Tag Archives: economy

Skylab II

From Space.com:

NASA’s first manned outpost in deep space may be a repurposed rocket part, just like the agency’s first-ever astronaut abode in Earth orbit.

With a little tinkering, the upper-stage hydrogen propellant tank of NASA’s huge Space Launch System rocket would make a nice and relatively cheap deep-space habitat, some researchers say. They call the proposed craft “Skylab II,” an homage to the 1970s Skylab space station that was a modified third stage of a Saturn V moon rocket.

“This idea is not challenging technology,” said Brand Griffin, an engineer with Gray Research, Inc., who works with the Advanced Concepts Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“It’s just trying to say, ‘Is this the time to be able to look at existing assets, planned assets and incorporate those into what we have as a destination of getting humans beyond LEO [low-Earth orbit]?'” Griffin said Wednesday (March 27) during a presentation with NASA’s Future In-Space Operations working group.

Astronauts Fly Orion to Skylab II

A roomy home in deep space

NASA is developing the Space Launch System (SLS) to launch astronauts toward distant destinations such as near-Earth asteroids and Mars. The rocket’s first test flight is slated for 2017, and NASA wants it to start lofting crews by 2021.

The SLS will stand 384 feet tall (117 meters) in its biggest (“evolved”) incarnation, which will be capable of blasting 130 metric tons of payload to orbit. Its upper-stage hydrogen tank is big, too, measuring 36.1 feet tall by 27.6 feet wide (11.15 m by 8.5 m).

The tank’s dimensions yield an internal volume of 17,481 cubic feet (495 cubic m) — roughly equivalent to a two-story house. That’s much roomier than a potential deep-space habitat derived from modules of the International Space Station (ISS), which are just 14.8 feet (4.5 m) wide, Griffin said.

The tank-based Skylab II could accommodate a crew of four comfortably and carry enough gear and food to last for several years at a time without requiring a resupply, he added. Further, it would launch aboard the SLS in a single piece, whereas ISS-derived habitats would need to link up multiple components in space.

Because of this, Skylab II would require relatively few launches to establish and maintain, Griffin said. That and the use of existing SLS-manufacturing infrastructure would translate into big cost savings — a key selling point in today’s tough fiscal climate.

“We will have the facilities in place, the tooling, the personnel, all the supply chain and everything else,” Griffin said.

He compared the overall concept with the original Skylab space station, which was built in a time of declining NASA budgets after the boom years of the Apollo program.

Skylab “was a project embedded under the Apollo program,” Griffin said. “In many ways, this could follow that same pattern. It could be a project embedded under SLS and be able to, ideally, not incur some of the costs of program startup.”

Skylab II Made From Tank

There has been much caterwauling in the space advocacy community about the Space Launch System ( ne, “The Senate Launch System” ) concerning its cost and lack of purpose and/or destinations.

Of course, the thing was designed by Congress in order to fund a jobs program in the NASA Centers for the good voters of those districts. But it’s a seriously underfunded program, with just enough money to keep the civil servants of NASA employed, with just enough contractor support to keep them happy.

In the meantime, ideas like Skylab II, the Spacehab at EML-2 and the asteroid capture scheme rear their ugly heads and claim they’re economical in these austeric times.

My money is still on Elon Musk, Bob Bigelow, Dennis Tito and company.

NASA Mega-Rocket Could Lead to Skylab 2 Deep Space Station

Another Asteroid Mining Company Start-Up

From Centauri Dreams:

Deep Space Industries is announcing today that it will be engaged in asteroid prospecting through a fleet of small ‘Firefly’ spacecraft based on cubesat technologies, cutting the costs still further by launching in combination with communications satellites. The idea is to explore the small asteroids that come close to Earth, which exist in large numbers indeed. JPL analysts have concluded that as many as 100,000 Near Earth Objects larger than the Tunguska impactor (some 30 meters wide) are to be found, with roughly 7000 identified so far. So there’s no shortage of targets (see Greg Matloff’s Deflecting Asteroids in IEEE Spectrum for more on this.

‘Smaller, cheaper, faster’ is a one-time NASA mantra that DSI is now resurrecting through its Firefly spacecraft, each of which masses about 25 kilograms and takes advantages of advances in computing and miniaturization. In its initial announcement, company chairman Rick Tumlinson talked about a production line of Fireflies ready for action whenever an NEO came near the Earth. The first launches are slated to begin in 2015. Sample-return missions that are estimated to take between two and four years to complete are to commence the following year, with 25 to 70 kilograms of asteroid material becoming available for study. Absent a fiery plunge through the atmosphere, such samples will have their primordial composition and structure intact.

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The Deep Space Industries announcement is to be streamed live later today. It will reflect the company’s ambitious game plan, one that relies on public involvement and corporate sponsorship to move the ball forward. David Gump is CEO of the new venture:

“The public will participate in FireFly and DragonFly missions via live feeds from Mission Control, online courses in asteroid mining sponsored by corporate marketers, and other innovative ways to open the doors wide. The Google Lunar X Prize, Unilever, and Red Bull each are spending tens of millions of dollars on space sponsorships, so the opportunity to sponsor a FireFly expedition into deep space will be enticing.”

The vision of exploiting space resources to forge a permanent presence there will not be unfamiliar to Centauri Dreams readers. Tumlinson sums up the agenda:

“We will only be visitors in space until we learn how to live off the land there. This is the Deep Space mission – to find, harvest and process the resources of space to help save our civilization and support the expansion of humanity beyond the Earth – and doing so in a step by step manner that leverages off our space legacy to create an amazing and hopeful future for humanity. We are squarely focused on giving new generations the opportunity to change not only this world, but all the worlds of tomorrow.  Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?”

