The past decade has brought an incredibly rapid and continuous growth of technological advancements. The growth of the Internet, development of computer software, and creation of smart devices have forever revolutionized the convenience and interconnectedness that technology provides us on daily basis. However, with a global network that places everyone together at the touch of a button comes an accessibility that is almost too effortless. On October 21, 2016, this accessibility became a curse for the state of cyber security in the Caribbean. Dyn, an Internet performance management company that offers products to control and optimize online infrastructure (more specifically to enable web users to access the addresses of major websites), was the victim of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. A DDoS is an attack that floods the bandwidth and resources of one or more web servers in an attempt to make an online service unavailable. Massive servers such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon were temporarily offline because of the invasion.
Experts from across the globe have claimed that this may have been the largest DDoS attack ever executed. The mystery underlying the attack was that it was in part delivered through smart devices connected to the Internet, such as webcams, televisions, and even refrigerators and central heating systems. The hackers used a malware known as Mirai, which uses the Internet of Things (IoT) to turn computer systems running Linux into remotely controlled “bots” to conduct the large-scale attack. These bots then create a botnet, or a network of Internet-connected computers infected with this malicious software that is controlled at a source. Analysts believe that the attack on Dyn may be linked to others, all using Mirai, that took place within a five-week span. On September 20, 2016, two major attacks were launched, a 1 Tbps one on French hosting provider OVH and a 660 Gbps one on KrebsOnSecurity blog (1). With each attack getting larger than the previous, the loopholes of cyber security have begun to catch the attention of officials in the Caribbean sector.
Outmoded IT systems and malfunctioning software have proved costly for Caribbean countries in the past couple years. According to Daily Express, a newspaper on the island of Trinidad, “reports in the trade press suggest that so serious have DDoS attacks in general become, that more than 30 percent are now large enough to swamp almost any business or poorly protected government” (2). Many attacks on Caribbean networks are kept under-wraps because of the perceived reputable damage that would ensue. Most recently, 1.3 million documents from the Bahamas’ corporate registry were publicized online without drawing significant attention. While the leaked ‘Bahamas Papers’ contained mostly consolidated information and no ultra-secret information was exposed, it puts into question the appropriate security within government portals. Especially in a region with an absence of local expertise and financial resources to address technical weaknesses, the compromising of internal government communications (with seemingly little effort) opens the doors far too wide for potential hackers. A The Center for Strategic Studies and Intel Security Group published a joint study supporting the notion that Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) “has become a new frontier for cyber attacks and crime at an estimated cost of around $90 billion per year” (3). Furthermore, a digital security-based system known as the Cipher Brief released that 12% of DDoS attacks now target the LAC region. A large cause of this escalating number is the increasing number of tourists, and in turn increasing flow of Internet-connected devices on a monthly basis, in “soft” locations through which funds flow for tax advantage and commercial expediency. The striking increase in national vulnerability calls for the help of experts around the world to strengthen the Caribbean’s outdated networks.
Caribbean government officials are slowly starting to realize the importance of strengthening their cyber security infrastructure. In March, a number of international agencies met in St. Lucia and signed-off on a plan to strengthen regional cooperation in training, legislation, and technical capacity. In light of these recent efforts, the first Caribbean Cybercrime Conference was held on November 16, 2016 in Aruba. The goal of the conference was to create awareness for the growing threat of cyber attacks and need for digital investigations (4). The conference was led by Curaçao’s Attorney General’s Office and received help from the Kingdom Detectives Cooperation Team (RST), and DataExpert, a Dutch cyber security group. Since the field of digital forensics is only recently reaching new heights, it was also necessary to inform officials and private enterprises about the new and ever-expanding risks of cybercrime. The Caribbean and Latin America must work quickly to develop integrated cyber security platforms before hackers begin to deeply infiltrate what is a largely unprotected region.
(1) D, Lena. "Caribbean Region Faces Serious Cyber Security Threats - Atlanta Black Star." Atlanta Black Star. N.p., 01 Nov. 2016. Web.
(2) Jessop, David. "Action Needed on Caribbean Cybersecurity." Trinidad Express Newspapers: Editorial. N.p., 02 Nov. 2016. Web.
(4) "First Caribbean Cybercrime Conference." Curaçao Chronicle. N.p., 02 Nov. 2016. Web.
