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Saint Javelin: how do Ukraine’s anti-tank weapons work?

“Saint Javelin”. Image via Reddit / USMC.

Wars have always been a scientific wrestling match just as much as a brutal confrontation in the field. Soldiers rely on science to give them an edge over their opponents and nowadays, firefights are settled by work done in labs, design bureaus, forges, or universities long before the first shot is fired.

In days long past, technical differences pitted obsidian-wielding Incans against musket-armed conquistadors. Shipbuilders shaped empires. Those who knew how to build chariots trampled over those who did not. Shock cavalry ruled the battlefield of medieval Europe due to the simple stirrup, inherited from Asian invaders. Today, research and technical capability have never been as important in wartime.

Courage and grit keep people fighting, but aren’t much use against a 50-ton tank. Anti-tank missiles, however, are great against them. Big guns, too, tend to do the job. So while we dearly hoped that such weapons will never be necessary, looking at the situation in Ukraine… they still are. So here’s a rundown of the science behind modern anti-tank weapons, from simple cocktails to the more high-tech ones.

First off, the tank

T-90A main battle tank at the 2013 Victory Day Parade in Moskow, Russia. Image via Wikimedia.

To blow up a tank, you first need a tank.

There is no shortage of photographs or videos in the news today showing some type or another of armored vehicles using the blanket term ‘tanks’. Strictly speaking, this isn’t accurate. Tanks are specialized vehicles meant to perform certain tasks. A tank is defined by what it does and how it’s supposed to do it, not by its components or appearance. Broadly speaking, a tank has tracks, a big, long gun, a really big turret, machine guns poking out of it or on the turret.

Tanks are tracked, heavily armored vehicles, typically carrying heavy primary armament in an enclosed fully-rotatable turret, with secondary armament co-axial to the main weapon. Their role is to engage well-protected targets, other vehicles (especially other tanks), and exploit weaknesses in enemy lines using their mobility.

They do not perform any other role — they do not carry infantry or supplies, they do not provide indirect fire support, they do not work as combat taxis. Generally speaking, they do not carry missile launchers externally. These requirements necessarily inform the shape of tanks, imparting them with their advantages and their drawbacks.

This is not a tank, even if it has tracks, armor, a gun, and a turret. It is a Russian BMP-3 Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Image via Wikipedia.

Let’s start with the advantages. Tanks carry the thickest armor and heaviest armament among military vehicles today. They are exceedingly resistant to non-specialized weaponry and pack a mighty punch. Tanks can effectively engage any type of target in battle due to their range of weapon calibers and ammunition types. They are able to traverse virtually any type of terrain, they’re quite scary to anyone and everyone, and typically protect their crews from environmental hazards such as gas weapons.

As far as disadvantages go, tanks are very complex machines with a lot of moving parts. They require extensive and specialized maintenance procedures, crews, and parts. Tanks rely on a vast logistical network for fuel and ammo without which they are completely useless. They generally require extensive maintenance of their drive train after driving a relatively short distance on their own power and need a complete repair/replacement of said drive train after a few of these extensive maintenance procedures. Due to their extreme levels of protection, tanks offer exceedingly poor visibility for their crews, especially at very close distances. Because of this, tanks rely on infantry for defense and are completely helpless against close-in opponents without it. Their tracks are relatively delicate (compared to the rest of the tank) and vulnerable; tanks become immobile if even one of their tracks is broken or jammed. They are also expensive to produce, maintain, and use.

Now that we’ve seen what a tank is, let’s see how we can blow it up.

Kinetic weapons (tank guns)

The main type of kinetic shells used against tanks today is known as Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) rounds. It’s a mouthful, but it’s hella effective.

However, because of the recoil they generate when firing and the size and weight of the explosives used to propel them, kinetic rounds are only used with guns, usually mounted on tanks. They are rods made of very hard, dense metals, such as tungsten or depleted uranium alloys. They are fired from a tank’s cannon and rely on speed and toughness to push through steel plates.

These shells are usually much thinner than the bore (diameter) of the gun they’re fired from, so they are mounted in supports called sabots, which are blown away upon firing. The fins keep them steady in flight to maintain accuracy.

APFSDS (bottom) used on Japan’s Type-90 tanks. The black collar is the ‘sabot’, made out of two halves that break apart after firing. Shell on top is a HEAT round. Image via Wikimedia.

Their working principle is quite simple: push a piece of harder metal through a plate of softer metal using high force (speed). The shells bounce around the tank doing a lot of damage after penetration. They also break apart the inside faces of the armor plates they hit (a process known as ‘spalling’), creating high-speed fragments that rip through crew and internal systems. APFSDS rounds do not carry any explosives; all the damage they do is caused by impact between the shell, armor fragments, and the soft insides of the tank.

Tanks today have their armor plates angled to promote APFSDS bouncing on impact. Other types of defense, such as explosive reactive armor (ERA), are also effective against the shells. Their main drawback is that they lose energy in flight and become less effective with distance.

Sabot releasing the shell after firing. Image via Gfycat.
Note the back of the sabot, used to transfer energy to the shell (push it) through the higher-diameter barrel. Image via Gfycat.

Still, they are the least high-tech weapons useful against tanks and still effective due to their simplicity, reliability, and the immense forces they bring to bear against targets. Ukraine’s tank corps uses this type of ammo on its armed vehicles, as most likely do Russian tanks, as well. Although many varieties are in use, as far as costs go, the US’s M829A3 APFSDS costs around $8,500 per round.

But they’re not what militia or the infantry would use when defending against such vehicles. The shoulder-mounted weaponry you see in videos from Ukraine rely on:

Chemical rounds

Anti-tank rockets and the infamous RPG work on a different principle. Instead of relying on mass and speed to pierce through armor, they use explosive warheads arranged in a certain way — known as ‘shaped charges’. Because they derive their energy from explosives, not mechanical force, they are also known as ‘chemical rounds’ as opposed to ‘kinetic’, speed-based, rounds.

HEAT round used for the Leopard 2 main battle tank (middle two). Note the hollow copper cone inside the warhead, with explosives (yellow) packed behind it. Image via Wikimedia.

These devices are used in civilian applications as well, but they were originally invented, and still used to, defeat tank armor. In military speak, they are known as high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds.

Shaped charges work using the Munroe/Neumann effect, which describes how energy from a blast can be focused into a single point. They contain an explosive mass behind a shaped copper cone. When detonated, the cone focuses the explosion into a narrow space. The explosive, in turn, pushes the copper out at extremely high speeds. The shape of the cone is calculated so that the end result is a beam of molten copper shooting out in front of the weapon. Basically, these rounds create a laser beam of molten copper in contact with armor.

