March 05, 2016

DARPA improving vertical takeoff and landing demonstrator

For decades, aircraft designers seeking to improve vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities have endured a substantial set of interrelated challenges. Dozens of attempts have been made to increase top speed without sacrificing range, efficiency or the ability to do useful work, with each effort struggling or failing in one way or another.

DARPA’s VTOL Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program aims to overcome these challenges through innovative cross-pollination between fixed-wing and rotary-wing technologies and by developing and integrating novel subsystems to enable radical improvements in vertical and cruising flight capabilities. In an important step toward that goal, DARPA has awarded the Phase 2 contract for VTOL X-Plane to Aurora Flight Sciences.

“Just when we thought it had all been done before, the Aurora team found room for invention—truly new elements of engineering and technology that show enormous promise for demonstration on actual flight vehicles,” said Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager. “This is an extremely novel approach,” Bagai said of the selected design. “It will be very challenging to demonstrate, but it has the potential to move the technology needle the farthest and provide some of the greatest spinoff opportunities for other vertical flight and aviation products.”

VTOL X-Plane seeks to develop a technology demonstrator that could

  • Achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300 kt to 400 kt
  • Raise aircraft hover efficiency from 60 percent to at least 75 percent
  • Present a more favorable cruise lift-to-drag ratio of at least 10, up from 5-6
  • Carry a useful load of at least 40 percent of the vehicle’s projected gross weight of 10,000-12,000 pounds

MIT has scalable quantum computer using ion traps and lasers

Researchers from MIT and the University of Innsbruck in Austria report that they have designed and built a quantum computer from five atoms in an ion trap. The computer uses laser pulses to carry out Shor’s algorithm on each atom, to correctly factor the number 15. The system is designed in such a way that more atoms and lasers can be added to build a bigger and faster quantum computer, able to factor much larger numbers. The results, they say, represent the first scalable implementation of Shor’s algorithm.

“We show that Shor’s algorithm, the most complex quantum algorithm known to date, is realizable in a way where, yes, all you have to do is go in the lab, apply more technology, and you should be able to make a bigger quantum computer,” says Isaac Chuang, professor of physics and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. “It might still cost an enormous amount of money to build — you won’t be building a quantum computer and putting it on your desktop anytime soon — but now it’s much more an engineering effort, and not a basic physics question.”

Chuang and his colleagues have now come up with a new, scalable quantum system for factoring numbers efficiently. While it typically takes about 12 qubits to factor the number 15, they found a way to shave the system down to five qubits, each represented by a single atom. Each atom can be held in a superposition of two different energy states simultaneously. The researchers use laser pulses to perform “logic gates,” or components of Shor’s algorithm, on four of the five atoms. The results are then stored, forwarded, extracted, and recycled via the fifth atom, thereby carrying out Shor’s algorithm in parallel, with fewer qubits than is typically required.

The team was able to keep the quantum system stable by holding the atoms in an ion trap, where they removed an electron from each atom, thereby charging it. They then held each atom in place with an electric field.

“That way, we know exactly where that atom is in space,” Chuang explains. “Then we do that with another atom, a few microns away — [a distance] about 100th the width of a human hair. By having a number of these atoms together, they can still interact with each other, because they’re charged. That interaction lets us perform logic gates, which allow us to realize the primitives of the Shor factoring algorithm. The gates we perform can work on any of these kinds of atoms, no matter how large we make the system.”

Chuang’s team first worked out the quantum design in principle. His colleagues at the University of Innsbruck then built an experimental apparatus based on his methodology. They directed the quantum system to factor the number 15 — the smallest number that can meaningfully demonstrate Shor’s algorithm. Without any prior knowledge of the answers, the system returned the correct factors, with a confidence exceeding 99 percent.

March 04, 2016

Spacex has a successful rocket launch and the rocket did not surving a landing attempt on at sea platform

Today at 6:35 p.m. EST, SpaceX hopes, at last, to make its fifth attempt to launch and then land, its Falcon 9 rocket on an at-sea platform. The launch attempt has been delayed for a multitude of reasons over the last nine days, including bad weather, heavy winds, and even a boat roaming into a safety zone.

Update (Friday, 6:36 p.m. ET): SpaceX's Falcon 9 launched right on time. It will take about ten minutes to determine if the rocket's first stage is able to land successfully.

UPDATE - Falcon9 booster did not survive landing

Friday, 6:38 p.m. ET): SpaceX said that the Falcon 9 had a successful first-stage separation, and second-stage engine ignition.

China's military spending will only increase by 7-8% in 2016 because of a slowing economy

There had been rumors that China would have a big 20% military budget increase but instead military spending will grow by 7 to 8 percent in 2016, the smallest increase in six years.

Although experts say actual spending is significantly higher than the official budget, China’s military spending is still dwarfed by that of the United States, both in monetary terms and as a proportion of the overall economy.

China’s President Xi Jinping is trying to modernize and streamline the country’s military, seeking to make it more effective and simultaneously curb corruption. The People’s Liberation Army is being trimmed by 300,000 troops, but the 2-million-strong force is still the world’s largest standing army.

The increase would be the first single-digit boost in defense spending since 2010, when the budget rose 7.5 percent, and is below the 10.1 percent boost in last year’s budget. It is roughly in line with official economic growth of 6.9 percent in 2015 and would take the military budget to around $150 billion, about a quarter of Pentagon spending of nearly $600 billion last year.