Image: © Carmelo Luis Vicent Rodríguez | Dreamstime.com - Airport Antenna
On September 28, the European Commission announced that it would begin to strengthen the jurisdiction on the exports of goods and technologies that “may also be misused for severe human rights violations, terrorist acts or the development of weapons of mass destruction” (1). The proposal focuses on exports of cyber-surveillance technologies, such as monitoring centers and data retention systems, which are meant for legitimate civilian applications. On the day of the press release, Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom stated, “We are living in turbulent times. Preserving peace and protecting human rights are core objective of the EU and our trade policy is essential to that aim. That’s why we are proposing a set of modern rules to make sure that exports are not misused to threaten international security or undermine human rights” (2). An additional benefit of the proposal is that it would simplify already existing export control laws and save the European Union both time and money. More importantly, this motion will assure the world of the EU’s commitment to international peace and security.
In 2014, the European Parliament reached a political understanding that “recognized the importance of continuously enhancing the effectiveness and coherence of the EU’s strategic export controls regime” (3). The aim of this understanding was to keep up with newly arising threats that may result from rapid technological changes in the modern system. Just last year, leaked invoices and emails exposed that a Milan-based software company, Hacking Team, had sold spyware to a number of governments, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Sudan. Although the Italian government instantly rescinded the company’s license to export internationally, it is events such as this that the EU is trying to avoid. Although the EU attempts to oversee as many major trades and exports as possible, some countries are known for approving export requests more leniently. Under the new rules, members of the EU will be forced to disclose information about the exports they approve to EU leaders and regulators.
While attempting to maintain a high level of security and provide transparency, the European Commission does not want to impair international trade nor the competitiveness of European companies. A lengthy approval process for items such as location tracking devices and biometrics equipment could make it difficult for technology companies to capture new markets and quickly increase their profit margins (4). The EU must be careful not to cast a broad net that unintentionally makes suspects out of harmless items and overwhelms licensing authorities. After all, the European economy could benefit greatly from being a major player in the ever-growing technology sector, which is moving at an astounding pace.
The international spike in terrorism is the driving force behind the EU’s efforts to make export controls more efficient, consistent, and effective. The depressing rise of acts of terrorism around the world has forced authorities and governments to tighten controls on potential weapons of mass destruction. By harmonizing the controls on brokering and transit of technological surveillance items, European authorities will be able to monitor the potential risks more closely than ever before. The EU hopes to do their part in the fight against terrorism by introducing precise provisions preventing the exploitation of dual-use items in relation to terrorists’ global threat.
(1) "Commission Proposes to Modernise and Strengthen Controls on Exports of Dual-use Items." European Commission. European Commission, 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
(4) Stupp, Catherine. "Commission Plans Export Controls for Surveillance Technology." EurActiv.com. EurActiv Network, 21 July 2016. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.
Image: © Eudaemon | Dreamstime.com - European Commission - new Juncker team
On December 4, 2011, Iranian forces seized an American RQ-170 Sentinel reconnaissance drone near the city of Kashmar. The RQ-170 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), another term for a drone, was believed to be running surveillance of Iranian nuclear facilities when Iran’s cyber warfare unit took control of the aircraft and brought it down. The Iranian government claimed that the aircraft was in clear contravention of international law by blatantly entering Iranian airspace. After acknowledging that the UAV was in fact part of undisclosed CIA missions, President Obama requested that the drone be returned to the United States. In response, General Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), stated, “No nation welcomes other countries’ spy drones in its territory, and no one sends back the spying equipment and its information back to the country of origin” (1). The perceived disrespect by the U.S. administration fueled the Iranians to use RQ-170 Sentinel as a way to further their own combat drone technology.
Five years later, on October 1, 2016, Iran’s IRGC unveiled its newly manufactured combat UAV named Saeqeh (Thunderbolt). The IRGC’s Aerospace Division revealed Saeqeh at a showcase displaying its latest advancements in UAV technology. Saeqeh is long-range combat drone equipped with four smart-guided bombs. Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Aerospace Force of the IRGC, described that Saeqeh has the capability of detonating four different targets with precision and returning to base safely. The ability for the drone to carry out long operations with such accuracy is an impressive feat in Iran’s growing UAV industry. The Iranian drone is one of the Simorgh drone class and a product made by the reverse engineering of the American RQ-170 Sentinel that could not be reacquired by the U.S. government. Saeqeh is portrayed as the first in a series of drones that Iran declares will have both civilian and military use.
