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Airbus Opts for Old-Fashioned Battery

It bails on lithium-ion technology after observing archrival Boeing's problems

1 min read
Airbus Opts for Old-Fashioned Battery

Airbus will not include lithium-ion batteries in its A350 airliner as originally planned, the French company said today, in the first industry-wide consequence of the fires that grounded Boeing's 787 Dreamliner in January. Back then we reported that Airbus executives were keeping open the option of reverting to tried-and-true nickel-cadmium batteries. Today they exercised that option.

Airbus stood by the safety of its original choice, a lithium-ion battery from France's Saft, but implied that it was not prepared to wait as the safety investigations of Boeing's batteries slowly wend their way to a final verdict on what caused the fires.

By acting now, Airbus can hope to swap battery types with relative ease, seeing as it still has 18 months to go before its first scheduled deliveries of the A350. For Boeing, however, such a change, in an airliner already in service, would cost much in time and money, as well as embarrassment.

It may seem strange that the two companies chose lithium-ion batteries, which are known to be as temperamental as racehorses, seeing that the savings in weight over the nickel-cadmium alternative barely amounts to that of a single passenger. But weight may not have been the primary consideration; lithium-ion batteries are still getting better, while the older ones are not; they charge faster; and they supposedly require less maintenance. The last claim has been undermined, though, by reports that the Boeing batteries had problems even before the fires in January.

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Economics Drives Ray-Gun Resurgence

Laser weapons, cheaper by the shot, should work well against drones and cruise missiles

4 min read
In an artist’s rendering, a truck is shown with five sets of wheels—two sets for the cab, the rest for the trailer—and a box on the top of the trailer, from which a red ray is projected on an angle, upward, ending in the silhouette of an airplane, which is being destroyed

Lockheed Martin's laser packs up to 300 kilowatts—enough to fry a drone or a plane.

Lockheed Martin

The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.

Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.

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