Hacking When It Counts: Pigeon-Guided Missiles

The image of the crackpot inventor, disheveled, disorganized, and surrounded by the remains of his failures, is an enduring Hollywood trope. While a simple look around one’s shop will probably reveal how such stereotypes get started, the image is largely not a fair characterization of the creative mind and how it works, and does not properly respect those that struggle daily to push the state of the art into uncharted territory.

That said, there are plenty of wacky ideas that have come down the pike, most of which mercifully fade away before attracting undue attention. In times of war, though, the need for new and better ways to blow each other up tends to bring out the really nutty ideas and lower the barrier to revealing them publically, or at least to military officials.

Of all the zany plans that came from the fertile minds on each side of World War II, few seem as out there as a plan to use birds to pilot bombs to their targets. And yet such a plan was not only actively developed, it came from the fertile mind of one of the 20th century’s most brilliant psychologists, and very nearly resulted in a fieldable weapon that would let fly the birds of war.

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You’ll Really Want An “Undo” Button When You Accidentally Send A Ballistic Missile Warning

Hawaiians started their weekend with quite a fright, waking up Saturday morning to a ballistic missile alert that turned out to be a false alarm. In between the public anger, profuse apologies from officials, and geopolitical commentary, it might be hard to find some information for the more technical-minded. For this audience, The Atlantic has compiled a brief history of infrastructure behind emergency alerts.

As a system intended to announce life-critical information when seconds count, all information on the system is prepared ahead of time for immediate delivery. As a large hodgepodge linking together multiple government IT systems, there’s no surprise it is unwieldy to use. These two aspects collided Saturday morning: there was no prepared “Sorry, false alarm” retraction message so one had to be built from scratch using specialized equipment, uploaded across systems, and broadcast 38 minutes after the initial false alarm. In the context of government bureaucracy, that was really fast and must have required hacking through red tape behind the scenes.

However, a single person’s mistake causing such chaos and requiring that much time to correct is unacceptable. This episode has already prompted a lot of questions whose answers will hopefully improve the alert system for everyone’s benefit. At the very least, a retraction is now part of the list of prepared messages. But we’ve also attracted attention of malicious hackers to this system with obvious problems in design, in implementation, and also has access to emergency broadcast channels. The system needs to be fixed before any more chaotic false alarms – either accidental or malicious – erode its credibility.

We’ve covered both the cold-war era CONELRAD and the more recent Emergency Broadcast System. We’ve also seen Dallas’ tornado siren warning system hacked. They weren’t the first, they won’t be the last.

(Image: Test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM via US Air Force.)

Hitching a Ride on a Missile

Before the Saturn V rocket carried men to the moon, a number of smaller rockets carried men on suborbital and orbital flights around the Earth. These rockets weren’t purpose-built for this task, though. In fact, the first rockets that carried people into outer space were repurposed ballistic missiles, originally designed to carry weapons.

While it might seem like an arduous task to make a ballistic missile safe enough to carry a human, the path from a weapons delivery system to passenger vehicle was remarkably quick. Although there was enough safety engineering and redundancy to disqualify the space program as a hack, it certainly was a clever repurposing of the available technology. Read on for the full story.

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Using Missile Tech to See Like Predator

[Artem Litvinovich] wanted to see by heat vision like in the Predator movies. He not only succeeded but went on to see in color, medium-wave IR, short-wave IR, and ultraviolet using a very unique approach since his effort began back in 2009.

He started with a box based on the basic pinhole camera concept. In the box is a physical X-Y digitizer moving a photodiode to collect the thousands of points needed to create a picture. First all he got, due to the high signal amplification, was the 60 cycle hum that permeates our lives. A Faraday cage around the box helped but metal foil around the sensor and amplifier finally eliminated the noise. Now he had pictures in the near infrared (NIR). Continue reading “Using Missile Tech to See Like Predator”

Retrotechtacular: History of the U.S. Antiballistic Missile Systems

retrotechtacular-missle-defense

On this installment of Retrotechtacular we’re taking a look at the history of the United States Antiballistic Missile System. The cold war was a huge driver of technological development, and this missile defense is a good example. At its most basic this is a radar system capable of tracking objects in three dimensions. It utilizes separate transmitters and receivers which are synchronized to rotate at the same time.

The movie, which is about forty-five minutes, came to our attention because of [Dammitd’s] interest in the Luneburg Lens used by the system. At about 11:10 into the video after the break this component is discussed. Inside a dome like the one seen above is a reflector made of blocks of polystyrene foam which has been laced with bits of metal. This lens is stationary, with the receiver rotating around it to collect the transmitter’s waves as the echos bouncing off an object in the sky are focused by the lens.

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DIY Guided Missile (…err model rocket)

Hackers [Navic] and [K.o.D] have fitted an Arduino Pro Mini and an array of components into an off the shelf rocketry kit to create a guided model rocket, taking the whole idea of Arduino-based space technology to another level

The Arduino reads signals from internally mounted accelerometers, and adjusts balsa fins (via 4 micro servos) to correct the rocket’s flight path. Due to the nature of model rocketry, the active guidance is limited to the 3 seconds that the rocket is traveling upwards. A valiant effort nevertheless. Videos of the rocket’s maiden voyage, and a system check after the break. Continue reading “DIY Guided Missile (…err model rocket)”

Missile hack taunts your cat

[Atlantageek] sent in a missile launcher project that he threw together. For Christmas he received a Chumby One and a ThinkGeek USB Rocket Launcher as gifts (lucky dog). Neither of these toys are “played with” in the traditional sense as much as they become centerpieces of your next hack. In that spirit, [Atlantageek] immediately wrote a widget to control the launcher via the Chumby. The side effect of driving his cat bonkers was an unexpected bonus.