April 30, 2016

Optical Processing Pioneer wins Project with DARPA

Cambridge University spin-out Optalysys has been awarded a $350k grant for a 13-month project from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The project will see the company advance their research in developing and applying their optical co-processing technology to solving complex mathematical equations. These equations are relevant to large-scale scientific and engineering simulations such as weather prediction and aerodynamics.

The Optalysys technology is extremely energy efficient, using light rather than electricity to perform intensive mathematical calculations. The company aims to provide existing computer systems with massively boosted processing capabilities, with the aim to eventually reach exaFLOP rates (a billion billion calculations per second). The technology operates at a fraction of the energy cost of conventional high-performance computers (HPCs) and has the potential to operate at orders of magnitude faster.

In April 2015 Optalysys announced that they had successfully built a scaleable, lens-less optical processing prototype that can perform mathematical functions. Codenamed Project GALELEO, the device demonstrates that second order derivatives and correlation pattern matching can be performed optically in a scaleable design.

Project EQUATE: Light speed mathematical processing
Objective of project EQUATE is to investigate applying the Optalysys optical processing technology towards solving complex mathematical equations that form the basis of large scale simulations such as those used in the dynamical core of earth systems modelling.

A feasibility report describing the outputs of an Optalysys research system performing example mathematical functions will be produced and a roadmap for scaling the technology into a commercial product.

In 2015, Optalysys completed a 320 gigaFLOP optical computer prototype. They were targeting a 9 petaFLOP product in 2017 and 17 exaFLOPS machine by 2020.

Supercopter demonstrators will fly in 2017 but budget constraints will delay mass production until after 2030

Next year will bring the first flights of the prototype rotorcraft vying to replace the Army’s venerable Black Hawk and other helicopters. But don’t expect the futuristic aircraft to hit battlefields for another decade and a half — unless their manufacturers find other customers first.

The prototypes are being built for the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator project by Bell Helicopter and the competing Sikorsky-Boeing team.

Bell is building the V-280 Valor, a tiltrotor aircraft that can take off and land like a helicopter, or rotate its propellers to fly fast like a fixed-wing plane. Sikorsky and Boeing are building the SB-1 Defiant, a high-speed coaxial helicopter with one rotor mounted atop the other. Bell officials say V-280 ground testing is scheduled for next April and first flight for September 2017; Sikorsky-Boeing reps said their SB-1 would fly next year as well.

The project will feed into the Future Vertical Lift program, a vast effort to replace all Army helicopters — which include the AH-64 Apache, CH-46 Chinook, and the OH-58 Kiowa — at a projected cost of around $100 billion.

The US Army isn’t planning to buy its first new rotorcraft until after 2030. That’s because its acquisition budget — aircraft, armored vehicles, and so forth — has taken a major hit.

All quiet on the Russian-Ukraine front as deaths continue with trench war 2.0

At least five people including a pregnant woman were killed and more than 10 injured early Wednesday on the front line in eastern Ukraine in the worst civilian loss of life there in months, separatist officials said.

The 2-year-old war has ravaged eastern Ukraine, killing more than 10,000 and displacing more than 1 million.

The war is not over.

Along the front lines, Ukrainian troops are dug in and ready for combat. As one soldier put it: “This is my life now.”

Russia–Ukraine barrier – also known as Ukrainian Wall or European Wall – is a fortified border barrier currently under construction by Ukraine on the Russia–Ukraine border. The aim of the project is preventing Russian military and hybrid warfare intervention in Ukraine

On 20 August 2015, it was announced that Ukraine has completed 10% of the fortification line, stating that roughly 180 km of anti-tank ditches had been dug, 40 km of barbed wire fence and 500 fortification obstacles had been erected. 139 million hryvnia out of 300 million allocated has been used for construction of the wall at this point, and that another 460 million hryvnia were budgeted for 2016.

Combined Russian-separatist artillery, tank, mortar and small arms attacks occur daily at hot spots near Donetsk, capital of the Donetsk People’s Republic, one of two breakaway territories.

“It’s like this every day,” John Slobodyan, 23, a soldier in the Ukrainian army’s 93rd Brigade, said. He spoke as the bass notes of artillery cut through the air at a Ukrainian outpost near the town of Karlivka, about six miles from Donetsk.

“There is no cease-fire,” Slobodyan said.

Combined Russian-separatist forces attack Ukrainian positions in the area every day. They said the attacks usually comprise 120 mm and 82 mm mortars, small arms and sniper fire, although larger caliber artillery and Grad rockets sometimes are used. They also said tanks routinely fire at their positions in the town of Pisky, just outside the Donetsk airport.

The soldiers said the military supply chain has improved, but civilian volunteers still meet food and water shortfalls, and uniforms remain a hodgepodge from different countries. With no common uniform, soldiers attach colored tape to their helmets and body armor to distinguish themselves from their enemies.

At night, soldiers on watch in a blacked out observation post took turns peering through a single night-vision scope to scan separatist positions across 1,200 meters of no man’s land.

Night-vision technology is still scarce within Ukrainian ranks, largely limiting combat to daylight hours. Lack of encrypted communications is another challenge. Ukrainian soldiers often communicate with off-the-shelf Motorola walkie-talkies, sharing frequencies with their enemies. The two sides sometime taunt each other over the open airwaves.

The War in Donbass (also called the War in Ukraine, War in Eastern Ukraine) is an armed conflict in the Donbass region of Ukraine. From the beginning of March 2014, demonstrations by pro-Russian and anti-government groups took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, together commonly called the "Donbass", in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the Euromaidan movement.