China’s official defense budget amounts to 1.3 percent of gross domestic product, compared to 3.1 percent in the United States.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that China’s actual military spending is more than 50 percent above the budgeted figure when items such as military research and development, arms imports, military construction and pension costs are taken into account. In 2014, the institute’s broader measure of military spending scored China as spending 2.1 percent of GDP compared to the United States at 3.5 percent.

World military expenditure in 2014 was an estimated $1776 billion. The total was equivalent to 2.3 per cent of world GDP.

US Navy plans for scaling Free electron lasers to megawatt weapon systems

There is a US Navy paper - Vision for Directed Energy and Electric Weapons In the Current and Future Navy which describes the Navy's thinking on laser weapons

Laser weapons enable delivery of scalable levels of energy at both tactically and strategically relevant distances enabling the accomplishment of new missions and generating entirely new classes of effects during naval battle engagements and on the battlefield. They also offer unique solutions to many of the most serious threats and enable safer accomplishment of hazardous missions. Compared to traditional weapons, laser weapons offer significant benefits including: non-lethal, long-range force application capabilities, lethal target effects, potentially unlimited magazines and significantly smaller logistics footprints than non-DE (directed energy) weapon systems; although some specialized support equipment will be required. Furthermore, there are advantages of reduced operational costs and lower manpower requirements because of automated battle management systems using state-of-the-art electronics.

Laser weapons destroy a target either by heating the target surface to the weakening point and causing it to fail under operating stress, or by burning through the skin to destroy underlying critical components and/or subsystems. Additionally, the laser may be used to attack energetic material in a target and cause low-order detonation, a primary destruction method. In all military applications, laser weapons, laser sensors and laser deterrence and communications systems proffer significant force multiplication and thus can enable future commanders to accomplish greater numbers of missions more effectively and in less time, consistent with Force Net and Sea Strike strategies.

In terms of weaponization, the FEL (Free electron laser) is the laser device of choice and “holy grail” for weaponization in the 2020 time frame. However, there exist many nearer-term potential naval applications for kilowatt-class solid-state laser (SSL) and high-power microwave (HPM) weapons. The development of SSLs is of particular interest to the naval aviation and to the surface naval communities, while the free electron laser is of interest to and is being developed for surface shipboard use in the “navy of the future”. HPM weapons, being developed for employment as deterrent systems will not be discussed here

Block 1 and the improved Block 1A laser weapon systems, employing unphased, ganged, single-mode fiber lasers operating at modest average power levels with a beam director of 30-50cm aperture, could be useful ranges for enhancing mission capabilities on a variety of naval platforms. Activies within these missions could include counter-rocket artillery mortar (CRAM), asymmetric threats and destroying electro-optic sensors at tactically significant ranges. The Block 1A listing would improve capabilities of Block 1 laser systems by taking advantage of updated beam control and optical technologies as they come to fruition. It is interesting to note that, in commercial applications, solid-state lasers with output power of order 5kW are used to weld and cut metals. Modularized fiber lasers, with output power up to 1 kW and capable of being ganged, are currently available commercially. Many other types of low power SSLs are currently in use in such military systems as laser pointers, sensor blinders and deception devices.

Block 2 capabilities depend on technical improvements to fiber lasers of Blocks 1 and 1A to achieve better beam quality and greater output power with improved beam control to buy greater power delivered to targets at increased range.

Blocks 3 and 4 show the long-term development paths for the free electron laser (FEL). The FEL is currently very much a research device largely in the hands of the Science and Technology (S and T) community. A truly electric laser and a fitting photon source in the context of the electric ship, it offers tunability to cope with laser propagation limitations and power throttling for a broad range of utility unavailable in any of the lasers now in use or planned for the near term.

FEL generates high-intensity laser light by utilizing the energy from unbound accelerated high-energy electrons. This technology is commonly used in the Department of Energy’s particle colliders for basic subatomic research. FEL can scale into megawatt power ranges.

Integrated Power Systems (IPS) – A Key Enabler for Electric and Directed Energy Weapons Systems

Traditional US naval vessels have dedicated and separate prime movers to drive shipboard propulsion and electrical service loads. On a typical warship, nearly 50% of the installed shipboard propulsive power (on the order of 40 MW) is only used to power the ship through the final 5 knots to a ship’s maximum flank bell. Based on a typical operational profile, a ship will only use this power less than 5% of its underway time. These propulsion prime movers are typically mechanically coupled to the propeller or water jet via a shaft and reduction gear box.

DDG-1000 is the first US warship to employ a sophisticated electrical distribution system to direct the total available installed power (approximately 80 MW) for use in both the electric propulsion motors and to support the full range of shipboard electrical loads. This system, known as the IPS, is a key enabler of a full range of novel shipboard directed energy and electric weapon systems including speed-of-light high energy laser systems and electromagnetic rail guns.

High power microwaves and laser weapons

Directed-energy (DE) weapons, including high-energy lasers (HEL), high-power microwaves (HPM) and related radiofrequency technologies, offer the prospect of cost-effective precision attack or enhanced point defense and can provide warfighters with flexible nonkinetic employment options.

DE weapons have finally demonstrated sufficient technical maturity that they may be integrated into naval, air and ground force structure for various mission applications within the next decade. While more modest in power and capability than previous large-scale DE programs, modern HEL and HPM weapons can help defend ships and bases from some forms of attack; enhance the performance of existing combat identification, selfprotection and other systems; and provide novel counterelectronic attack options.

Harvest the low-hanging fruit. DOD has begun to integrate some directed-energy technologies but has not yet fully capitalized on successfully demonstrated high-power radio-frequency weapon developments. At the same time, key solid-state and combined-beam fiber HEL programs will likely be available to transition to the warfighter within the next decade.

