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Russians Close In on Cause of Soyuz Landing Anomaly

Clues could come from a space walk next week

3 min read

15 December 2008—Russian space engineers think they are closing in on the cause of two dangerous off-course Soyuz landings in the past year, but recent activities suggest there is still a dispute about the leading theory. Top space officials have asserted that the problem—the failure of one or more explosive bolts during reentry—is already solved. But in fact, in a space walk from the International Space Station (ISS), scheduled for 23 December, astronauts will install an instrument that is supposed to confirm that theory, for which there is as yet no physical evidence.

The instrument, a small Langmuir probe, measures the electric potential of plasma flowing across the space station’s outer surface near where the Soyuz spacecraft are docked. The voltage difference between that plasma and the station’s electrical systems was an early headache for engineers, requiring the addition of two ion jets that ground the station’s electrical system to the surrounding plasma.

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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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