News Feature | June 8, 2022

Bright Ideas — DoD Strategic Review To Determine Space Weapon Priorities, Mitsubishi Electric Claims First Laser Terminal To Integrate Spatial Acquisition

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By Abby Proch, Editor

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By the end of July, the Biden Administration should have better guidance as it decides the appropriate mix of space weapons, both offensive and defensive. The “strategic space review” may also address guidelines that determine whether programs are considered classified. Ultimately, the findings will also help Space Force form its 2024 budget request.

The U.S. Space Force is taking a backward approach when it comes to tapping industry innovation; it’s holding a “reverse industry day” wherein it plans to take more of a listener’s role. The event will be devoid of government briefs and instead open the floor for industry folks to share their tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. Specifically, Space Force is looking for companies to assists in tracking ground targets with space sensors.

Mitsubishi Electric claims it has developed the first laser terminal that employs both optical communication and spatial laser acquisition. The terminal can reportedly determine an incoming beam’s direction over four phases and, because of that, can enable greater data capacity and speeds.  The module, about 10 cm2, is less than a quarter the size of the company’s previous model.

NASA recently named the newest instrument to support the Artemis mission. The Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer (Lunar-VISE) will explore the mysterious Gruithuisen Domes and hopefully determine their origins. The domes are comprised of a silica-rich rock made from cooled magma that, if they were on Earth, would have formed in the presence of oceans and tectonic plates. Scientists are looking to determine if these lunar versions are any different. The $35 million science mission, led by scientists at the University of Central Florida, is expected to launch in 2026.

Scientists recently earned an almost $1 million award from the USDA to study and predict the whereabouts of the spotted lanternfly using remote sensing. Spotted lanternflies prefer hosts like Tree of Heaven but are also drawn to fruit and nut trees, which if affected would result in a sizable economic impact.  A team from Purdue, Pennsylvania State, and Temple universities will use satellite data to not only track the pests’ movements (though they don’t fly far, they do hitch rides on cargo) but also to track spectral data to indicate tree health.

NOAA’s Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) is now operational and has already begun detecting and mapping all lightning — including cloud-to-cloud-, in-cloud, and cloud-to-ground — across the Americas. The GLM not only identifies strikes but also records each one’s distance traveled. The data will be used, in part, to help forecast intensifying storms, as jumps in lightning activity often mean severe storms, even tornadoes, aren’t far behind. It also allows forecasters a secondary source of information when radar coverage is poor.

Another solar efficiency milestone has been claimed, this time by Fraunhofer ISE. Having added a new antireflective coating (from Soitec) to its four-junction solar cell, the ISE claimed a new record efficiency of 47.6% — an increase over the previous threshold of 46.1%. The cell’s beginnings started in 2016 but the success came just one year after the opening of the ISE’s Center for High Efficiency Solar Cells and comes as part of the institute’s “50 percent” project, which set a goal of 50% efficiency.

Imagine a submillimeter, crab-like robot controlled by laser light capable of clearing clogged arteries or repairing small machines. That’s what a group of international scientists envision with the creation of microbots designed after the peekytoe crab. With legs made of flexible, heat-reactive nitinol joints, these bots crawl, jump, turn, and twist according to a passing laser’s direction and angle. Scientists have also developed microbots in the shape of a basket as well as circular and double-floor helices.