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Born in Niederrimbach, Germany, in 1913, Ernst Stuhlinger earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Tübingen at age 23. As an assistant professor at the Berlin Institute of Technology, he performed research in cosmic rays and nuclear physics and participated in the German atomic energy program. In 1943, after a stint in the German army on the Russian front, he joined Wernher von Braun's team at the German village of Peenemuende, where he served in the field of guidance and control systems for military rockets. At the end of World War II, Stuhlinger joined the other members of von Braun's group of 126 scientists and engineers in the United States to work on civilian uses for advanced rockets (a program known as Operation Paperclip in intelligence circles). Eventually settling in the town of Huntsville, Alabama, at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency's Redstone Arsenal, Stuhlinger and his family won permanent U.S. citizenship in 1955.

At the Redstone Arsenal in the 1950s, Stuhlinger served as a senior research director on the civilian Project Orbiter campaign. That led to the first successful U.S. spaceflight, the launch of the Explorer 1 satellite powered by a modified Army Jupiter-C rocket on 31 January 1958, 16 weeks after the launch of Sputnik.

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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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