Following months of ceasefire violations, the Ukrainian government, the DPR and the LPR jointly agreed to halt all fighting, starting on 1 September 2015. This agreement coincided with the start of the school year in Ukraine, and was intended to allow for another attempt at implementing the points of Minsk II. By 12 September, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that the ceasefire had been holding, and that the parties to the conflict were "very close" to reaching an agreement to withdraw heavy weaponry from the line of contact, as specified by Minsk II. The area around Mariupol, including Shyrokyne, saw no fighting. According to Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak, violence in the Donbass had reached its lowest level since the start of the war. Whilst the ceasefire continued to hold into November, no final settlement to the conflict was agreed. The New York Times described this result as part of a "a common arc of post-Soviet conflict, visible in the Georgian enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan and in Transnistria", and said that separatist-controlled areas had become a "frozen zone", where people "live in ruins, amid a ruined ideology, in the ruins of the old empire". This state of affairs continued into 2016, with a 15 April report by the BBC labelling the conflict as "Europe's forgotten war". Minor outbreaks of fighting continued along the line of contact, though no territorial changes occurred

Hypersonic boost glide weapon analysis, flight profiles, detection and early warning

From a purely technical perspective, hypersonic boost-glide weapons would offer certain unique attributes to military planners. Their speed is unmatched by any other kinetic weapon, except for ballistic missiles. And, compared to ballistic missiles, boost-glide weapons have potentially longer ranges, can generally transport a heavier payload over a given range, are capable of midcourse maneuvering, and fly at lower altitudes. Understanding whether these attributes would be likely to provide a significant military advantage and, ultimately, whether the benefits of boost-glide weapons would outweigh their costs and risks raises a complex series of technical and policy questions."

* boost-glide roughly doubles the range over the purely ballistic trajectory.
* In contrast to these maneuvering warhead concepts, there has been growing interest in the traditional boost-glide concept not to extend range per se, but to allow it to reach a given range while flying at a much lower altitude. The goal in this case is to keep the reentry vehicle below radar coverage until it enters the terminal phase.

Science and Global Security: The Technical Basis for Arms Control, Disarmament, and Nonproliferation Initiatives, Hypersonic Boost-Glide Weapons

The United States, Russia and China are developing hypersonic boost-glide vehicles. A simple model of their trajectory is developed by assuming that the vehicle does not oscillate during the transition to equilibrium gliding

A model is also used to calculate the tactical warning time that a boost-glide attack would afford an adversary. Other aspects of boost-glide weapons’ military effectiveness are explored. Approximate calculations suggest that, compared to existing non-nuclear weapons, boost-glide weapons could penetrate more deeply but would be less effective at destroying silos. The distance at which a boost-glide weapon armed with a particle dispersion warhead could destroy a mobile missile is also calculated; it is expected to be significantly larger than for an explosive warhead.

The current American attempt to develop boost-glide weapons dates to 2003 when the administration of George W. Bush initiated a program that became known as Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) to develop fast, long-range, non-nuclear weapons. The United States has since tested two gliders: the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 (HTV-2) and the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW).

The HTV-2, which had a planned range of 17,000 km, was tested in April 2010 and August 2011. Both tests were terminated prematurely and this program has now been effectively canceled. Instead, current U.S. efforts are focused on the AHW. According to a 2008 study by the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academies, the AHW would have a range of about 8,000 km and might, therefore, be more accurately described as a non-global Conventional Prompt Global Strike weapon. The AHW was tested successfully in November 2011. A second test, in August 2014, failed because of a booster problem.

In January 2014,Beijing tested a boost-glide system for the first time. A second test, in August 2014 over a planned range of 1,750 km, appears to have ended in failure following a booster problem. There is some evidence that, unlike the United States, China's goal is the delivery of nuclear weapons—although the overall scale and scope of the Chinese program remain extremely murky.

China just completed a seventh successful hypersonic test.

Russia has its own Conventional Prompt Global Strike program.

A standard exo-atmospheric gliding trajectory, used by the HTV-2 for example, is shown below.
Schematic diagram of the different phases of an exo-atmospheric boost-glide weapon's trajectory. The labels, tn, indicate the time at which each phase ends. For clarity, radial distances are exaggerated relative to tangential distances, making it appear as though the booster's trajectory is lofted, whereas it is actually depressed.

Alternatively, it is possible to launch the glider on such a highly depressed trajectory that it never leaves the atmosphere. This strategy appears to have been adopted for the AHW, which the National Research Council describes as “endoatmospheric.” In theory, if an endo-atmospheric booster is able to attain horizontal flight at exactly the right altitude it could inject an RV straight into equilibrium gliding without the need for a pull-up. It does not appear, however, as though the AHW test flight involved this kind of direct injection. So, in practice, the HTV-2 and AHW trajectories are probably quite similar after the start of the pull-up.

Spacex plans to ramp up to weekly launches by 2019 and twice a week by 2021

The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday awarded billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX an $83 million contract to launch a GPS satellite, breaking the monopoly that Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) and Boeing Co (BA.N) have held on military space launches for more than a decade.

The Global Positioning System satellite will be launched in May 2018 from Florida, Air Force officials said.

The fixed-price award is the military's first competitively sourced launch service contract in more than a decade. It ends the exclusive relationship between the military and United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

ULA did not compete for the GPS launch contract, citing accounting issues, implications of trade sanctions limiting imports of its rockets' Russian-made engines and, according to a former ULA vice president, SpaceX's cut-rate pricing.

The next Spacex launch is scheduled for May 4th at 1:22 am EST with a two-hour launch window. The company is expected to couple the launch with another rocket landing attempt on a drone ship out at sea.

The launch requirements for this next launch, the accompanied landing attempt will likely be more challenging. In order to reach the significantly higher orbit, the first stage on May 4th will be required to accelerate faster than the first stage on April 8th, which may make a soft landing attempt more cumbersome.

It was less than three weeks ago that SpaceX made their first successful rocket recovery on a drone ship.

Between now and 2018, the Air Force plans to solicit bids for contracts covering eight more satellite launches.

ULA did not immediately respond to a request for comment about bidding on future launch contracts.