The IRGC’s strategy is focused on attaining self-sufficiency in producing advanced military systems based on deterrence. General Hajizadeh finds it imperative that Iran does not halt its development of new UAVs, stating, “The enemy is continuing down the path of hostility, and we should continue our course for reinforcing our might for defense against the enemy” (2). The commander claims that the latest achievements place Iran among the top four nations in the world in the UAV industry. Hajizadeh also asserts that Iran now has better aviation systems and equipment than the U.S. Only time will tell if Hajizadeh’s assertion is accurate, but his statements have garnered the attention of the U.S. military.
One of the U.S. government’s concerns lies in the possibility of Iran distributing these new technologies to nations such as Russia or China. The past two years have seen Iran make significant breakthroughs in its defense sectors. In 2010, the U.S. and other nations placed sanctions on Iranian forces with the goal of severely limiting the growth of their nuclear programs. In 2015, the Western sanctions that had been placed on the Iranian military were reformed into an agreement that allowed Iran to redesign its nuclear facilities for the means of producing nuclear fuels. As a result, Iran has been taking advantage of the agreement and producing new machinery at a notable pace. Their weaponry is thought to range from UAVs to rocket and artillery systems. The IRGC stresses that its military operations pose no threat to other nations. Nonetheless, its rapidly evolving technologies will force Western nations, especially the U.S., to keep a watchful eye on the Iranian military.
(1) CNN Wire Staff. “General: Iran Won’t Return U.S. Drone It Claims to Have.” CNN.com. CNN, 12 Dec. 2011. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.
(2) Military UAS News. “Iran’s IRGC Unveils New Combat Drone – UAS VISION.” Uasvision.com. UAS VISION, 02 Oct. 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
Image: © Steve Estvanik | Dreamstime.com - Defense Ministry
In the past year, the world has seen drone technology skyrocket to never-before-seen heights. Drones have become a staple in warfare for militaries around the globe, a medium for thrill-enthusiasts to capture life from a bird’s-eye-view, and a means for companies to deliver products to customers without having to move a muscle. If producers of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), another name for drones, continue to develop their technical capacities at such a high rate, skies everywhere will soon be crowded with these vehicles. This exciting growth will provide governments, corporations, and civilians with new opportunities that would vastly expand our technological network. However, there is one obstacle that stands in the way of a world engulfed in UAS: an efficient way to manage the air traffic presented by the autonomous devices. It goes without saying that controlling drone traffic is far more extensive than the typical air traffic control systems that are in place for commercial and private flights. Drones fly at far lower altitudes, are much smaller than normal aircrafts, and are surprisingly expensive to regulate, costing around $1,000 per commercial flight with the current human monitoring system in place (1). New technologies developed by organizations such as DARPA and NASA hope to bring regulated drone aviation into common practice.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working to develop an “Aerial Dragnet” program “to conduct persistent, wide-area surveillance of small unmanned aerial systems (UASs) in urban terrain on a city-wide scale” (2). At the moment, drone tracking is done mostly by the human eye. Obviously, this provides multiple limitations as human accountability cannot handle the burden of tracking every single UAS in the sky. The centerpiece of DARPA’s plan would include a “long endurance” or fixed instrument drone that would provide a net of surveillance covering a specific area of a city (or any given area). According to reports, “DARPA’s plan would include a network of surveillance nodes that can track slow, low-flying drones without the need for a direct line of sight…the whole thing is meant to be cost-effective and highly-scalable for larger coverage areas” (2). In other words, one massive drone would hover above an area, monitor the smaller drones flying beneath it, and relay this information to a UAS control system at a central location. The long-term goal of the Aerial Dragnet program is to provide militaries with a simple way to track every drone flying in an urban area, ultimately for use in combat zones.