So we have asteroid sample return as part of the mix, but the larger strategy calls for the use of asteroid-derived products to power up space industries. The company talks about using asteroid-derived propellants to supply eventual manned missions to Mars and elsewhere, with Gump likening nearby asteroid resources to the Iron Range of Minnesota, which supplied Detroit’s car industry in the 20th Century. DSI foresees supplying propellant to communication satellites to extend their working lifetime, estimating that each extra month is worth $5 million to $8 million per satellite. The vision extends to harvesting building materials for subsequent technologies like space-based power stations. Like I said, the key word is ‘ambitious.’

“Mining asteroids for rare metals alone isn’t economical, but makes sense if you already are processing them for volatiles and bulk metals for in-space uses,” said Mark Sonter, a member of the DSI Board of Directors. “Turning asteroids into propellant and building materials damages no ecospheres since they are lifeless rocks left over from the formation of the solar system.  Several hundred thousand that cross near Earth are available.”

In the near-term category, the company has a technology it’s calling MicroGravity Foundry that is designed to transform raw asteroid materials into metal parts for space missions. The 3D printer uses lasers to draw patterns in a nickel-charged gas medium, building up parts from the precision placement of nickel deposits. Because it does not require a gravitational field to work, the MicroGravity Foundry could be a tool used by deep space astronauts to create new parts aboard their spacecraft by printing replacements.

The team behind Deep Space Industries has experience in commercial space activities. Tumlinson, a well-known space advocate, was a founding trustee of the X Prize and founder of Orbital Outfitters, a commercial spacesuit company. Gump has done space-related TV work, producing a commercial shot on the International Space Station. He’s also a co-founder of Transformational Space Corporation. Geoffrey Notkin is the star of ‘Meteorite Men,’ a TV series about hunting meteorites. The question will be how successful DSI proves to be in leveraging that background to attract both customers and corporate sponsors.

With such bold objectives, I can only wish Deep Space Industries well. The idea of exploiting inexpensive CubeSat technology and combining it with continuing progress in miniaturizing digital tools is exciting, but the crucial validation will be in those early Firefly missions and the data they return. If DSI can proceed with the heavier sample return missions it now envisions, the competitive world of asteroid prospecting (think Planetary Resources) will have taken another step forward. Can a ‘land rush’ for asteroid resources spark the public’s interest, with all the ramifications that would hold for the future of commercial space? Could it be the beginning of the system-wide infrastructure we’ll have to build before we think of going interstellar?

All of this asteroid mining activity sounds exciting and I can hardly wait for DSI and Planetary Resources to begin their plans. Both are using untried and new technology to develop these new industries and can be extended to such environments as the Moon and Mars.

Mankind will eventually follow. And these new technologies will let us expand into this Universe.

Or the Multiverse.

Deep Space Industries: Mining Near-Earth Asteroids

Slow Galactic Colonization, Zoo Hypothesis and the Fermi Paradox

I couldn’t resist posting this today after reading it at Centauri Dreams. It’s extremely mainstream, by which the papers Paul Gilster discusses uses geological travel times for interstellar travel and the effects on the Fermi Paradox.

But he talks about the “zoo” hypothesis for our supposed lack of contact with ETIs ( no discussion of UFOs what-so-ever of course ) and I find that fascinating:

[...]

Many explanations for the Fermi paradox exist, but Hair and Hedman want to look at the possibility that starflight is so long and difficult that it takes vast amounts of time (measured in geologic epochs) to colonize on the galactic scale. Given that scenario, large voids within the colonized regions may still persist and remain uninhabited. If the Earth were located inside one of these voids we would not be aware of the extraterrestrial expansion. A second possibility is that starflight is so hard to achieve that other civilizations have simply not had time to reach us despite having, by some calculations, as much as 5 billion years to have done so (the latter figure comes from Charles Lineweaver, and I’ll have more to say about it in a moment).

Image: A detailed view of part of the disc of the spiral galaxy NGC 4565. Have technological civilizations had time enough to spread through an entire galaxy, and if so, would they be detectable? Credit: ESA/NASA.

The authors work with an algorithm that allows modeling of the expansion from the original star, running through iterations that allow emigration patterns to be analyzed in light of these prospects. It turns out that in 250 iterations, covering 250,000 years, a civilization most likely to emigrate will travel about 500 light years, for a rate of expansion that is approximately one-fourth of the maximum travel speed of one percent of the speed of light, the conservative figure chosen for this investigation. A civilization would spread through the galaxy in less than 50 million years.

These are striking numbers. Given five billion years to work with, the first civilization to develop starfaring capabilities could have colonized the Milky Way not one but 100 times. The idea that it takes billions of years to accomplish a galaxy-wide expansion fails the test of this modeling. Moreover, the idea of voids inside colonized space fails to explain the Fermi paradox as well:

…while interior voids exist at lower values of c initially, most large interior voids become colonized after long periods regardless of the cardinal value chosen, leaving behind only relatively small voids. In an examination of several 250 Kyr models with a wide range of parameters, the largest interior void encountered was roughly 30 light years in diameter. Since humans have been broadcasting radio since the early 20th century and actively listening to radio signals from space since 1960 (Time 1960), it is highly unlikely that the Earth is located in a void large enough to remain undiscovered to the present day. It follows that the second explanation of Fermi’s Paradox (Landis 1998) is not supported by the model presented.

There are mitigating factors that can slow down what the authors call the ‘explosively exponential nature’ of expansion, in which a parent colony produces daughter colonies and the daughters continue to do the same ad infinitum. The paper’s model suggests that intense competition for new worlds can spring up in the expanding wavefront of colonization. At the same time, moving into interior voids to fill them with colonies slows the outward expansion. But even models set up to reduce competition between colonies present the same result: Fermi’s lunchtime calculations seem to be valid, and the fact that we do not see evidence of other civilizations suggests that this kind of galactic expansion has not yet taken place.

