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Science, Space & Robotics Posts - Page 14

North Korea banking on Soviet-era ballistic missile submarine

The North Korean military is still likely years away from successfully launching a ballistic missile with nuclear capabilities, but the country now has a Soviet-era submarine that can fire ballistic missiles. South Korean and US military experts are concerned North Korea continues to develop a nuclear weapons program, and utilizing ballistic missiles is an important step in that process.

 

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"While the potential threat from a future North Korean capability to launch ballistic missiles from submarines should not be ignored, it should also not be exaggerated," said Joseph Bermudez, a military analyst. "While the development of submarines carrying ballistic missiles could provide North Korea with a survivable second-strike nuclear capability... it also assumes that Pyongyang would entrust an operational nuclear-armed missile to the captain of a submarine who would, in time of war, most likely be out of communication with the leadership."

 

It appears North Korea is a step closer to the miniaturization of nuclear warheads that could be fitted to ballistic missiles - but whether or not the country could accurately aim these missiles towards South Korea or Japan - remains a frightening unknown. However, fitting a nuclear weapon aboard a submarine opens up new challenges to South Korea, Japan, and the United States, with launch tubes and installation of a fire system possible within the next two years.

Richard Branson still plans to be first SpaceShipTwo passenger

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson still plans to be a passenger on the first tourist flight into space, even though SpaceShipTwo suffered a "serious anomaly" and exploded during a test flight. The company plans to move ahead with construction on another aircraft which could be done before the end of 2014.

 

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Even with the recent SpaceShipTwo test incident, the 800 passengers that have signed up for the $250,000 ride have reportedly voiced their support. In fact, two more people signed up and paid for a trip on a future Virgin Galactic flight, Branson said.

 

Here is what Branson recently told CNN: "There is no way I would ask others to go on a Virgin Galactic flight if I didn't feel it was safe enough myself. They want to see this happen, and they want to show their commitment."

Lockheed Martin's F-35 successfully completed landing on Navy carrier

The Lockheed Martin F-35C-model fighter jet successfully kicked off two weeks of development testing on the US Navy's USS Nimitz aircraft carrier. Navy test pilot Cmdr. Tony Wilson successfully landed his F-35C on the USS Nimitz at 12:18 PM EST on November 3, landing with a new custom tailhook design that led to unsuccessful landings three years ago.

 

 

The US Navy plans to roll out F-35C fighter jets starting in 2018, so performance data will be closely analyzed to see what other modifications need to be done over the next four years.

 

Here is what Mike Rein, a Lockheed spokesman, recently said as the US Navy and Lockheed Martin undergo the two-week training mission of two F-35 C-model fighter aircraft. "It will be another milestone for the program and for the Navy's plans to declare an initial operational capability."

Continue reading 'Lockheed Martin's F-35 successfully completed landing on Navy carrier' (full post)

Space tourism industry still evolving, despite high-profile incidents

Space tourism is still a growing industry that was recently rocked when the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo exploded after suffering a "serious anomaly" during a test flight last week. Despite the incident, which left one pilot dead, Virgin Galactic confirmed it will move forward to finish a second SpaceShipTwo aircraft before the end of the year.

 

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The high risk, high reward nature of the commercial space industry - where flight accidents sometimes seen unavoidable - with Virgin Galactic competing with XCOR Aerospace and others in the commercial space race. Meanwhile, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences and other companies hope to win NASA and US federal government contracts worth billions of dollars.

 

"We've always known that the road to space is extremely difficult - and that every new transportation system as to deal with bad days early in their industry," said Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson.

China develops anti-drone laser able to shoot down small drones

Engineers in China successfully created a new laser weapon system capable of shooting down low-altitude light drones, able to lock on and engage a target within five seconds. The machine can engage "various small aircraft" and has a two-kilometer range against targets flying up to 112 mph.

 

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The US Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) recently made flying drones near large sports stadiums and race tracks illegal, but trying to enforce the airspace restriction could be problematic. However, this new laser technology will allow the Chinese to better protect large venues.

 

"Intercepting such drones is usually the work of snipers and helicopters, but their success rate is not as high and mistakes with accuracy can result in unwanted damage," said Yi Jinsong, China Jiuyuan Hi-Tech Equipment manager.