The promise of DE weapons is straightforward. In general, they may:

• Enable defensive and offensive nonkinetic attack options
• Serve as cost-effective force multipliers
As with kinetic weapon systems, DE weapons undergo extensive (and potentially costly) developmental and certification processes. Once fielded, however, DE weapons feature a very favorable cost-exchange ratio compared with their kinetic counterparts. While per-system costs vary, a generalized per-shot cost of $1 to $20 is an affordable weapon option. Newer, electric systems can be charged on-station, allowing deep magazines. Because of that, multiple shots per engagement are inexpensive and have a credible probability of effect against susceptible targets. When used as part of a layered defense capacity alongside kinetic weapons, DE weapons can extend aggregate magazine depth and enhance platform survivability.

NASA and Lockheed building a Quieter Supersonic Passenger Jet

NASA announced that they’d awarded defense giant Lockheed Martin a $20 million contract for 17 months of preliminary development on a quiet supersonic plane.

The return of supersonic passenger air travel is one step closer to reality with NASA's award of a contract for the preliminary design of a “low boom” flight demonstration aircraft. This is the first in a series of ‘X-planes’ in NASA's New Aviation Horizons initiative, introduced in the agency’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

“NASA is working hard to make flight greener, safer and quieter – all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently,” said Bolden. “To that end, it’s worth noting that it's been almost 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 as part of our predecessor agency's high speed research. Now we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight."

NASA selected a team led by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company of Palmdale, California, to complete a preliminary design for Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST). The work will be conducted under a task order against the Basic and Applied Aerospace Research and Technology (BAART) contract at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

After conducting feasibility studies and working to better understand acceptable sound levels across the country, NASA's Commercial Supersonic Technology Project asked industry teams to submit design concepts for a piloted test aircraft that can fly at supersonic speeds, creating a supersonic "heartbeat" -- a soft thump rather than the disruptive boom currently associated with supersonic flight.

“Developing, building and flight testing a quiet supersonic X-plane is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry's decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public," said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission.

Lockheed Martin will receive about $20 million over 17 months for QueSST preliminary design work. The Lockheed Martin team includes subcontractors GE Aviation of Cincinnati and Tri Models Inc. of Huntington Beach, California.

This is an artist’s concept of a possible Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design. The award of a preliminary design contract is the first step towards the possible return of supersonic passenger travel – but this time quieter and more affordable.
Credits: Lockheed Martin

By 2040 space power beaming could be used for interplanetary travel and interstellar probes and is an observable sign of extraterrestrials

The most observable leakage radiation from an advanced civilization may well be from the use of power beaming to transfer energy and accelerate spacecraft. Applications suggested for power beaming involve Earthto-space applications such as launching spacecraft to orbit, raising satellites to a higher orbit, and interplanetary concepts involving space-to-space transfers of cargo or passengers. We also quantify beam-driven launch to the outer solar system, interstellar precursors and ultimately starships. We estimate the principal observable parameters of power beaming leakage. Extraterrestrial civilizations would know their power beams could be observed, and so could put a message on the power beam and broadcast it for our receipt at little additional energy or cost. By observing leakage from power beams we may find a message embedded on the beam. Recent observations of the anomalous star KIC 8462852 by the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) set some limits on extraterrestrial power beaming in that system. We show that most power beaming applications commensurate with those suggested for our solar system would be detectable if using the frequency range monitored by the ATA, and so the lack of detection is a meaningful, if modest, constraint on extraterrestrial power beaming in that system. Until more extensive observations are made, the limited observation time and frequency coverage are not sufficiently broad in frequency and duration to produce firm conclusions.

Interplanetary logistics

A number of higher-velocity power beaming applications have been quantified for fast transit of the solar system – Mars, Jupiter, Kuiper Belt, Plutinos, Pluto and the Heliopause. An attractive interplanetary mission could be the rapid delivery of critical payloads within the solar system. For example, such emergencies as crucial equipment failures and disease outbreaks can make prompt delivery of small mass payloads to, e.g., Mars colonies, an imperative. Lasers or microwaves accelerate such urgent cargo with sail spacecraft at fast boost for a few hours of propulsion to speeds of 100 − 200 km/sec. The craft then coasts at constant high speed until decelerating for a few hours into Mars orbit (probably by a decelerating beam system like the one which launched it), giving a 10 day transit time (Meyer et al. 1985). This method has been extended to missions with 5 gee acceleration near Earth (Benford & Benford 2006). Using a ground station, acceleration occurs for a couple of hours for a 100 kg payload. Guillochon & Loeb (2015) have quantified a strategy for detecting leakage transients from such ETI interstellar logistics. They estimate that if we monitor continuously, the probability of detection would be on the order of 1% per planetary conjunction event. They state that “for a five-year survey with ∼ 10 conjunctions per system, about 10 multiply-transiting, inhabited systems would need to be tracked to guarantee a detection” with our existing radio telescopes.

Arxiv - Power Beaming Leakage Radiation as a SETI Observable

Methane Snow on Pluto’s Peaks

The New Horizons team has discovered a chain of exotic snowcapped mountains stretching across the dark expanse on Pluto informally named Cthulhu Regio.

One of Pluto’s most identifiable features, Cthulhu (pronounced kuh-THU-lu) stretches nearly halfway around Pluto’s equator, starting from the west of the great nitrogen ice plains known as Sputnik Planum. Measuring approximately 1,850 miles (3,000 kilometers) long and 450 miles (750 kilometers) wide, Cthulhu is a bit larger than the state of Alaska.

