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Sci-Fi Weapons to Join US Arsenal? 601

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the sci-fi-to-sci-tech dept.
marct22 writes to tell us CNet is reporting that the next weapons coming out of the US arsenal could be stepping right off the pages of science fiction to be there. From the article: "By the end of this year, the Air Force plans to conduct a first, fully loaded test flight of its Airborne Laser, a jumbo jet packed with gear designed to shoot down enemy missiles half a world away, at the speed of light. The ABL also packs a megawatt-class punch--it's not exactly your garden-variety laser pointer."
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Sci-Fi Weapons to Join US Arsenal?

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  • by afaik_ianal (918433) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:35PM (#15110391)
    [...] designed to shoot down enemy missiles half a world away, at the speed of light

    That's a pretty impressive feat. Does it shoot the laser straight through the Earth's core? Or have they managed to get the jumbo to fly at the speed of light?
    • by DurendalMac (736637) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:39PM (#15110403)
      I think the bigger question is this: Can they mount those frickin' laserbeams on sharks?
    • >>That's a pretty impressive feat. Does it shoot the laser straight through the Earth's core? Or have they managed to get the jumbo to fly at the speed of light?

      Or more likely, they could be floating mirrors up in space. Wouldn't be too hard to coordinate with a satellite to bounce off of them. I'd just be concerned about the laser transmission loss going through the atmosphere for that long of a distance.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Or more likely, they could be floating mirrors up in space...

        So, just make your missles out of mirrors, easy.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:46PM (#15110432)
        Wouldn't be too hard
        God, how I hate that statement! Yes, it would be hard. In addition to atmospheric attenuation and disturbance in the beam, you have beam divergence spreading the beam out, and diffraction off of the mirror edges throwing it everywhere. By the time you get to the other side of the world, maybe you can use it as a night light.
      • by Bad D.N.A. (753582) <baddna@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @10:12PM (#15110564)
        Wouldn't be too hard to coordinate with a satellite to bounce off of them. I'd just be concerned about the laser transmission loss going through the atmosphere for that long of a distance.

        To coordinate with a satellite... easy. To worry about the transmission loss... irrelevant. To achieve the pointing requirements, both from the plane and the spacecraft, to hit the target (priceless... literally...). What happens when a little gust of wind hits the plane (they do bounce around a bit). Your beam will miss the target by many kilometers (and that's if you were lucky enough to hit your mirror-in-space?). GPS or something along those capabilities would not even come close to the resolution required for this type of thing, to say nothing of a moving target, a moving source, and a moving relay.
        • For wind, I'm assuming the plane would fly at a sufficient altitude for the wind to be a near constant or not that much of an issue.

          As for targeting - I'm no rocket scientist (although I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night) but assuming that the computers can compensate for the near lineal motion of the plane against the motion of the satellite then computers can calculate 1000 times a second the most accurate trajectory to point the laser at the satellite. A system like this is not impossible - everything

      • Considering there isn't any mention of it whatsoever; that it would in fact be "too hard"; and that there would, in that case, be no reason whatsoever to put the laser on board a plane in the first place, I'm thinking you don't know what you're talking about.
      • I saw that movie. It was called Spys Like Us.
    • Or have they managed to get the jumbo to fly at the speed of light?

      Yes; but it's operated by United, so what with the two-hour-late departure and sitting on the taxiway at your destination for another hour waiting for your arrival gate to open up, you still miss your connecting flight.
    • by Janitha (817744) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:51PM (#15110455) Homepage
      Date 2012. In before: Enemies are now coating their missiles with silver and giving each of them a mirror polish, and China to build the great mirror of China.
      • Your micky taking hints at part of a good question. The article does not explain how reinforcing the casing or rotating the missile so it takes longer to heat effect the performance of the laser. How does this implementation overcome these countermeasures? - I assume it already takes them into account.

        What increases the protection of the missile most effectively? I realise this is probably all top secret, 'mums the word old chap' etc.

        • by BJZQ8 (644168) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @10:34PM (#15110664) Homepage Journal
          All of this research was done a long time ago. The laser delivers its power in such a burst that no amount of mirroring or spinning will make a difference. As to the atmospheric attenuation, that's what the laser's adaptive optics are for. It's kind of like a telescope in reverse. In any case, this sort of thing was tried for short-range defense in the 70's, and even a small laser was capable of shooting down Sidewinders (mounted on a KC-135.) We're talking about serious firepower here...this thing was tested at a low-altitude range of 50km, and worked fine...up in the high atmosphere where they hope to catch boost-phase weapons, it should be much easier. It's not like the things can evade or maneuver, after all, they're called ballistic missiles for a reason.

          http://www.nae.edu/nae/bridgecom.nsf/weblinks/MKEZ -4ZPQHJ?OpenDocument [nae.edu]
        • Your micky taking hints at part of a good question. The article does not explain how reinforcing the casing or rotating the missile so it takes longer to heat effect the performance of the laser. How does this implementation overcome these countermeasures? - I assume it already takes them into account.