Temporal Dispersion into the Galaxy

I can’t discuss Hair and Hedman’s work without reference to Hair’s earlier paper on the expansion of extraterrestrial civilizations over time. Tom had sent me this one in 2011 and I worked it into the Centauri Dreams queue before getting sidetracked by preparations for the 100 Year Starship symposium in Orlando. If I had been on the ball, I would have run an analysis of Tom’s paper at the time, but the delay gives me the opportunity to consider the two papers together, which turns out to work because they are a natural fit.

For you can see that Hair’s spatial analysis goes hand in glove with the question of why an extraterrestrial intelligence might avoid making its presence known. Given that models of expansion point to a galaxy that can be colonized many times over before humans ever emerged on our planet, let’s take up a classic answer to the Fermi paradox, that the ‘zoo hypothesis’ is in effect, a policy of non-interference in local affairs for whatever reason. Initially compelling, the idea seems to break down under close examination, given that it only takes one civilization to act contrary to it.

But there is one plausible scenario that allows the zoo hypothesis to work: The influence of a particularly distinguished civilization. Call it the first civilization. What sort of temporal head start would this first civilization have over later arrivals?

Hair uses Monte Carlo simulations, drawing on the work of Charles Lineweaver and the latter’s estimate that planets began forming approximately 9.3 billion years ago. Using Earth as a model and assuming that life emerged here about 600 million years after formation, we get an estimate of 8.7 billion years ago for the appearance of the first life in the Milky Way. Factoring in how long it took for complex land-dwelling organisms to evolve (3.7 billion years), Lineweaver concludes that the conditions necessary to support intelligent life in the universe could have been present for at least 5.0 billion years. At some point in that 5 billion years, if other intelligent species exist, the first civilization arose. Hair’s modeling goes to work on how long this civilization would have had to itself before other intelligence emerged. The question thus has Fermi implications:

…even if this first grand civilization is long gone . . . could their initial legacy live on in the form of a passed down tradition? Beyond this, it does not even have to be the first civilization, but simply the first to spread its doctrine and control over a large volume of the galaxy. If just one civilization gained this hegemony in the distant past, it could form an unbroken chain of taboo against rapacious colonization in favour of non-interference in those civilizations that follow. The uniformity of motive concept previously mentioned would become moot in such a situation.

Thus the Zoo Hypothesis begins to look a bit more plausible if we have each subsequent civilization emerging into a galaxy monitored by a vastly more ancient predecessor who has established the basic rules for interaction between intelligent species. The details of Hair’s modeling are found in the paper, but the conclusions are startling, at least to me:

The time between the emergence of the first civilization within the Milky Way and all subsequent civilizations could be enormous. The Monte Carlo data show that even using a crowded galaxy scenario the first few inter-arrival times are similar in length to geologic epochs on Earth. Just what could a civilization do with a ten million, one hundred million, or half billion year head start (Kardashev 1964)? If, for example, civilizations uniformly arise within the Galactic Habitable Zone, then on these timescales the first civilization would be able to reach the solar system of the second civilization long before it evolved even travelling at a very modest fraction of light speed (Bracewell 1974, 1982; Freitas 1980). What impact would the arrival of the first civilization have on the future evolution of the second civilization? Would the second civilization even be allowed to evolve? Attempting to answer these questions leads to one of two basic conclusions, the first is that we are alone in the Galaxy and thus no one has passed this way, and the second is that we are not alone in the Galaxy and someone has passed this way and then deliberately left us alone.

The zoo hypothesis indeed. A galactic model of non-interference is a tough sell because of the assumed diversity between cultures emerging on a vast array of worlds over time. But Hair’s ‘modified zoo hypothesis’ has great appeal. It assumes that the oldest civilization in the galaxy has a 100 million year head start, allowing it to become hugely influential in monitoring or perhaps controlling emerging civilizations. We would thus be talking about the possibility of evolving similar cultural standards with regard to contact as civilizations follow the lead of this assumed first intelligence when expanding into the galaxy. It’s an answer to Fermi that holds out hope we are not alone, and I’ll count that as still another encouraging thought on the day the world didn’t end.

I have a problem with this simply because of the economics involved; what is the motivation for ETIs to expand into the Universe to begin with?

Like, are they like humans in the sense that we go because “it’s there?”

Or are there more practical impulses involved like “can we make money” on these endeavors?

A commentor to this particular post wrote that before we colonize ( if we ever do ) the Moon, Mars and other planets in this Solar System ( and perhaps the closer stars ) that it’ll be cheaper to shoot small probes with micro cameras to these places ( NASA is already proposing sending tele-operated probes to the Lunar surface instead of astronauts ) and sell virtual reality tours. Expanded versions of Google Earth and Google Mars!

In other words, it’s cheaper to build Universes that have Star Trek and upload your mind into it than actually building such things as star-ships!

Could this be an answer to the Fermi Paradox?

New Models of Galactic Expansion

No Terminators Here, It’s Old-Fashioned Human Killers

From Wired.com:

The Pentagon wants to make perfectly clear that every time one of its flying robots releases its lethal payload, it’s the result of a decision made by an accountable human being in a lawful chain of command. Human rights groups and nervous citizens fear that technological advances in autonomy will slowly lead to the day when robots make that critical decision for themselves. But according to a new policy directive issued by a top Pentagon official, there shall be no SkyNet, thank you very much.

