News Article | March 26, 2015
A federal appeals court is having second thoughts about its decision frowning on the US Navy for scanning every computer in the state of Washington accessing Gnutella, a large peer-to-peer network. The September decision (PDF) thwarted a child pornography prosecution that began when a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent in Georgia discovered the illicit images on a civilian's computer in Washington state. The agent was using a law-enforcement computer program called RoundUp to search for hashed images of child pornography. Following the court's 3-0 decision, the Department of Justice petitioned for a rehearing. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Wednesday to revisit the dispute with a larger, 11-judge panel. Court blasts US Navy for scanning civilians’ computers for child porn Every Gnutella user in the state of Washington was checked by the NCIS. In September, a three-judge panel ruled that the military unlawfully intruded into civilian affairs. Allowing the prosecution to go forward, the court ruled, would render "meaningless" the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA). The PCA largely prohibits the military from enforcing civilian law, the court ruled. The PCA was first passed in 1878. "...RoundUp surveillance of all computers in Washington amounted to impermissible direct active involvement in civilian enforcement of the child pornography laws, not permissible indirect assistance," the court concluded. The case concerns a Washington state defendant named Michael Dreyer. Acting on a tip from the Navy, the local Algona Police Department obtained a warrant to search Dreyer's computer in 2010. Dreyer was eventually convicted and sentenced to 18 years for possessing and distributing online child pornography. Dreyer's attorney called his client's prosecution "the militarization of the police." The DOJ argued in its petition (PDF) for rehearing that the NCIS agents involved in the porn-scanning program are civilians not subject to "PCA-like restrictions." The evidence against Dreyer, the government added, should not be suppressed from the case "to deter" online child pornography. Further, the DOJ also said in its petition that NCIS agents have the right to search peer-to-peer file-sharing sites just like anybody else. "It amounted to nothing more than looking at files available to anyone seeking child pornography on a publicly available peer-to-peer network," the DOJ said.
News Article | March 26, 2015
The Hindenburg wasn’t brought down by lightning, static, or sabotage. History’s most famous airship was destroyed by helium. Or rather, the lack thereof. The zeppelin’s Nazi builders balked at the price of this rare, lighter-than-air gas. So instead, they filled the blimp with hydrogen, which is much less expensive, just as buoyant, but way more explosive. So no matter what chain of events led up to the explosion, it was helium’s scarcity that killed the airship. And today, the same gas—rare as ever—is putting a major cramp in deep sea diving operations. The US Navy’s divers are responsible for a wide variety of salvage and rescue tasks, from prying sunken wrecks off the sea floor to bringing distressed submarines to the surface. But every one of those divers needs oxygen that’s cut with expensive helium (rather than nitrogen, which makes up most of the atmospheric cocktail we breathe on the surface). So to reduce costs—an enable more missions—the Navy has developed a new diving apparatus that rescues the helium from a diver’s exhalations. For shallow diving, a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen is fine. But nitrogen is bad for deep divers, because it’s impractical for them to ascend slowly enough to prevent the gas from causing the bends and other agonizing physiological conditions. So for deep operations, divers get pumped a mixture of oxygen and helium from the surface. “But metabolically, the diver’s only used about 5 percent of the helium gas in each breath,” says John Camperman, the senior diving and life support scientist at the Naval Experimental Diving Unit in Panama Beach, Fl. A lot of oxygen gets wasted this way, too, bubbling away to the surface with every exhale. Divers could re-use that exhaled air, using up the rest of the oxygen and helium, if only for all the carbon dioxide that comes with it. The solution? A suit that recycles the air back into a breathable composition. “Instead of exhaling your entire breath into the sea, you now are exhaling into a carbon dioxide scrubber,” says Camperman, whose lab developed the technology. The scrubber, carried in a backpack, is actually a canister full of granular calcium hydroxide. This material chemically binds to carbon dioxide molecules, pulling them out of the diver’s dirty breath. Now, instead of of flooding the diver with fresh air, the supply from the surface is a measured trickle. “It operates on the principle of injecting just the right amount of helium and oxygen to maintain the balance of gases,” says Camperman. He says the rebreather saves about 80 percent of the helium from each breath. This pack won’t just slash the Navy’s helium budget. “It also reduces the size of our logistical footprint,” says says Warrant Officer Coy Everage, the diving officer at the Navy’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit based in Little Creek, Va. (The explosive ordinance groups handle the Navy’s salvage and rescue operations.) This is because cylinders of oxygen and helium take up a lot of space, and cutting down on that load will help put divers where they need to be a lot quicker. “Figuratively speaking, it’s a lot easier get on Delta Airlines with a suitcase as a carry-on rather than bringing aboard a whole truck,” says Everage. (Figuratively, because trying to bring even a shampoo-bottle sized container of compressed gas on a commercial airliner would get you put on the TSA’s naughty list. Navy divers move their compressed gases around the world—carefully!—using Navy planes and ships.) Reducing helium costs could also give the Navy reason to reconsider salvage operations that had been sidelined, says Camperman. And unlike the Hindenburg, cutting down on helium probably isn’t going to cause any subsurface explosions.