          It doesn't have to take them into account - as they are strawmen, not countermeasures.

          The laser deliver it's energy in a few milliseconds - it's simply impossible to spin the missile body fast enough to make

        • by overunderunderdone (521462) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @01:49AM (#15111541)
          The article does not explain how reinforcing the casing or rotating the missile so it takes longer to heat effect the performance of the laser.

          I recall a General being asked this question in a news conference a while back. He said something to the effect that spinning the missile would make the missile immune to the laser to roughly the same degree that a spinning ballerina is immune to a machine gun.
    • by Cheapy (809643) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @10:15PM (#15110581)
      Nope, it stimulates sharks with friggin' lasers on their heads to shoot the missiles down.

      The world is 70% covered with water y'know.
    • by DoctorStarks (736111) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @11:30PM (#15110862)
      [...] designed to shoot down enemy missiles half a world away, at the speed of light

      That's a pretty impressive feat. Does it shoot the laser straight through the Earth's core? Or have they managed to get the jumbo to fly at the speed of light?

      You got modded funny, as you intended to be, I'm sure. But it seems to have launched a series of replies trying to theorize about how the laser is going to propagate halfway around the world. So let me rain on the parade.

      The Airborne Laser [missilethreat.com] is an in-theater weapon, designed to intercept ballistic missiles during the boost phase. It flies up at around 40,000 feet and can engage targets within range that appear above its horizon.

      It doesn't bounce lasers off satellites or propagate a laser beam "halfway around the world", as TFA says. The author was being a bit grandiose but caused some confusion in the process. It is half-way around the world, if that is where the missiles are coming from. The plane is there with the missiles, though. So are the radars that help it target.

      There has been a lot of research put into making this weapon functional (directed energy, targeting, adaptive optics), and the early results are promising. The upcoming tests should be very interesting indeed.

      OK. Resume speculating.

  • by jollyroger1210 (933226) <jollyroger1210 @ g mail.com> on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:36PM (#15110396) Homepage Journal
    "it's not exactly your garden-variety laser pointer."

    Wait, Laser pointers grow in gardens?? THAT, is a plant I would grow.

    just like that other one....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:38PM (#15110399)
    If you emit X Joules of energy in over one second, you have X Watts. If you emit X Joules over one microsecond, you have X MegaWatts. The difficulty is not in getting the MegaWatts up, but keeping the laser trained on the same spot for long enough to penetrate the skin of a remote missile and cause it to malfunction catastrophically.
  • Say what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rorschach1 (174480) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:40PM (#15110405) Homepage
    "...a jumbo jet packed with gear designed to shoot down enemy missiles half a world away..."

    Assuming your world is not larger than 600 kilometers across, that is. Or do they mean that the plane's going to be in the Middle East? In that case, an M-16 is able to kill enemy soldiers half a world away, too.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:41PM (#15110409)
    shooting a laser at the speed of light!?!?!?1 Wow, that's AMAZING! i never thought that lasers could go at the speed of light!!!one1
  • by the_skywise (189793) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:41PM (#15110413)
    So... this isn't something I should use as a cat toy?
  • Warning (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lendrick (314723) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:42PM (#15110416) Homepage Journal
    As with all "Class 200000" laser products, care should be taken to avoid looking directly into the laser. Do not point the Airborne Laser into other people's eyes or stare into the beam.
    • Re:Warning (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Raul654 (453029) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:52PM (#15110469) Homepage
      Someone I knew once worked at GE, building phased array radar for the navy. She told me a couple of very funny stories. A guy was inspecting a prototype for a new array model in a closed room, and accidentally fired it off. As you might expect, the radio waves bounced off the wall 5 feet away, came straight back, and blew out the system. Needless to say, there were some very pissed engineers.

      Then, they would go out to the boonies in New Jersey to test it. The Navy testing grounds is this large, flat, empty area in central Jersey. The thing was, birds (pelicans or gulls, I think) would swoop down right above the radar while it was being tested at full power. Needless to say, they made a rather disturbing sizzling sound as they dropped.
      • .. and "she" was probably (if true) breaking national security laws by disclosing this type of information to you. It does not take a genius to estimate the system requirements to reproduce said results.
  • by MoFoQ (584566)
    Hmmm...a big laser pointer....and a big plane....

    Does Homeland Security (and FAA) know?