Although they are called HEAT, they do not melt armor. The copper jet pushing out of the weapon creates immense pressure which simply digs through armored plates.

Shape charge during detonation. Via Makeagif.

Their main drawback is that the jet generated by such weapons is only effective over a small distance. As such, ERA is very effective against shaped charges, as is spaced armor and, to a lesser extent, sloped armor. Even sandbags or metal sheets can be effective in stopping such shells, by forcing them to detonate prematurely. Still, since HEAT rounds don’t need to go fast or be really big to be effective, they are widely used for anti-tank weapons for infantry, land and air vehicles, and drones.

Tanks can also fire HEAT ammo. The cost varies greatly depending on caliber and manufacturer. A US High Explosive Anti-Tank- Multiple Purpose round may cost between $1,500 to $4,000, depending on several factors.

RPGs

The infamous RPG is the simplest type of shaped-charge weapon in use today, the single most widely-produced anti-tank weapon on the planet, and has served in virtually all conflicts since being designed by the Soviet Union in 1960. The RPG-7 is currently in production and in use with some 40 countries around the world and total production, figures are estimated to be close to 10 million units.

Image via min.news.

The RPG-7 is a shoulder-mounted, portable, reusable rocket-propelled grenade launcher (basically, a bazooka). It fires an unguided rocket-propelled projectile that can carry anti-tank, high explosive/fragmentation, or thermobaric warheads, in a low arc. They are very simple, very cheap, plentiful, and very rugged weapons — each launcher is a steel tube with iron aiming sights and a grip.

This weapon sees extensive use in Ukraine on both sides. It is easy to use, easy to care for, and useful for a wide range of situations, including tank-busting. Its simplicity, although a major advantage, also means that the weapon is more easily countered. It’s also the most widely-used weapon of its type, so it represents a sort of benchmark. Designers know that every tank will face an RPG eventually, and put a lot of effort to protect these vehicles from it specifically. Still, it is more than capable of downing even a heavily-armored modern tank in the right situation and is more than capable of piercing any metal plates that are not protected against shaped charges.

Schematic of an RPG round detonating in contact with an armored plate. Image via Gfycat.

The simplest RPG-7 warhead can pierce through 500 mm of tank armor and is relatively accurate up to 200m / 660 ft, although it can shoot up to a distance of 500 m / 1,640 ft. With a cost of only between $500-2000 per launcher and $100-500 per rocket, the RPG-7 is definitely the way to go if you’re blowing up tanks on a budget.

NLAWs

The Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapon was a joint British-Swedish project started in 2002 to modernize Cold War-era infantry anti-tank weapons.

Its main advantage over weapons such as the trusty RPG is that it uses guided munitions. Another advantage it has is that it can be fired from enclosed spaces.

NLAW (Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon) firing at the Otterburn ranges. Image credits Royal Navy Media Archive.

RPGs fire a big grenade with a rocket engine strapped to their back. These are not guided and the blast from the launch generates huge pressure behind the weapon, meaning it could seriously injure troops if fired inside a confined space. NLAWs fire actual missiles that have fire-and-forget guidage systems. This means that the weapon uses a passive tracking system — ‘predicted line of sight targeting’ — which points the missile to the predicted position of the target. The missile is first launched using a ‘low-powered ignition’ system, to make it safe to use indoors.

Unlike the other weapons on this list, the NLAW is not designed to ever touch its target. The rocket flies above an enemy tank and detonates one meter above it, sending a powerful pressure wave down on the vehicle. While that might not sound very damaging for the tank, it’s more than enough to pulp the crew inside. This approach allows the NLAW to target even vehicles that are completely hidden behind the cover.

According to reports in the field, it seems to be working quite well against Russian tanks.

Test firings of the weapon.
Testing of the damage produced by the weapon.

The weapon is not reusable, however. Once the rocket is fired, the launcher is disposed of. It offers a similar level of penetration to the RPG — 500 mm, up to a range of 1000 m / 3,300 ft). This makes its cost of roughly $26,000 / €24,000 quite a hefty proposition. However, considering that tanks generally cost in the millions, it could be a worthy investment.

Javelin

This US-made rocket launcher has become a symbol of Ukrainian defiance and is the driving force that inspired this article. This 20-year-old weapon has been in use by the US military, alongside 20 allied nations. A lot of them have been supplied to Ukraine as military aid following the onset of hostilities, and more are planned to be sent there. Ukraine has received thousands of Stingers from countries all around the world to help it defend from Russian invaders.

US soldiers training with the Javelin missile launcher. Image via Pixabay.

Although no different in working principle than other anti-tank missiles, the Javelin is one of the most potent weapons of its kind currently employed in the conflict. What sets it apart from other portable launchers is that the Javelin missile is launched in a high arc, and programmed to slam down into enemy tanks from above.

Tank armor is thickest at the front and sides, where most shots are likely to impact. However, to keep the vehicles down to an acceptable weight, concessions have to be made somewhere — so designers put thin armor on their back, with extremely thin protection afforded to the undersides and the top of tanks. The Javelin’s trajectory is meant to take advantage of this design feature.

The explosion here is caused by ammo detonating inside the target. Quite devastating.

The missile is also guided, so it can track moving vehicles and ensure high hit probability. Like the NLAW, it is a fire-and-forget system: the soldier using it fires the weapon and can then scramble for cover to avoid return fire. Javelins also have an impressive effective range of up to 4 km / 2.5 miles, which helps a lot.

Live firing of the Javelin during exercises in Quatar, 2017, showcasing its use and range. Skip to 2:55 for the launch.

All of this, however, comes at a cost. A single Javelin system comes in at an eye-watering $80,000 / €71,000. This is very expensive for an infantry weapon, meaning they would be prohibitively expensive to field on-masse. In the arithmetic of war, one such missile is vastly cheaper than the tank it takes out. But this remains the most expensive anti-tank weapon a single soldier can carry into battle in the conflict, severely limiting its use.

The Molotov cocktail

A Molotov cocktail is essentially a bottle filled with fuel and an adhesive — it’s burning liquid that sticks to things.

While not technically an anti-tank weapon, Molotovs can be used against tanks and the Ukrainian Defense Ministry has told civilians to make Molotov cocktails to fight Russian tanks. The defense ministry even distributed a recipe for producing Molotov cocktails to civilians.

Molotovs were extremely efficient against tanks used in World War II but may have a harder time against more modern tanks, which are sealed better and more resilient. However, even if the Molotovs would leave the tank relatively unscathed, they could still be devastating to the driver on the inside of the tank.