News Article | April 17, 2015
The US Navy is planning to stop using crewed fighter jets in the coming years, according to Navy secretary Ray Mabus, turning instead to uncrewed aerial vehicles and drones to perform missions at sea, on land, and in the air. Speaking at the Sea-Air-Space 2015 conference on Wednesday, Mabus said that the currently used F-35 Lightning fighter "should be, and almost certainly will be, the last [crewed] strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly." By moving away from crewed aircraft, Mabus said the Navy could develop new fighting craft without needing to factor in the pilot's safety, a process that extended the time and cost of projects. "Removing a human from the machine can open up room to experiment with more risk, improve systems faster, and get them to the fleet quicker." To push the drone agenda, Mabus said he planned to create a new office for uncrewed technology in the Navy and appoint a deputy assistant director to champion the technology. "Removing a human from the machine can open up room to experiment." In addition to drones, the Navy is adopting other recent technological advances for its activities. The force has experimented with using 3D printers to construct vital parts and medical equipment as part of a "print the fleet" program, but Mabus said the use of the technology is to be expanded, and could soon be used to print swarms of vehicles such as the Close-In Autonomous Disposable Aircraft (CICADA). Other advances could help the Navy prototype these new vehicles, using simulations and modeling programs to try new concepts without, as Mabus called it, "bending steel." The Navy secretary said the tech allowed the force "to look at things like asymmetrical concepts without going through the tortuous, sometimes years-long acquisition process." Mabus blasted that process, which has taken the force over budget several times, saying that the Navy "cannot allow these overly complex, form-over-substance, often useless, and too often harmful, practices to slow or prevent development of some game changers, while simultaneously giving our potential adversaries the competitive advantage."