    Hope they don't point at other pilots or ppl on the ground....(though don't think there's anything in the law that says that pilots can't use laser pointers and point them towards ppl on the ground...the vice versa is prohibited.)
  • It wil fail. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Frogbert (589961) <`frogbert' `at' `gmail.com'> on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:45PM (#15110427)
    I've read the article and nowhere does it mention how they implemented the necessary "Freakin Shark" component. Either they are holding it back for the sake of national security or they are preparing themselves for a million dollar blunder.
  • by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:45PM (#15110428)
    This is nothing new, this kind of thing has been underdevelopment since late in the Cold War. Unlike perceptions in the pentagon, times have changed. These missile systems will not prevent projectiles like rpg fire; we need defense platforms for the present, not the past. There's no point in building an anti-missile laser when Iran or whoever developes a nuke can completly skip the missile. Whose going to build their nuclear weapon onto a missle delivery system if they know we can shoot it down? Not being able to shoot them down was the reason we put nukes on missiles in the first place.

    Cut the funding, dump the project and reassign the personel to more useful projects like laser based fusion power, or robotics, or composite smart armor development.
    • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:49PM (#15110445) Homepage
      True, this is more like "they finally got that thing working"? The ABL dates back to the 1980s. These things are starting to look useful, though, now that everybody is throwing low-rent rockets around battlefields. This provides a way to thin them out, without using an expensive Patriot to take out a cheap rocket. The smaller model in the C-130 is likely to be more useful than the big one in the 747.
    • Yes, agreed. I heard a rumor these things were already flying anyway...

    • Whose going to build their nuclear weapon onto a missle delivery system if they know we can shoot it down?

      Well, nobody. That's the point - one less delivery vector to worry about. We're still going to have to worry about suitcase nukes either way, but with this deterrent in place, we can take the bandwidth we used to spend worrying about missiles and use that to worry more about suitcase bombs.
  • We all know the real reason America is winning the war in Iraq.

    http://tinyurl.com/r2t8q [tinyurl.com]

    But on a more serious note, check out this video footage of new age technology

    http://media2.foxnews.com/040606/040606_fr_tobin_3 00.swf [foxnews.com]
  • Hitler lost the war by micromanaging his army into the ground. But he had blind faith that technology would save him, and he always talked about the "fantastic new weapons" (jet engines, etc.) he was expecting from his scientists to save the war. Blind faith in technology is no substitute for a well run army.

    But we must not compare any contemporary politician to Hitler- that wouldn't be "responsible".
    • But he had blind faith that technology would save him, and he always talked about the "fantastic new weapons" (jet engines, etc.) he was expecting from his scientists to save the war. Blind faith in technology is no substitute for a well run army.

      Lets look at the bat bomb:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bat_bomb [wikipedia.org]
      How about project pigeon:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pigeon [wikipedia.org]
      The Japanese had their fire balloons that killed one person
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_balloon [wikipedia.org]

    • by skam240 (789197) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @10:08PM (#15110538)
      Hitler lost the war because he was out produced, not because of his faith in technology. The Russians and the Americans could just produce one hell of allot more "stuff" than the Germans. Granted this stuff was often inferior to the German's stuff (the Sherman's cannon couldn't even penetrate the front or side armor of a German Tiger) which resulted in far higher loss rates but even then the Germans didn't have the resources or the production capacity to keep replenishing their forces.

      So basically you're wrong :)
    • by quantax (12175) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @10:31PM (#15110654) Homepage
      Actually, one could argue that technology could have, atleast temporarily, forstalled the inevitable loss of the war for Hitler. Two great examples, the Tiger Tank & the Messerschmitt Me 262 Jet. Both were better than anything else the Allies had at the time in their respective weapon classes, but both were then micromanaged by Hitler such that they lost their purpose. The tiger went from being one of the fastest tanks in the war to being the most heavily armored tank in the war with a giant gun, so much so that its ability to manuever in the Russian geography was terrible. They essentially turned into semi-mobile artillary placements. The Messerschmitt suffered the same fate; it was faster and more manueverable than anything else the Allies had but then Hitler said make it a bomber, eliminating its manueverability & range in favor of dropping more powerful munitions. In both cases, Hitler decided to micromanage these projects, ignored his own scientists and subsequently created weapons that were ineffective at what they were originally designed to do in the first place.

      As far as your comment on comparing politicians to Hitler, personally, I think this really debases just about any debate since a) most people really don't fully grasp what Hitler did when he was in power, so any metaphor they make is incomplete and quite likely bears no resemblence to what happened under Hitler, and b) theres tons of more moderate and applicable examples than Hitler to be used as reference that do not carry a fuckload of emotional baggage like Hitler & the Nazis do. Its merely used since even the slowest kid in the class knows that Nazis = Bad, and as such, panders to the lowest common denominator. If you think your audience is stupid, sure use the Nazi's, since everyone knows they're bad, but otherwise, show your audience some respect and get a bit of nuanced thinking in there.
    • "Hitler lost the war by micromanaging his army into the ground."