We don’t often talk about weapons here on ZME Science, and it’s most definitely not a subject that brings us joy. In an ideal world, these weapons would only belong in the museum. However, we feel that given the ongoing situation, this is worth talking about.

These weapons are definitely not the only ones being used in the fields and cities of Ukraine. But they are among the most impactful. Although it’s tragic to see science embroiled in armed conflict and used to cause death and destruction, there is value in learning about the particular set of circumstances that conflict creates and the solutions we can develop to address them — even as we fight the realities of war and try to prevent such conflicts from happening.

For now, military technology and the science behind it are, unfortunately, a current subject. Hopefully, not for long.

All eyes are on a Chinese rocket — because it’s falling from space and we don’t know when or where

Just last week, China sent the first module of its new space station to orbit. Today, space agencies around the world are anxiously watching the sky, as the rocket used for the journey is falling back to Earth. But we don’t know where, or when.

A Long March 5 rocket at a launch site in Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Center, 2017.

This will likely be the heaviest object to make an uncontrolled reentry into Earth’s atmosphere in over 20 years, according to experts at the European Space Agency, but we can’t know for sure. The Chinese government has a habit of keeping certain information under wraps, especially when it involves military matters, advanced tech, or the Uyghurs, so we simply don’t know how heavy their Long March 5 rocket (the one that’s making the reentry) actually is.

Either way, specialists and sensors around the world are keeping an eye on the situation as it unfolds, and, hopefully, the craft won’t fall on anyone’s head — or on something important.

The Great Leap Back Down

Whether or not this was initially intended is still unknown — there is some debate raging around the development process of the rocket — but the Long March 5 relies on uncontrolled reentries by design. That, by itself, isn’t unheard-of. Many rockets in the past have employed similar reentry approaches.

What is causing a lot of headaches for the global space community is that the rocket relies on uncontrolled reentries and we know next to nothing about its characteristics. Most importantly, we don’t know its mass, which makes calculating its behavior through the atmosphere impossible. In turn, this means we can’t predict when or where it’s going to finally come down with any degree of accuracy.

Reusable rockets, like the ones being tested by Musk’s SpaceX rely on controlled reentry, giving them the ability to change speed and course while flying back down to the surface.

“[The CZ-5B’s] design is not described in detail in public sources but it is estimated to be cylindrical with dimensions of 5 x 33.2 meters (16.4 x 108.9 feet) and a dry mass of about 18 metric tons (19.8 tons),” the ESA wrote for Deutsche Welle.

Right now, rocket’s core is tumbling through low orbit and is expected to start its descent through the atmosphere in the coming days.

The core is the part of the rocket that actually deployed the space station module to orbit. It was expected to start making a controlled reentry into the atmosphere after disengaging from the rocket proper and finishing its mission, however, that didn’t happen.

Ground radar picked up on the core afterwards, as it was travelling at speeds in excess of 15,840 mph (25,490 km/h). It was designated ‘object 2021-035B’ by the U.S. military, and you can see it being tracked here.

This event was not received well by the international community, especially given that this isn’t the first rocket from a Chinese spacecraft to make an uncontrolled reentry to Earth. The last time this happened, in 2017, the Tiangong-1 space station luckily landed in the Pacific Ocean, and nobody was hurt. But there are no guarantees that the same good luck will help us again. As such, several agencies and experts have called for tighter regulation regarding space traffic, especially on the matter of reentry.

SpaceX rocket aced a landing, then exploded so hard it launched again for a bit

Luckily, nobody was injured and the company seems to be taking the events in good spirits.

Image credits Official SpaceX Photos / Flickr.

SpaceX is a company that’s definitely not afraid to take risks and try new things. And a natural part of such an approach is that things will often not go according to plan, and sometimes they fail spectacularly. Yesterday was one such day, after one of the company’s Starship rockets touched down in Texas.

Post-landing problems

SpaceX wants to make going to space cheap enough that it’s practical. A large part of that plan involves cutting down costs by making rockets reusable. They’re hard at work doing that.

So far, they’ve run into their fair share of trouble. Their approach involves using the rocket’s thrusters in flight to orient the craft upright before landing. Two of their previous test flights ended in fireballs though, because, while the rockets maneuvered as intended, they didn’t decelerate fast enough before touching down.

The test yesterday went much better than those two. It used a full-scale prototype of the rocket, which launched, traveled around 6 miles (10 kilometers), and then headed in for a landing. The maneuvers worked like a charm, and the craft flipped upright after descending close enough to the pad. “Third time’s the charm as the saying goes,” quipped SpaceX commentator John Insprucker, referring to the previous trials, as the rocket touched down successfully.

A few minutes later, however, the rocket would explode, briefly sending itself upon a new flight path.

SpaceX has not issued an official statement on the event yet, but CEO Elon Musk did comment on his personal Twitter account with good humor.

Technically speaking, it did. The first time.

It’s all good to make fun of a bad situation, but even considering that the rocket exploded after landing, this is quite the feat. SpaceX’s approach was under question given how the last two tests panned out, but yesterday’s shows that the plan was sound after all. Most importantly, nobody was injured, and rockets can be rebuilt. Even a result like this — which was arguably, ultimately, a failure — brings us one step closer to the days when rockets are reusable and don’t explode on the landing pad. Both extremely desirable traits, as the Spaceship is earmarked to ferry people to and from Mars for SpaceX.

“SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace,” Musk added in a later tweet. It is not yet clear why the rocket exploded, but according to the Independent, “observers speculated that it was the result of a rough landing combined with a methane leak”.

China launches the last of 55 satellites for its own GPS system

China has launched the final satellite of the Beidou constellation, its own GPS-like system.

The satellite taking off at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, Tuesday, June 23, 2020.
Image credits Xue Chen / Xinhua via AP.

On Tuesday, a Long March-3 rocket was being readied for launch in the mountains of southwestern China. Shortly before 10 a.m., its launch was broadcast live, and in about half an hour, the new satellite was deploying its solar panels, safely in orbit.

With it, China’s third iteration of the Beidou Navigation Satellite System was complete. Yang Changfeng, the system’s lead designer, said for a state broadcaster that Beidou’s completion shows China is “becoming a true space power”.

Domestic GPS

The USA, Europe, and Russia all have their own satellite constellations to handle communications and navigations — the GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS, respectively. China has so far had two iterations of its Beidou network, with this being the third. The 55-satellite strong network is meant to provide global coverage for communications, timing, location, and navigation.

Its initial launch, scheduled for last week, was postponed due to unspecified technical problems.