In March, 2016, a ULA executive was fired for admitting ULA could not compete with Spacex on launch costs.

The most reliable US rocket company, United Launch Alliance, could not compete with upstart provider SpaceX during a competition in late 2015 for an Air Force payload, a senior engineer with the company said Wednesday. SpaceX was able to offer launch capabilities for as little as one-third the price of what United Launch Alliance could, said Brett Tobey, vice president of engineering for the Colorado-based rocket company.

The $82.7 million fixed-price contract awarded to Space Exploration Technologies, as the company is officially known, covers production of a Falcon 9 rocket, spacecraft integration, launch operations and spaceflight certification.

SpaceX holds more than $10 billion worth of launch service contracts for NASA and commercial customers.

The advertised price of a Falcon 9 is $61.2 million. Assuming that savings would be passed on to the customer, the price of a Falcon 9 with a reused first stage could drop to $42.84 million.

April 29, 2016

China and Russia both successfully tested rocket launched hypersonic gliding missiles

China has successfully completed a seventh flight test of its new hypersonic glide vehicle last week in its northern central Shanxi province, according to an article on People’s Daily Online.

The “DF-ZF” glider can travel at speeds between Mach 5 and Mach 10, which is 5 to 10 times the speed of sound.

Pentagon officials also confirmed China successfully flight tested its new high-speed maneuvering warhead last week, days after Russia carried out its own hypersonic glider test.

The test of the developmental DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle was monitored after launch Friday atop a ballistic missile fired from the Wuzhai missile launch center in central China, said officials familiar with reports of the test.

The maneuvering glider, traveling at several thousand miles per hour, was tracked by satellites as it flew west along the edge of the atmosphere to an impact area in the western part of the country.

Update- Nextbigfuture has another article that summarizes a technical paper analyzing hypersonic boost glide flight profiles, detection and early warning

It was the seventh successful flight test of the revolutionary glider, which travels at speeds between 4,000 and 7,000 miles per hour.

From a purely technical perspective, boost-glide weapons would offer certain unique attributes to military planners. [Science and Global Security: The Technical Basis for Arms Control, Disarmament, and Nonproliferation Initiatives, Hypersonic Boost-Glide Weapons] Their speed is unmatched by any other kinetic weapon, except for ballistic missiles. And, compared to ballistic missiles, boost-glide weapons have potentially longer ranges, can generally transport a heavier payload over a given range, are capable of midcourse maneuvering, and fly at lower altitudes. Understanding whether these attributes would be likely to provide a significant military advantage and, ultimately, whether the benefits of boost-glide weapons would outweigh their costs and risks raises a complex series of technical and policy questions.

* boost-glide roughly doubles the range over the purely ballistic trajectory.
* In contrast to these maneuvering warhead concepts, there has been growing interest in the traditional boost-glide concept not to extend range per se, but to allow it to reach a given range while flying at a much lower altitude. The goal in this case is to keep the reentry vehicle below radar coverage until it enters the terminal phase.

U.S. intelligence officials have assessed that China plans to use the glider to deliver nuclear weapons through increasingly sophisticated missile defenses. The DF-ZF also could be used as part of a conventional strategic strike weapon capable of hitting targets around the world within an hour.

The congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated in its most recent annual report that the hypersonic glide vehicle program was “progressing rapidly” and that the new strike weapon could be deployed by 2020.

A powered version also is in development and could be fielded by 2025.

Russia conducted a flight test of a revolutionary hypersonic glide vehicle last week that will deliver nuclear or conventional warheads through advanced missile defenses, U.S. defense officials said.

The test firing of the hypersonic glider took place Tuesday and involved the launch of an SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile from eastern Russia, said officials familiar with details of the test.

Russia’s state-run Interfax news agency confirmed the test on Thursday.

DARPA funds $146 million for spaceplane demonstrator

DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane-1 (XS-1) has been gearing up its own development program, which in some ways is even more impressive than the big launchers.

DARPA has asked the aerospace industry to design a small, first-stage rocket that can launch into space, deploy another stage with 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of payload attached, then return to land on a runway and be ready to do it all over again the next day—ten days in a row. That’s much more often than any of the bigger rockets launch, none of which have actually achieved reusability yet. XS-1, as DARPA calls the experimental vehicle, won’t have time for extensive refurbishment. It should essentially be able to refuel and re-fly, like an airplane. And it should do it for $5 million per flight, around a tenth of the cost of a current launch

DARPA is putting up $146 million for Phase II of the project—building and flying an actual demonstrator

In 2014 for phase I, three teams were selected to do advanced design work on the XS-1: Boeing/Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman/Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites, and XCOR/Masten were all funded to develop their concepts.

Boeing's concept for DARPA's XS-1 spaceplane. (Boeing)

DARPA awards contracts to develop smarter, faster unmanned and manned armored vehicles

Today’s ground-based armored fighting vehicles are better protected than ever, but face a constantly evolving threat: weapons increasingly effective at piercing armor. While adding more armor has provided incremental increases in protection, it has also hobbled vehicle speed and mobility and ballooned development and deployment costs. To help reverse this trend, DARPA’s Ground X-Vehicle Technology (GXV-T) program recently awarded contracts to eight organizations.

“We’re exploring a variety of potentially groundbreaking technologies, all of which are designed to improve vehicle mobility, vehicle survivability and crew safety and performance without piling on armor,” said Maj. Christopher Orlowski, DARPA program manager. “DARPA’s performers for GXV-T are helping defy the ‘more armor equals better protection’ axiom that has constrained armored ground vehicle design for the past 100 years, and are paving the way toward innovative, disruptive vehicles for the 21st Century and beyond.”