NASA has also been working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to provide civilian-piloted drones with a safe monitoring system they call Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM). Parimal Kopardekar, manager of NASA’s Safe Autonomous Systems Operations project and lead of NASA’s UTM efforts, stated “UTM is designed to enable low-altitude civilian UAS operations by providing pilots information needed to maintain separation from other aircrafts by reserving areas for specific routes, with consideration of restricted airspace and adverse weather conditions” (3). UTM, in nature, is a cloud-based software system that can simultaneously regulate the activity of numerous drones in a given space. NASA tested this system in a remote, private-use airfield called Crows Landing, about 18 miles from Modesto, California. In this closed location, NASA was able to use “geofencing,” a virtual barrier used to define a geographical boundary through radio frequencies or global position systems, in order to monitor and enhance flight testing. Each drone was tested on the measures of reliability, accuracy, and delay in regards to a predetermined flight plan given to them by pilots. A team working on one specific drone would monitor the drone’s “ability to maintain flight plans in windy conditions with radar, cellular signals, ADS-B and GPS provided by the UAS ground control station to the UTM system” (3). Overall, the tests conducted to determine the effectiveness of UTM have been a success. In the controlled test zone at Crows Landing, NASA was able to integrate operator platforms and ground infrastructure that readily analyzed the activity of the drones in the air. The next step is to further validate the system through FAA test sites and expand the network to other entities outside of the government.
Drone traffic control systems in the United States are slowly but steadily taking shape. Perhaps the most pressing issue that these developments face is the policymaking schedule that is set by Congress that elongates the process for the FAA to enact new regulations. It took the FAA a year to issue the current rules for drone flying after the U.S. government ordered the regulations to be finalized. As a result, companies such as Amazon and DHL find themselves heading to countries across the pond that have faster implementation of regulations. A large reason for this is that air traffic control in the United Kingdom is controlled by a company called NATS through a public-private partnership, as opposed to directly by the government. The U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), their version of America’s FAA, is not inhibited by any policymaking schedule, making it far quicker in enacting policies for the testing of drones. For example, the U.K. has already allowed drones to fly out of an operator’s sight line in order to test their responsiveness, an act that is currently illegal in the US without a waiver. If the U.S. is to become an active participant in the race for advanced drone use, it will need to consider shortening the list of regulations limiting the testability of the swiftly-developing technology.
(1) Kuhn, Kenneth, William Welser IV, and Jia Xu. "How to Prevent Drones Colliding in Crowded Skies." Newsweek. Newsweek, 19 Sept. 2016. Web. 9 Oct. 2016.
(2) Mintpress News Deck. "DARPA Developing 'Wide-Area Persistent Surveillance' to Track Drones."Www.mintpressnews.com. MintPress News, 20 Sept. 2016. Web. 6 Oct. 2016.
(3) NASA Ames. "First Steps Toward Drone Traffic Management." NASA.gov. NASA, 19 Nov. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.
(4) Glaser, April. "In the Race for Drone Delivery, the U.K. Is Way Ahead of the U.S." Recode. Vox Media, 03 Oct. 2016. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.
Image: © Alexander Kolomietz | Dreamstime.com - Flying drone in the sunset skies
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabian Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Khalid A. Al-Falih and Russian Energy Minister Alexander V. Novak signed an agreement to cooperate in the oil and gas sector with the hopes of deploying newfound technologies. According to the statement made at the G20 Summit, “The Ministers committed to explore the possibility of creating a joint database on advanced energy technologies, along with feasibility assessments of their deployment, utilization, and financing through sovereign funds of both countries” (1). The agreement was signed at the G20 Summit, a congregation of the world’s 20 major economies, with the initial goal of stabilizing crude oil prices and containing volatility in the market. The two countries are aiming to ensure steady investment in the oil industry, and to continuously gather information for new developments. They plan on working with members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in order to raise the level of technology applications to the sector as a whole.
One of the developments that Russian scientists have been thoroughly studying is the potential for generating fuel through harnessing photosynthesis in plants. Researchers at the Timiryazev Institute of Plant Physiology at the Russian Academy of Sciences recently discovered a catalyst that splits water into oxygen and hydrogen, allowing them to produce artificial photosynthesis in a lab. Pavel Voronin, head of the laboratory of global photosynthesis ecology at the Institute of Plant Physiology, stated “The catalyst will break water down into oxygen and hydrogen and we shall start to make renewable energy. When it can be done on an industrial scale, it will revolutionize the Earth’s energy sector because the Sun is a natural and inexhaustible source of energy” (2). The beauty of photosynthesis is that it directly converts light into energy at a conversion ratio of around 90 percent. The hope is that cars will eventually not run on gasoline but on liquid hydrogen, with a single filling lasting as much as 3,000 kilometers. Although it will take some time for the breakthrough to develop into practical implementation, it shows Russia’s commitment to end the Earth’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Saudi Arabia’s leading contribution to the database involves a goal to make solar-power a fundamental solution for countries around the globe. The cost of utility-scale solar installations has dropped dramatically while the prices of oil have continued their instability (while trending towards becoming more expensive). The plan is to install 9.5 gigawatts of renewable energy under the direction of its Vision 2030 program. This will target 14 percent of the country’s current generating capacity, which is a deceivingly significant portion of the Middle Eastern giant. With the cost of building solar power plants on a decline, it looks as though the plan would provide affordable power for industry and homes. Following the Saudis’ initial intervention into the solar-push, Dubai awarded a contract for a 200-megawatt solar plant almost a year ago. Saudi Arabia’s long-term goal is to match its exportation of oil as an equally vast supplier of solar energy.