The now-complete system, BDS-3, consists of 30 satellites. It consists mostly of medium Earth orbit satellites, with six geosynchronous orbit satellites (such as the one launched today).

Work on BDS-3 first started in 2018 and provided service for countries partaking in China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative. It supports “short message communication, satellite-based augmentation, international search and rescue, as well as precise point positioning,” according to state-run news agency Xinhua. The short messaging system transmits up to 1,200 Chinese characters long and images, it adds.

China is only the third country to ever launch an independent space mission. Since then, it’s also sent rovers to the moon and constructed an experimental space station. Its plans for the future include a crewed, permanent space station, and possibly even sending a rover to Mars next month.

Musk unveils SpaceX’s Starship on livestream

In a speech that was streamed live from SpaceX’s launch facility in Texas, Elon Musk unveiled the spacecraft that he hopes will make space travel a common affair.

Starship at SpaceX launch facility in Cameron County, Texas.
Image credits Spacex / Twitter.

This Saturday, Musk presented SpaceX’s Starship Mk.1, a prototype of the company’s towering reusable rocket, reports Business Insider. He spoke from a stage clad in a shiny metal fuselage. The craft is intended for reusable space missions where it will launch, take people to Mars, the Moon, or anywhere else in the solar system they need to go, and then land back on Earth.

The new version of Starship (and its Super Heavy booster) will be able to carry up to 100 people at a time, stand 387 feet (118 meters) tall, and be completely reusable, with quick turnarounds. This is the rocket that will launch billionaire Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa and a handful of artists on a trip around the moon in the 2020s.

“This is, I think, the most inspiring thing I have ever seen,” Musk told a crowd of about 200 SpaceX employees, guests, and reporters at the company’s site near Boca Chica Village, which is located just outside of Brownsville, Texas.

“What an incredible job by such a great team to build this incredible vehicle. I’m so proud to work with such a great team.”

Musk says this reusability is essential in order to increase humanity’s presence outside of Earth. The ship, he explains, is scheduled to take its maiden flight in about one or two months and reach 65,000 feet (19,800 meters) before landing back on Earth. Musk also adds that it’s important for humanity to work and extend consciousness beyond our planet — a nice way of saying ‘colonize space’.

“Starship will allow us to inhabit other worlds,” Musk wrote on Twitter Friday, Sept. 27.

“To make life as we know it interplanetary.”

The livestream was held to mark the 11th anniversary of a SpaceX rocket reaching orbit for the first time.

World’s largest aircraft flies for the first time

Credit: Stratolaunch.

A giant airplane of epic proportions took off for its maiden flight from the Mojave Air And Space Port in California. The Roc, as it has been dubbed by the company behind it, Stratolaunch, made it back to base safely, officially making it the largest airplane in the world.

“It was an emotional moment for me, personally, to watch this majestic bird take flight,” Stratolaunch’s CEO Jean Floyd said during a press call. “All of you have been very patient and very tolerant over the years waiting for us to get this big bird off the ground, and we finally did it.”

In Greek mythology, Roc is a giant mythical bird known for its ability to pick up and feed on baby elephants. Legend has it that the presence of this ominous bird would cast shade on the land below it and its flapping wings could create gusts of wind comparable to a cyclone.

It took off at 6:46 AM this morning from Stratolaunch’s spaceport, and the mechanical Roc was a sight to rival its mythical namesake. As it took off, the huge airplane blew a copious amount of dust after its six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 Turbofan engines, which normally power Boeing 747-400’s, unleashed 340,000 pounds (154,000 kg) of thrust.

The aircraft is 385 ft (117m) wide, 238 ft (73m) long and 50 ft (15m) tall. It weighs about 500,000 pounds (250 tons) empty, but full of fuel and with a payload, it can weigh as much as 1,300,000 pounds (650 tons).

Roc wasn’t designed to transport passengers or any kind of cargo. Instead, Stratolaunch’s vision is to haul rocket payloads up into the sky at an altitude of more than 30,000 ft from which point they can set off into orbit. Essentially, the Roc plays the role of a 1st stage booster that is fully reusable and flexibly deployable. Theoretically, this means dramatically cutting down costs.

The approach is quite different from SpaceX and Blue Origin which have chosen to design reusable rockets. However, given the demand for affordable deployment of payloads into Earth’s low orbit, there’s still enough room for growth and this kind of competition will only cut down prices even further.

At Roc’s event, Stratolaunch executives took a moment to honor the company’s founder, Paul Allen (who also co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates). Allen passed away last October from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

“Even though he wasn’t there today, as the plane lifted gracefully from the runway, I did whisper a ‘thank you’ to Paul for allowing me to be a part of this remarkable achievement,” Floyd said.

Water Space.

Scientists create a Bose-Einstein condensate in space for the first time

An international research effort has lead to the successful creation of the first Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) in space.

Water Space.

A bubble of colored water in zero gravity.
Image via NASA Johnson / YouTube.

 

Bose-Einstein condensates are a pretty exotic kind of matter. They’re created by chilling atoms of low-density gases to almost as low as temperature will go. In the frigid expanses of near-absolute-zero, the atoms bunch up to create a very dense quantum state.

They’re not just for show, either. Researchers are very interested in getting their (figurative) hands on BECs so they can run their tests and see exactly what these substances can do. The theory, at least, suggests that their weird state would make BECs ideal sensors for certain applications — such as picking up on gravitational waves.

And now, the catch

It’s almost impossible to synthesize BECs under normal conditions on Earth. Rather, it’s next to impossible on any sizeable chunk of space rock; gravity interferes with the devices used to produce and study these condensates.

Our workaround so far was to strap all this (very expensive, mind you) gear onto towers and then drop it. Yep, straight down. This simulates a zero-gravity environment (gravity pulling down is canceled out by inertia pulling upwards) for a few split seconds, making the process viable during the fall. Needless to say, not very much can be achieved during this time, so researchers working with BECs have long pinned their eyes and hopes on an environment that’s proudly gravity-free: outer space.

The U.S. is already hard at work in furbishing these scientists with the toys they need. Last May, NASA blasted a space-based BEC research platform called the Cold Atom Laboratory towards the International Space Station (ISS). However, the laboratory is yet to become fully operational.

So, in the meantime, a quite sizeable group of researchers from Europe and the U.S. have joined hands to launch a tiny, BEC-producing device to orbit. It also contained devices capable of running a host of experiments on the substance. This experiment functioned on the same principle as the tower-dropping ones, by using low-gravity and zero-gravity environments in space.

Device.

