News Round Up No 5

Been a while since a news round up hasn’t it? From now on some of the stories I will be covering will be ‘locked’ content on aviationweek.com , as I recently acquired a subscription. Apologies if you can’t read the article for yourself!

Fighter-launched micro drones form swarm

The US Defence Department recently released a video that showed a swarm of aircraft-like micro drones being ejected from a jet as a counter measure, and then carrying out low range reconnaissance.

The swarm consisted of 103 Perdix mini-UAVs, and were released from three Boeing F/A 18s over China Lake in California. The Perdix autonomous UAVs were developed by MIT, have a wingspan of less than 1 foot, and weigh just 290 grams. They were initially designed by students, and were then adapted for military use by scientists at MIT Lincoln laboratory.

During the mission at China Lake, the Perdix drones linked together as one unit with a single brain to operate as swarms do in nature. “Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team,” says SCO Director William Roper.

Operators of the swarm control the drones by calling “strategies” as a sports coach would, according to the SCO. “Because Perdix drones cannot change their plays, operators can predict the swarm’s behavior without having to micromanage it.”

I will admit that this is a true breakthrough in UAV technology, as it allows a wealth of information to be collected, as the sheer number of them working together means that they can all designate themselves different jobs which will all serve towards the primary objective. The size of these drones also allows them to get much closer to a potential target than a normal jet, and possibly collect more information from a closer range, without bringing any more danger upon the pilot. The fact that swarm also communicates as one and allows freedom of movement, this means that the initial deployed swarm could split off into two or three separate swarms, all carrying out different objectives. However, as with all technology, could this ‘swarm’ be hacked and reprogrammed against the deployed fighter, and be used against it? Due to the SCO saying that the swarms behaviour is ‘predictable’ does this mean that the targets of these UAVs will learn the patterns of these drones, and start to more successfully evade them? This could be argued for any tactics that any army uses, eventually the opposing army will learn the tactics and switch up their strategy, so it’s all really just a game of cat and mouse, but once these drones enter the US Air Force programme, these will certainly be a game changer.

Lockheed Martin, Space Systems/Loral Building Discovery Mission Craft

Two US space companies with years’ worth of spacecraft experience are preparing to develop probes to go exploring the wrecked remains from an early solar system.

The NASA missions (Lucy and Psyche) will use spacecraft designed and developed by Lockheed Martin and Space Systems/Loral to go beyond Mars and study asteroids in Jupiter’s orbit, objects that could originate from around 10 million years into the creation of the solar system, and an asteroid that lies in the main-belt which could be the broken metallic core of an early solar system planet.

Lucy and Psyche are both capped at $450 million each for their development, and they will continue a series of planetary-science missions that started with the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvouz probe launched in 1996, and includes Pathfinder, Messenger, Kepler, and Dawn, the spacecraft which is now orbiting Ceres, it’s second main-belt asteroid target.

Lockheed Martin is developing the Lucy spacecraft, which will use chemical propulsion to conduct flybys of the six asteroids around Jupiter in the first mission. Lessons learned building Juno, the first solar-powered spacecraft to operate at Jupiter, will allow Lucy—named for the fossil human ancestor discovered in Africa—to explore six asteroids in gravitational Lagrangian points moving through space ahead of Jupiter.

Like Juno, Lucy will receive enough energy from its solar cells to eliminate the need for a thermoelectric generator, the previous norm for probes operating at that distance from the Sun. Unlike Juno, which resembles a spinning windmill with three large rigid arrays, Lucy will carry circular flex arrays that unfurl like a handheld fan. But the underlying technology will be the same.

This is a huge step towards obtaining knowledge that could lead to bettering our understanding of the universe and how early formations of solar systems work.

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