News Article | April 17, 2015
Manned fighter jets may have a limited future. The secretary of the US Navy has announced that the new F-35 Lightning II “should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly.” The Register reports that the Navy’s secretary Ray Mabus made the announcement at the Sea-Air-Space 2015 conference on Wednesday. In his speech, Mabus explained: [W]ith unmanned technology, removing a human from the machine can open up room to experiment with more risk, improve systems faster and get them to the fleet quicker. While unmanned technology itself is not new, the potential impact these systems will have on the way we operate is almost incalculable... We need to give ideas like this one a place to flourish, and that’s why, in the coming months, we will be making some pretty substantial changes to how the Department is organized to ensure the structure is in place to help incorporate this capability more fluidly into our operations. Part of that change includes the appointment of a new Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Unmanned Systems, as well as a new office for unmanned systems in its Warfare Systems division, “ so that all aspects of unmanned – in all domains – over, on and under the sea and coming from the sea to operate on land – will be coordinated and championed,” according Mabus. He also pointed to the fact that the Navy is looked to capitalize on rapid prototyping and 3D printing technologies in the future. “The only limit to what this new technology can do for us is our imagination,” he explained, adding that “the potential for technology like this – and the fact that we can print them – make them – ourselves, almost anywhere, is incredible.” The Navy has already been experimenting with these kinds of concepts: “a group of Sailors onboard USS Essex used advanced manufacturing to create the parts for an unmanned aerial vehicle that they then built and flew,” points out Mabus, and its “Close-In Autonomous Disposable Aircraft (CICADA) can be made with a 3D printer, and is a GPS guided disposable unmanned aerial vehicle that can be deployed in large numbers.” But clearly this is just the start. Mabus wants to use technology to escape the “the tortuous, sometimes years-long acquisition process.” He’s got a point: those processes aren’t just slow and complex, they can stymie innovation and unfairly favor contractors too, leading—ultimately—to a Navy without the competitive advantage it needs. Perhaps ditching fighter pilots in favor of drones can fix that. Mabus seems to think so. [Navy Live via The Register via The Verge]
News Article | April 9, 2015
The United Nations is under pressure to ban fully autonomous before they are developed, in the form of a new report which details how a lack of regulation could cause human deaths without accountability. In a new report released by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School, the groups argue that so-called "killer robots," fully autonomous weapons able to inflict harm without operators, should be banned before they come into existence. At the moment, drones and autonomous vehicles -- ranging from sensor-laden scouts to consumer hobby drones and self-driving cars -- are being developed at a rapid pace. Companies including Amazon are harnessing the technology for delivery purposes, Google is experimenting with a fully self-driving car, and Parrot is a start-up which now offers a range of hobby drones to consumers. Considering the technology scene only a few decades ago, the possibility of these machines being taken a step further for military use is not outside the realm of possibility. While regulators are exploring different avenues for the regulation of consumer-based drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the report argues that rather than lawmakers falling into a hole where regulations are playing catch-up with technology, laws should be set in place before such technology arrives. See also: FAA to impose restrictions on commercial drone use As reported by The Guardian, the report says that under current laws, programmers, manufacturers and military personnel would all escape liability for deaths caused on the field by fully autonomous weaponry. The report, titled "Mind the Gap: The Lack of Accountability for Killer Robots," also suggests that there is not likely to be any legal framework which would clearly state where responsibility lies in the production and deployment of such weapons -- and therefore no retribution or restitution when errors occur. "Fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, but technology is moving in their direction, and precursors are already in use or development," the report argues. "For example, many countries use weapons defense systems -- such as the Israeli Iron Dome and the US Phalanx and C-RAM -- that are programmed to respond automatically to threats from incoming munitions. In addition, prototypes exist for planes that could autonomously fly on intercontinental missions (UK Taranis) or take off and land on an aircraft carrier (US X-47B)." The controversial factor in autonomous weaponry is the lack of meaningful human control in selecting and engaging targets. By rescinding control to a machine, there is the possibility of civilians being targeted instead of military, a potential arms race to develop more sophisticated and dangerous weaponry, and "proliferation to armed forces with little regard for the law," the