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Commercial Communications Satellites for the Moon

NASA wants a for-profit network to support lunar missions

2 min read

NASA is planning to rely on commercial communications and navigation services to support missions to the moon in the next decade, say engineers at Johnson Space Center, in Houston. The network, consisting of moon-orbiting satellites and ground stations on Earth, would initially serve robotic lunar missions by NASA, other governments, and private ventures. It would expand to provide 70 percent of the communication requirements for human space missions by the end of 2020, according to NASA documents. The network is especially needed for future low-power sensors on the moon and to reach lunar areas not directly visible from Earth or Earth-orbiting satellites, such as the moon’s farside and the insides of craters at its poles.

Lead engineer Rob Kelso says NASA has already begun discussions with satellite communications industry experts to figure out the bandwidth and system architecture requirements needed for such a network. However, at this point, NASA is focused on the business structure of the network and finding ”a mutually acceptable approach to balancing investment, commitment, and risk,” says Kelso.

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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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