Monday, November 13, 2017

Lasers in Space ?

Laser Weapon System aboard USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) in November 2014 (05).JPG
The U.S. Navy's USS Ponce amphibious transport ship with the world's first active Laser Weapons System (LaWS). Will spacecraft someday possess such a system?
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By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

Since the first Lasers were built in the 1960s, science-fiction television programs and motion pictures, such as Star Trek and Star Wars, portrayed Lasers or Laser-type weaponry in Outer Space. In the case of Star Trek, the weapons are called Phasers, as Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry felt that Lasers would be superseded by more advanced weaponry by the 23rd century.

Are such Laser weaponry in use today? Will Laser weapons be used in Outer Space in the near future? While American, Chinese, and Russian militaries continue developing Lasers, for terrestrial as well as Outer Space defense-related applications, advanced communication networks using Lasers are being tested by NASA for use in Outer Space.

Of course, most people are aware that the United States started a major research program into a space-based, defense shield using Lasers in the 1980s, after U.S. President Ronald Reagan announced creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in a speech to the American people on 1983 March 23. Most Democrats opposed the project, led by U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, who called the project “Star Wars.”

However many people are unaware that in response to SDI, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (name used for Russia for most of the 20th century) tried launching the first component of an experimental, orbital, unstaffed Laser battle-station on the evening of 1987 May 15. However, upon reaching orbit, the satellite containing this component started tumbling in orbit. Then, due to a software error, instead of going into a higher orbit, the engines fired with the satellite pointed in the wrong direction—down! The satellite soon re-entered the atmosphere, over-heated, broke-apart, and fell into the Pacific Ocean. The failure of such an expensive component convinced Kremlin leaders to cancel the rest of the project.

In 2014, the U.S. Navy deployed the world's first active Laser Weapons System (LaWS) on the USS Ponce amphibious transport ship in the Persian Gulf. The LaWS cost $40 million to develop, but costs only one dollar per shot! While the LaWS is primarily designed to attack aircraft and small boats, a second-generation system is being developed to target missiles.

The USS Ponce is scheduled to be decommissioned next year. The future of this particular LaWS installation is unclear, as it is not scheduled to be moved to a new vessel.

Last week, the U.S. Air Force gave a $26.3 million contract to Lockheed Martin “for the design, development, and production of a high power fiber laser,” for use on a fighter jet aircraft by 2021.

In August, the U.S. Army's Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA, for the Greek Goddess of Wisdom) Laser weapon underwent successful testing at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. And in June, the U.S. Army successfully tested a high-energy Laser weapon system on an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

In July, Russia announced plans to deploy powerful Laser weapons on its sixth-generation MiG-41 fighter jet aircraft, to destroy missiles. However, their Laser system is still in the concept stage and is not expected to be available until 2035.

Current American and Russian plans to deploy Lasers in Outer Space are unclear. However, reports this year indicate that China is developing first-strike Space-Lasers designed to destroy NATO satellites. These would be both ground-based Laser weapons, along with Laser weapons on a staffed, Chinese space-station (during the Cold War, the Soviet Union considered and rejected placing such weapons on a staffed Salyut Space Station). Some believe a five-ton chemical Laser could be operational by the Chinese military, possibly by 2023.

However, high-speed data communication is where Lasers are making a strong impact in Outer Space today. On Sunday morning (November 12), NASA and aerospace launch firm Orbital ATK launched new satellites which could greatly advance the speed of data networks in Space and on Earth, perhaps eventually including the Internet, using Lasers instead of radio links. It is expected that the new Laser links could create 200 megabits per second (Mbps) connections.

The two, NanoRacks CubeSats satellites are being sent to the International Space Station (ISS) during an ISS re-supply mission. The twin satellites will be deployed from the ISS using one (of two) of their NanoRacks CubeSats Deployers.

Orbital ATK's Antares rocket with the Cygnus CRS OA-8E spacecraft (titled the SS Gene Cernan for the last man to walk on the Moon, who died in January) had a flawless launch (despite a five-minute delay due to a couple boats wandering into the launch zone) from NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The SS Gene Cernan will take two days to reach the ISS. It is the eighth mission (of ten Orbital ATK re-supply flights under the current contract with NASA) to re-supply the International Space Station. The launch had been expected on November 11, but was delayed when an aircraft inadvertently strayed into the launch zone.

Internet Links to Additional Information ---

U.S. Navy's Laser Weapons System -
Link 1 >>>
Link 2 >>>

Mackie, Thomas. "Lazer equipped NASA satellites to revolutionise your internet speed when launched TODAY."
Sunday Express, London 2017 Nov. 12.
Link >>>

Hansen, Drew. "Lockheed to develop jet-mounted laser for the Air Force."
Washington Business Journal 2017 Nov. 9.
Link >>>

Sicard, Sarah. "The U.S. Army's Deadly Laser Just Took a Major Step Forward." Column: The Buzz. / Task and Purpose 2017 Oct. 5.
Link >>>

Sharkov, Damien. "Russian Military Plans Missile Killing Laser for Next-Generation Warplanes."
Newsweek 2017 July 27.
Link >>>

Judson, Jen. "US Army tests laser on Apache helicopter." 2017 June 26.
Link >>> 

Oliphant, Vickie. "China’s new space lasers to take out satellites leaving west at mercy of Beijing missiles."
Sunday Express, London 2017 March 12.
Link >>>

Day, Dwayne A. and Robert G. Kennedy III
"Soviet Star Wars, The launch that saved the world from orbiting laser battle stations."
Air & Space Smithsonian Magazine 2010 January.
Link >>>

Related Blog-Posts ---

"Nano-Space Probes to Star Alpha Centauri by Laser-Sail ?" 2017 Dec. 7.

Link >>>

"NASA Laser Com-System Miniaturized & Improved Data Precision." 2015 Oct. 24.

Link >>>


"Lunar Laser Com-System Sets Data Transmission Record." 2013 Oct. 24.

Link >>>


"Video: Laser Shoots Down Missile." 2013 May 15.

Link >>>


"Laser Weapon Funding from Science Fiction Book?" 2013 Jan. 27.

Link >>>

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.
             2017 November 13.

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  4. Andrea Boyd (International Space Station Flight Operations Engineer at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany) commented, on this 2017 November 13 post, saying that the International Space Station already has two operating Laser systems:
    1) Optical [Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS)]:
    Link >>>
    2)LIDAR [Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS)]:
    Link >>>

  5. NASA missions have used lasers to study the gases in Earth’s atmosphere. Lasers have also been used in instruments that map the surfaces of planets, moons, and asteroids.

    Scientists have even measured the distance between the moon and Earth using lasers! By measuring the amount of time it takes for a laser beam to travel to the moon and back, astronomers can tell exactly how far away it is!

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