Cthulhu’s appearance is characterized by a dark surface, which scientists think is due to being covered by a layer of dark tholins – complex molecules that form when methane is exposed to sunlight. Cthulhu’s geology exhibits a wide variety of landscapes—from mountainous to smooth, and to heavily cratered and fractured.

The reddish enhanced color image shown as the left inset reveals a mountain range located in southeast Cthulhu that’s 260 miles (420 kilometers) long. The range is situated among craters, with narrow valleys separating its peaks. The upper slopes of the highest peaks are coated with a bright material that contrasts sharply with the dark red color of the surrounding plains.

March 03, 2016

The success of France, Canada, Japan and South Korea in controlling nuclear energy costs

France, Canada, Japan and South Korea did a better job than the USA at keeping nuclear energy costs down.

France started making a big push for nuclear power in the 1960s, starting with gas-cooled reactors and pressurized water reactor designs from the US and later, in the 1970s, developing its own PWR designs.

As Lovering, Yip, and Nordhaus show, costs stayed relatively stable throughout this period, hovering around €1,400/kW ($1,500/kW). Nuclear kept expanding until it provided more than 75 percent of France's electricity.

France only had one utility (EDF) and one builder (Areva) working closely together. They settled on a few standard reactor designs and built them over and over again, often putting multiple reactors on a single site. That allowed them to standardize their processes and get better at finding efficiencies. Canada and Japan kept costs relatively stable with similar tactics.

South Korea has seen nuclear costs decline sharply since the 1970s.

South Korea imported proven US, French, and Canadian designs in the 1970s and learned from other countries' experiences before developing its own domestic reactors in 1989. It developed stable regulations, had a single utility overseeing construction, and built reactors in pairs at single sites.

The results were remarkable: overnight construction costs fell 50 percent between 1971 and 2008 as South Korea built 28 reactors in all.

March 02, 2016

Epigenetic clock controls aging

We are accustomed to treating aging as a set of things that go wrong with the body. But for more than twenty years, there has been accumulating evidence that much of the process takes place under genetic control. We have seen that signaling chemistry can make dramatic differences in life span, and that single molecules can significantly affect longevity. We are frequently confronted with puzzling choices the body makes which benefit neither present health nor fertility nor long-term survival. If we permit ourselves a shift of reference frame and regard aging as a programmed biological function like growth and development, then these observations fall into place and make sense. This perspective suggests that aging proceeds under control of a master clock, or several redundant clocks. If this is so, we may learn to reset the clocks with biochemical interventions and make an old body behave like a young body, including repair of many of the modes of damage that we are accustomed to regard as independent symptoms of the senescent phenotype, and for which we have assumed that the body has no remedy.

This study is in the journal of Biogerontology.

With adequate funding Hypersonic missiles could be fielded by 2021

Hypersonics—flight at five times the speed of sound (3,600 mph and above)—promises to revolutionize military affairs in the same fashion that stealth did a generation ago, and the turbojet engine did a generation before. By fundamentally redefining the technical means of power projection, the US can circumvent challenges facing the present force

Hypersonic Weapons and US National Security : A 21st Century Breakthrough (34 pages) By Dr. Richard P. Hallion and Maj Gen Curtis M. Bedke, USAF (Ret.) with Marc V. Schanz for the The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies

Though piloted, inhabited aircraft making routine use of hypersonics are still years away, all evidence shows hypersonic weapons capable of launch from aircraft, surface vehicles, ships, and submarines are now within a decade of operational fielding, with aerospace industry claiming this is possible in half that time—provided the United States makes a necessary commitment to steady, disciplined investment to realize this technology.

Hypersonic weapons offer advantage in four broad areas for US combat forces. They can project striking power at range without falling victim to increasingly sophisticated defenses; they compress the shooter-to-target window, and open new engagement opportunities; they rise to the challenge of addressing numerous types of strikes; and they enhance future joint and combined operations. Within each of these themes are other advantages which, taken together, redefine military power projection in the face of an increasingly unstable and dangerous world.

Hypersonic weapon technologies are surprisingly close to maturity. As such, we must commit to sustained hypersonic research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) efforts leading to technology transition, and cultivate programs designed to improve our combat power and capability. Those efforts must be driven by focused and achievable weapons programs that provide our military steadily improving capabilities over the next decades. We must break from old habits of overly aggressive, expensive failures and lack of follow on to our successes in this field. Government and military leaders with vision will need to work with the service laboratories, industry, and academia to achieve these goals

Biosupercomputer could be 100 times more energy efficient than regular transistor computers

The substance that provides energy to all the cells in our bodies, Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), may also be able to power the next generation of supercomputers.

That is what an international team of researchers led by Prof. Nicolau, the Chair of the Department of Bioengineering at McGill, believe.

They’ve published an article on the subject this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), in which they describe a model of a biological computer that they have created that is able to process information very quickly and accurately using parallel networks in the same way that massive electronic super computers do.

Except that the model bio supercomputer they have created is a whole lot smaller than current supercomputers, uses much less energy, and uses proteins present in all living cells to function.

PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Science -Parallel computation with molecular-motor-propelled agents in nanofabricated networks

China Expected to announce a 20% military budget increase to fund accelerated weapon system modernization and procurement

China is expected to announce its biggest military budget increase in nearly a decade in the next couple of days, fuelled by increasing tensions in the South China Sea and the need for the latest weaponry.

