Those crazy folks at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) always come up with the coolest military tech concepts, but a lot of them don't get past the drawing board. Now one of their wildest ideas is getting the green light, and will be turned into working prototypes by two competing manufacturers.
DARPA's out hunting for a way to launch satellites fast and on the cheap, and they're thinking that a souped-up commercial jet is the way to go to get most of (or at least some of) the way to orbit without having to rely on a ground-based launch system.
You see it all the time in the movies: someone finds a pile of shredded documents proving just how evil the evil bad guys is, takes a picture, and sends it to their lame computer geek sidekick. Much clicking of mice and typing on keyboards ensues, and lo, the documents are magically reconstructed. DARPA thinks this is cool and wants to make it happen for real.
Launching satellites into space is really, really expensive. We're talking upwards of $10,000 per pound to geosynchronous orbit. DARPA is looking to make the deployment of new satellites much cheaper, by simply recycling the satellites that are up there already using an unmanned platform that can harvest them for parts.
Those scientific geniuses over at Boston Dynamics are at it again with their crazy quadruped robots, and this time it's better than ever. The new "AlphaDog" 'bot can carry 400 pounds for 20 miles over 24 hours without keeling over and robo-dying. Take that, real dogs!
To squeeze laser into things like airplanes, we're going to have to make the weapons much smaller and more efficient than the boat-sized platforms we've got right now. DARPA is hard at work on a system called Excalibur that's small enough and powerful enough to make an aircraft like this a reality.
We are pretty far off from sending humans to a star other than our own; at least a couple of centuries, scientists think. But it's never too early to start planning.
Last week, DARPA carried out the second test of an unmanned hypersonic vehicle that can travel at Mach 20. The test ended when controllers prematurely lost contact with the vehicle, but data now shows that the vehicle flew stably for three minutes, and then made a controlled descent into the ocean. In other words, it worked. Mostly.
It seems inconceivable that an aircraft that can travel from New York to Los Angeles in 12 minutes — less time than it takes to wake up, whip together a proper breakfast and soak in the world news exists. But it does and DARPA's planning to test the unmanned Falcon HTV-2 aircraft today!
Back in May, we showed you the winner of DARPA's XC2V crowd-sourced military vehicle competition, which supposedly was going to get turned into a fully functional prototype by June. Well, it's June, and in a remarkably non-governmental display of punctuality, they've actually gone and built the thing.