Here’s what happened while you were preparing for Thanksgiving: Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter signed, on November 21, a series of instructions to “minimize the probability and consequences of failures” in autonomous or semi-autonomous armed robots “that could lead to unintended engagements,” starting at the design stage (.pdf, thanks to Cryptome.org). Translated from the bureaucrat, the Pentagon wants to make sure that there isn’t a circumstance when one of the military’s many Predators, Reapers, drone-like missiles or other deadly robots effectively automatizes the decision to harm a human being.

The hardware and software controlling a deadly robot needs to come equipped with “safeties, anti-tamper mechanisms, and information assurance.” The design has got to have proper “human-machine interfaces and controls.” And, above all, it has to operate “consistent with commander and operator intentions and, if unable to do so, terminate engagements or seek additional human operator input before continuing the engagement.” If not, the Pentagon isn’t going to buy it or use it.

It’s reasonable to worry that advancements in robot autonomy are going to slowly push flesh-and-blood troops out of the role of deciding who to kill. To be sure, military autonomous systems aren’t nearly there yet. No Predator, for instance, can fire its Hellfire missile without a human directing it. But the military is wading its toe into murkier ethical and operational waters: The Navy’s experimental X-47B prototype will soon be able to land on an aircraft carrier with the barest of human directions. That’s still a long way from deciding on its own to release its weapons. But this is how a very deadly slope can slip.

It’s that sort of thing that worries Human Rights Watch, for instance. Last week, the organization, among the most influential non-governmental institutions in the world, issued a report warning that new developments in drone autonomy represented the demise of established “legal and non-legal checks on the killing of civilians.” Its solution: “prohibit the “development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons through an international legally binding instrument.”

Laudable impulse, wrong solution, writes Matthew Waxman. A former Defense Department official for detainee policy, Waxman and co-author Kenneth Anderson observe that technological advancements in robotic weapons autonomy is far from predictable, and the definition of “autonomy” is murky enough to make it unwise to tell the world that it has to curtail those advancements at an arbitrary point. Better, they write, for the U.S. to start an international conversation about how much autonomy on a killer robot is appropriate, so as to “embed evolving internal state standards into incrementally advancing automation.”

Waxman and Anderson should be pleased with Carter’s memo, since those standards are exactly what Carter wants the Pentagon to bake into its next drone arsenal. Before the Pentagon agrees to develop or buy new autonomous or somewhat autonomous weapons, a team of senior Pentagon officials and military officers will have to certify that the design itself “incorporates the necessary capabilities to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment in the use of force.” The machines and their software need to provide reliability assurances and failsafes to make sure that’s how they work in practice, too. And anyone operating any such deadly robot needs sufficient certification in both the system they’re using and the rule of law. The phrase “appropriate levels of human judgment” is frequently repeated, to make sure everyone gets the idea. (Now for the lawyers to argue about the meaning of “appropriate.”)

So much for SkyNet. But Carter’s directive blesses the forward march of autonomy in most everything military robots do that can’t kill you. It “[d]oes not apply to autonomous or semi-autonomous cyberspace systems for cyberspace operations; unarmed, unmanned platforms; unguided munitions; munitions manually guided by the operator (e.g., laser- or wire-guided munitions); mines; or unexploded explosive ordnance,” Carter writes.

Oh happy – happy, joy – joy. The semi-intelligent machines still needs a human in the loop to kill you, but doesn’t need one to spy on you.

Oh well, Big Brother still needs a body to put in jail to make the expense of robots worth their while I suppose…

Pentagon: A Human Will Always Decide When a Robot Kills You

Wanted: Asteroid Miners

From Kurzweilai.net:

“Do you want to be an Asteroid Miner? Well, here’s your chance!” — an email we just received.

“We’re looking for passionate college students for paid coop positions to help us mine asteroids this spring and summer,” it reads. “If you love space and want to contribute directly to the development of the next generation of space exploration technologies, we want to hear from you (or from anyone you know that you think would be interested). Click here to apply today!

— Chris Lewicki, President & Chief Asteroid Miner, Planetary Resources, Inc.

Planetary Resources’ Asteroid Miners Wanted page reads:

If you are a college student passionate about space and want to be a part of history by helping us develop the technologies that we’ll use to mine asteroids, we want to hear from you today.

This your chance to join our team onsite in Bellevue, Washington for a paid cooperative education position and get hands on experience working with our team.

PRI provides a unique and intimate work environment where you can make an immediate impact on product development and the fulfillment of primary company objectives. Join us in changing the way we explore the solar system!

Click here to apply now and be a part of history in the making!

I hope this is for real, hiring future asteroid miners might be a glamor job now, but it will be a top blue-collar occupation of the 21st century.

At last!

Planetary Resources ‘now hiring asteroid miners’

Leadership in world green energy another “Sputnik moment” for U.S.

Folks in government are calling China’s meteoric rise on the super-power stage a “sputnik moment” for the United States, especially since the introduction of their super-computer this year and the construction of their modern high speed rail service.

And although China’s currently the new leader in carbon emissions that aggravate the contested global warming effect, they are leading in finding new technologies that will eventually circumvent these problems.

Steven Chu, U.S. Energy Secretary, likened the milestones to a new U.S. “Sputnik moment”, which sparked the Space Race and the manned landing on the Moon in 1969:

A senior US official called China’s growing innovation a “Sputnik moment” that should spur the United States to ramp up investment in clean energy, despite a shift in Washington on climate change.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu likened a series of Chinese milestones — including the development of the world’s fastest supercomputer — to the Soviet Union’s landmark 1957 satellite that led the United States into the Space Race.

“America, I am optimistic, will wake up and see the opportunity. And when it does, it still has the greatest innovation machine in the world,” Chu said in a speech entitled “Our New Sputnik Moment.”

Chu said the United States still concentrated on research in areas such as computers, defense and pharmaceuticals but that its funding for energy innovation was paltry.