China's military insiders say the budget could increase by up to 20 per cent. Last year the budget was $200 billion.

"The Chinese Government is not only determined but capable of continuously increasing the military budget," Professor Shi Yinhong from the Renmin University of China said.

"In the arms race in the Western Pacific, China wants to close the gap with the US."

The increase will fund a massive reform program, which will make the People's Liberation Army a meaner and leaner fighting machine.

The world's largest army has cut 300,000 soldiers and money is needed to pay them out.

On top of this, to keep morale and loyalty up, President Xi Jinping will hand out a pay rise.

Most of the increase will be for advanced weapons like new missiles.

Sander Olson Interviewed Dr Stephen Thaler on his Artificial Intelligence systems which could be nearing new creative capabilities

Dr. Stephen Thaler wants to usher in the age of Creative Machines

Dr. Stephen Thaler has been working in the field of Artificial Intelligence for the past 3 decades. He has been issued numerous patents, and has garnered military and civilian contracts for his AI machines. Dr. Thaler has created what he refers to as "Creativity Machines" which he believes are already exhibiting rudimentary sentience and creativity. In an interview with Sander Olson for Next Big Future, Dr. Thaler discusses a technology which he believes could revolutionize the field of AI within the next decade.

Imagination engines (IEI) patent suite covers five artificial neural network paradigms that are essential for the building of synthetic brains. They are (1) Device for the Autonomous Generation of Useful Information, (2) Non-Algorithmic Neural Networks, (3) Data Scanning, (4) Device Prototyping, and (5) Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Useful Information. Collectively, these extremely fundamental patents position IEI in a unique and exclusive position, to build synthetic brains capable of human level discovery and invention.

Your company, Imagination Engines, has made some important advances in the field of optical computing. Can your creativity machine run on any computing platform?

Unfortunately, I am not currently at liberty to discuss the details of the electro-optical advances, except to say that I should be able to speak more freely about that subject within the next year or so. What I can say now is that this breakthrough should have a major impact on Creativity Machines in particular and computing in general. In answer to your direct question, the creativity machine paradigm can run on any computing platform – CPUs, GPUs, DSPs, ASICs, or any other computing paradigm that you can imagine.

B21 long range strike stealth bomber will improve B2 stealth and avoid detection by UHF and VHF band systems

The new B-21 Long range strike stealth bomber will take the B-2’s all-aspect stealth design to the next level. Particularly, the B-21’s low observable design will be more effective against low frequency radars operating in the UHF and VHF bands, which are increasingly coming into vogue as a means to counter stealth aircraft.

Air Force chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told the House Armed Services Committee in 2012, even the B-2 is starting to lose its ability penetrate hostile airspace. “The technology on which they were designed with respect to signature management . . . is ‘80s vintage,” Schwartz told the committee, adding, “the reality is that the B-2 over time is going to become less survivable in contested airspace.”

The B-21 design—which is similar to the original high-attitude optimized B-2 design—is built to counter the low frequency radars that can detect and track tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft. Unlike an F-22 or F-35, which are designed to operate in an environment where the enemy might be aware of their presence, the B-2 and B-21 are designed to avoid detection altogether. Basically, the B-21 (and B-2 to an extent)—with its large flying-wing design—reduces its low frequency radar cross-section to the point where it blends in with the background noise inherent to those UHF/VHF band systems. That’s similar in concept to how a submarine hides in the background noise of the ocean. But—like all stealth aircraft—it will not be invisible. Stealth is not a cloak of invisibility, after all. Stealth technology simply delays detection and tracking.

The first B-21 planes will be powered by twin unaugmented F135 engines. Later versions will get new engines developed in the 2020s. This would likely mean the new bomber will be larger than a Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle or General Dynamics F-111 but smaller than the B-1 or B-2.

The B-21 has to have allowances for two feet or more of radar absorbent material coatings on every surface or the designers are forced to make trades as to which frequency bands they optimize the aircraft to operate in. As such, to defeat low frequency radars operating in the L, UHF and potentially the VHF bands (this is easier said than done—and could in fact be impossible), a flying wing design is in effect, mandatory.

March 01, 2016

Parody of Atlas robot testing

Auralnauts has a clip on YouTube. It has an imagined voice over conversation. It has a chat between Boston Dynamics employees testing the robot who are abusing the robot.

The AI-powered machine decides to fight back against bullying.

China will build four nuclear reactors using the domestic Haulong One reactor designs

China General Nuclear Power (CGN) and China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) plan to build four more indigenous nuclear reactors on the mainland of China.

CGN plans to use the Hualong One design for the fifth and sixth reactors at the Ningde plant in Fujian province, while CNNC plans to use the reactor in the first two reactors of a planned project in Zhejiang province, according to South China Morning Post.

CGN and CNNC jointly designed the Hualong One reactor. Construction of the first two Hualong One reactors began in May and December 2015 at the Fuqing plant. Site preparation for one Hualong One reactor is underway in Fangchenggang, with trial operation set for 2020.

Hualong One was developed by CGN and CNNC based on generation 3 technologies from foreign firms. CGN has upgraded French firm Areva's 3G technology, while CNNC has made improvements on American firm Westinghouse's 3G technology. Both have claimed intellectual property rights on the improvements. CGN and CNNC both came up with their own versions of 3G products in late 2011, but the National Energy Administration, which regulates the sector, ordered them to merge their designs into what is now known as Hualong One to pool resources and avoid direct competition in overseas markets.

Mao said the targeted construction cost of Hualong One was $2.5m per megawatt of installed capacity when production was scaled up. CGN vice-president Zheng Dongshan said the cost would be "competitive" in the global 3G reactor market.