Schematic of the (a) rocket, its (b) payload, the (c) capsule, and the (d) chip. (e) is a grey-scale absorption image of the spatial density of the BEC.
Image credits Dennis Becker et al., 2018, Nature.

The device consisted of a capsule with, various electronics, a chip of rubidium-87 atoms, some lasers, and a power source. The team activated the device once the rocket hit an altitude of 243 km (150 miles). A stable BEC was produced in just 1.6 seconds, the authors report, and the device carried out 110 preprogrammed experiments in the six minutes before the rocket landed back to Earth.

This BEC marks the first ever substance of its kind produced in space, the team adds.

The paper “Space-borne Bose–Einstein condensation for precision interferometry” has been published in the journal Nature.

Falcon Heavy Rocket.

SpaceX to test the world’s most powerful operational rocket, the Falcon Heavy, later today

Later today, SpaceX will be test-firing the firm’s most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy, which is earmarked to shuttle humans to Mars.

Falcon Heavy Rocket.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Rocket. Image credits SpaceX.

The Falcon Heavy has the distinction of being the most powerful operational rocket today and the second most powerful rocket humanity has ever built — outclassed in payload capacity only by NASA’s Saturn V rocket, which put a man on the Moon.

The Falcon Heavy, on the other hand, is Elon Musk’s attempt to put a man on Mars. It’s a long and hard trek, so the vessel is about twice as powerful as its closest operational competitor. It’s an impressive bit of technology that SpaceX wants to make sure works perfectly on the first try. As such, the company will test fire the rocket’s (impressive) array of 27 engines today, Tuesday 15th, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET.

“With more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, Falcon Heavy will be the most capable rocket flying,” SpaceX states on its website. “By comparison, the liftoff thrust of the Falcon Heavy equals approximately 18 747 aircraft at full power.”

The only rocket that could carry a larger payload into orbit was the Saturn V, but that’s last been flown in 1973. It needs all that oomph, too, as the biggest challenge of sending a crew to Mars is the weight of the payload, around 10 times more than that of the Curiosity Rover.

Musk has high hopes for the Falcon Heavy. The billionaire has repeatedly talked about his ambition to make humanity a multi-planetary species, even calling for the President’s support in this endeavor last February. He even went as far as to goad his competition on if it gets us to that point sooner.

The Mars mission is just the first step on that path, but it could completely make or break Musk’s vision. A failure here could stifle the excitement in space travel for whole generations to come — and a success could galvanize societies across the Earth in a manner we haven’t seen in decades.

SpaceX is investing heavily in the hopes that the latter outcome comes to pass. According to NASA estimates, the company is investing around 320 million USD on the mission, a sum the agency will also contribute to. It makes perfect economic sense for NASA to do so as well since they can piggy-back on the company’s technological improvements — for example, use of SpaceX Dragon capsules allowed NASA to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) at a fraction of its previous costs.

Fingers crossed for a successful test!

Artist’s concept of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy — the most powerful rocket in the world — is nearly ready

Artist’s concept of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Credit: SpaceX

Artist’s concept of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Credit: SpaceX

Ever since Elon Musk founded SpaceX at the turn of the new century, he has been dreaming about building a huge rocket with three nine-engine boosters strapped to it. More than a decade later, this fabled rocket, called the Falcon Heavy, is nearly ready. According to inside sources, Falcon Heavy’s maiden voyage could take place as early as fall 2017, ending a four-year long wait. Once it officially enters service, governments and companies will be able to launch instruments, cargo, and various machines that they previously couldn’t due to payload restrictions.

The most powerful rocket in the world

The Falcon Heavy’s specs are simply mind blowing. Basically, it’s made out of three Falcon 9 rockets — a standard Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 first stages acting as liquid strap-on boosters. Simply put, this means the triple-body rocket will be able to loft payloads three times heavier to orbit than the Falcon 9.  It should carry up to 21,200 kilograms (46,700 lb) to geostationary orbit and more than 14,000 kilograms (31,000 lb) to Mars. It can even carry up to 4,000 kilograms to Pluto! No other rocket besides the Saturn V used during the Apollo era to put a man on the moon is more powerful in the history of space flight.

Currently, the most powerful rocket in the world is United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4-Heavy, which is another three-body design. However, the 70-meter tall Falcon Heavy has more than twice the payload capacity to low Earth orbit than ULA’s Delta 4-Heavy.

Falcon Heavy vs Falcon 9

Credit: SpaceX.

That’s certainly impressive, but it wasn’t easy getting here. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled the design for the Falcon Heavy in 2011 and promised it would be ready for liftoff in 2013.

“Falcon Heavy is one of those things that, at first, sounded easy,” Musk said in March. “We’ll just take two first stages and use them as strap-on boosters. Actually, no, this is crazy hard, and it required the redesign of the center core and a ton of different hardware.

“It was actually shockingly difficult to go from a single-core to a triple-core vehicle,” Musk said.

We know the Falcon Heavy is imminent because on May 9th SpaceX shared a video showing the first test of the rocket’s boosters. You’re invited to check it out.

Yup, that’s what  5.1 million pounds of thrust look like. But the best thing about the Falcon Heavy is that it will be fully reusable. Just like the Falcon 9, each of the three boosters will touch down safely on a spaceport very casually like so:

Or crash miserably:

Each of the boosters for the maiden Falcon Heavy mission will be shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final processing in the coming months. According to March 30th press conference, the rocket will likely launch in ‘late summer’. It was actually supposed to launch this week per the previous schedule to deliver a powerhouse communications satellite owned by Inmarsat into orbit. Instead, it launched on Monday on a single Falcon 9 rocket.

The huge Inmarsat 5 F4 getting ready for take off on a Falcon 9. Credit: Inmarsat.

The huge Inmarsat 5 F4 getting ready for takeoff on a Falcon 9. Credit: Inmarsat.

Once the Falcon Heavy finally enters in operation, the ‘most powerful rocket’ crown might not last long. That distinction will soon enough belong to NASA’s upcoming Space Launch System. It will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system.

blue origin rocket

Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin unveils new heavy-duty rocket design meant to sweep contracts away from SpaceX

blue origin rocket

Credit: Blue Origin

The last 12 months have been really good to Blue Origin, the space company which made history after it achieved the first controlled landing for a rocket, four weeks before SpaceX’s Falcon. While Blue Origin has landed very good contracts this year, particularly with NASA to deploy tech payloads on suborbital flights with the New Shepard launch vehicle, the company’s eye has always been on space tourism. Now, it seems that Jeff Bezos has bigger plans after the Blue Origin founder announced a new massive rocket called New Glenn capable of delivering both people and large cargo into space, or right down SpaceX’s alley.