While Russia and Saudi Arabia are the world’s two largest suppliers of oil, they strive to aid the global cause of creating sustainable renewable energy sources. The energy database would not only keep a constant flow of advancements in the global conversation, but it would encourage other world powers to generate their own technologies and contribute to the mission. The point is to support engineering, manufacturing, and research activities in order to funnel the world’s oil usage into a more stable and environmentally-conscious realm. With the two leaders of the oil industry heading the charge to push the energy conversation in a new direction, renewable energy sources will be generated at a far more efficient pace.
(1) "Russia, Saudi Arabia May Create Database for Promising Energy Technologies." Russia Beyond The Headlines. N.p., 05 Sept. 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
(2) Ter-Ghazaryan, Aram. "New Technology Might End the World's Dependence on Oil." Russia Beyond The Headlines. N.p., 13 Apr. 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
(3) Dipaola, Anthony. "Saudi Arabia to Revive Its Solar Power Program at Smaller Scale." Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.
(4) "Russia and Saudi Arabia Are Talking Oil Market Stability: Report." CNBC. CNBC, 15 Aug. 2016. Web. 29 Sept. 2016
Image: © Olgavolodina | Dreamstime.com - Moscow, Russia - May 28.2015. Moscow Agricultural Academy of Timiryazev
In 1969, the Indian Government launched the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). ISRO is the main space agency dedicated to furthering Indian development in aerospace technology and innovation. While not as sizable as other major space organizations, ISRO has consistently reached milestones and aided foreign powers in making their mark in space. Primarily, their focus has been on serving as the catalyst for satellite launches around the globe. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), used for launching satellites into polar orbits, and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), used for placing satellites into geostationary orbits, are two rockets developed by ISRO that have launched numerous communications and observation satellites in the past three decades. On June 18, 2016 India launched 20 satellites in a single payload of nations including Canada, Germany, Japan, Singapore and the U.S.
In 2012, ISRO began to develop IRNSS, a regional navigation satellite system that aims to provide accurate position information services to people in India and up to 1500 km from its boundary. While similar to GPS, the Indian government has stressed the importance of IRNSS because access to Global Navigation Satellite Systems is often not guaranteed in hostile situations. The system will provide both Standard Positioning Service (SPS) and Restricted Service (RS), which are expected to provide accuracy of 20 m or better in the satellite’s primary service area. On January 20, 2016 IRNSS-1E was launched successfully from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota. In just four months, the ISRO was able to launch all seven of the IRNSS satellites. With the satellites successfully falling into orbit, India now has its very own navigation system.
Perhaps the most impressive development in India’s space and satellite programs came in September 2014 when it became the first Asian country to successfully send a spacecraft to Mars. On November 5, 2013, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also known as Mangalyaan, was launched at a cost of $73 million (the lowest cost of any space exploration to the red planet) and entered the orbit almost a year later. To put that price tag in perspective, NASA’s MAVEN, which arrived to Mars the same week, cost upwards of $670 million. Any successful mission to Mars is seen as a magnificent accomplishment, let alone one with a budget of under $100 million. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, understandably ecstatic about his country’s feat, stated “The odds were stacked against us. Of the 51 missions attempted so far, a mere 21 had succeeded. But we have prevailed,” (1). MOM is equipped with a number of instruments, mainly to measure methane, atmospheric hydrogen, surface temperature, atmospheric pressure, and a camera for physically scanning the surface. Not only does the MOM revolutionize Asian aerospace engineering, but it adds another spacecraft to the hunt for gathering Martian information.