Nuclear Plants Running For 80 Years or more provides big economic and environmental benefits

If we don’t renew the licenses of most of our nuclear power plants for an additional 20 years, bringing their lifetimes up to 80 years, we will have no hope of significantly curbing fossil fuel use in America. While renewables are increasing rapidly in the United States, hydro and nuclear are still the cheapest and most prolific energy sources that offset significant amounts of fossil fuels, and will be for at least 20 more years. Nuclear alone produces more power than hydro, wind, solar and geothermal combined, at an average cost of about 4¢/kWh.

Both hydro and nuclear plants have long-term lives and most units are expected to exceed 80 years. Large hydro like Grand Coulee and Hoover are expected to substantially exceed 100 years. Having these units last so long is a critical component of getting to a clean energy future and a major element in the cost savings needed to achieve that future.

Maintaining existing nuclear plants cuts the cost of producing electricity in half relative to installing new units of either hydro or nuclear, and cuts costs even more relative to installing new wind and solar. Maintaining existing nuclear is also cheaper than installing new natural gas plants even with our amazingly low gas prices.

Our nuclear plants were originally licensed for 40 years. This number had nothing to do with design life, or safety issues, or component degradation, or anything else. 40 years was an arbitrary time period chosen in the 1950s by the Atomic Energy Commission – the predecessor to the present Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) – as just a reminder to take an all-encompassing relook at the plant and make sure all systems are working well enough to handle another 20 years – that the integrity of the concrete and steel is good, that cables, piping and penetrations are good, and that all other components are up to speed.

In 2030, 92% of our power plants will be over 25 years old, half of them will be over 50 years old. While nuclear and hydro plants can run for 80 years or more, almost nothing else can. We are going to have to replace about 80% of our generating capacity by 2040 unless we really don’t care if the lights turn on when we hit the switch.

Extending nuclear licenses to 80 years will ease the enormous challenge we face in replacing and modernizing our electricity-generating infrastructure over the next few decades. It will save over $300 billion in new construction and save about 400 million tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

February 29, 2016

Space based solar power winner in Department of Defense (DOD) competition

The "Space Solar Power D3" team was one of the winners in a Department of Defense (DOD) competition to find promising new technology ideas that could simultaneously advance diplomacy, development and defense. Space Solar Power (SSP) is among only six winners out of 500 entries for the DOD's first innovation challenge for the D3 (Diplomacy, Development, Defense) Summit. The SSP team proposal is titled "Carbon-Free Energy for Global Resilience and International Goodwill." Their team has won the opportunity to present to the highest-level gathering of the three departments that are primarily responsible for U.S. foreign policy. Winning proposal briefings will be made Wednesday, March 2 to representatives of the Secretary of Defense, the Vice Joint Chief of Staff, DOD senior leaders, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the U.S. Department of State.

$200,000 kickstarter for antimatter propulsion tests

Dreams of antimatter space propulsion are closer to reality than most rocket scientists could ever imagine, says former Fermilab physicist Gerald Jackson. In fact, if money were no object, he says an antimatter-driven spacecraft prototype could be tested within a decade. To that end, next month, Jackson and his Chicago-based Hbar Technologies firm are launching a $200,000 Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund the next phase of its antimatter propulsion research.

With propulsion velocities of some 40% of the speed of light, such technology could eventually cut travel times to the nearby Alpha Centauri star system to less than a decade. And more immediately, it would allow NASA to send a New Horizons-type probe to our outer solar system in a year or less.

They want to use the antiproton as a spark plug to induce fission, explains Jackson. And from this fission, he says, emerges what nuclear physicists term lighter “fission daughter” byproducts.

Each such antimatter annihilation releases two billion electron volts (2 GeV) of energy. Thus, an antimatter rocket, which would only be launched outside of Earth’s atmosphere, could provide a lot more thrust than a chemical or even nuclear rocket and use tens of thousands of times less fuel , says Jackson.

As envisioned in Jackson and Howe’s original design, a small antimatter robotic probe would consist of four basic components: a depleted uranium-coated carbon sail; a solid antihydrogen storage unit; an antiproton-driven electrical power supply, and a small payload instrument package at the back of the spacecraft.

Upon being struck by antihydrogen protons, a portion of the depleted uranium situated on coated foil inside the spacecraft is caused to fission. This creates two “fission daughter” byproducts which typically are emitted back-to-back with equal momentum. While the two daughters may not be exactly alike atomically, in order to adhere to known laws of physics, their momentum inherently must be equal, says Jackson. One fission daughter heads into the direction of the spacecraft’s uranium-coated carbon sail and is decelerated and absorbed; imparting its momentum into the sail. The other escapes into space in the form of conventional propellant exhaust. It’s the opposing forces of their powerful kinetic energies that enable the spacecraft to reach such high speeds.

Jackson would like to take a portion of the initial $200,000 he and Stowe are seeking to build a device to measure such thrust.

The biggest tech challenge says Jackson is the getting money to produce enough antiprotons to do the actual tests. Such antiprotons are usually generated in particle accelerators by aiming fast moving hydrogen atoms into a nickel target.

“For every 100 protons that hit the target, there can be yields of up to one anti-proton,” said Jackson.

When could an antimatter propulsion prototype be tested in space?

If the money were there, we could do it in ten years, says Jackson, noting that it would take a $100 million to design an Earth-based technology test. “But you’re talking billions to send spacecraft out to real destinations,” said Jackson.