By contrast, China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon blamed for global warming, is working to build the world’s most expansive high-speed rail network and has developed technology for the highest-efficiency coal plants.

“America still has the opportunity to lead in a world that will need essentially a new industrial revolution to give us the energy we want inexpensively but carbon-free,” Chu said.

“But I think time is running out,” said Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.

Chu, however, will enjoy little political leeway when he heads to Cancun, Mexico, where representatives of more than 190 countries on Monday opened two weeks of talks on drafting a new global treaty to stem climate change.

President Barack Obama last year went to the climate summit in Copenhagen where he pledged US action to curb carbon emissions along with assistance for poor countries hardest hit by rising temperatures.

The rival Republican Party, which swept November 2 congressional elections, is strongly opposed to a so-called “cap-and-trade” plan to require industry to cut carbon. Many Republicans argue that it is too costly in uncertain economic times, while some contest the science behind climate change.

Chu countered that climate action would benefit the economy by opening up a new field in green technology.

But Chu also defended potential costs. He likened climate skeptics to homeowners who are repeatedly told to change wiring but keep looking for electricians to tell them they do not need to.

“Do you actually go and you say, well, okay, that’s a threat but I think it’s more cost-effective — I just make sure my fire insurance is up-to-date?” he said.

Two recent studies found that China’s investment in green technology has outpaced that of the United States. But China has held firm in rejecting a treaty that would legally require it to cut carbon emissions.

The United States, backed by other developed nations, has insisted on a binding treaty, believing it is crucial to ensure global action — and to win over support in Washington.

The Kyoto Protocol, which the United States rejected, asks only wealthy nations to cut carbon emissions. The requirements run out at the end of 2012.

The dispute has been tense at times. At UN-backed talks in October, China’s chief climate negotiator, Su Wei, said the United States was like a “pig looking in a mirror” and finding itself beautiful.

Vaughan Turekian, chief international officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that the political dynamics have barely changed more than a decade after the Kyoto negotiations.

“The current climate summit process is unlikely to produce a global treaty that includes the United States as a signatory, let alone one that would stand any chance of being ratified by 67 senators,” he said.

With a $700,000,000,000 Pentagon budget, 1,000 military bases worldwide, budget deficits as far as the eye can see and an ultra-conservative Congress just elected, I don’t see any infrastructure investments at all within the next two years, if at all.

Actually, I see more townships combining, taxes going up and local paved roads returning to graded gravel, like in the 1920s and 1930s.

We are a 21st Century Roman Empire in decline, slowly being put down by the corporate global governance system after having served its purpose.

No Sputnik moment here. Its time has past.

US: China rise a ‘Sputnik moment’ for clean energy

Google and the NWO

By now most folks have heard about the Google and Verizon deal to create a multi-tiered Internet and eliminate Net Neutrality. That news alone is disheartening.

Now there’s proof that Google is going to end street privacy, under the guise of ‘street mapping':

Citing a German news report, Techeye.net reports that Google has purchased small UAV “microdrone” aircraft manufactured by Germany’s microdrone GmbH, perhaps for use to augment the company’s Street View mapping data. Techeye says:

The UAVs being flogged are mini helicopters with cameras attached that can be flown about all over the place. They’re quiet and resemble sci-fi UFOs for the vertically challenged alien.

They can fly up to 80km per hour, so Microdrone CEO Sven Juerss suggests they’ll be brilliant for mapping entire neighbourhoods really quickly and relatively cheaply.

Even before Google started data mining on open web networks itsStreet View operations were controversial, with Google Maps picking up on people who didn’t exactly want their faces plastered all over the internet. With the kind of high-angle aerial shots this sort of kit can achieve, it boggles the mind as to the sort of images that may be accidentally captured.

Our take: Skepticism is warranted, and outrage is probably premature.

Our understanding is that FAA certification procedures for civilian UAVs operating in domestic airspace are not yet in place, so it is not clear that the regular operation of such UAVs would be legal — never mind prudent from a privacy or public-relations point of view.

Meanwhile, the Techeye report, while fascinating, is also single-sourced, with the news of the UAV sale to Google coming from the manufacturer of the UAV — which is to say, he’s hardly a disinterested conduit for information. There has been no confirmation of the sale from Google, so far as we know. (Indeed, Forbes reports a Google spokesperson says, “”This was a purchase by a Google executive with an interest in robotics for personal use.”)

So, while curious and exciting, Telstar Logistics suggests keeping cool pending further information about Google’s plans and the regulatory environment that may or may not make such plans viable.

UPDATE: Our friends at BoingBoing link to more information about Google’s UAV denial, as well as further detail about the air-certification challenges such UAVs would present.)

We’ll keep our eyes in the skies, but in the meantime, here’s some nifty footage of the Microdrone in action, during which we can see just how adept the tiny aircraft is at peeking into the windows of private homes.

Google once had a motto, “Don’t Be Evil.”

I think it might be safe to say that the definition of evil either changed, or Google doesn’t adhere to that particular motto any longer.

Does Google Plan to Fly UAV Spies in the Skies?

hat tip

Asteroid Living

In spaceflight (and sci-fi lore), nothing can be more basic than setting up an asteroid colony.

The idea can be traced back to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky himself, but it wasn’t fleshed out until J.D. Bernal proposed his ‘Bernal Spheres’ in 1929 the concept of using extra-planetary materials to construct future homes for a ‘superior’ humanity (Bernal was a Marxist) was put into the mainstream.

In the ‘modern’ era, using extra-terrestrial construction materials for space colonies was written of extensively by Gerard O’Neill, a Princeton physicist. Although he advocated using lunar building materials launched by electromagnetic rail guns, he wasn’t above using an occasional asteroid or two to build a colony up to Bernal sphere specs.