India’s most recent objective is its mission to build a Two Stage to Orbit (TSTO) fully re-usable launch vehicle. A TSTO is a special spacecraft that uses two distinct stages (as opposed to the three that many space vehicles need): the first to accelerate the vehicle, and the second to detach from the first stage and enter orbit on its own, then launch a vehicle and reach orbital velocity. On August 28, 2016, ISRO successfully test-fired two scramjet engines, “air-breathing ramjets in which combustion takes place in a supersonic airflow” (2), with the help of ATV-D02, a two-stage spin stabilized launcher. According to ISRO, “with this flight, critical technologies such as ignition of air-breathing engines at supersonic speed, holding the flame at supersonic speed, air intake mechanism and fuel injection systems have been successfully demonstrated,” (2). The beauty of scramjet engines is that they use oxygen from the atmosphere and reduce the amount of oxidizer that a space vehicle needs to carry along with its fuel. This advancement has potential to dramatically cut the cost of rocket launches. India is just the fourth country to successfully demonstrate the testing of a scramjet engine.
The past decade has seen Indian aerospace engineering soar into elite company amongst nations with advanced space exploration technology. Despite their low budgets and an array of competition, ISRO has officially made a case for itself as a major contributor to the Asian space race. They have quickly moved from leading the charge of communications satellite launches to the conversation of serious space exploration. A leap like this proves the capability of India’s space technology and motivates other leading nations to improve their dedication towards space exploration. These rapid developments serve as an exciting showcase for the potential of aerospace innovation in years to come.
(1) Park, Madison. "India's Spacecraft Reaches Mars Orbit ... and History." CNN. Cable News Network, 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Sept. 2016.
(2) Vergano, Dan. "India Reaches Mars With Low-Cost Mission." National Geographic Society. N.p., 25 Sept. 2014. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.
(3) Lewontin, Max. "Indian Space Program Scores a Success with Reusable Spacecraft Prototype." The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 23 May 2016. Web. 02 Sept.
(4) "About ISRO." Indian Space Research Organization. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Sept. 2016.
(5) Nowakowski, Tomasz. "India Successfully Tests Its Scramjet Engine Technology." Spaceflight Insider. N.p., 29 Aug. 2016. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.
Image: © Subhrajyoti Parida | Dreamstime.com - Exhibits related to space science and astronomy
Moon Express Incorporated has become the first-ever private company to be granted permission to land on the moon. On August 3rd, its executive team announced that the U.S. Government approved their 2017 robotic lunar landing in an attempt to commercialize missions to the moon and exploit its resources. For some time, private companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have been conducting missions on and around Earth, mostly to send cargo to the International Space Station. However, never before has a company presented a viable application to explore the lunar surface via a robotic lander (in this case Moon Express’ MX-1, the lunar lander that will be used for the first mission).
International engineers Naveen Jain, Barney Pell, and Robert D. Richards founded Moon Express in August 2010 with the goal of winning Google’s Lunar X Prize. The X Prize was created in 2007 in order to incentivize space entrepreneurs to build a new wave of affordable access to the Moon. The contest challenges teams to form privately financed projects and race to not only land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, but to travel 500 meters and transmit high-definition videos and images back to Earth. Teams have until December 2016 to present a federally verified launch contract to Google and must prove that at least 90% of their mission costs were funded by private sources. The competition offers a total of $30 million in prize money, with the winning organization attaining $20 million of that pot.
Since Moon Express was the first association with an approved mission, it is clear that their team of innovators is moving at an extraordinary pace. Moon Express’ application was submitted in April to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In just four months, the proposal went through a number of federal departments, including the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, and the Federal Communications Commission, clearly exhibiting the fortitude of their plan. Only one other organization, SpaceIL, has been granted a verified launch contract for 2017. In an interview with Space.com, Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards said, “This is not only a milestone, but really a threshold for the entire commercial space industry,” (1).
The ultimate goal of Moon Express’ expedition stretches far beyond winning Google X Prize’s prestigious award. The Moon holds a surface that has been virtually untouched and constant for billions of years. Moon Express aims to launch multiple robotic landers (contingent on the success of MX-1) with mining capabilities to retrieve the Moon’s resources and put them to use on Earth. The most notable of these resources is helium-3, an energy source that is abundant on the Moon but scarce on Earth. Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain believes that using helium-3 as a nuclear fuel could potentially solve the demand for energy on Earth for 10,000 years. To a lesser extent, platinum is also believed to be applicable to various energy sources on Earth. With our world’s natural resources depleting at a rate that is unhealthy for mankind, the benefit of extracting the Moon’s materials could be monumental.