But he says if the will is there, spacecraft capable of cruising along at 40% of lightspeed should be achievable within the next two to three decades.

G20 looking at coordinated economic stimulus program and China repeats promise not to have sharp devaluation

A report published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Wednesday called for a coordinated stimulus program to support a slowing global economy.

An official with a European delegation to the G20 earlier in the week said policymakers recognize elevated risks and will express the need for coordinated action in their joint communique at the summit.

"There is general agreement that should the situation worsen considerably, there needs to be a discussion on what should we do collectively or in a coordinated manner, but this is not what we would do today," the official said.

China's central bank reiterated assurances made on Thursday that it will not use currency depreciation to boost exports, and that it intends to keep the yuan basically stable against a basket of currencies.

US would need massive military bases in the Philippines to alter South China Sea equation

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has a map showing the coverage of China's airplanes and missiles based on islands in the South China Sea.

One of China’s highly developed islands in the northern part of the South China Sea, Woody Island, has been equipped with surface-to-air missiles and fighter aircraft. These moves have come just as many defense analysts have predicted for years and are likely an indication of things to come for China’s other island outposts throughout the South China Sea.

There is also evidence that China is installing a high-frequency long-range radar array on Cuarteron Reef, one of their handful of manmade islands in the south-central part of the South China Sea. This radar type is known to be used for detecting aircraft and ships at extreme ranges far over-the-horizon and can theoretically detect some stealthy aircraft under certain circumstances. It is just one of many other sensors popping up on this island and others, although the existence of such a capability provides even more evidence that China is actively seeking an aggressive anti-access, area denial strategy over the South China Sea.

China has begun an extensive construction operation in the South China Sea’s Paracel Islands, following years of work building artificial islands in the Spratly Archipelago.

Chinese construction crews are working on a helicopter base on Duncan Island, which has required land dredging that has “increase[d] by 50 percent the area of Duncan Island.” In addition to the base, The Diplomat finds evidence for the beginnings of a number of new, potentially military facilities in the region. Construction appears to have begun in earnest in early December 2015.

The Philippines has offered the United States eight bases where it can build facilities to store equipment and supplies under a new security deal, a military spokesman said on Wednesday, amid rising tension with China over the South China Sea.

Last year, the Philippines and the United States signed the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) granting Washington increased military presence in its former colony, rotating ships and planes for humanitarian and maritime security operations.

"The list has been prepared many months ago when we had earlier discussions," Colonel Restituto Padilla told reporters, saying five military airfields, two naval bases and a jungle training camp were offered to the United States.

"These are still subject for approval and we're going to hold final discussions about these areas."

Three of these bases are on the main island of Luzon in the northern Philippines, including Clark airfield, a former U.S. air force base, and two are on the western island of Palawan, near the South China Sea.

The Americans are also seeking access to three civilian seaports and airfields on Luzon, including Subic Bay, a former U.S. Navy base, a senior defense official told Reuters.

February 28, 2016

Creating spacetime shortcuts with gravitational waveforms without exotic matter for possible FTL communication and FTL travel

A region-delimited gravitational wave field can be constructed, such that a subset of geodesics crossing this region will move faster than nearby geodesics moving entirely inside flat spacetime, along a preferred direction. Null geodesics inside this region will move faster-than-light according to far away observers. The waveform is synthesized from homogeneous plane wave solutions, and the resulting field is the gravitational equivalent of a Gaussian beam.

Several authors have proposed mechanisms within the standard theory of General Relativity (GR) to allow some level of circumvention around the light speed limit, by warping the spacetime geometry in some compact region. However, all the mechanisms proposed so far require the engineered spacetime region to be filled with matter that violates well established energy conditions, and is not known to exist in nature. But even ignoring the problem of violation of the energy conditions, these geometries have other problems related to acausal setup of the exotic matter distribution, as well as quantum instabilities in the semiclassical limit

However, the idea of using matter to curve surrounding spacetime does not exhaust the possibilities that GR offers in order to create customized geometries. Gravitational waves (GW) are themselves perturbations of geometry that travel at the speed of light. Even while the full theory of GR is a nonlinear theory, the principle of superposition still applies within the limit of weak plane waves, and one can consider some superpositions of such planar waves physically valid perturbations. The present work shows that for specially crafted gravitational waveforms of this type, one can produce geometries in pure vacuum with Faster-Than-Light (FTL) properties, similar to those obtained via other geometrical drives.

In this work, the geometry of null congruences can be affected in a way that allows FTL communication. To be precise, we construct a focal region of a gravitational waveform composed of traceless and transverse planar waves, and find that null congruences entering the focal region can become asymptotically accelerated, such that they arrive effectively before similar geodesics that do not enter the field region, according to distant observers. The asymptotic delay or advancement of congruences will be affected by the local phase of the perturbation at the moment the geodesic enters the region, the period of the oscillation, as well as the width of the focal region.

Given the complex nonlinear geodesic equations that result from the Gaussian perturbation, we were only able to compute analytically the first order correction to the geodesic null and time-like rays crossing the field, and its derivation is detailed

We have established that within GR, certain gravitational waveforms can result in geodesics that arrive at distant points earlier than light signals in flat spacetime. We presented an example waveform that can be used to manifest FTL behavior, and obtained an analytic first order perturbative approximation of geodesics approaching the field region. We notice that the timing of entrance to the field region determines the asymptotic delay or advance of signals. The optimal shortcut geodesics are those that cross the field region as close as possible to the time and position of the minimum of the metric waveform.