Recently in a policy change for NASA, US President Obama proposed cancelling the Constellation Moon Program and replacing it with a program that will send US astronauts to a ‘NEO’ (Near Earth Asteroid) by 2025 to test out long-range life support and propulsion technologies that will be utilized on future Mars expeditions.

A lot of folks like politicians, policy and media wonks don’t like the idea, but it does have it’s merits. Blogger and space advocate Trent Waddington is one who thinks it’s a good idea:

Deriders of the new NASA direction have latched on to the announcedhuman asteroid mission in the 2025 timeframe as something they “can’t imagine” and therefore is not worth doing. Of course, the administration is talking up the “science” that can be done on an asteroid, and how this could better inform us should the need arise todivert or destroy one that threatens Earth. This is good politics as nothing motivates like fear, but for those of us who think the human spaceflight program is really about preparing us to live at the future homes of humanity, asteroids would seem to be just a stop on the way – I disagree.

As I’ve written previously, the new NASA direction isn’t about asteroids – it isn’t about destinations – it’s about going and specifically, it’s about going to Mars. I’m not sure NASA knows yet why they’re going to Mars, but they’re focusing on the technology to get there and get back safely, and some of the stepping stones along the way are asteroids. As such, although I will often advocate that I think asteroids are a much better future home for humanity, I recognize that in terms of the battle lines of this debate, asteroids are neutral or worse, disposable.

So how does one live on an asteroid? I’ve regularly heard this question asked by intelligent people. They point out the low gravity and how with just a misplaced step an astronaut could be hurtled into escape velocity and lost forever! NASA’s mission to an asteroid will most likely be conducted on the surface, so this is a real risk, just as it is for astronauts conducting spacewalks on the International Space Station. However, the settlement of an asteroid would have little use for the surface, except perhaps as a place to lay solar panels, as all the interesting stuff happens below the surface.

The primary reason is radiation. Just like on the Moon or Mars, humans will need to live underground to provide passive protection from galactic cosmic rays and solar storms. On Earth (and Venus) the predominate protection from radiation is provided by the atmosphere, miles and miles of it. To achieve the same level of protection only a dozen feet or so of regolith is required.

Robotic probes will be sent ahead of NASA’s human mission to an asteroid. More than likely, only an orbiter, but a much more capable robotic lander makes a lot of sense. For the long term settlement of an asteroid, it will carry essential drilling equipment which it will use to drill straight down. After digging down for a while, the robotic drill will turn some significant angle and keep drilling. The hole it produces need only be big enough to maneuver a crew module into without bumping the sides – once they arrive, weeks or months later. The right-hand-turn the drill makes is sufficient to protect the crew from radiation, which can only move in straight lines. If mirrors are installed on the turn the crew can enjoy natural sunlight and a view of the stars.

Having secured the safety of the crew from ionizing radiation, they are now free to get to work. Using drilling tools the astronauts can prospect deep into the core in search of the richest metals, or collect volatiles which can be purified into drinking water or oxygen for breathing.

Soon, they’ll dig a long circular tunnel with a radius of at least 894 meters. The outside edge of the tunnel is lined with metal track. A simple electric train runs the length of it, completing a full circuit in just one minute. On a parallel track the astronauts enter an open carriage which accelerates them up to rendezvous with the ever moving train. As they speed up the astronauts feel the gentle pull of centripetal force as it builds to a full Earth-standard gravity.

As an idea to spur some private industry to colonize, or perhaps start mining and bring these NEOs into safer orbits, I propose the government (or corporations) do a modern day “Homestead Act” in which they stake families with some money, supplies and a spaceship. Then the family can scope out a NEO that’s within a reasonable range (say a month or two travel time), go there and start mining the volatiles like water, iron, carbonates, whatever and send the rest to a safe Earth L1 or L2 orbit for the sponsoring government or corporation to collect.

The family gets a nice tidy profit, and then either they go to another NEO to mine, go back to Earth to spend their money or join up with other like minded folk and form their own NEO mining corporation.

Living Inside An Asteroid

hat tip

Internet Privacy, Corporatism and Tax Dollars

I had a discussion with certain family members over this past weekend about the subject of Internet privacy, anonymity, Facebook, corporations and governments.

I found that my kids (one late Gen Xer, two Millennials) have differing views about Internet privacy, which taken at face value, shouldn’t be too surprising.

While I found that my Late Gen-Xer son’s views most mirror my own (he’s 31 years old), I found that my Millennial daughters split into subgroups, even though they are only 22 and 19 years old respectively.

My daughters use Facebook quite a lot and post quite a bit of personal info, but my youngest daughter posts the most personal info and uses the message board to communicate with friends, her fiance and her fiance’s mother. Even though they text each other all day long on their cellphones!

These people don’t care who scans their personal info at all! They believe in the system’s ability to ‘protect’ them! Amazing!

Which leads me to today’s post about Big Brother, corporatism and raiding the taxpayer’s wallet:

Repression doesn’t come cheap, just ask the FBI.

As the securitization of daily life increase at near exponential rates (all to keep us “safe,” mind you) the dark contours of an American police state, like a pilot’s last glimpse of an icy peak before a plane crash, wobbles into view.

In the main, such programs include, but are by no means limited to the following: electronic surveillance (call records, internet usage, social media); covert hacking by state operatives; GPS tracking; CCTV cameras linked-in to state databases; “smart” cards; RFID chipped commodities and the spooky “internet of things;” biometrics, and yes, the Pentagon has just stood up a Biometrics Identity Management Agency (BIMA); data-mining; watch listing; on and on it goes.

Pity our poor political minders, snowed-under by a blizzard of data-sets crying out for proper “management”! Or, as sycophantic armchair warrior and New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, would have it, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist–McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15.”