When asked about the excitement of the launch, Bob Richards stated, “Nobody’s had a deep-sea voyage yet. We’re still charting those waters. Somebody had to be first,” (1). For years, aerospace engineers and researchers have been longing for a way to thoroughly explore depths of the Moon. While NASA has been executing missions as often as possible, still only 5% percent of the earth’s neighbor has been explored (3). Furthermore, almost all of this exploration has come at the cost of government funds. Space exploration is indeed one of the most intriguing and pressing advancements that the U.S. is committed to. However, it is also one of the most costly. Extending the opportunity to private companies, through competitions such as X Prize, will rapidly help to U.S. to become an even greater pioneer in space voyage. It will also open the door for exceptional innovators and engineers to consolidate their theories on how to unlock the mysteries of space.
(1) Fox, Stuart. "6 Private Companies That Could Launch Humans Into Space." Space.com. N.p., 4 June 2010. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.
(2) Atkinson, Nancy. "Is the Moon Really a 'Been There Done That' World?" Universetoday.com. Universe Today, 24 Dec. 2015. Web 28 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Giovanni Gagliardi | Dreamstime.com - Airplane and the Moon, Oslo
On Tuesday, August 16th, China launched Micius, the world’s first quantum satellite from the heart of the Gobi Desert. According to Nicolas Gisin, a professor and quantum physicist from the University of Geneva, “There’s been a race to produce a quantum satellite…[Micius] shows again China’s ability to commit to large and ambitious projects and to realize them,” (1). In March, China released a five-year economic development plan with quantum technology as its top strategic focus. While it is unknown exactly how much was put towards the Micius project, Beijing disclosed that $10.1 billion was put towards “basic research”, including quantum physics, in 2015. To put that in perspective, U.S. government funding for quantum physics is around $200 million a year.
The project is being headed by quantum physicist Pan Jianwei and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Over the past decade, Mr. Pan has been working closely with physicists and labs all around the world in order to acquire the most comprehensive research possible. He has been working most directly with his former Ph.D. adviser Anton Zeilinger, a physicist from the University of Vienna. As a result, Vienna will be the recipient of the quantum cryptographic key that Beijing shoots into space in order to test the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS), which is another name for Micius. It is important to note that photons (quantum particles) have been used before relay information over short distances on earth. However, sending encryptions through space will open up a global scale of communication and allow messages to be sent across continents.
So what makes the launch of Micius so remarkable? The goal of the satellite (which weighs 1400-lbs and orbits the earth at an altitude of 300 miles) is to expand the range of unhackable communication through quantum encryption. Quantum encryption is an advanced form of cryptography because information encoded in a quantum particle is destroyed as soon as it is measured. Cryptography itself is the idea of encrypting a message so that only an encryption key, often a numbers pad, can decrypt the content. Quantum encryption uses a method called “entanglement” to make the process of decryption even more complex. Instead of using numbers, for example, quantum entanglement “fuses” two particles into complementary states that need one another in order to function.
Micius generates entangled particles by shooting a laser beam through a specially designed crystal towards two stations on Earth (sender and recipient), in this case located in Beijing and Vienna, respectively. Even though Micius “splits” these photons up and sends them to two locations, the laws of quantum communication state that they will remain entangled. So, physicists at both locations will be able to access these entangled systems that now mirror each other. If a third-party particle is detected, the quantum state of the two entangled particles collapses and is no longer available. This is what makes quantum communications virtually unhackable. If anyone or anything apart from the two sources of the message tries to penetrate it, the message vanishes without a trace. In simpler terms, Gregoir Ribordy, a quantum physicist who founded Geneva-based firm ID Quantique, compared it to writing a message on a soap bubble. He said “If someone tries to intercept it when it’s being transmitted, by touching it, they make it burst,” (1).