report suggests. "Existing mechanisms for legal accountability are ill-suited and inadequate to address the unlawful harms fully autonomous weapons might cause," the groups argue. "These weapons have the potential to commit criminal acts -- unlawful acts that would constitute a crime if done with intent -- for which no one could be held responsible. A fully autonomous weapon itself could not be found accountable for criminal acts that it might commit because it would lack intentionality." Drones and automated weaponry currently used by governments are defended as a human operator is always behind the decision to pull the trigger or not. Therefore, a person is held accountable in the case of war crimes and misuse. However, researchers from Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School believe military personnel and operators could "not be assigned direct responsibility" for the actions of a fully autonomous weapon, except in rare situations where intent to misuse such weapons can be proved. The report states: Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School recommend that the "development, production and use" of fully autonomous weapons be prohibited through an international legally binding policy, and national laws be adopted which would also prevent this type of weaponry from being created nationally. The report has been released ahead of a meeting of international officials at the UN in Geneva later this month, which will include a discussion on the regulation of emerging military technology. Read on: In the world of innovation
News Article | May 18, 2015
Dealing with a culture that sees data as something that needs to be kept close at hand, the US Navy has been slow to meet its goals in consolidating data centers and applications as part of the ongoing Federal government consolidation efforts. Despite having addressed this issue in mid-2014 with the creation of the Data Center and Application Optimization program (DCAO), the pace of change still hasn't come up to an acceptable level. Speaking at this year's Navy IT Day, John Zangardi, the Navy's deputy assistant secretary for command, control, computers, intelligence, information operations and space and acting CIO took the Navy to task for their slow rate of progress, going so far as to picking three of the worst performing data centers and singling them out for special attention for their consolidation efforts. In the next month or so the DCAO program will move from its current home, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, to its own program under the auspices of Program Executive Office-Enterprise Information Systems (PEO-EIS). Among other responsibilities the DCAO will handle establishing a working model of a cloud hosting brokerage for the Navy that will incorporate application delivery via both government and commercial entities. This central brokerage is hoped to ramp up the consolidation of data centers and services within the Nacy-centric IT. Though almost 300 systems and applications have already been consolidated across 45 of the sites that fall in this area of responsibility, the effort to get various bases and commands to move on with the consolidation has dragged on as it has hit cultural inertia in adopting new technologies that move applications and data out of the direct control of the various organizations. The biggest obstacle that will be faced by the DCAO program will continue to be this cultural one, as the technologies involved continue to be proven in operation by other branches of the DoD.
News Article | February 5, 2015
The US Navy has unveiled a prototype of its Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR). The last time we saw SAFFiR, it wasn't much more than an aluminum core and two legs, but now it looks more like the futuristic firefighting humanoid it originally promised to be. The robot is 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs 143 pounds "We set out to build and demonstrate a humanoid capable of mobility aboard a ship, manipulating doors and fire hoses, and equipped with sensors to see and navigate through smoke," Office of Naval Research program manager Thomas McKenna said yesterday at the Naval Future Force Science & Technology Expo. "The longterm goal is to keep sailors from the danger of direct exposure to fire." SAFFiR, which was developed by researchers at Virginia Tech, stands five-foot-10 inches tall and weighs 143 pounds. Infrared stereovision sensors and a rotating laser allow the robot to see through dense smoke. Unlike DARPA's Atlas robot, SAFFiR can't stand without a tether, but it is capable of taking measured steps and handling a fire hose. For now, those movements come at the instruction of human controllers. During a test trial in November, SAFFiR worked in conjunction with a small drone, Engadget reports. The quadcopter, DC-21, uses infrared sensors and cameras to detect fires and map out the topography of an area, which it can then communicate to the robot. The Navy is working on creating more advanced sensors for SAFFiR, as well as improving its speed, intelligence, and communication abilities. The drone's creators also plan on improving the battery life of DC-21, which currently tops out at five minutes. The ultimate goal is for SAFFiR to work in tandem with Navy officers, not replace them. "We're working toward human-robot teams," McKenna said. "It's what we call the hybrid force: humans and robots working together."