So true; yet neither can an aggregate of repressive police and intelligence agencies function without an army of corporate grifters who guide that “hidden hand” and not-so-hidden fist into highly profitable safe harbors. Call it Big Brother meets market fundamentalism.

And so, the heat is on as America’s premier political police agency struggles to “modernize” their case file management system.

The FBI’s Case Management “Problem”

When circumstances (a massive up-tick in illegal spying since 9/11 courtesy of the USA Patriot Act) forced the Bureau to store a treasure trove of tittle-tattle of “national security interest” on decidedly low-tech storage devices, FBI agents and their all-too-willing helpers from giant telecommunications firms such as AT&T took to scribbling “leads” on post-it notes.

Communications Analysis Unit (CAU) eager-beavers did so in order to speed-up the process of obtaining dodgy “exigent letters” that smoothed over the wrinkles (your rights!) as the Bureau issued tens of thousands of National Security Letters (NSLs).

The secretive lettres de cachet demanded everything: emails, internet searches, call records, bank statements, credit card purchases, travel itineraries, medical histories, educational résumés, even video rentals and books borrowed from public libraries. The contents of such shady administrative warrants cannot be disclosed by their recipients under penalty of stiff fines or even imprisonment.

While such extra-legal missives are supposedly issued only in cases of dire “emergency,” the banal, ubiquitous nature of surveillance in post-Constitutional, “new normal” regimes such as the United States, all but guarantee that extraordinary “states of exception” are standard rules of the game in our managed democracy.

As the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General revealed in a heavily-redacted report in January, with all semblance of a legal process out the window, the FBI were caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar, repeatedly violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Fear not, Obama administration legal eagles cobbled together a new theory justifying the practice and have created, yet another, accountability free zone for agents who violated the rules.

Neatly, seamlessly and silently Obama’s Office of Legal Counsel (John Yoo and Judge Bybee’s old stomping grounds) granted them, wait!, retroactive immunity for such lawbreaking. The trouble is, the OLC’s ruling is classified so we haven’t a clue what it entails or how far-reaching is its purview. So much for the new era of “openness” and “transparency.”

But I digress…

The New York Times reported March 18, that work on parts of the Bureau’s cracker-jack case management program known as Sentinel has been “temporarily” suspended.

While the “overhaul” was supposed “to be completed this fall,”Times journalist Eric Lichtblau disclosed that the system will not be ready for prime time until “next year at the earliest.”

Overall, American taxpayers have shelled-out some $451 million to an endless parade of contractors, Lockheed Martin being the latest. Delays are expected to cost “at least $30 million in cost overruns on a project considered vital to national security” Lichtblau wrote, citing Congressional “officials.”

But problems have plagued the project since its inception. Lockheed Martin, No. 1 on Washington Technology’s “2009 Top 100″ list of Prime Federal Contractors, secured some $14,983,515,367 in defense-related contracts last year and was brought on-board to revamp the troubled case management project.

This is all the more ironic considering that the defense giant was hailed as Sentinel’s savior, after an earlier incarnation of the program known as Virtual Case File (VCF), overseen by the spooky Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), crashed and burned in 2006.

No slouches themselves when it comes to raking-in taxpayer boodle, SAIC is No. 7 on the Washington Technology list, pulling in some $4,811,194,880 in 2009, largely as a result of the firm’s close political connections to the Defense Department and the secret state.

SAIC’s work on VCF began in June 2001 and was expected to be completed in 36 months. However, after shelling out some $170 million over four years the Bureau concluded the system wouldn’t work. Published reports fail to mention whether or not SAIC was forced to hand the loot back to cash-strapped taxpayers. Probably not.

Open-Ended Contracts: Hitting the Corporatist “Sweet Spot”

As with all things having to do with protecting their national security constituency from lean quarterly reports to shareholders, congressional grifters and secret state agencies alike are adept at showering giant defense and security corporations with multiyear, multibillion dollar contracts.

After all, high-end CEO salaries and lucrative remunerations for top executives in the form of handsome bonuses are based, not on a firm’s actual performance but rather, on the critical up-tick in the share price; just ask Lehman Brothers or other outstanding corporate citizens such as Goldman Sachs. Or SAIC itself, for that matter!

Unfortunately, effective oversight is not the forte of a plethora of congressional committees; nor are crisp, objective evaluations, better known as due diligence, conducted by outside auditors before scarce federal resources, which could be used for quaint things such as health care, education or other reality-based programs, pour into any number of virtual black holes.

Take VCF as an example.

In a post-mortem of the SAIC program, The Washington Post revealed back in 2006, that after spending months writing 730,000 lines of computer code, corporate officers proclaimed VCF’s roll-out “only weeks away.”

The trouble was, software problem reports, or SPRs, “numbered in the hundreds.” Worse for SAIC, as engineers continued running tests, systemic problems were multiplying quicker than proverbial rabbits.

As Post journalists Dan Eggen and Griff Witte disclosed, citing an unreleased audit of the program hushed-up by the Bureau, because “of an open-ended contract with few safeguards, SAIC reaped more than $100 million as the project became bigger and more complicated, even though its software never worked properly.”

Despite evidence that the system was failing badly, SAIC “continued to meet the bureau’s requests, accepting payments despite clear signs that the FBI’s approach to the project was badly flawed.”

Auditors discovered that the “system delivered by SAIC was so incomplete and unusable that it left the FBI with little choice but to scuttle the effort altogether.”

David Kay, a former SAIC senior vice president and Bushist chief weapons inspector in Iraq tasked with finding nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction,” told the Post even though top executives at the firm were aware the project was going “awry,” they didn’t insist on changes “because the bureau continued to pay the bills as the work piled up.”

