March 04, 2015

US could ramp up miliary lasers by ten times to 300 kilowatts by 2018

In three years the US military could have a prototype 300 kilowatt laser weapon. This would be ten times the power of the 30 kilowatt laser being tested on the USS Ponce. Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. of Breaking Defense reports this from a Lockheed engineer.

The Army’s High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator(HEL MD) will improve to a 60 kw system late in 2016. This is up from the current 10 kilowatt laser. Today's technology will enable fiber lasers to scale to 300 kw. Near term improvement to the underlying technology will enable well beyond 500 kw lasers.

Solid state slab lasers (being developed by the Navy and Northrop) should be able to scale to a total power of 300 kW. This will not require any technological breakthroughs. Supporters of slab SSLs such as Maritime Laser Demonstration (MLD) believe they could eventually be scaled up further, to perhaps 600 kW. Slab SSLs are not generally viewed as easily scalable to megawatt power levels.

At 30 to 35 percent efficiency — the current cutting edge with fiber-optic lasers — 300 kw of output would require just under a megawatt of electrical power.

The Navy’s LaWs simply sticks together six commercial cutting lasers and points them all at the same target. Lockheed’s technology goes further and combines all the lasers into a single, coherent beam, which allows much sharper focus at long ranges.

March 03, 2015

Instead of Helmet displays and joystick, quadrapelegic uses neural implants to fly F35 Simulator

Jan Scheuermann has been paralyzed since 2003 because of a neurodegenerative condition. In 2012, she agreed to be fitted with two probes on the surface of her brain in the motor cortex area responsible for right hand and arm movements.

In the last two years, she has tolerated those probes better than expected; as a result, she's been the subject of increasingly sophisticated experiments in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and DARPA's Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, to determine just how much she can do simply by thinking about it.

She flew a simulator directly from neurosignaling.

Two probes on the surface of her brain in the motor cortex area were used.
Jan Scheuermann uses a flight simulator as part of a joint DARPA-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center experiment. (Courtesy of DARPA/UPMC)

China dominates Aluminum and Magnesium production with cheap power but US trying to get back by halving energy needed

World Aluminum production is about 55 million tons per year. There has been a dip with the recent economic slowdown.

There is growing global demand for aluminium, which is estimated to reach 70 million tonnes per year by 2020.

The world produces about 6 million tons per year of magnesium. China produces about 66% of the world's magnesium. Magnesium is lighter than aluminium. In view of its weight saving advantage, magnesium’s cost competitive position improves dramatically if it’s per unit weight production cost is maintained at less than about 1.3 times the production cost of aluminum.

China dominates energy intensive aluminum and magnesium production because of its massive buildout of coal and hydro power. The US is looking to get back in the game by halving the energy needed for production.

The world will about 100 million tons per year of bauxite production by 2020 to meet the projected increase in aluminum.

Infinium is developing a technology to produce light metals such as aluminum and titanium using an electrochemical cell design that could reduce energy consumption associated with these processes by over 50%. The key component of this innovation lies within the anode assembly used to electrochemically refine these light metals from their ores. While traditional processes use costly graphite anodes that are reacted to produce CO2 during refining, Infinium's anode can use much cheaper fuels such as natural gas, and produce a high-purity oxygen by-product. Revenue from this by-product could significantly affect aluminum production economics. Traditional cell designs also waste a great deal of heat due to the necessity of keeping the reactor open to the air while contaminated CO2 rapidly exits the chamber. Since Infinium's anode keeps the oxygen or CO2 anode gas away from the main reactor chamber, the entire system may be far more effectively insulated.

If successful, INFINIUM would deploy low-cost, energy-efficient aluminum-production cells as a drop-in replacement into large production plants. Retrofitting existing aluminum plants reduces risk and capital costs, making light metals a more cost effective option in manufacturing. This technology also enables aluminum plants to replace expensive graphite with cheap, domestically available natural gas as a key component of light metal manufacturing.

Infinium is the sole manufacturer of metals with Pure Oxygen Anodes, and has already demonstrated the ability to produce Magnesium, Titanium, Tantalum, Neodymium, Dysprosium, and solar-grade silicon from their oxides. By separating the metal production chamber from anode gases, INFINIUM anodes eliminate corrosive and toxic anode gas contamination, are uniquely able to reduce cell energy losses by 60% or more, and eliminate the cost, energy, and emissions of graphite anode production. The company has identified key advantages of its technology in aluminum production as: 1) virtually eliminating CO2 emissions, which currently create 7-10 lb CO2 for every lb of aluminum produced, 2) enabling 3x-5x higher production output per footprint, and 3) reducing the cost by halving the energy required and eliminating the need for consumable graphite anodes.
Infinium has a white paper on their process. The white paper focuses on the magnesium electrochemical cell.