Should Elon Musk be worried?

The two-stage 270-foot New Glenn will have 3.85 million pounds of thrust, making it the tallest rocket available on the market today, including SpaceX’s Falcon 9 (224 feet). Only the iconic Saturn V rocket (363 feet tall) which put on the moon during the Apollo era is taller, but it has long been discontinued. There’s also a larger 3-stage version of New Glenn which will stand at 313 feet tall, signifying Blue Origin means business.

“We plan to fly New Glenn for the first time before the end of this decade from historic Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral, Florida,” said Bezos in an email announcement. “New Glenn is designed to launch commercial satellites and to fly humans into space. The 3-stage variant–with its high specific impulse hydrogen upper stage–is capable of flying demanding beyond-LEO missions.”

In any event, New Glenn will mark a huge leap for Blue Origin considering its current flagship offering — the somewhat modest New Shepard rocket which is only 65 foot tall and can only do suborbital flights. New Shepard puts around 70,000 pounds of thrust, after all. What it lacks in thrust, though, it makes up in technology as it can both take off and land vertically.

New Glenn, named in honor of John Glenn who was the first American to orbit the Earth, will reportedly be capable of vertical landing too. This puts it right into SpaceX’s Falcon 9 territory which has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to ferry cargo and various supplies to the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which is launched on the Falcon 9, might be soon used to carry astronauts to the ISS but after the company’s most recent launch ended in a fireball, the worst failure in 14 years, nothing is certain anymore.

For the rest of us mortals, New Glenn is good news because more than anything, the space industry needs healthy competition between innovative companies.

 

 

 

 

 

SpaceX rocket explodes during satellite launch

SpaceX has suffered a serious setback after one of its rockets, carrying a $200 million communications satellite, exploded yesterday.

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The satellite was supposed to expand Facebook’s reach across Africa but never quite got to do that, after the Falcon 9 rocket carrying it blazed down in a massive fireball. The rocket exploded at 9:07 a.m. EDT (1307 GMT), and while SpaceX released a statement explaining the direct cause of explosion was, we don’t yet know the underlying cause.

“The anomaly originated around the upper-stage oxygen tank and occurred during propellant loading of the vehicle,” SpaceX representatives said in a statement. “Per standard operating procedure, all personnel were clear of the pad and there were no injuries. We are continuing to review the data to identify the root cause. Additional updates will be provided as they become available.”

This isn’t the first problem SpaceX has had with its Falcon 9 rockets. This is the second loss in the past 14 months, after another Falcon 9 broke down 3 minutes after launching in June 2015. Still, NASA has reiterated its confidence in SpaceX, saying that this can be treated like a lesson to be learned from.

“We remain confident in our commercial partners and firmly stand behind the successful 21st century launch complex that NASA, other federal agencies, and U.S. commercial companies are building on Florida’s Space Coast,” the space agency said. “Today’s incident — while it was not a NASA launch — is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but our partners learn from each success and setback.”

But not everyone is so confident. Several scientists and engineers have expressed worries regarding the SpaceX approach.

“SpaceX is running a punishing schedule,” said Scott Pace, the director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University and a former NASA official.

Pace also expressed concerns others were thinking about too – the potential of a human error.

“There is probably some human factor involved here. To what extent was human error part of this? And if so, why? Are you running your people too hard? What are your safety requirements?”

This could also jeopardize (to an extent) the ISS mission, as SpaceX was also scheduled to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. Again, NASA said they are fully prepared to deal with the situation.

“The situation at the Cape is being evaluated, and it’s too early to know whether the incident will affect the schedule for upcoming NASA-related SpaceX launches to the International Space Station. If there are SpaceX mission delays, other cargo spacecraft will be able to meet the station’s cargo needs, and supplies and research investigations are at good levels,” the NASA statement concluded.

For now, we await an official report on what happened and what the causes of the explosion are.

The experimental rocket, called HiFiRE 5B, hit targeted speeds of Mach 7.5 (9,200kmph).

Hypersonic rocket reaches Mach 7.5 — that’s Sydney to London in 2 hours

A joint venture between US Department of Defense and Australian Defence Science and Technology Organization launched a rocket to a mind-boggling Mach 7.5. That’s a speed seven and half times faster than the speed of sound or  5,710 mph (9,200 kmph).

The experimental rocket, called HiFiRE 5B, hit targeted speeds of Mach 7.5 (9,200kmph).

The experimental rocket, called HiFiRE 5B, hit targeted speeds of Mach 7.5 (9,200kmph).

The experimental craft which reached an altitude of 173 miles is part of the  Hypersonic International Flight Research and Experimentation project, which aims to understand the fundamentals of hypersonic flight.

The launch of the rocket HiFiRE 5B is only one of ten scheduled launches intended to cross the Mach 5 barrier.

“The knowledge gained from these experiments will be applied to develop future flight vehicles and testing of advanced air-breathing hypersonic propulsion engines, known as scramjets,” said Professor Michael Smart of University of Queensland.

HiFiRE 5B was first fired on a sounding rocket, then used something called a scramjet or Supersonic Combustion Ramjet to reach Mach 7.5. Instead of using oxygen fuel from a tank which is bulky and takes a lot of mass, the scramjet compresses air taken from the atmosphere.  Researchers predict scramjet speeds could reach 15 times the speed of sound.

“The success of this test launch takes us one step closer to the realisation of hypersonic flight,” Australian Chief Defence Scientist Dr Alex Zelinsky

“It is a game-changing technology identified in the 2016 Defence White Paper and could revolutionise global air travel, providing cost-effective access to space.”

At this tremendous speeds, a trip from Sydney to London which now takes around 20 hours could be done in only two.

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SpaceX misses rocket landing by a hair’s breath – Dragon successfully launched, though

Today, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket blasted off Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:10 p.m. EDT (2010 GMT) carrying the Dragon capsule to orbit, on slate for its rendezvous with the International Space Station where it’s tasked with a resupply mission. Instead of dropping in the ocean like the gazillion other rockets before it, the first stage of Falcon was programmed to make a controlled landing on a “autonomous spaceport drone ship.” The rocket did land on the spaceport, which is amazing in itself, but unfortunately it flipped over post landing and was damaged beyond repair. So, just almost!

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This is what SpaceX was trying to do this morning. Heck, it ain’t easy! Image: NASA WATCH

This is SpaceX’s second attempt to land a Falcon on its spaceport. The first attempt happened this January, when yet another Dragon capsule docked with the ISS. Back then, the rocket landed so hard it exploded below the deck of the vessel. Hopefully, third time’s a charm and judging from progress so far, it might not be long until Musk and co will report the first reusable rocket. This is highly important for space flight, since it could cut launch costs up to 100 fold!

