Sea, air, land and space updates

Image courtesy of Flickr user SpaceX

Sea State

The South China Sea’s about to get more crowded, with the Russia–China naval exercise—fittingly named Joint Sea 2016—scheduled for 11–19 September. Russia has sent a task force of anti-submarine warfare destroyers, support ships and an amphibious landing ship to participate this year, in what’s seen as a signal of the burgeoning Sino–Russian security relationship. Russia’s increasing naval activity around the world has led to a renewed interest in Russian naval affairs in the US, with the US Naval War College opening a Russia Maritime Studies Institute earlier this week.

The US Navy continues to look at further diversifying the fuel supply for its fleet, with details emerging this week that the Navy had applied for a patent dubbed ‘Bacteria-Based Gas Generator’. This generator would supposedly harness methane and hydrogen gases emitted from microorganisms to power ships and unmanned naval systems. It’s not the first time the US Navy has looked to alternative energy sources to power its fleet. The ‘Great Green Fleet’ is a Carrier Strike Group that generates power using alternative fuel supplies: nuclear power on the aircraft carrier and a diesel-biofuel blend for the escort ships.

Flight Path

An agreement between Aviation Industry Cooperation of China and Antonov will see China­ and Ukraine restart production of a second An-225 freighter–the world’s largest transport aircraft. The first An-225, built to carry the Soviet Buran orbiter space shuttle, made its maiden flight in 1988. For those who thought size didn’t matter, the plane drew tens of thousands of spectators when it landed in our very own backyard in May this year.

RAAF fighter-bombers might be able to attack a wider range of targets in Iraq and Syria under changes proposed by Malcom Turnbull’s government. The new legislation, which is more aligned with the rules of engagement followed by US forces, allows targeting of militants and support facilities such as ISIS supply lines. If passed, the legislative changes could reduce the risk of personnel being prosecuted for war crimes. However, the RAAF insists the rigorous decision-making process to avoid civilian casualties will remain. See here for footage of RAAF F/A-18A Hornets using precision guided weapons to target warehouses of ISIS.

In revolutionary aircraft design, this article by PBS explains how plasma actuators could cut drag, fuel use and CO2 emissions by controlling air flows. The technology could increase flight safety, stability, efficiency and control. Check out this cool video demonstrating how plasma flow control technology works.

Rapid Fire

Laser missile defence is nigh. The military potential of lasers was showcased as the 19th Annual Space and Missile Defense symposium, held in Huntsville, Alabama in August. Lockheed Martin leads the pack on laser weapon systems development, using the symposium to promote its 10-kilowatt and 30-kilowatt prototypes. During tests run earlier this year the latter disabled a static pickup truck. Whilst the initial construction costs of lasers far exceed that of guns, once built, lasers are far cheaper to operate than conventional weapons that require ammunition. With developers working to improve the cost and effectiveness of lasers, tanks with lasers are set to become a staple of future military operations. Not since dolphins with ‘laser beams on their freekin’ heads’ has there been a finer enhancement of military capability.

The UN met last Tuesday to discuss the findings of independent investigators that implicate the Syrian government in chemical weapons attacks in 2014­­–15. In light of the UN-mandated investigations, the Security Council will now consider whether to take punitive action against Syria, including sanctions or referral to the International Criminal Court. Russia’s UN ambassador dismissed the evidence presented by UN investigators as inadequate. Meanwhile, recent chemical weapon attacks by ISIS on Kurdish forces have raised concerns the group will step up attacks in the impending battle for Mosul.

Finally, a history lesson for all military buffs out there. Modern History Visualised present ‘Tanks 101’: Charting armour protection from 1920 to 1980.

Zero Gravity

Last week saw a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a US$200 million Amos-6 Satellite explode at Space Launch Center 40, Cape Canaveral in Florida. (Check it out here). Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX tweeted that the explosion originated from the upper stage oxygen tank. Spacecom, the Israeli company who owned the satellite, have asked for US$50 million or a free spaceflight.

The United Arab Emirates has adopted a national space policy. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced the policy, which seeks to establish the UAE as a major industry player by 2021. To do this the UAE will invest US$5.45 billion and hopes to build on their platform as the largest regional space operator and owner of space insurance companies.

Teeing up a year-long stay in Hawaii probably sounds like a pretty good time for most people. But it was a different experience for a small team who have just finished 365 days living in a small dome inside the crater of the Mauna Loa Volcano. The group had gathered for the Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation, a NASA-funded investigation into living and working on Mars, which required the six brave souls to eat freeze-dried food and only venture outside in spacesuits. High time for Mai Tai’s, we reckon…

And if you’re up for an interesting discussion on the future of space law, check out this effort from John J. Klein, a former countering WMD analyst and author of Space Warfare.