Five dollar Spock and Five dollar Bill Murray

The Bank of Canada has said that it is not illegal to deface or mutilate banknotes.

The announcement was made after actor Leonard Nimoy's death last week set off a craze of marking-up banknotes.

The drawings make the country's former Prime Minister, Wilfrid Laurier, look like Spock, Nimoy's famous Star Trek character.

High and mid range estimates of Russian Casualties in Ukraine compared to US casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan

The estimated number of people killed in eastern Ukraine since April 2014 has now passed the 6,000* mark, in spite of successive ceasefires, the UN Human Rights Office announced Monday, saying the escalation in fighting in recent weeks, particularly near Donetsk airport and in the Debaltseve area, resulted in hundreds of deaths, both civilian and military, and an untenable situation for those trapped or held hostage in the areas controlled by armed groups.

From mid-April 2014 to 28 February 2015, 5,809 people were documented as killed and 14,740 wounded in the east of Ukraine. Of these, 1,012 were killed and 3,793 wounded between 1 December 2014 and 15 February 2015. Given that full reports on casualties, especially near Donetsk airport and in the Debaltseve area, are still pending, the UN Human Rights Office estimates that the total number of people killed in eastern Ukraine by 2 March has almost certainly exceeded 6,000.

A Ukrainian blog that claims to tally Russian casualties via radio intercepts has the following estimates. (

Killed: 7,501
Wounded: 5,953
MIA: 3,344

This is just Russian regular army, not counting the separatists and others. The number of killed in this category is estimated in excess of 20 thousand, this number is difficult to compile exactly due to lack of official reporting -- they just bury them in unmarked graves or burn on site in mobile crematoriums.

The US has had 6717 casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The US had 4488 casualties in Iraq. The US had eight years of war in Iraq (2003-2011) and 14 years in Afghanistan (2001 to now). Russia has been fighting for one year in Ukraine.

In December, Euromaiden had estimated 11,500 deaths in the Russian-Ukraine war.

October 2014 picture at the Donetsk airport

2015 picture at the Donetsk airport

2015 picture at the Donetsk airport

Kepler Space Telescope data can be analysed to determine the composition of clouds on planets in other solar systems

Researchers in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) at MIT describe a technique that analyzes data from NASA’s Kepler space observatory to determine the types of clouds on planets that orbit other stars, known as exoplanets.

The team, led by Kerri Cahoy, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, has already used the method to determine the properties of clouds on the exoplanet Kepler-7b. The planet is known as a “hot Jupiter,” as temperatures in its atmosphere hover at around 1,700 kelvins.

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft was designed to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. It was pointed at a fixed patch of space, constantly monitoring the brightness of 145,000 stars. An orbiting exoplanet crossing in front of one of these stars causes a temporary dimming of this brightness, allowing researchers to detect its presence.

Researchers have previously shown that by studying the variations in the amount of light coming from these star systems as a planet transits, or crosses in front or behind them, they can detect the presence of clouds in that planet’s atmosphere. That is because particles within the clouds will scatter different wavelengths of light.

Analysis of data from the Kepler space telescope has shown that roughly half of the dayside of the exoplanet Kepler-7b is covered by a large cloud mass. Statistical comparison of more than 1,000 atmospheric models show that these clouds are most likely made of Enstatite, a common Earth mineral that is in vapor form at the extreme temperature on Kepler-7b. These models varied the altitude, condensation, particle size, and chemical composition of the clouds to find the right reflectivity and color properties to match the observed signal from the exoplanet.

Astrophysics Journal - Effect of Exoplanet Clouds on Visible Wavelength Albedo Spectra and Phase Curves

John Oliver indicates infrastructure is not sexy but it is important

Nextbigfuture has covered the infrastructure problems in the United States.

In 2009, 26%, or one in four, of the nation’s bridges were either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. While some progress has been made in recent years to reduce the number of deficient and obsolete bridges in rural areas, the number in urban areas is rising. A $17 billion annual investment is needed to substantially improve current bridge conditions. Currently, only $10.5 billion is spent annually on the construction and maintenance of bridges.

In 2013, one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge deficient backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. The challenge for federal, state, and local governments is to increase bridge investments by $8 billion annually to address the identified $76 billion in needs for deficient bridges across the United States

John Oliver pointed out on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, infrastructure isn’t “sexy” and maintenance even less so. If Edward Norton and Steve Buscemi are willing to highlight our nation’s infrastructure needs and labor and business can come together on this issue, too, then Congress can also certainly find a way

March 02, 2015

Spacex successfully launches two satellites in one rocket launch

US rocket company SpaceX has performed its first dual-satellite mission.

The firm's Falcon 9 vehicle put up two telecommunications spacecraft on Monday (GMT) - one for Eutelsat and one for the Asia Broadcast Satellite operator.

