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Stellar Performer

The Big Picture

1 min read

If past performance is any indication of future results, you are looking at the winner of the 2007 World Solar Challenge, to be held this coming 21 October. The 3000-kilometer race is run every two years, slicing north to south through the dusty red heart of Australia. Like all the racers, this slick number, called Nuna4, is powered entirely by the sun’s rays. It is the latest eco-speedster from the Nuon Solar Team, which is based at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The Nuon team has won all of the three contests held since 2001.

Nuna3, which won in 2005 with an average speed of 103 kilometers per hour, did so well that it scared race ­officials into changing the rules. It briefly and unofficially hit 145 km/h (90 miles per hour)—”freakishly fast,” notes Oliver van der Meer, a member of the Nuon team. The speed limit on many Australian highways is 110 km/h. So for this year’s race, drivers have to wear crash helmets and sit upright under a protective roll cage—which explains the ­relatively tall rear cockpit bulge of Nuna4 as compared with its flatter predecessors. Solar panels have also been limited to 6 square meters per vehicle. ”It’s really an engineering competition now,” van der Meer says.

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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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