succeeds in finalizing the minimum required development of its technology to the point where prospective licensees step up to the plate. In this scenario 4DS will need to demonstrate scalability of the Interface Switching ReRAM memory cell down to sub-45nm resolutions with consistent cell behavior using a scalable manufacturing process.

Still several years of development required by licensees

Any licensee will need to further develop the technology in the next several years to the point where high density, Interface Switching ReRAM memory chips can be manufactured in existing fabs, which we would expect around 2019-2020. This development process will require tens of millions of dollars, possibly up to US$100M, in our view, which is why 4DS will likely not embark on this journey, at least not by itself.

Any license agreement that is non-exclusive would see 4DS receiving multiple up-front, oneoff license payments, which could amount to several millions of dollars each. Additionally, 4DS would receive royalties per chip sold once the technology goes into commercial production. Memory chip royalties typically amount to a single digit percentage of the sales price of the chip.

An exclusive license to use 4DS’ technology would likely require the licensee to pay a substantially larger up-front license fee, potentially several tens of millions of dollars, in 4DS' view, in addition to royalties once the chip goes into commercial production.

Potential strategic action ahead of any license deal

The second scenario would be an acquisition by an established manufacturer in the data storage space. In this scenario as well, we believe 4DS would first need to complete the minimum required development of its technology in order to prove commercial viability of Interface Switching ReRAM. Any acquirer will then need to further develop the technology to commercial insertion into the market, similar to the first scenario.

Given 4DS’ development agreement with HGST and the acquisitive nature of its parent company, we believe Western Digital would be a very likely acquirer in this scenario.

Additionally, companies like SK Hynix, Micron and Samsung might have a keen interest in securing Interface Switching Memory technology to gradually take over from 3D NAND Flash in a few years’ time.

The third and final scenario would see 4DS’ technology not being rolled out commercially in due time, either due to insurmountable and/or overly expensive technological issues with Interface Switching ReRAM, or the emergence/dominance of another non-volatile memory technology, e.g. filamentary ReRAM, MRAM etc. While the likelihood of this scenario seems relatively small at this stage given the rapid technological progress being made together with HGST, it can never be excluded in the dynamic semiconductor industry.

There are two Approaches to ReRAM : Interface switching ReRAM and Filamentary ReRAM

Interface Switching ReRAM - high density memory for mobile and cloud
The development of Interface Switching ReRAM, a unique type of Non-Filamentary ReRAM, represents a breakthrough in ReRAM technology and is unique to 4DS.

Developing memory storage that is not reliant upon a filament allows cell currents to scale down in line with cell size enabling the smaller geometries necessary to put more storage on a memory chip creating high density memory.

A filament-less switching mechanism can operate with low switching currents, due to much more stable currents, essential for high density gigabyte range memories and the retention of data.

4DS has developed a way of controlling the overall resistance of the memory cells using the diffusion of oxygen atoms across the interface and this mechanism is used to reliably control gigabyte memory intended for large-scale storage.

Importantly, Interface Switching ReRAM does not rely on a destruction mechanism thereby increasing endurance, reliability and functional behaviour.

Filamentary ReRAM - low density memory for IoT and connected devices</>

The formation of filaments is the most common approach in ReRAM cell research and development today.

Filamentary mechanisms may work well at relatively large cell geometries but pose significant current density, retention, endurance, access and control problems when trying to achieve gigabyte range memories.

Filamentary ReRAM has inherent scaling limitations because cell currents are high and are independent of cell size. High switching currents are needed for long data retention and the large current fluctuations typically observed in filament-based ReRAM.

The potential for scalability to smaller geometries is limited by wire current densities.

Furthermore, the create and destruct switching mechanism in filamentary ReRAM results in eventual cell breakdown and poses a number of significant limitations for GB silicon storage.

First Gulf War motivated accelerated military modernization in China

The National Interest illustrates how the first Gulf War prompted China to update its military.