Virgin Galactic will move ahead to finish second SpaceShipTwo craft

Despite a catastrophic test flight of the SpaceShipTwo that left one pilot dead and another seriously injured, Virgin Galactic plans to move ahead to complete a second rocket plane before the end of 2014. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) needs a few more days to finish an initial investigation, and a full report could take up to one year.

 

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SpaceShipTwo exploded during a test flight - marking the first test of a new plastic-based fuel mixed with nitrous oxide - and early indications using a different motor could have played a role in the incident.

 

"The second spaceship is very advanced in its construction," said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic chief executive. "We need to work closely with the NTSB... to work out as rapidly as we can what happened, and then to move forward. We're hopeful we can make rapid progress."

Flight experts previously warned Virgin Galactic of volatile fuel mix

A Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo test flight suffered a 'serious anomaly' that led to one pilot being killed, and Virgin Galactic was reportedly warned on numerous occasions that this type of problem was possible. The company's "unconventional" fuel propulsion system to help the aircraft reach space broke apart while flying about 45,000-ft. above the Earth's surface - and a full investigation is currently under way.

 

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The use of the hybrid propulsion system doesn't rely on carbon-based fuels and instead uses a mix of nitrous oxide and plastic fuel, with rocket engineers and safety experts weary of potential explosions. In fact, the Virgin Galactic website reportedly noted nitrous oxide was "benign" and "stable," despite the gas playing a major role in a spaceport explosion that killed three people in 2007.

 

"It's still very poorly understood in large quantities... the temperature of the fuel is critical," said Geoff Daly, a British rocket scientist, who warned the FAA last year. The delivery system is solid, the motor is bolted to the fuel tanks. There is no flexibility in the tank and motor, any vibration can result in the fracture and failure of the engine system."

Unknown drones buzz French nuclear sites sparks inquiry

French authorities reported another round of small "drone-type machines" that flew over two different nuclear power plants, indicating the incidents started on October 5. Additional sightings were seen on October 20 and again on October 31, as national police and military scramble to find new methods to ensure these drones don't pose a threat.

 

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No aircraft are allowed to breach a three-mile no-fly zone around a nuclear power plant, or fly less than 3,300 ft. elevation near the facilities, according to French law.

 

"We're not talking about just one type of drone identified, but several," according to a nuclear expert, speaking to the French press. "Some were only a few dozen centimeters long with a very short range of several meters at most. So you'd need to be very close to the reactor. But others, and this is much more worryingly, were far bigger - perhaps two meters long so sufficiently big to carry an explosive charge."

Next-generation US space rockets to include crew-escape technology

Engineers helping create the next generation of US rockets plan to incorporate escape systems so crew members will have a chance to reach safety. The unmanned Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded shortly after liftoff earlier this week, giving viewers around the world another brutal reminder that space launches remain extremely dangerous.

 

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NASA considered some form of escape system for the retired space shuttle fleet, but believed the aircraft were significantly safer, and the explosion of the Challenger shuttle in 1986 brought the world back to reality. However, the Launch Abort System is able to activate in just a few milliseconds, sending the crew 1.6 kilometers in altitude in a few seconds after activation.

 

"Under the original plan we were, as of now, about two years away from conducting the first launch of Antares with the second-generation propulsion system... I certainly think we can short that interval, but at this point I don't know by how much," said David Thompson, Orbital Sciences President and CEO.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo suffered 'serious anomaly' during crash

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo suffered a "serious anomaly" during a test flight in California over the Mojave desert, with one pilot killed in the incident. The other pilot suffered serious injuries and is being transported to the hospital, according to the company.

 

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"The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft landed safely," said Virgin Galactic after the incident. "We will work closely with relevant authorities to determine the cause of this accident and provide updates ASAP."

 

The SpaceShipTwo is designed to be carried on a mother ship and then can be released to ignite its rocket to head into suborbit, and can return to Earth by gliding back. A flight starts at $250,000 and passengers undergo three days of pre-flight preparation to verify they are physically and mentally prepared for the trip.

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