“From the documents that define the system at the highest level, down through the software design and into the source code itself,” Aerospace, the independent firm that conducted the secretive FBI audit, “discovered evidence of incompleteness, lack of follow-through, failure to optimize and missing documentation.”

Even more damning, a report by computer experts from the National Research Council and SAIC insider, Matthew Patton, removed from the program by top executives after posting critical remarks on VCF in an on-line forum, found that the firm “kept 200 programmers on staff doing ‘make work’,” when a “couple of dozen would have been enough.”

SAIC’s attitude, according to Patton, was that “it’s other people’s money, so they’ll burn it every which way they want to.”

As a cash cow, VCF was a superlative program; however, the IT security specialist told the Post: “Would the product actually work? Would it help agents do their jobs? I don’t think anyone on the SAIC side cared about that.”

Why would they? After all, $170 million buys much in the way of designer golf bags, pricey Hawaiian getaways or other necessities useful for navigating the dangerous shoals of America’s “war on terror”!

As investigative journalist Tim Shorrock detailed in his essential book, Spies For Hire and for CorpWatch, SAIC “stands like a private colossus across the whole intelligence industry.” Shorrock writes, “of SAIC’s 42,000 employees, more than 20,000 hold U.S. government security clearances, making it, with Lockheed Martin, one of the largest private intelligence services in the world.”

As the journalist revealed, while SAIC “is deeply involved in the operations of all the major collection agencies, particularly the NSA, NGA and CIA,” failure also seems to come with the corporate territory.

“For example” Shorrock wrote, the firm “managed one of the NSA’s largest efforts in recent years, the $3 billion Project Trailblazer, which attempted (and failed) to create actionable intelligence from the cacophony of telephone calls, fax messages, and emails that the NSA picks up every day. Launched in 2001, Trailblazer experienced hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns and NSA cancelled it in 2005.”

Is there a pattern here?

Is there a pattern indeed.

It doesn’t really matter whether these corporations have cost overruns that run into the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

When one has no-bid cost-plus contracts that are paid for by the taxpayer, where is the need to do a job right the first time, or anytime at all?

The government contractor gravy-train just keeps rolling along, on the backs of the working poor and what’s left of the privately/self employed middle class.

And Internet privacy?

It’s just an archaic concept.

Big Brother and the Hidden Hand of the “Free Market”

“Mega” Cities / Chilean Earthquake UFOs

I’m not sure this is a good thing or not since I’m an ol’ country boy:

The world’s mega-cities are merging to form vast “mega-regions” which may stretch hundreds of kilometres across countries and be home to more than 100 million people, according to a major new UN report.

The phenomenon of the so-called “endless city” could be one of the most significant developments – and problems – in the way people live and economies grow in the next 50 years, says UN-Habitat, the agency for human settlements, which identifies the trend of developing mega-regions in its biannual State of World Cities report.

The largest of these, says the report – launched today at the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro – is the Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou region in China, home to about 120 million people. Other mega-regions have formed in Japan and Brazil and are developing in India, west Africa and elsewhere.

The trend helped the world pass a tipping point in the last year, with more than half the world’s people now living in cities.

The UN said that urbanisation is now “unstoppable”. Anna Tibaijuka, outgoing director of UN-Habitat, said: “Just over half the world now lives in cities but by 2050, over 70% of the world will be urban dwellers. By then, only 14% of people in rich countries will live outside cities, and 33% in poor countries.”

The development of mega-regions is regarded as generally positive, said the report’s co-author Eduardo Lopez Moreno: “They [mega-regions], rather than countries, are now driving wealth.”

“Research shows that the world’s largest 40 mega-regions cover only a tiny fraction of the habitable surface of our planet and are home to fewer than 18% of the world’s population [but] account for 66% of all economic activity and about 85% of technological and scientific innovation,” said Moreno.

“The top 25 cities in the world account for more than half of the world’s wealth,” he added. “And the five largest cities in India and China now account for 50% of those countries’ wealth.”

The migration to cities, while making economic sense, is affecting the rural economy too: “Most of the wealth in rural areas already comes from people in urban areas sending money back,” Moreno said.

The growth of mega-regions and cities is also leading to unprecedented urban sprawl, new slums, unbalanced development and income inequalities as more and more people move to satellite or dormitory cities.

“Cities like Los Angeles grew 45% in numbers between 1975-1990, but tripled their surface area in the same time. This sprawl is now increasingly happening in developing countries as real estate developers promote the image of a ‘world-class lifestyle’ outside the traditional city,” say the authors.

To quote Jameske of the Daily Grail, “Judge Dredd soon to follow.”

“I am de la-aw!”

Sly Stallone will always have a job I guess.

UN report: World’s biggest cities merging into ‘mega-regions’

hat tip

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UFO activity has long been associated with volcanic and earthquake activity, especially in Mexico, Central and South America.

Here we have photos of UFOs that were taken after the recent 8.8 R quake in Chile:

Long-time researcherLiliana Núñez Orellana(formerly with AFLA)sent us a video clip from Chilean television displaying some of the truly startling images captured before, during and after the 8.8 magnitude earthquake in that country. Interviewed for this presentation were Rodrigo Fuenzalida and Alberto Urquiza. Mr. Fuenzalida was asked to provide an analysis of the situation, and he shared an interesting theory: that UFOs, regardless of their nature or origin, vacate their underground or underwater lairs before an earthquake much in the way that our own surface ships set out to sea before a hurricane.

This might be evidence of Mac Tonnies’ cryptoterrestrial theory in that in the shear numbers of these objects that vacate geological volatile areas of the planet before, during and after these events.

Are you seeing this Mac?

Chile: Bumper Crop of UFO Images

hat tip

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