Compared to other FTL schemes like the Alcubierre drive or Lorentzian wormholes, which rely on unphysical matter fields to stabilize the geometry, the current approach relies only on gravitational wave generation and transmission through empty space. Assuming the daunting problem of astronomical scale gravitational wave generation is somehow solved, this method could in principle enable FTL travel without appealing to exotic physics. However a detailed analysis of tidal forces is required before assessing the feasibility of this scheme for transit of payloads.

The nature of the shortcut generation involves the creation of waveforms that compress and dilate spacetime in the direction of flight. In order for signals (or ships) to be able to take advantage of the metric-contracting fields, they must carefully control their timing synchronization, in order to cross the field regions as close as possible to the compression valley, where the distance is minimal between opposing sides of the field region. The region must be crossed in substantially less than T /2, with T being the period of the gravitational wave. Even if the compression of each field region is small, large distance reduction could be accomplished by bridging many pre-configured field regions in a timely manner. It is conceivable that other field configurations exist that achieve better distance compression patterns. Even without exploiting the FTL aspects of the field, time-like geodesics can still be substantially accelerated or decelerated with special field configurations of this type, while remaining in free fall during the transit.

Due to the transversal nature of gravitational waves, the gravitational sources must be distributed orthogonally to the direction of desired FTL geodesic path. These gravitational beams have to be precisely oriented and timed decades in advance, as gravitational waves propagate at the speed of light. This implies some sort of deployment of a wide scale network of gravitational generators around entire star clusters. This presents an unfathomably hard logistic and technological problem. Perhaps, some future Type-III civilization, millions of years in the future, might manage to address them.

Arxiv - Creating spacetime shortcuts with gravitational waveforms, Charles Quarra Charles is a physicist and software developer Charles J. Quarra. He has spoken at Icarus Interstellar conferences and works with the Icarus Interstellar projects.

Lightest and cheapest medical exoskeleton helps those paralyzed from the waste down to walk

Suitx has a $40,000 exoskeleton. The suit returns movement to wearers’ hips and knees with small motors attached to standard orthotics. Wearers can control the movement of each leg and walk at up to 1.1 miles per hour by pushing buttons integrated into a pair of crutches.

Major Suitx features:

  • A modular exoskeleton allowing the user to independently put on and remove each piece.
  • Weighs only 12.25kg (27 lbs), affording greater agility.
  • A speed of 1.1 miles/hour (0.5 m/sec) has been clocked by a Phoenix user. However, the maximum speed depends on the individual user.
  • On a single charge, Phoenix can walk for 4 hours continuously or 8 hours intermittently.
  • Phoenix is adjustable for different size users and can be easily configured to fit individual conditions.
  • An intuitive interface makes it easy for users to control standing up, sitting down and walking.
  • Phoenix can comfortably be worn while seated in a wheelchair.

At 27 pounds, the Phoenix is among the lightest and cheapest medical exoskeletons. It also has unique abilities; the suit is modular and adjustable so it can adapt to, say, a relatively tall person who just needs mobility assistance for one knee.

A battery pack worn as a backpack powers the exoskeleton for up to eight hours. An app can be used to track the patient’s walking data. SuitX has mainly worked with patients with spinal cord injuries, who can use the Phoenix to walk again.

The device could also have therapeutic benefits for people who have experienced a stroke or other motor injury, but more research needs to be conducted.

SuitX is just one of the companies hoping to boost interest in exoskeleton research. Competing suits like the ReWalk, which costs $70,000 and weighs about 50 pounds, are striving to reduce costs while improving functionality. If exoskeleton makers can drive suit costs down to a few thousand dollars, they could start competing with motorized wheelchairs

Switchable material could enable new phase change memory chips

Two MIT researchers have developed a thin-film material whose phase and electrical properties can be switched between metallic and semiconducting simply by applying a small voltage. The material then stays in its new configuration until switched back by another voltage. The discovery could pave the way for a new kind of “nonvolatile” computer memory chip that retains information when the power is switched off, and for energy conversion and catalytic applications.

The findings, reported in the journal Nano Letters in a paper by MIT materials science graduate student Qiyang Lu and associate professor Bilge Yildiz, involve a thin-film material called a strontium cobaltite, or SrCoOx.

Nanoletters - Voltage-Controlled Topotactic Phase Transition in Thin-Film SrCoOx Monitored by In Situ X-ray Diffraction

General Atomics buying Miltec which has hypersonic vehicle expertise

San Diego-based General Atomics announced Thursday it is purchasing a small Alabama company with expertise in hypersonic vehicles for $14.6 million in cash. Based in Huntsville, AL, Miltec is a leading provider of military defense and aerospace systems design, development, integration and test services. Miltec will be a part of the Electromagnetic Systems (EMS) group of GA. The completion of the transaction is subject to customary closing conditions.

The addition of Miltec will accelerate GA's depth of knowledge in key technical areas of hypersonic vehicles, small satellites and related products and programs. "We are excited about the opportunities that this acquisition holds for General Atomics' future," said Scott Forney, President of GA's EMS group.

Miltec Corp, based in the defense center of Huntsville, AL, has expertise in the areas of hypersonic vehicles, small satellites and related products and programs.

The company is a unit of Ducommun, a publicly traded defense company, and had sales of $28.2 million in 2015. It will become part of General Atomics’ Electromagnetic Systems group.

In 2014, Miltec Corporation was awarded a $44 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract with options for labor, material, travel for research and development for the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon-Technology Demonstration for Space and Missile Defense Command, with an estimated completion date of June 5, 2019.

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