News Article | May 29, 2015
Our own Joe Mullin attended every session of Ross Ulbricht's criminal trial in New York and filed a series of dispatches for Ars Technica earlier this year. They form, along with additional reporting, a complete account of the cybercrime "trial of the century"—which ended today with Ulbricht's sentencing in that same New York courthouse. On October 1, 2013, the last day that Ross Ulbricht would be free, he didn't leave his San Francisco home until nearly 3:00pm. When he did finally step outside, he walked ten minutes to the Bello Cafe on Monterey Avenue but found it full, so he went next door to the Glen Park branch of the San Francisco Public Library. There, he sat down at a table by a well-lit window in the library's small science fiction section and opened his laptop. From his spot in the library, Ulbricht, a 29-year-old who lived modestly in a rented room, settled in to his work. Though outwardly indistinguishable from the many other techies and coders working in San Francisco, Ulbricht actually worked the most unusual tech job in the city—he ran the Silk Road, the Internet’s largest drug-dealing website. Shortly after connecting to the library WiFi network, Ulbricht was contacted on a secure, Silk Road staff-only chat channel. "Are you there?" wrote Cirrus, a lieutenant who managed the site's extensive message forums. "Hey," responded Ulbricht, appearing on Cirrus' screen as the "Dread Pirate Roberts," the pseudonym he had taken on in early 2012. "Can you check out one of the flagged messages for me?" Cirrus wrote. "Sure," Ulbricht wrote back. He would first need to connect to the Silk Road’s hidden server. "Let me log in... OK, which post?" Behind Ulbricht in the library, a man and woman started a loud argument. Ulbricht turned to look at this couple having a domestic dispute in awkward proximity to him, but when he did so, the man reached over and pushed Ulbricht’s open laptop across the table. The woman grabbed it and handed it off to FBI Special Agent Thomas Kiernan, who was standing nearby. Ulbricht was arrested, placed in handcuffs, and taken downstairs. Kiernan took photos of the open laptop, occasionally pressing a button to keep it active. Later, he would testify that if the computer had gone to sleep, or if Ulbricht had time to close the lid, the encryption would have been unbreakable. "It would have turned into a brick, basically," he said. Then Cirrus himself arrived at the library to join Kiernan. Jared Der-Yeghiayan, an agent with Homeland Security Investigations, had been probing Silk Road undercover for two years, eventually taking over the Cirrus account and even drawing a salary from Ulbricht. He had come to California for the arrest, initiating the chat with Ulbricht—who had been under surveillance all day—from a nearby cafe. How the feds took down the Dread Pirate Roberts What he wouldn't give for a holocaust cloak. Looking at Ulbricht's computer, Der-Yeghiayan suddenly saw Silk Road through the boss' eyes. In addition to the flagged message noted by Cirrus, the laptop’s Web browser was open to a page with an address ending in "mastermind." It showed the volume of business moving through the Silk Road site at any given time. Silk Road vendors concealed their product in packages shipped by regular mail, and the “mastermind” page showed the commissions Silk Road stood to earn off those packages (the site took a bit more than 10 percent of a typical sale). It also showed the amount of time that had been logged recently by three top staffers: Inigo, Libertas, and Cirrus himself. Ulbricht was soon transferred to a New York federal prison; bail was denied. In addition to charges of drug-dealing and money laundering, prosecutors claimed that Ulbricht had tried to arrange “hits” on a former Silk Road administrator and on several vendors. Though Ulbricht had in fact paid the money, the hits themselves were all faked—in one case, because a federal agent was behind the scheme, in another because Ulbricht appears to have been scammed using the same anonymity tools he championed. Despite having been caught literally managing a drug empire at the moment of his arrest, Ulbricht pled not guilty. His family, together with a somewhat conspiracy-minded group of Bitcoin enthusiasts, raised a large pool of money for his defense. With it, Ulbricht hired Joshua Dratel, a defense lawyer who has handled high-profile terrorism trials. Dratel did not reach any sort of plea deal with the