DARPA has awarded contracts for GXV-T to the following organizations:

  • Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
  • Honeywell International Inc. (Phoenix, Ariz.)
  • Leidos (San Diego, Calif.)
  • Pratt and Miller (New Hudson, Mich.)
  • QinetiQ Inc. (QinetiQ UK, Farnborough, United Kingdom)
  • Raytheon BBN (Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio, Tex.)
  • SRI International (Menlo Park, Calif.)

GXV-T is pursuing research in the following four technical areas:
  • Radically Enhanced Mobility—Ability to traverse diverse off-road terrain, including slopes and various elevations. Capabilities of interest include revolutionary wheel/track and suspension technologies that would enable greater terrain access and faster travel both on- and off-road compared to existing ground vehicles.
  • Survivability through Agility—Autonomously avoid incoming threats without harming occupants through technologies that enable, for example, agile motion and active repositioning of armor. Capabilities of interest include vertical and horizontal movement of armor to defeat incoming threats in real time.
  • Crew Augmentation—Improved physical and electronically assisted situational awareness for crew and passengers; semi-autonomous driver assistance and automation of key crew functions similar to capabilities found in modern commercial airplane cockpits. Capabilities of interest include high-resolution, 360-degree visualization of data from multiple onboard sensors and technologies to support closed-cockpit vehicle operations.
  • Signature Management—Reduction of detectable signatures, including visible, infrared (IR), acoustic and electromagnetic (EM). Capabilities of interest include improved ways to avoid detection and engagement by adversaries.

China lending Russia $6.2 billion for Russia's Moscow-Kazan high speed rail project

China has agreed to provide a 400 billion-ruble ($ 6.2 billion) loan for Russia's Moscow-Kazan High-Speed ​​Rail Project, the Russian Railways company said Friday.

In late March, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich attended the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA), where he invited Chinese business to take part in the implementation of high-speed rail projects in Russia, including the Moscow-Kazan railway and a high- speed railway between Samara and Tolyatti.

The project is initial stage of a high speed rail line connecting Moscow and Beijing and later one of lines connecting China to Europe.

China is discussions with India on several High Speed rail projects

India has tied up with Japan for its first high-speed train to run on a 505-km track between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. China is keen to work on other proposed routes. It is carrying out feasibility studies for high-speed lines on the 2,200-km Chennai-New Delhi route and the 1,200-km long New Delhi-Mumbai corridor.

The proposed Chennai-New Delhi corridor could be the second-largest in the world, after the 2,298 km-long Beijing-Guangzhou line, which was launched three years ago.

Comparing the pricing of tickets of various modes of transport, the Chinese railway chief said the fare for a regular passenger train is 10 cents per kilometer, while second class on HSR costs 48 cents per kilometer and first class costs 80 cents. An air ticket, on average, came to about 1 RMB (100 china cents) per km. This was after airlines had been forced to lower their rates since they were losing out to High Speed Rail.

F35 using open air ranges and simulation to prepare to fight layered integrated air defenses and missiles like Russia's S500

The Air Force F-35 is using “open air” ranges and computer simulation to practice combat missions against the best Chinese and Russian-made air-defense technologies – as a way to prepare to enemy threats anticipated in the mid-2020s and beyond.

Surface threats from air defenses is a tough problem because emerging threats right now can see aircraft hundreds of miles away. Today digital SAMS (surface-to-air-missile-systems) can change frequencies and they are very agile in how they operate.

Emerging and future Integrated Air Defense Systems use faster computer processors, are better networked to one-another and detect on a wider range of frequencies. These attributes, coupled with an ability to detect aircraft at further distances, make air defenses increasingly able to at times detect even stealth aircraft, in some instances, with surveillance radar.

The Russian S-500 Prometey is expected to become operational in 2017. It will likely form the upper tier of Russia’s layered integrated air defense system.

The S-500 is expected to able to detect and simultaneously attack up to ten ballistic missile warheads flying at speeds of twenty-three thousand feet per second. It is also reportedly being designed to use hit-to-kill interceptors—a design with similarities to Lockheed Martin's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).

Like all modern Russian air defense systems, the S-500 is expected to be highly mobile and will use a network of radars for targeting over vast distances. The missile system is expected to use the 91N6A(M) battle management radar, a modified 96L6-TsP acquisition radar, as well as the new 76T6 multimode engagement and 77T6 ABM engagement radars

Paramount Pictures has no honor and no right to copyright the Klingon language

The Language Creation Society submited a legal brief to defend the Axanar movie production against Paramount Pictures and CBS Paramount and CBS claim they have a copyright on the Klingon language as well as the look of many things used in the Star Trek TV show and movies.

English translation: “we succeed together in a greater whole.”
Latin transliteration: “wa' Dol nIvDaq matay'DI' maQap

Various organizations such as the Klingon Language Institute, as well as individual linguistic scholars, have studied and used the Klingon language for years.

Linguistics professor Marc Okrand initially created the Klingon language. Paramount hired him to create dialogue for Klingon characters in the film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).

The version of Klingon he created for the film was not a functioning language, however, and Okrand had to add more grammatical features and vocabulary before publishing the first Klingon dictionary in 1985. More than 250,000 copies of the dictionary sold.

The nonprofit Klingon Language Institute (“KLI”) was formed in 1992 for the purpose of studying, promoting, and spreading the Klingon language.

The search engine Bing allows users to translate text to and from Klingon.

Copyright law protects the means of expressing ideas or concepts, but it does not give the copyright holder the right to exclude others from making use of the ideas or concepts themselves. Neither is one permitted to register copyright in a word.

Here is the whole brief

English translation: “brute strength is not the most important asset in a fight.” Latin transliteration: “Suvlu'taHvIS yapbe' HoS neH.”

The main issue of the lawsuit is that technology is enabling efficient content creators to make top quality feature movies for a million dollars or less

Good writing and $1 million can make a better movie than bad writing and $200 million. Special effect costs are not a barrier

NASA and Spacex may land unmanned Red Dragon capsule on Mars in 2018

SpaceX and NASA plan to create the Red Dragon capsule and land it on Mars to collect scientific data — possibly within the next two years in 2018. The plan is to use an unmanned Dragon capsule.