As for the Dragon capsule, it is currently hauling more than 4,300 lbs. (1,950 kilograms) of food, scientific experiments and other supplies to the space station, including an espresso coffee machine called “ISSpresso” that could provide some much-needed comfort for the astronauts in orbit. It should dock with the ISS this Friday, if everything goes according to plan.

“It’s kind of like the ice cream thing,” Dan Hartman, deputy International Space Station program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said at Sunday’s news conference. “We fly ice cream every now and then. That’s just to boost spirits; maybe [on] some rough day, a scoop of ice cream gets them over that hump.”

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SpaceX’s starport, named Just Read the Instructions. Image: SPACEX

The two booster version of the Ariane 6 rocket. Science ministers from all the ESA member states will meet tomorrow to discuss its future. Image: ESA

ESA members meet to approve Ariane rocket in light of SpaceX competition

Tuesday morning, ministers from each of the 20 nations involves in the European Space Agency will meet to decide how they should fund their next missions. The plan is to come to terms with developing a much sought after upgraded version of the Ariane rocket, which services satellite launches – the bread and butter of the ESA. Across the ocean, rivaling SpaceX launches satellites nearly three times cheaper. An agreement is, thus, crucial if the ESA is to survive. Yet member states need to agree on other projects as well, like future endeavors to the International Space Station and a huge budget hole in  the agency’s flag ship mission – a rover destined for Mars and tasked with finding alien life.

A hard call that might make or break the European Space Agency

The two booster version of the Ariane 6 rocket. Science ministers from all the ESA member states will meet tomorrow to discuss its future. Image: ESA

The two booster version of the Ariane 6 rocket. Science ministers from all the ESA member states will meet tomorrow to discuss its future. Image: ESA

This isn’t your regular budget meeting. Tomorrow, ministers will have a very tough decision to make, since any way you look at the situation, there will be important compromises to be made. What’s certain is that the ESA needs to push forward the Ariane 6 rocket, an upgrade to the Ariane 5 which currently has a whooping 50% market share. But after SpaceX started launching satellites into space and even cargo to the International Space Station, the scales seem destined to shift. At the moment, a regular satellite launch with the ESA using the Ariane 5 costs $130 million. SpaceX does it for $50 million. Contracts will soon run out, and clients will likely move over seas to work with a much cheaper partner.

At the moment, the ESA’s main leverage is its history and tradition spanning more than 50 years, during which hundreds of launches were successfully made. SpaceX is an extremely young company, but under the guidance of its CEO, Elon Musk, it proved that it can make extremely huge leaps forward and they’re not only catching up, but innovating. In less than two years, SpaceX might ferry crews to the ISS – something the ESA has never been able to do. Then there’s other companies showing up – Boeing or Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

Ariane 6 broken down into its main components. Image: ESA

Ariane 6 broken down into its main components. Image: ESA

Clearly, the ESA needs to step up its game if thousands of jobs are to be protected. The agency’s hope lies with the Ariane 6 (A6) – a much needed upgrade that will help the ESA lunch much bigger satellites at a much lower rate: only $60 to $70 million. Progress has been slow up until now, though, since Germany was holding out for a two-step project to upgrade the current Ariane 5 system. The country is now ready to go forward and invest an important chunk of the money needed. Mst of the money will be brought by France.

Germany wants something in return, however. If it’s to commit its support, Germany wants other member states, especially the important ones like UK, Italy and France, to continue to pledge their support for the International Space Station. In total, 3.8 billion euros ($4.7bn) are need, which will cover not only the A6’s development but also an upgrade to ESA’s small Italian-built Vega rocket.

Karim Michel Sabbagh, chief executive of satellite operator SES, said: “It would be very serious if there is no decision on Dec 2 because Europe would have a competitive delay that it would never manage to reverse.”

Although very similar to the A5, the Ariane 6 will have modular design, coming in two versions: one has two solid boosters that can launch 5 ton satellites to orbit, while the other has 4 solid boosters that can launch 11 ton satellites. This way, the ESA will have a nicely evened up market, being able to launch both medium-sized government missions, as well as big commercial telecom satellites; even two at a time with the 4 solid booster version.

The two Ariane 6 versions. Image: ESA

The two Ariane 6 versions. Image: ESA

The meeting in Luxembourg will likely see A6 finally come to light; matters with the ISS aren’t that certain. Even more in the dark is the poor old ExoMars rover, destined to reach Mars’ surface in 2018 and tasked with findings signs of present or long passed life. That is, if it ever lifts off the ground here on Earth. The mission is currently facing a huge $200 million budget hole which desperately needs filling up. Once A6 and the ISS are settled, we can only hope there will be some to spare for the ExoMars rover as well.

An uncertain future

EXOMARS is the first flagship mission of the Aurora program and is committed to developing an orbiter, landing module and rover that may conduct, unmanned and later manned, biological and geological studies on Mars. Image: ESA

EXOMARS is the first flagship mission of the Aurora program and is committed to developing an orbiter, landing module and rover that may conduct, unmanned and later manned, biological and geological studies on Mars. Image: ESA

Even if the A6 will soon be up and running, it looks like the ESA has been left behind. What will it do after SpaceX releases its reusable rocket system, which Musk promises will slash costs 100 fold? It’s not just SpaceX. As mentioned earlier, Boeing, Blue Origin and maybe other companies are joining in the game. Clearly, Europe’s cumbersome and sluggish bureaucracy is taking its toll. Maybe, it’s time for a reform; right, Europe?

It’s not over until the fat lady sings, though. The ESA has tons of experience and has proven time and time again that it can handle incredibly complex projects, like the spectacular landing of the Rosetta probe on the surface of a comet.

Bloodhound SSC 1,000 mph land speed record car

Will the world’s strongest brakes stop the Bloodhound after it tops the 1,000MPH land record?

Bloodhound SSC 1,000 mph land speed record car

Bloodhound SSC 1,000 mph land speed record car

The current world land speed record stands at 763.035 mph, as set in October 1997 by British Royal Air Force pilot Andy Green driving the jet-powered Thrust SSC. Green is looking to break his own record and has a new team and a new car behind him, however, called Bloodhound SSC. Green wants to top his own record, and he’s not interested in adding a few kilometers per hour. He want to top 1000 mph in his new supersonic land vehicle.