government, as is common in such cases. Beyond a general insistence that his client was not, in fact, the Dread Pirate Roberts, Dratel offered no public explanation of what had happened in the Glen Park library—until January 2015, when the case went to trial at the federal courthouse on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan. "Ross is a 30-year-old, with a lot at stake in this trial—as you could imagine," Dratel said in his opening statement, addressing the jury in a low-key voice. "This case is about the Internet and the digital world, where not everything is as it seems. Behind a screen, it's not always so easy to tell... you don't know who's on the other side." Ulbricht, he said, was only a fall guy, the stooge left holding the bag when the feds closed in; the “real” Dread Pirate Roberts was still at large. But would the jury buy this unlikely story? Logging in to Silk Road, users saw pictures of just about every illicit substance imaginable: marijuana, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy—along with pharmaceuticals and designer drugs like DMT. Other items for sale included hacking tools, fake IDs, and even illegal coupons, all of which resulted in additional charges against Ulbricht. In its outlook and operation, the site emulated the legitimate successes of Silicon Valley. The simple interface, extensive user feedback, and extensive user forums, all felt like a cross between Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook. Silk Road had a founder who truly believed that with the right software, one could both do well and do good. At first, Ulbricht called himself simply "Silk Road," but later he would go by “Dread Pirate Roberts,” or DPR. He and his acolytes believed they were making the world a better, less harmful, more free place, and that they could put an end to the violence that marred so much of the drug trade. Silk Road didn't have buyers and sellers, it had a "community." Users in the inner circle described Silk Road not as a lucrative business—which of course it was—but as a "movement." Dread Pirate Roberts spoke directly to his users in hundreds of posts, mostly on administrative issues, but he also got emotional. He made time to run a libertarian book club on the site. Those ideals posed no conflict with the goal of getting rich. DPR and his inner circle viewed government as a cumbersome obstacle, and in that, DPR's ideas weren't so different from what many other Valley CEOs believe, some more privately than others. Silk Road didn't find or procure drugs itself. The goal was to be a superbly effective "platform," linking up buyers and sellers, and then taking a cut of each transaction. Silk Road took around 10 percent of many sales, but often took smaller commissions. All told, the commission structure proved similar to eBay’s own—an incredible deal when compared to real-world black markets. Getting onto the site required mastering the use of two technologies, Tor and Bitcoin. Tor, technology originally developed by the US Navy and now overseen by a nonprofit, helped to anonymize Internet use by routing requests through multiple servers, adding and removing layers of encryption along the way. When “dark” Tor-cloaked traffic popped back onto the “open” Internet, tracing it back to its source was difficult. Tor helps everyone who needs anonymity—dissident, drug dealer, and spy alike. Bitcoin, a novel digital currency based on cryptography, provided a similarly hard-to-trace method of handling payments. Though anyone in the world could watch payments flowing through the Bitcoin system, tying particular accounts to individuals could prove extremely challenging. Both technologies took effort to master, but neither was particularly difficult. Indeed, Jared Der-Yeghiayan, the HSI agent who became “Cirrus,” taught himself how to use both—and ultimately how to do much more—as he began his two-year journey into the inner circle of Dread Pirate Roberts. As the site boomed in popularity, it became clear to outside observers and Ulbricht alike that it would become a test case for the strength of the protections offered by Tor and Bitcoin. Could this pair of basic technologies allow a drug marketplace to flourish, safely, in plain sight on the Internet? Ulbricht’s case thus promised to become tech’s early “trial of the century” by showing how online anonymity and cryptography could baffle even highly resourced US investigators—that is, if Dratel could actually prove his claims.