Red Dragon missions will help inform the overall Mars architecture that will be unveiled later this year.
These missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars.

A Falcon Heavy will by used to launch it.

The Dragon craft is meant to carry astronauts, but SpaceX founder Elon Musk says the SUV-sized interior of the craft would make it difficult for humans to endure any trips longer than from the Earth to the moon.

Still, NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman says that her agency is closer "to sending American astronauts to Mars than anyone, anywhere, at any time has ever been."

In a statement about the collaboration with SpaceX, Newman says a new and broad consensus is emerging that calls for sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

April 28, 2016

China continues building the Pan Asian High speed railway network

By the early 2020s, rail commuters in Asia will be able to travel by rail between Kunming, a major transportation hub in southwestern China, and the tiny city state of Singapore in just 10 hours.

Construction has begun on several parts of the "Pan-Asia Railway Network," a mega plan that will see three 4,500-5,500 kilometer (2,800-3,400 mile) railway lines link China with mainland Southeast Asia, carrying passengers and freight services.

(H/T to reader Godfree Roberts) Construction of the Kunming – Shanghai leg was completed last week.

In southwest China’s Yunnan province, construction of a high-speed railway connecting the capital city of Kunming with Shanghai has just been completed. The high-speed railway is the first for Yunnan. The route is about 380 kilometers and connects the remote southwest with the prosperous eastern China. Engineers say there were great challenges during construction, but they were overcome. Yunnan is situated in a mountainous area, but engineers managed to build nearly 130 bridges and 40 tunnels.

Test runs of the railway will be conducted in June, with plans open to the public by the end of the year. It will allow people who live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to take a 55 minute flight to Kunming then board a 4 hour train to Shanghai, which will connect them to the rest of China's 20,000 km High Speed Rail network.

The Kunming-Singapore central line will cross Laos and Thailand before heading south towards Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur and then Singapore. The eastern line will run through Vietnam and Cambodia before linking up with the central line in Bangkok. The western line will cross more of southwestern China and much of Myanmar before joining up in Bangkok.

The cities of Kunming and the Thai capital, Bangkok, will serve as the main hubs for the network.

High and medium-speed rail services are expected to connect 10 major cities between Kunming in China and Singapore. China is negotiating with seven Southeast Asian countries.

Transport analyst Dr. Ruth Banomyong thinks the economic benefits of a modern railway network are now too tempting for many poorer Southeast Asian countries to pass up.

"High speed rail is very expensive and none of the countries - Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, or Cambodia - can really afford one," Banomyong, who is a professor at Bangkok's Thammasat University, told DW.

He added that there is also a question mark over the cost of the proposed route through Thailand, a middle income country. Although the costs for the whole project haven't been revealed, the Thai section alone is estimated to be worth 20 billion euros ($23 billion.)
Construction has already finished on the Vietnam stretch of the rail link, while work got underway last December to connect landlocked Laos to Kunming.

China is also bidding to build high speed railway lines in India and has proposed a direct rail link to the Iranian capital, Tehran.

The rail route between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur already exists but the contract to upgrade to high-speed lines is expected to be taken by the end of the year. Local media reports suggest that Singapore prefers a Japanese or European bidder but Malaysia favors a Chinese firm.

Construction of sections connecting China with Vietnam, China with Myanmar and Laos with Vietnam are under way.

SOURCES - Deutsche Welle, Wikipedia,

Tesla claims $190/kwh cost for battery packs today

Tesla’s Vice-President of Investor Relations, Jeff Evanson, jumped in on the call between Langan and Bereisa to correct their analysis. Evanson stated that Tesla’s battery pack cost is already below $190/kWh – meaning at least 26% less than Bereisa’s current estimate – and that the base Model 3 will be offered with a battery pack option smaller than 60 kWh, like Bereisa assumed.

During the Model 3 unveiling last month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the base Model 3, which is expected to start at $35,000 before incentives, will have a range of over 215 miles on a single charge. While Musk didn’t confirm the energy capacity of the pack, it will be impressive if Tesla can achieve such a range on a less than 60 kWh pack, like Evanson is now suggesting.

The $190 per kwh battery pack cost would indicate a cell cost of $128 or less using Bereisa's 48-percent increment.

Bereisa disagreed with that cost, saying that the raw materials cost for today's lithium-ion cell chemistries is $160 per kwh if you assume a conventional 40-percent supplier markup. Bereisa estimated Tesla's per-kwh cost for the entire Model 3 battery pack at $260 per kwh. Bereisa estimated $215 per kwh for GM

Evanson also disputed Bereisa's suggestion that the Model 3 would have a 60-kwh battery pack, saying that it would have a capacity below that estimate.

Bereisa shot back that 55 kwh or more would be required to get to the promised 200-mile range.

These various cost estimates cover only the materials and labor costs of the cells and packs, and do not include any overhead, capital investment, and the many other costs required to operate a car company.

The discussion reveals that battery and cell costs have not only fallen faster than expected just five years ago, but may be on a path to reach the magic $100 per kwh level at which electric cars are price-competitive with conventional models.

Bereisa is more pessimistic, estimating that even by 2025, the full pack will fall only to $135 to $155 per kwh.

By 2030 Electric Vehicles with a 200 mile range will be lower cost than the cheapest car sold in the US in 2015

Ramez Naam has an analysis of how cheap electric cars can get

Electric Vehicles, like virtually all other manufactured goods, are likely to have a learning curve, meaning that greater production will mean reduced price. Batteries, a large fraction of the cost of EVs, appear to have a learning rate of around 21%, meaning that every doubling of scale will reduce costs by 21%.

What about whole vehicles? The Ford Model T had a learning rate of around 16%. Let’s use that for the entire vehicle, including the battery. That gives us a conservative estimate of the cost improvement rate.

