Thursday, June 24, 2010

Predator drone UAV deployed on U.S. Customs Border Patrol mission

The Homeland Security Department will use unmanned surveillance aircraft and other technological upgrades in its ongoing effort to protect the southern border of the United States.

The department said Wednesday it has obtained Federal Aviation Administration permission to operate unmanned planes along the Texas border and throughout the Gulf Coast region. Customs and Border Protection will base a surveillance drone at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in Texas.

Homeland Security also said it is working with the Office of National Drug Control Policy on "Project Roadrunner," a license plate recognition system designed to seek out possible drug traffickers.

And the department is collaborating with the Justice Department to improve information sharing between state, local and federal law enforcement agencies.

In a speech at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, a Washington think tank, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also announced a new partnership with the Major Cities Chiefs Association. The agreement would allow non-border cities to provide more assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies that are on the border.

Recommended reading:
* Guardian UAV for drug traffic-monitoring

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Putin boasts new Sukhoi T-50 better than F-22 Raptor

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin climbed into the cockpit of Sukhoi T-50, Russia's newest fighter jet on Thursday and said it would trump a U.S.-built rival, the F-22 Raptor.

Putin watched a test flight of a "fifth-generation" stealth fighter, dubbed the T-50 and billed as Russia's first all-new warplane since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"This machine will be superior to our main competitor, the F-22, in terms of manoeuvrability, weaponry and range," Putin told the pilot after the flight, according to an account on the government website.

Putin said the plane would cost up to three times less than similar aircraft in the West and could remain in service for 30 to 35 years with upgrades, according to the report.

Successful development of the fighter, built by Sukhoi, is crucial to showing Russia can challenge U.S. technology and modernise its military after a period of post-Soviet decay.

Russia also plans to manufacture T-50s jointly with India.

The F-22 raptor stealth fighter first flew in 1997 and is the only fifth-generation fighter in service. Fifth-generation aircraft have advanced flight and weapons control systems and can cruise at supersonic speeds.

According to the government website, the test pilot told Putin the controls of the T-50 allowed the pilot to operate most of the plane's systems without taking his hands off the joystick, which he said would be very useful under high forces of gravity.

"I know, I've flown," Putin replied. Sukhoi has said the plane should be ready for use in 2015.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches

Friday's test launch of the Falcon 9 rocket was "essentially a bullseye," SpaceX officials said after the rocket successfully pushed past the earth's atmosphere and deposited a mock-up of its Dragon space capsule in orbit.

The successful launch is the latest step toward commercial space ventures that could eventually ferry astronauts and cargo to the international space station.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, sent out the technical details of the successful launch, which he said performed its mission to deposit the Dragon mock-up into a 155-mile (250-km) orbit to near perfection.

"Nominal shutdown and orbit was almost exactly 250 km," Musk said in a written statement. "Telemetry showed essentially a bullseye: 126;0.2% on perigee and 126;1% on apogee."

The capsule is expected to orbit for about a year and eventually burn up in the atmosphere.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden congratulated the SpaceX team.

"Space X's accomplishment is an important milestone in the commercial transportation effort and puts the company a step closer to providing cargo services to the International Space Station," he said.

Former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart was high on the launch's possibilities.
"As a former Apollo astronaut, I think it's safe to say that SpaceX and the other commercial developers embody the 21st century version of the Apollo frontier spirit. It's enormously gratifying to see them succeed today," he said.

NASA hopes companies such as SpaceX can take over transportation to the international space station.

"It's time for NASA to hand that over to commercial industry who can then optimize the technology and make it more reliable, make it much lower cost and make it much more routine," said Musk in an interview with CNN last month.

Musk says he believes the United States is at the beginning of a profound, fundamental renaissance in space exploration, perhaps greater than when President Kennedy declared the United States was going to the moon during the infancy of the space program.

"If the country executes and the administration and Congress execute in that direction, the impact of these changes will be on par, perhaps even greater, than ... the task that Kennedy put us on to," he said.

This push toward the privatization of space is part of President Obama's blueprint to allow NASA to do bigger and better things with its budget, such as a mission to Mars.

NASA has been flying shuttles in low Earth orbit and going to and from the space station for 30 years. The administration would like to see whether private companies can do it cheaper and more efficiently, as the shuttle program is about to fly into retirement.

NASA selected SpaceX and another company, Orbital Sciences, to each develop an orbital vehicle because the United States will not have its own way to get to the space station. The United States will be renting space from the Russians aboard their Soyuz spacecraft.

"They're standing on NASA's shoulders, so they're designing rockets based on the experience we've had for 50 years or more, going into space," said George Musser, editor of the Scientific American.

"And any enterprise that learns from past experience will hopefully do better," he said.

But the competition is rabid. SpaceX is the first company to reach the launchpad. So far, its spent almost $400 million to get there.

"They probably hate each other's guts, but the competition is really good for space and for all of us," said Musser.

"Ultimately, what do we want from this? We want to get into space cheaply, so our kids and grandkids someday can go into space and explore the planets," he said.
But SpaceX acknowledges there will be failures, as there have been since the the beginning of aviation.

"This is an all-new rocket. There's a lot that can go wrong, and during the test phase -- that's why you have a test phase, because things may go wrong," he said.

Ken Bowersox is a vice president for SpaceX. In his previous life, he flew five space shuttle missions as a commander and pilot. He also lived on the space station for more than five months as its commander.

"Either way, we're going to learn something," he said. "If we have a problem, we can move forward accepting a higher level of risk. That's how we can be more cost-effective.

If all goes as planned after a series of test flights, Musk says SpaceX will be ready to begin flying cargo to the space station next year. If NASA awards SpaceX a contract, Musk says they can begin ferrying astronauts to the space station within three years. He says his company is profitable, but his motivations go beyond dollars.

"We want to see a future where we are exploring the stars, where we're going to other planets, where we're doing the great things that we read about in science fiction and in the movies," Musk said.

Recommended reading:
* China to launch 2nd lunar probe