The Age of Hypersonic Weapons has Begun

With a highly publicized test firing and pledge by President Vladimir Putin that it will soon be deployed to frontline units, Russia’s Avangard hypersonic weapon has officially gone from a secretive development program to an inevitability. The first weapon of its type to enter into active service, it’s capable of delivering a payload to any spot on the planet at speeds up to Mach 27 while remaining effectively unstoppable by conventional missile defense systems because of its incredible speed and enhanced maneuverability compared to traditional intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Rendering of Avangard reentering Earth’s atmosphere

In a statement made after the successful test of Avangard, which saw it hit a target approximately 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) from the launch site, President Putin made it clear that the evasive nature of the weapon was not to be underestimated: “The Avangard is invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defense means of the potential adversary.” The former Soviet KGB agent turned head of state has never been one to shy away from boastful claims, but in this case it’s not just an exaggeration. While the United States and China have been working on their own hypersonic weapons which should be able to meet the capabilities of Avangard when they eventually come online, there’s still no clear deterrent for this type of weapon.

Earlier in the year, commander of U.S. Strategic Command General John Hyten testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the threat of retaliation was the best and perhaps only method of keeping the risk of hypersonic weapons in check: “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us, so our response would be our deterrent force.” Essentially, the threat of hypersonic weapons may usher in a new era of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD), the Cold War era doctrine that kept either side from firing the first shot knowing they would sustain the same or greater damage from their adversary.

With President Putin claiming Avangard has already entered into serial production and will be deployed as soon as early 2019, the race is on for the United States and China to close the hypersonic gap. But exactly how far away is the rest of the world from developing an operational hypersonic weapon? Perhaps more to the point, what does “hypersonic weapon” really mean?

Continue reading “The Age of Hypersonic Weapons has Begun”

Soyuz Failure Leaves Questions Unanswered

The Russian space program experienced its first serious incident on a manned mission in 35 years when Soyuz MS-10 failed during ascent on October 11th, 2018. The abort system worked as designed, and crew members Aleksey Ovchinin and Nick Hague landed safely approximately 430 km from the launch site in Baikonur. Beyond being put through unusually high G forces, the two men suffered no injuries and will have their mission recycled for a future flight.

From an abort standpoint, the event went as well as could possibly be expected. The fact that the crew walked away unharmed is a testament to the emergency systems on the rocket and spacecraft, and serve as a reminder of why these functions are designed into manned rockets even if they are rarely (if ever) used. The success is especially impressive considering the Soyuz’s launch abort tower, the solid fuel rocket designed to pull the spacecraft away from the failing booster rocket, had already been jettisoned before the event occurred. The spacecraft was instead pulled to safety by the secondary abort thrusters, which were added to the vehicle’s design in 1975 as a contingency and until now had never been used in a real-life scenario.

What Went Wrong?

But while the safe return of the crew was naturally the first priority for all agencies involved, the questions soon turned to the Soyuz itself. What caused the loss of the rocket? Is it a defect which could be present in the other Soyuz rockets currently under construction? Perhaps most importantly, when could the Soyuz fly again? As it’s currently the only way to put humans into space, the International Space Station is completely dependent on regular Soyuz flights, and a delay in the program could endanger the orbiting outpost.

Now, with the initial findings of the Russian incident investigation being made public, we’re starting to get answers on some of those questions. The official report so far agrees with the conclusions many “Armchair Astronauts” made watching the live stream of the launch, and the evidence suggests that the core issue is the same which doomed previous Russian vehicles.

Continue reading “Soyuz Failure Leaves Questions Unanswered”

France Questions Russian Satellite with “Big Ears”

French Defense Minister Florence Parly took a page out of Little Red Riding Hood when she recently called out a Russian satellite for having “big ears”. While she stopped short of giving any concrete details, it was a rare and not terribly veiled accusation that Russia is using their Luch-Olymp spacecraft to perform orbital espionage.

Luch satellite conceptual drawing from NASA

At a speech in Toulouse, Parly was quoted as saying: “It got close. A bit too close. So close that one really could believe that it was trying to capture our communications.” and “this little Stars Wars didn’t happen a long time ago in a galaxy far away. It happened a year ago, 36,000 kilometers above our heads.”

The target of this potential act of space piracy is the Athena-Fidus satellite, a joint venture between France and Italy to provide secure communication for the military and emergency services of both countries. Launched in 2014, it provides 3 Gbit/s throughput via the Ka-band for mobile receivers on the ground and in drones.

This isn’t the first time Russia’s Luch class of vehicles has been the subject of scrutiny. In 2015 it was reported that one such craft maneuvered to within 10 kilometers of the Intelsat 7 and Intelsat 901 geostationary communications satellites, prompting classified meetings at the United States Defense Department. As geostationary satellites orbit the Earth at 3.07 km/s, a 10 km approach is exceptionally dangerous. Even a slight miscalculation could cause an impact within seconds.

Could Stealth Satellites Be In Our Future?

Much to the chagrin of shadowy spy agencies everywhere, this sort of orbital cat and mouse is easily detectable from the ground. When spy planes became easy to detect using radar, the next step was to evade that detection. Are we on a path to satellites that are transparent to radar?

Gregory Charvat, author of Small and Short-Range Radar Systems and occasional contributor here at Hackaday, tells us that building a stealth satellite is no easy task. “Just like how we had to re-invent the aircraft to make the first stealth aircraft, to make a stealth satellite one would have to fundamentally re-invent the satellite as we know it today.”