Last year, EVs grew at around 60% annually, to around 1 million total EVs ever sold. Sources in China tell me they expect several hundred thousand EVs to be sold there in 2016 alone. Growth could easily be 60% again in 2016. Even so, growth will eventually slow. Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects 30% long term growth. Let’s use that for now, to be conservative.

Those assumptions lead to a world where, by roughly 2030, EVs with a 200 mile range are cheaper than the cheapest car sold in the US in 2015.

A few days ago Telsa claims that the cost of their battery packs is down to $190 per kwh. This should go down 30-50% when the Gigafactory reaches full production levels

On Cost-Per-Mile, EVs Win Even More

Electric vehicles, today, have lower total costs per mile than equivalent gasoline-powered vehicles, due to lower energy costs of electricity and the lower maintenance costs. At 30% growth rate, EVs will have roughly half the up-front cost of gasoline-powered vehicles in roughly 10-12 years, around 2027 or 2028. At that point, the total cost per-mile-driven of EVs will also be roughly half the cost of gasoline powered vehicles.

In 2014, Nextbigfuture had discussed the possibility of a battery singularity. The Battery singularity would be the electric car singularity as Ramez is also discussing. Batteries (and electric engines) that replace gasoline (and combustion engines) but at lower lifetime costs have the potential to completely replace combustion engines. I believe the costs will be brought down and the factory construction and scaling of the supply chain will take until about 2025. We could get to 10 million electric cars per year by about 2020 and then to 100 million by 2025.

This would likely mean that Tesla with its large lead in electric cars would likely be selling as many cars as Toyota now and possibly 2 to 3 times as many. This would be 10 to 30 million cars. Tesla would be worth $300 billion to $2 trillion depending upon the price earnings multiple.

April 27, 2016

Magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters can have hundreds of times the thrust of ion propulsion for space application

There are a few technically feasible approaches to get about a megawatt of power in space using nuclear power or solar power. Russia has a project to develop about a megawatt nuclear reactor for space applications.

NASA Glenn Research Center, GRC, has several programs to advance near-term photovoltaic array development. One project is to design, build, and test two 20 kW-sized deployable solar arrays, bringing them to technology readiness level (TRL) 5, and through analysis show that they should be extensible to 300 kW-class systems (150 kw per wing). These solar arrays are approximately 1500 square meters in total area which is about an order-of-magnitude larger than the 160 square meters solar array blankets on the International Space Station (ISS).

Orbital ATK has a promising lightweight and compact solar array structure. The MegaFlex™ engineering development unit was tested at NASA GRC Plumbrook facility in 2015. Use of high-power solar arrays, at power levels ranging from ~500 KW to several megawatts is possible in the near to mid-term.

Deployable Space System, DSS, developed a roll-out array, ROSA, EDU that employs an innovative stored strain energy deployment to reduce the number of mechanisms and parts. The elastic structure maintains stiffness throughout deployment for partially deployed power generation. The rectangular design can be configured in many ways by either lengthening the booms, adjusting the length and width, or attaching several winglets onto a deployable backbone. Lengthening and/or shortening the booms provides power scaling without changing any of the subsystems or stowed configuration. See below for a fully deployed ROSA array.

* four 150 kilowatt wings would be 600 kilowatts in power. The new wings are easy to deploy and do not involve astronauts.
* eight 150 kilowatt wings would be 1.2 megawatts

A NASA presentation looked at space based power and storage requirements and options.

Power at the hundreds of kilowatts and megawatt levels would be great for magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters

In theory, magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) thrusters could produce extremely high specific impulses (Isp) with an exhaust velocity of up to and beyond 110,000 m/s (0.03% of light speed), triple the value of current xenon-based ion thrusters, and about 25 times better than liquid rockets. MPD technology also has the potential for thrust levels of up to 200 newtons (N) (45 lbF ), by far the highest for any form of electric propulsion, and nearly as high as many interplanetary chemical rockets.[citation needed] This would allow use of electric propulsion on missions which require quick delta-v maneuvers (such as capturing into orbit around another planet), but with many times greater fuel efficiency

CGI rendering of Princeton University's lithium-fed self-field MPD thruster (from Popular Mechanics magazine)

A magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) thruster (MPDT) is a form of electrically powered spacecraft propulsion which uses the Lorentz force (the force on a charged particle by an electromagnetic field) to generate thrust. It is sometimes referred to as Lorentz Force Accelerator (LFA) or (mostly in Japan) MPD arcjet.

Generally, a gaseous material is ionized and fed into an acceleration chamber, where the magnetic and electrical fields are created using a power source. The particles are then propelled by the Lorentz force resulting from the interaction between the current flowing through the plasma and the magnetic field (which is either externally applied, or induced by the current) out through the exhaust chamber. Unlike chemical propulsion, there is no combustion of fuel. As with other electric propulsion variations, both specific impulse and thrust increase with power input, while thrust per watt drops.

There are two main types of MPD thrusters, applied-field and self-field. Applied-field thrusters have magnetic rings surrounding the exhaust chamber to produce the magnetic field, while self-field thrusters have a cathode extending through the middle of the chamber. Applied fields are necessary at lower power levels, where self-field configurations are too weak. Various propellants such as xenon, neon, argon, hydrogen, hydrazine, and lithium have been used, with lithium generally being the best performer.

According to Edgar Choueiri magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters have input power 100-500 kilowatts, exhaust velocity 15-60 kilometers per second, thrust 2.5-25 newtons and efficiency 40-60 percent.