In today’s world of perpetual conflict, countries are striving to keep highly sensitive information classified at all costs. Advanced technology has unfortunately put us in danger of having such information exposed at the touch of a button. This complication is the exact reason why advancements such as quantum communication satellites are central to intelligence in the future. With China taking the first true step towards quantum teleportation of information, it opens the door for the rest of the world to have a more secure platform to relay information. If Micius turns out to be a success, countries across the globe will be able to efficiently formulate plans concerning global conflicts or innovations. Additionally, it will solidify the notion that we can use space as a medium to transfer such plans in a safe manner. Through QUESS, Mr. Pan and his colleagues will hopefully conquer the unknowns of space in a fashion we have never seen before.
(1) Chin, Josh. "China's Latest Leap Forward Isn't Just Great-It's Quantum." The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 20 Aug. 2016. Web.
(2) Lin, Jeffrey, P.W. Singer, and John Costello. "China's Quantum Satellite Could Change Cryptography Forever." Popular Science. Bonnier Corporation, 3 Mar. 2016. Web.
(3) Coldewey, Devin. "China Launches the First Quantum Communications Satellite – and What Is That, exactly?" TechCrunch. AOL Inc., 16 Aug. 2016. Web.
Image: © Jinying Du | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-china-s-changzheng-rocket-cz-new-launched-wenchang-hainan-successfully-image73483399#res14972580">China's Changzheng space Rocket CZ-7</a>
The use of sensor technology has subtly become commonplace in modern civilization. From motion-triggered floodlights that are placed around homes to the metal detectors at airports, scientists have been able to harness the complexities of sensors and apply them to daily needs. Not only are sensors becoming part of our everyday lives, but they are allowing us to reach heights in innovation that were not attainable before. The exposure of newfound opportunities that are made possible because of rapid technological advancements in this field is known as the sensor revolution.
The Obama administration has been making a strong push to bring the capabilities of smart sensor manufacturing into the limelight. Earlier this year, the administration announced a $70 million federal award to the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute, a nonprofit founded by the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition. The coalition consists of over 200 partners ranging from industry leaders such as Google and Microsoft, to government and education representatives from across the nation (1). Their goal is to show how smart sensors can both improve advanced manufacturing in the U.S. and the efficiency of technological devices as a whole.
One of the fastest-developing sensor technologies is known as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). RFID equipment combines electromagnetic sensing with radio communications. The most common use of this technology is seen in toll collectors on highways. However, recent advancements have been able to make the detection of radio signals even more precise and place them in the shoelaces of competitive runners, for example. Like transponders placed in a car, RFID tags in a shoelace release a signal whenever it detects that it is near a reader (usually placed at the finish line). The reader processes the signal and is able to record the exact time that the runner crossed the finish line (2). Far more accurate than using the human eye and a stopwatch, RFID tags can be used to settle disputes and create a more uniform way to clock times in international track events.
In a different fashion, robotic sensor packages are being placed in forests to monitor the homes of endangered species. Known as fixed data-taking stations, these systems are strung from trees around a certain area and automatically lower themselves in an attempt to take temperature, humidity, and light measurements at different heights (3). This helps environmental scientists to measure the fluctuations in weak ecosystems so we can readily provide help to animals that may suffer from them. These devices are powered by solar-cell batteries and send the data to centralized locations in order to be processed.
In the realm of health, scientists at Case Western Reserve University, led by electrical engineer Darrin Young, are furthering research to use sensors as a means to predict heart attacks before they ensue. Young’s team is working on a pill-sized sensor that can be implanted in the skin to measure heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. At first, the sensor will be used only to keep constant tabs on the vital signs of patients with heart conditions. In the near future, Young hopes to use the device to help at-risk patients to identify the onset of a heart attack before it physically occurs (2).
(1) "FACT SHEET: President Obama Announces Winner of New Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute and New Manufacturing Hub Competitions." The White House. The White House, 20 June 2016. Web.
(2) "The Sensor Revolution: Environment & Civil | NSF - National Science Foundation." The Sensor Revolution: Environment & Civil | NSF - National Science Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.
(3) Platt, John R. "Remote Sensing Emerges as an Important Tool for Habitat and Species Conservation." Earthzine. N.p., 26 June 2012.
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Carlos was born in Chicago, Illinois and came to USC to study psychology with a minor in Business Administration. He has worked in healthcare and finance for the past two summers. Carlos also helped co-found Trojan Marketing Group, a group that develops marketing strategies for large companies. Carlos has been with Global Intelligence Trust since summer of 2016. He am most interested in writing about innovation in the technology sector and aerospace developments. Apart from academics, Carlos enjoys playing volleyball, hiking, and traveling.