News Article | June 1, 2015
If you see a flying saucer in the sky tomorrow over Hawaii, don’t panic — it’s just NASA. At 12:30PM ET on June 2nd, NASA’s low-density supersonic decelerator (LDSD) will be tested at the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. That test brings the technology a little closer to its ultimate destination: Mars. Humans have explored the Red Planet for four decades using robotic probes. In 1976, the twin Viking landers successfully touched down on the Martian surface — the first Mars landing. In 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover survived the "seven minutes of terror" known as entry, descent, and landing to successfully touch down on the Martian surface with the help of that same Viking-era parachute. That system, though reliable, is limited: it can’t support a payload of more than a ton. The technology to launch crews is currently in development, but what happens when we arrive? NASA is planning increasingly ambitious robotic missions to Mars, gearing up to a human mission in the 2030s. In preparation, the agency is constructing its next big rocket — the Space Launch System (SLS), capable of propelling its Orion spacecraft further into space than ever before. The technology to launch crews is currently in development, but what happens when we arrive? The engineering challenges are significant. Landing on Mars isn’t the same as landing on Earth, or even on the Moon. Our atmosphere is very dense; the Moon has no atmosphere at all. The Martian atmosphere is somewhere in between. That thin atmosphere means any spacecraft would need more than a parachute to land. And Mars has just enough atmosphere to rule out landing via rocket motors alone, as is done on the Moon. In order to support an eventual human mission, NASA needs technologies capable of landing between 20 to 30 metric tons on the Martian surface. The LDSD is a step in that direction: it supports payloads of two to three tons, doubling the current capabilities. NASA is betting on atmospheric drag, better known as air resistance, as a solution. Using drag for deceleration saves engines and fuel. NASA’s future Mars missions require heavy-duty planetary landers capable of delivering larger payloads and maneuvering to higher elevations. Current technology coupled with the thin Martian atmosphere make mountaintops and the high-altitude southern plains inaccessible, limiting what areas of the Red Planet we can explore. The LDSD features three different devices meant to address these problems. Two massive, donut-shaped airbags constructed out of kevlar — dubbed supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerators (SIADs) — will inflate around the vehicle. By increasing the surface area of a vehicle such as Orion, the amount of air resistance will also increase, decelerating the spacecraft. To design the technology needed for this task, NASA turned their attention to the Hawaiian pufferfish. When frightened, the puffer fish inflates itself, intimidating potential predators. Engineers thought this same technique could be used as a means of deceleration. Rapidly inflating the SIAD would increase the surface area of any spacecraft bound for the Red Planet, and dramatically reduce its speed. These SIADs come in two different versions: the SIAD-R, which is meant for robotic missions and is 6 meters in diameter when deployed; and the larger SIAD-E, meant for human missions, which expands to 8 meters in diameter once inflated. The SIAD-E is designed to slow surface-bound vehicles, like Orion, from upwards of 2,600 mph — about three and a half time the speed of sound — to 1,400 mph in under three minutes. It's not practical to test these new technologies on Mars The final part of the LDSD system is a parachute that’s 30.5 meters in diameter — twice the size of the Viking-era parachute. Once the SIAD deploys and slows the payload to roughly 1,400 mph (Mach 2), the parachute takes over. It’s tasked with slowing the vehicle to subsonic speeds. All three devices will be the largest of their kind ever flown at supersonic speeds. Since it’s not practical to test these new technologies on Mars, researchers use the next best thing: the thin layer of Earth’s upper atmosphere known as the stratosphere. The LDSD will be tested over the Pacific Ocean, since that’s where the atmosphere most closely resembles Mars. By simulating the supersonic entry and descent speeds Orion and other vehicles will experience on Mars, engineers will have an idea of how well the LDSD technology will perform on Mars. During the test, a high-altitude helium balloon will carry the test vehicle to an altitude of 120,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. The test vehicle will then be released from the balloon, dropping a few thousand feet. Four small rocket motors will ignite, stabilizing the test vehicle through a controlled spin, before an OrbitalATK Star 48 solid rocket motor ignites, propelling the craft to an altitude of 180,000 feet and speeds of 2,880 mph. The eight meter SIAD will deploy, decelerating the spacecraft to about 1,400 mph before the parachute takes over, slowing the spacecraft to a safe speed for a water landing. In the last test, the parachute failed The first full-scale test of the LDSD system at supersonic speeds was conducted at the PMRF in Hawaii in June 2014 and featured the 6-meter SIAD-R together with the massive parachute. The parachute failed. Tomorrow’s test will feature an improved parachute design. Will the new design hold up to the initial rush of supersonic wind? Or will the team recover another shredded chute? Regardless of the results, we can expect some amazing views from the onboard cameras.
News Article | June 23, 2015
The US Navy has been experimenting with technologies that will allow submarines to send email even when they are submerged . This allows them to communicate without giving away their position (supposedly). The underwater modems work by sending the signal through the water to a relay buoy. They don't say anything about how easy or difficult it is to intercept the signal, though.