One potential application of magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters is the main propulsion engine for heavy cargo and piloted space vehicles (example engine a^2 for Manned mission to Mars)

A plan, proposed by Bradley C. Edwards, is to beam power from the ground. This plan utilizes 5 200 kW free electron lasers at 0.84 micrometres with adaptive optics on the ground to beam power to the MPD-powered spacecraft, where it is converted to electricity by GaAs photovoltaic panels. The tuning of the laser wavelength of 0.840 micrometres (1.48 eV per photon) and the PV panel bandgap of 1.43 eV to each other produces an estimated conversion efficiency of 59% and a predicted power density of up to 540 kW/m2. This would be sufficient to power a MPD upper stage, perhaps to lift satellites from LEO to GEO

European space agency will use four larger ion thrusters

The European Space Agency has a flagship mission to Mercury powered by ion drives. BepiColombo will provide the best understanding of Mercury to date. It consists of two individual orbiters: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) to map the planet, and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) to investigate its magnetosphere.

BepiColombo mission is based on two spacecraft:

  • a Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO); and
  • a Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO)

BepiColombo Mercury Transfer Module

Among several investigations, BepiColombo will make a complete map of Mercury at different wavelengths. It will chart the planet's mineralogy and elemental composition, determine whether the interior of the planet is molten or not, and investigate the extent and origin of Mercury’s magnetic field.

Only NASA's Mariner 10 and Messenger have visited Mercury so far. Mariner 10 provided the first-ever close-up images of the planet when it flew past three times in 1974-1975. En route to its final destination in orbit around Mercury in 18 March 2011, Messenger flew past the planet 3 times (14 January 2008, 6 October 2008, and 29 September 2009), providing new data and images. Once BepiColombo arrives in late 2024, it will help reveal information on the composition and history of Mercury. It should discover more about the formation and the history of the inner planets in general, including Earth.

The eerie blue exhaust trail of an ion thruster during a test firing. A quartet of these highly efficient T6 thrusters is being installed on ESA’s BepiColombo spacecraft to Mercury at ESA’s ESTEC Test Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

The Mercury Transfer Module will carry Europe’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter together to Sun’s innermost planet over the course of 6.5 years.

T6 Ion Thruster Firing

“BepiColombo would not be possible in its current form without these T6 thrusters,” explains ESA propulsion engineer Neil Wallace.

The twin 'QinetiQ T6' ion thrusters operate at maximum combined throttle of 290 mN

The Mercury Planetary Orbiter will have a mass of 1,150 kilograms (2,540 lb) and will have its sides covered with solar cells providing 150 Watts at perihelion.

“Standard chemical thrusters face a fundamental upper limit on performance, set by the amount of energy in the chemical reaction that heats the ejected propellant producing the thrust.

“Ion thrusters can reach much higher exhaust speeds, typically an order of magnitude greater, because the propellant is first ionised and then accelerated using electrical energy generated by the solar panels. The higher velocity means less propellant is required.

“The down side is that the thrust levels are much lower and therefore the spacecraft acceleration is also low – meaning the thrusters have to be operating for long periods.

“However, in space there is nothing to slow us down, so over prolonged periods of thrusting the craft’s velocity is increased dramatically. Assuming the same mass of propellant, the T6 thrusters can accelerate BepiColombo to a speed 15 times greater than a conventional chemical thruster.”

The 22 cm-diameter T6 was designed for ESA by QinetiQ in the UK, whose expertise in electric propulsion stretches back to the 1960s.

It is an scaled-up version of the 10 cm T5 gridded ion thruster, which played a crucial role in ESA’s GOCE gravity-mapping mission by continuously compensating for vestigial atmospheric drag along its extremely-low orbit.

First drone command center installed on a Aircraft Carrier

The USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) marked a historical milestone April 13 after installing the first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) command center aboard an aircraft carrier.

Capt. Beau Duarte, program manager of Unmanned Carrier Aviation program office (PMA-268), inspected the site and recognized Carl Vinson Sailors instrumental in the security, logistics and installation of the UAV suite.

"This marks the start of a phased implementation of the MQ-XX system on an aircraft carrier," said Duarte. "The lessons learned and ground-breaking work done here will go on to inform and influence future installations on other aircraft carriers."

Previous Uclass drone fighter

The Navy is also sticking to its plans to field an unmanned MQ-XX Stingray platform with just tanking and surveillance capabilities to start with, while the Marine Corps is experimenting with the MQ-8C Fire Scout to help inform its path forward for amphibious assault ship-based unmanned aviation, officials said Wednesday.

The MQ-XX, formerly known as the Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System, will only include tanking and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) as primary missions.

Elon Musk mentions that after the Tesla Model 3 will be even more affordable electric cars

Musk spoke late last week at the Future Transport Solutions conference in Oslo, Norway

Elon said that the $35,000 Tesla Model 3 is designed such that roughly half the people will be able to afford the car. A fourth generation Tesla and smaller cars will ultimately be in the position where everyone will be able to afford the cars. [12:40 minutes into the video interview]

Elon Musk notes that all fossil fuel cars are heavily subsidized. Oil and gas companies get direct subsidies and do not have to pay for their environmental damage.

29 minutes into the video he talks about improving batteries. Tesla is improving costs with the gigafactory with economies of scale. Batteries improve at about 5-8% per year. The Gigafactory can make batteries 30% more affordable.

Six columns of trucks drove as truck platoons across Europe signaling self driving trucks are near

A European self driving truck experiment is known as the European Truck Platooning Challenge.

The European Truck Platooning Challenge, organised by Rijkswaterstaat, featured DAF Trucks, Daimler Trucks, Iveco, MAN Truck and Bus, Scania and Volvo Group; driving in platoons across national borders. This was a global first. Truck platooning means that two or three trucks connected by wifi drive in a column, with the first truck determining the speed and route. This enables shorter gaps between following trucks, while freeing space for other vehicles. The wifi connection between the trucks ensures synchronized braking and can prevent sudden jolt/shock effects. This is good news for traffic flows and speeds up deliveries. Truck platooning can realize up to ten per cent fuel savings. As well as reducing CO2 emissions, this can also mean a significant savings for businesses.