Likening it to the immense cost and effort it took to develop stealth aircraft like the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, Gregory says developing a satellite which could hide from radar would likely be more trouble than it’s worth for most applications. Space is already hard enough. “Maintaining that special shape that reflects radar away from your aircraft and including all of these essential peripherals is a big challenge” Gregory says, which results in “compromise and high maintenance costs.”

Beyond attempting to eavesdrop on communications, military insiders say that these close passes by Luch satellites could also be “dry-runs” for anti-satellite operations; either by using a directed energy weapon to disable the target spacecraft, or simply running into it. With events like these, and the commitment by the United States to establish a Space Force in the coming years, efforts to militarize space seem to be on the rise.

[via DefenseNews]

Russian Drone Can Lift 142 Phantom 3 Drones

Russia has long been known for making large machines. They hold the current record for the largest helicopter ever made – the MiL V12. Same goes for the world’s largest airplane, the Antonov An-225. Largest submarine? Yep, they made that too – the Typhoon class. It would appear they’ve thrown their hat in the drone business as well.

While the SKYF drone is made by a private Russian company, it is one of the largest drones we’ve ever seen. Able to lift 400 pounds (a Phantom 3 weighs 2.8 pounds) and can fly for eight hours, the SKYF drone is a nice piece of aeronautical engineering. Quad-copter style drones provide lift by brute force, and are typically plagued with low lift capacities and short flight times. The SKYF triumphs over these limitations by using gasoline powered engines for lift and electric motors for navigation.

It’s still in the prototype stage and being advertised for use in natural disasters and the agriculture industry. Check out the video in the link above to see the SKYF in action.

What’s the largest drone you’ve seen?

Thanks to [Itay] for the tip!

A Jet Engine On A Bike. What’s The Worst That Could Happen?

On today’s edition of ‘don’t try this at home,’ we’re transported to Russia to see [Igor Negoda]’s working jet bicycle.

This standard mountain bike comes equipped with a jet engine capable of 18kg of thrust, fixed to the frame under the seat with an adjustable bracket to change it’s angle as needed. A cell phone is zip-tied to the frame and acts as a speedometer — if it works, it’s not stupid — and an engine controller displays thrust, rpm and temperature.  A LiPo battery is the engine’s power source with a separate, smaller battery for the electronics. The bike is virtually overgrown with wires and tubes that feed the engine, including an auxiliary fuel tank where a water bottle normally resides. Where’s the main fuel tank? In [Negoda]’s backpack, of course.

It certainly kicks up a mean dust cloud and makes a heck of a racket but the real question is: how fast does it go? From the looks of the smartphone, 72 km/h, 45 mph, or 18 rods to the hogshead.

Continue reading “A Jet Engine On A Bike. What’s The Worst That Could Happen?”

Russian Decapping Madness

It all started off innocently enough. [mretro] was curious about what was inside a sealed metal box, took a hacksaw to it and posted photographs up on the Interwebs. Over one hundred forum pages and several years later, the thread called (at least in Google Translate) “dissecting room” continues to amaze.

h_1466184174_4168461_2f4afb42b7If you like die shots, decaps, or teardowns of oddball Russian parts, this is like drinking from a firehose. You can of course translate the website, but it’s more fun to open it up in Russian and have a guess at what everything is before peeking. (Hint: don’t look at the part numbers. NE555 is apparently “NE555” in Russian.)

From a brief survey, a lot of these seem to be radio parts, and a lot of it is retro or obsolete. Forum user [lalka] seems to have opened up one of every possible Russian oscillator circuit. The website loads unfortunately slowly, at least where we are, but bear in mind that it’s got a lot of images. And if your fingers tire of clicking, note that the URL ends with the forum page number. It’d be a snap to web-scrape the whole darn thing overnight.

We love teardowns and chip shots, of old gear and of new. So when you think you’ve got a fake part, or if you need to gain access to stuff under that epoxy blob for whatever reason, no matter how embarrassing, bring along a camera and let us know!

Thanks [cfavreau] for the great tip!

Screw Drive Tractor Hasn’t Conquered Canada Yet

[REDNIC79] lives somewhere in Canada where key terrain features include mud and snow. Half pontoon boat, half auger, screw-propelled vehicles excel in this kind of terrain as long as you’re okay with going really slow.

In his 11-and-counting part video series, [REDNIC79] goes through the conversion of a lawn tractor into a slow, theoretically unstoppable, Canadian screw-propelled tractor. He welds a frame, plonks some beefy chains on it, and throws a few hefty looking bearing mounts on there to boot. Then he makes some screws out of gas tanks; which was an enormous amount of work.

It was time to fire up the tractor. On the first muddy incline encountered, the tractor ceased to move. The culprit? A cracked transmission housing. Ouch. The end of the shaft holding the chain for the right screw was unsupported. When the shaft turned, it imparted its rotational force, but there was also an unconsidered down force on the end of the shaft, which resulted in a moment the bell housing wasn’t designed for.

Undeterred, [REDNIC79] welded the housing back together and threw a bearing on the end of the offending shaft to balance the moments. He fired it up, engaged the transmission, and the right screw bearing pillow block completely shattered. Ouch again. We can safely begin to assume that screw-propelled vehicles see a lot of forces.

[REDNIC79] hasn’t shelved the project yet. His next plan is to beef up the supports and build a much larger set of screws with smaller blades out of some propane tanks. This should reduce the force the power house needs to put out. Video of the first fail after the break. Continue reading “Screw Drive Tractor Hasn’t Conquered Canada Yet”