Both spacecraft will use electric engines to get into their final orbital positions 36,000km above the equator.

The use of this type of propulsion - which accelerates xenon ions to provide thrust - is seen as a big trend in spacecraft design and deployment.

Twenty Russian T-14 Armata main battle tanks delivered in February and review of Armata variants

The first 20 T-14 Armata main battle tanks were handed over to the military earlier in February. It was initially thought that the new tank would be revealed then, but authorities decided to keep the tank's details a secret.

The T-14 (Object 149) main battle tank is based on the Armata platform, which has been in development at Uralvagonzavod since 2009. Other than the tank, the platform will be used for armored fighting vehicles (AFVs), self-propelled guns (SPGs), engineering vehicles and other uses.

The Armata tank will reportedly feature a remotely controlled gun and fully automated loading, as well as a separate crew compartment made from composite materials and protected by multilayered armor.

The tank will go through state trials in 2016, and it is expected that by 2020, over 2,300 tanks on the Armata platform will be supplied to the military.

The platform’s chief tank (T-14) sports an unmanned remotely controlled turret armed with a brand new 125 mm 2A82-1M smoothbore cannon. Its muzzle energy is greater than one of the world’s previously considered best cannons: the German Leopard-2 Rheinmetall 120 mm gun. The 125 mm gun has 15-20 percent improved accuracy and its rolling fire angular dispersion has improved 1.7 times. According to Russian media, the Armata tank might also come with a specially developed 152 mm gun, the most powerful ever cannon to be mounted on a main battle tank.

Google will test 90% internet service for parts of southern hemisphere via Internet Balloons by the end of 2015

Google Loon has had tests with major cellular carriers. The internet balloons have provided high-speed connections to people in isolated parts of Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. Mike Cassidy, Project Loon’s leader, says the technology is now sufficiently cheap and reliable for Google to start planning how to roll it out. By the end of 2015, he wants to have enough balloons in the air to test nearly continuous service in several parts of the Southern Hemisphere. Commercial deployment would follow: Google expects cellular providers to rent access to the balloons to expand their networks. Then the number of people in the world who still lack Internet access should start to shrink, fast.

The 15-kilogram box carried by a Loon balloon has computers that act on commands from flight engineers, as well as equipment to transmit Internet connectivity to the ground below.

Google developing knowledge based trust score

A Google research team is adapting Google's pagerank to measure the trustworthiness of a page, rather than its reputation across the web. Instead of counting incoming links, the system – which is not yet live – counts the number of incorrect facts within a page. "A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy," says the team. The score they compute for each page is its Knowledge-Based Trust score.

This appears to be a direction that Google is developing. However, it appears that more work is needed before it could be scaled up and implemented in the live search engine results.

Arxiv - Knowledge-Based Trust: Estimating the Trustworthiness of Web Sources

The quality of web sources has been traditionally evaluated using exogenous signals such as the hyperlink structure of the graph. We propose a new approach that relies on endogenous signals, namely, the correctness of factual information provided by the source. A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy. The facts are automatically extracted from each source by information extraction methods commonly used to construct knowledge bases. We propose a way to distinguish errors made in the extraction process from factual errors in the web source per se, by using joint inference in a novel multi-layer probabilistic model. We call the trustworthiness score we computed Knowledge-Based Trust (KBT). On synthetic data, we show that our method can reliably compute the true trustworthiness levels of the sources. We then apply it to a database of 2.8B facts extracted from the web, and thereby estimate the trustworthiness of 119M webpages. Manual evaluation of a subset of the results confirms the effectiveness of the method.

March 01, 2015

Carnival of Space 395

The Carnival of Space 395 is up at Everyday Spacer.

Examiner - Scientists mull how to find life on Europa

Ever since the Europa mission had been given the official nod of approval by NASA, scientists have been giddy with excitement at the prospect of exploring a new world where life might reside. The likely model for the mission is the Europa Clipper, which will orbit Jupiter and fly by the moon multiple times. According to a Tuesday story in the New Scientist, researchers are mulling over how to use the Europa Clipper to search for life.

Ordinarily, detecting life on Europa using a remote sensing satellite would be problematic at best. Whatever life that might exist on Europa would reside in the subsurface ocean, deep beneath the ice crust, warmed by the tidal forces exerted by Jupiter. Accessing that ocean would require a lander with a drill that would penetrate the ice crust.

However, in 2013, data gathered by the Hubble space telescope suggested that geysers of water from the interior ocean were escaping through vents in the ice crust.

NASA is planning the next round of planetary missions (Mark Wittington |

While attention has been focused on a multi-billion dollar mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, NASA is planning a number of new planetary missions. Most are grouped under the Discovery Program, small-scale missions with a cap of $450 million, and the New Frontier Program, which has a cap of $1 billion, according to a Tuesday story in Spaceflight Now.

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