Six columns of trucks arrived at Maasvlakte II after they had driven from a number of European cities to Rotterdam over the past several days.

Shipping a full truckload from L.A. to New York costs around $4,500 today, with labor representing 75 percent of that cost. But those labor savings aren’t the only gains to be had from the adoption of driverless trucks.

Where drivers are restricted by law from driving more than 11 hours per day without taking an 8-hour break, a driverless truck can drive nearly 24 hours per day. That means the technology would effectively double the output of the U.S. transportation network at 25 percent of the cost.

Trucking represents a considerable portion of the cost of all the goods we buy, so consumers everywhere will experience this change as lower prices and higher standards of living.

There are currently more than 1.6 million Americans working as truck drivers.

April 26, 2016

Carnival of Space 455

1. Universe Today - An Earth Like planet only 16 light years away ?

An artistic representation of Gliese 832 c against a stellar nebula background. A new paper says Gliese 832 might be home to another planet similar to this, but in the habitable zone. Credit: Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo, NASA/Hubble, Stellarium.

2. Universe Today - Chinese Space baby research lands in Mongolia

The Chinese performed a 96-hour experiment to test the viability of mammal embryos in space. They placed 6,000 mouse embryos in a micro-wave sized chamber aboard a satellite, to see if they would develop into blastocysts. The development of embryos into blastocysts is a crucial step in reproduction. Once the blastocysts have developed, they attach themselves to the wall of the uterus. Cameras on the inside of the chamber allowed Chinese scientists on Earth to monitor the experiment.

3. Planetaria - New ‘KEM’ proposal would extend New Horizons post-Pluto mission to 2021

A proposal has been formally submitted to NASA to conduct a flyby of at least one more Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) and last until 2021.

This new mission has been dubbed “KEM,” or Kuiper Belt Extended Mission. There are many other small bodies in the Kuiper Belt besides Pluto, and mission scientists would love to be able to visit some of them as well. Pluto has already turned out to be more geologically active than anticipated, so what about some of these other ones? Granted, they are all smaller than Pluto, but being able to compare some of them directly with Pluto and its moons would be invaluable.

If approved by NASA, the KEM proposal will allow New Horizons to continue its study of the outer fringes of the Solar System until 2021, including a flyby of 2014 MU69. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

4. Universe Today - Dawn just wants to make all the other probes look bad

5. Spacer Pam Hoffman - The Evolution of Astronaut Food

An astronaut career has always been shrouded in a veil of mystery. Many people perceive astronauts as extraordinary and out-of-this-world kind of people. In a way they are, since they live and spend their lives between galaxies, exploring and unveiling the universe. Becoming an astronaut implies taking a long and winding road that few decide to follow and many never complete. If and when they finally reach the end of it, that’s where the...

Part of a much larger infographic at Everyday Spacer

6. Chandra Xray Space Telescope Blog - Comets in the "X"-Treme

New Exoskeleton is less than half the price and weight of competition

The Phoenix exoskeleton is the world's lightest and most advanced exoskeleton designed to help people with mobility disorders to be upright and mobile. In the clinic, at home, and in the workplace Phoenix has successfully enabled many individuals to stand up, walk about, and speak to peers eye-to-eye.

The Phoenix, costs $30,000 and weighs 12 kg. That’s why. The three competing exoskeletons on the market cost $80,000 or more, and two of them weigh more than 20 kg.

Major 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.

Russian future PAK-DA stealth bomber will have hypersonic weapons when the first planes are delivered in 2023

The PAK-DA, which is being developed by Tupolev, is expected to be a subsonic flying-wing aircraft that is roughly analogous to the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit and the US Air Force’s forthcoming Long Range Strike-Bomber.

The PAK-DA is likely to feature many of the technologies that are expected to be incorporated into the new Tu-160M2 version.

In a break from previous Russian and Soviet bombers, which focused on using a combination of speed and long-range cruise missiles to deliver their payloads, the PAK-DA is the first Russian bomber optimized for stealth.

That said, the PAK-DA will probably not be a small aircraft, close in size to a Boeing 757.

It is expected to have a range of 6,740 nautical miles. It will also be able to carry 30 tons of weapons.

PAK-DA will serve as a launch platform for long-range nuclear and conventional cruise missiles and a host of precision-guided munitions. It might also eventually be armed with hypersonic missiles, National Interest wrote.

The new bomber is expected to make its first flight sometime before 2021, with the first deliveries starting in 2023.

The PAK-DA will be a unique project in the history of Russian aviation since it will be a "flying wing" aircraft, a design never used before by Russian engineers. It will fly at subsonic speeds and the large wingspan and design features will provide the jet with reduced visibility to radar.

Russia's 3M22 Zircon hypersonic cruise missile is expected to enter into production in 2018. The new weapon-which is capable of speeds of around Mach 5.0-Mach 6.0 is currently in testing

The hypersonic missile-which is a component of the 3K22 Zircon system-will be incorporated into the nuclear-powered Project 11442 Orlan -class battle cruiser Pyotr Veliky When it completes its overhaul in late 2022. Sister ship Admiral Nakhimov -which is currently being modernized-will likely be the first Russian warship equipped with the new missile When it returns to service in 2018. Zircon will be built in air and submarine-launched versions. The Russians are expected to use hypersonic missiles onboard the both the new production Tupolev Tu-160M2 Blackjack and the developmental Tupolev PAK DA stealth bomber. The combination of a long-range bomber and hypersonic cruise missiles would be a dangerous threat to the US and its allies.

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

Russia's existing bomber fleet will also be modernized with advanced avionics and electronic warfare systems. 2 of 13 Tu-160s have undergone this overhaul as of December 2013 and the intermediate-range Tu-22M will be included in the program. 63 Tu-95 bombers will be upgraded and the Tu-95MS is to remain in service until 2040

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