To reach this tremendous speed, Green’s car will be equipped with both a jet engine and a rocket-propulsion system. During its first test run in October 2012 the engine performed as expected, igniting for 10 seconds and creating 6,350 kilograms (14,000 pounds) of thrust, equivalent to about 35,000 horsepower.

The Bloodhound SSC is equipped with both jet engine and rocket booster.

The Bloodhound SSC is equipped with both jet engine and rocket booster.

In addition to breaking the land-speed record, a 1,600 kph (1,000-mph) run would be faster than any jet fighter at low altitude in history, Green says. The fastest pass—at more than 15 meters off the ground—was about 1,590 kph (988.3 mph), in a modified Lockheed F-104 in 1977, he adds, “and that was without dragging its wheels.”

Speaking of which, the Bloodhound’s wheels are made of steel and are designed to be slim in order to minimize drag. Because there’s little drag, the car (if you can call it a car) will be able to accelerate to unheard of velocities for a land vehicle, but at the same time it will make it very difficult for it to stop. While most of the retardation will be done by air brakes and parachutes, a set of car-like disc brakes still have to haul it down from 160 mph to a standstill on the slippery earth of South Africa’s Kaksken Pan.

The video below details the challenges the Bloodhound SSC engineering team had to face and are still facing in order to devise a working system capable of breaking the car. During testing, a set of carbon rotors from a jet fighter shattered under the stress during a half-speed, 5,000-rpm test. Engineers switched to steel rotors from AP Racing, which managed to absorb 4.6 kilowatts of energy on a test stand without failing although the Bloodhound team hasn’t spun them up to the full 10,000 rpm just yet. This is the next step.

A North Korean soldier stands guard in front of the now defunct Unha-3 rocket at Tangachai -ri space center. (c) AFP

It really is rocket science, North Korea. In the wake of the nation’s failed launch

The whole world had its eyes on North Korea yesterday, when the nation proceeded on its third attempt to launch an object into space, this time a weather satellite, despite intense political pressure against such action due to concern of it actually being a covert long-range missile test and numerous U.N. treaty violations. Like North Korea’s past attempts, the Unha-3 carrier failed miserably, splintering into pieces over the Yellow Sea soon after takeoff.

Just minutes after the rocket crashed, the US and South Korea declared the launch failed, a statement surprisingly followed by the North Korean government as well, albeit some hours later. The whole event was publicized far and wide for weeks, and heralded as a major technological achievement to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder and current leader’s grandfather. Foreign journalists were even invited to photograph and witness the launch site, though the invitation wasn’t prelonged for the launch event itself, probably due to rising pressure from other nations to diffuse military speculations. The media pressure, on the other hand, is what probably prompted the North Korean government to publicize the failure to its people as well, a fact rarely admitted, certain to tarnish confidence in Kim Jong-un, who rose to power after his father’s passing in December.

The failure “blows a big hole in the birthday party,” said Victor Cha, former director for Asia policy in the U.S. National Security Council. “It’s terribly embarrassing for the North.”

North Korea is one of the most isolated and oppressive countries in the world, governed by a class of politicians who believe military ambitions and playing astronaut is what’s best for their people, currently literary starving by the millions. After the failed launch, the country is set to be met with even stricter embargoes, U.N. sanctions and humanitarian aid cuts, the first one being U.S.’s food aid. Sadly, the North Korean people wasn’t the one that brought any of this upon itself, however they’ll be the ones most suffering as a consequence.

In the wake of this failed attempt, other governments will keep the rogue state (even North Korea’s long time allay, China, urged the Pyongyang government to cancel the launch) under close supervision, as all intelligence hint towards an imminent nuclear test in the near future.

“We have to watch very carefully what they are doing now at the nuclear test site and how they explain this with all those foreign journalists in the country,” Mr. Cha said.

Well, at least the Unha-3 didn’t get to blow up in orbit, otherwise we’d have a new peak in space junk material. What really cracked me up, though, was that North Korea issued a public announcement in which it warned of “merciless punishment” directed towards any government (read South Korea and Japan, which had anti-missile units positioned to fire if the North Korean rocket would have crossed in their space) who would dare to disrupt the launch into orbit or collect any debris from the rocket. Now that the launch failed all by itself, where will this merciless punishment turned to? Its people

 

Huge military US rocket launched into space

It’s not hard to think what the purpose of the ‘Eavesdropper’ is; this mammoth of the US National Reconnaissance Office (portraied below) has launched what is officially the biggest satellite ever sent into uter space. It has a military purpose, but there really are no surprises here.

The spacecraft was put into orbit on a Delta-4 Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force station on Sunday, but authorities gave no other additional details about exactly how much load it carries or what the specific equipment is. The largest unmaned rocket was lauched at 17:58 local time (22:58 GMT). It features three core boosters strapped side by side, each of which has a Rocketdyne-built RS-68 engine.

The engine develops almost 3.000 KN (650,000lbs force) of thrust at lift-off. The largest manned Apollo mission (which had a totally different purpose) could only produce 3 times more the thrust of the Delta, but it had to carry way much more equipment, such as life support and all that; oh, and fuel to travel to the Moon and back. It will be indeed very interesting to see what the political response will be to this launch.

Strange sky spiral freaks out Norway

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It was Thursday night when locals from Norway started to notice a strange, rotating light that just baffled them. It was visible long enough to be seen, photographed and recorded by half of country. The blue light seemed to appear from behind the top of a mountain; it rose, began to spin, then began to circulate.

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Naturally, as it became more and more visible, the questions became more and more pressing. Witnesses recorded it seemed to be computer generated, and nothing like auroras or some other natural phenomenon.

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“We are used to seeing lots of auroras here in Arctic Norway, but on my way to work this morning I saw something completely unexpected. Between 7:50 and 8:00 a.m. local time, there was a strange light in the sky. It consisted initially of a green beam of light similar in color to the aurora with a mysterious rotating spiral at one end. This spiral then got bigger and bigger until it turned into a huge halo in the sky with the green beam extending down to the earth.”, said a witness.

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Because it was visible to so many, it’s obvious that it took place at a really high altitude, which was confirmed by astronauts from all over the world. However… they weren’t able to explain what it is.

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“My first thought was that it was a fireball meteor, but it has lasted far too long. It may have been a missile in Russia, but I can not guarantee that it is the answer.”, astronomer Knut Jorgen Roed Odegaard

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However, the Russian government strongly denied this possibility (big surprise, huh?), and no firm evidence was found to support this theory. Of course there were claims that it was an UFO (I can only imagine what people would have said if this happened in the US). So, until this is sorted out, I hope they come in peace (whether it’s the aliens or the Russians).