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Russia Reveals Vision for Manned Spaceflight

A new design for a crew vehicle, launcher, and spaceport

4 min read

20 August 2009—Russia unveiled an ambitious three-decade plan for a manned space program this week at the International Aviation and Space Salon, MAKS-2009, which opened Tuesday in the town of Zhukovsky, near Moscow. The Russian Federal Space Agency’s hope is that its plan will become the basis for a broad international effort to send humans to Mars and build a permanent base on the surface of the moon.

In contrast to NASA efforts, which would use the moon as a stepping-stone on the way to Mars, the latest Russian space doctrine aims for Mars first. To reach a Mars landing, RKK Energia, Russia’s premier developer of manned spacecraft, displayed a multitude of planned space vehicles, including a transport ship, a nuclear-powered space tug, and a planetary lander system. Together they would make up what the agency is calling the Interplanetary Expeditionary Complex.

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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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