In 1990 China's military was inferior to Iraq and Iraq was vastly inferior to the USA

By 1990, the technical sophistication of the PLA had deteriorated to the degree that Iraqi forces enjoyed a considerable advantage over their Chinese counterparts.

The Iraqi Air Force included MiG-23s, MiG-25s and MiG-29s, while the PLAAF relied on Chinese-produced copycats of the MiG-21, as well as older aircraft such as the MiG-19. Similarly, the Iraqi air defense system, which had failed to incur major damage on waves of attacking American aircraft, was at least as sophisticated as the systems China was capable of employing.

The Chinese had also discovered, through access to Iraqi tanks captured by the Iranians in the Persian Gulf War, that the Iraqi T-72s that presented no challenge whatsoever to the U.S. Army — and were considerably superior to extant Chinese tanks.

Quality and Technology and Air Power were more important than large quantities

The balance between quality and quantity has shifted back and forth historically. In the Chinese Civil War and in Korea, the PLA took advantage of numbers and tactical effectiveness to defeat (or at least level the ground with) more technologically sophisticated opponents.

In 1990, the US-led coalition cut through quantitatively superior Iraqi forces like a hot knife through butter.

The PLA hadn’t quite been on autopilot in the 1980s, but the pace of reform in the military sector had not matched that of social and economic life in China.

Army patents a shrapnel proof adult diaper like harness

Enngineers and designers at the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center have patented a new design for a harness that protects its wearer from blast debris.

Worn outside the pants, the harness is designed to protect the groin and femoral artery and prevent debris from embedding in and around the groin. Such injuries can be so severe that repeated surgeries are often needed to remove the debris, leading to extreme discomfort as well as health and hygiene issues. The harness has also been adapted to provide fragmentation protection.

Project lead Kristine Isherwood said NSRDEC began designing the piece of equipment after a joint urgent operational needs statement was issued for blast debris protection, while the Product Manager Soldier Protective Equipment looked for commercial off-the-shelf solutions.

Philippines and China closer to jointly developing the Reed Bank in the South China Sea

China and the Philippines could begin exploiting long-untapped energy reserves in the South China Sea, according to reports coming out of this week's meeting between Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and high-ranking Chinese officials — including a Thursday sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping — in Beijing. How soon that may happen remains unclear, however, as Duterte cautioned reporters that he has not been empowered by his Congress to finalize any energy exploration deal with his Chinese counterparts.

Earlier reports by Philippine newspaper the "Inquirer" suggested that Beijing and Duterte were set to enter into an agreement to explore for energy sources in a part of the South China Sea close to the Philippine coastline. China has long sought to exploit what it believes could be more than 100 billion barrels of oil and hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas lurking beneath the South China Sea. However, a litany of overlapping territorial claims in the region by the more than half-dozen nations rimming the South China Sea has rendered broad energy development there a nonstarter.

The fact that potential joint development of offshore energy deposits in the region is even being discussed underscores the tectonic shift in regional foreign policy undertaken by Duterte since winning the Filipino presidency in May.

For China, one of the sea’s key prizes is Reed Bank, a tablemount (an underwater mountain) near the Philippine coast rich in untapped oil and gas deposits.

Thales optronic targeting pod integrated, tested on Rafale fighter

TALIOS is the first optronic pod to cover the entire critical decision chain from intelligence gathering to weapon delivery.

Capabilities range from deep strike with long-range missiles and bombs to air-to-air target identification and close air support, and include the rapidly emerging requirement of Non-Traditional Information, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (NTISR).

Thales' new-generation TALIOS laser targeting pod has successfully completed a more than two-hour first flight on a Rafale fighter.

The prototype targeting long-range identification optronic system collected high-quality images taken using the "day" channel, and offered remarkable performances in pointing and telemetry, Thales said.

  • Latest generation of high-resolution sensors and high-precision line-of-sight stabilization
  • Wide-angle vision providing critical contextual information and making the pod a key component of the pilot’s visual environment throughout the mission.
  • Open architecture and a high level of functional integration

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