      Hitler actually lost the war because he decided to split his attentions and attack the Soviet Union, who were perfectly willing to sit out the war on the sidelines till then.

      If Germany had smashed Fortress Britain instead of being greedy and turning east, the US would not have had a launching point for D-Day (unless you count the idiotic idea of attacking up through Italy from North Africa), and the US would not have had the millions of Soviet
    • I invoke Godwins Law [wikipedia.org].
    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @12:30AM (#15111246) Homepage
      Hitler lost the war by micromanaging his army into the ground. But he had blind faith that technology would save him, and he always talked about the "fantastic new weapons" (jet engines, etc.) he was expecting from his scientists to save the war.
      Yes... and no.

      Hitler lost because the West outproduced him. He also lost because he didn't adapt new technology - in 1944 he was still fighting largely with 1938 era equipment, while the West was fielding 1944 era equipment. (For various political and economic reasons the Nazi hierarchy a) wouldn't disturb existing production for new production and b) couldn't agree on what to produce in the first place.)

      Hitler's much vaunted belief in 'wonderweapons' is an artifact of the last phases of the war, when the situation was starting to crumble.

  • by tfoss (203340) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:51PM (#15110454)
    Have we really slummed low enough that we are using cheesy 80's movies [imdb.com] as inspiration for national defense?

    Seriously, where's the giant bowl of popcorn?

    -Ted

  • For the test, they should pack a house in the desert with a huge foil ball of popcorn, then attempt to pop it with the laser from 30,000 feet. That could cause the whole neighborhood to errupt into zaniness!
  • by Laurance (872708) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @09:54PM (#15110480) Homepage
    Airborne Laser, a jumbo jet packed with gear designed to shoot down enemy missiles half a world away, at the speed of light.

    And how does something like that help us fight an enemy that puts up a roadside bomb?

    Troops need body armor and armored trucks. Not, useless debt building toys that are made to fight a cold war enemy, long gone.

    Want more info http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/defense/25 30001.html [popularmechanics.com]

    • Not, useless debt building toys that are made to fight a cold war enemy, long gone.

      <cynicism>
      Debt-building toys aren't useless to those who are making this program happen. They are helping this LANL research push a research and personal branding effort (what better way to promote his book about giant lasers?) They are also bringing $ and "jobs" to any number of contractors actually building this system, which brings votes to their respective congressmen.

      So, while they may be useless to fight current
    • Well, I figure a megawatt laser that can blow up a missile hundreds of miles away, could be used to take out inconvenient leaders.

      If you can ionize air with that beam, you can pass it by a thundercloud on the way to the target and make it look like it was a normal lightning bolt, and thus an "act of God".

      Even if the tech is not good enough to hit a fast moving missile, it should be able to easily hit someone walking about or even standing about in a public area - you could even aim it manually.

      Perhaps this
    • by slavemowgli (585321) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @03:07AM (#15111783) Homepage
      No, what troops need first and foremost is responsible politics that keep people from resorting to things like roadside bombs in the first place.

      Seriously, think about it. Have you ever asked yourself *why* people do things like that? Maybe it's just me, but it might have to do with the fact that we're constantly interfering with them - messing with their internal affairs, assassinating their politicians, selling chemical weapons to dictators, invading them, killing hundreds of thousands of innocents, abducting people, torturing them, stealing their oil (not to mention their archaeological treasures etc.), and so on.

      What would you do when another country did that to the USA? Well, maybe most of us wouldn't put up roadside bombs if it happened to us, but would you think of those who fight the invaders as terrorists? You might not like what they do, but you'd probably cheer the attempt to get your country back, at least.

      Responsible politics would take this into account and act accordingly. Treat people with respect, and they will treat you with respect as well - or at least, they won't blow you up (some still might, of course, but there's always going to be nutcases, and we certainly have our own share, too - just take the Unabomber, for example). It might take a while until they really trust you that you have changed, but ultimately, isn't it worth it? Defend yourself if you're attacked, but don't attack others, and don't mess with their internal affairs. As soon as you do that, things like roadside bombs will stop being a real problem.

      Or, in other words... we've made our bed, so now we have to lie in it. We have nobody to blame for our problems but ourselves.
      • by 16K Ram Pack (690082) <tim,almond&gmail,com> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @04:56AM (#15112086) Homepage
        I'm amazed at the hypocrisy of people. On September 11th 2001, the US was attacked. They could have taken the standard terrorist approach and hit back. They could have launched a nuclear strike at Afghanistan. But they didn't. Bush asked the Taliban to co-operate, and they failed to, so they got hit then. And then various anti-war groups complained about it, as though there was an alternative.

        But when a terrorist blows up some people, the finger is always pointed back at the evil western powers who obviously drove them to it.

        "Treat people with respect and they will treat you with respect as well". Ask Neville "I have in my hand a piece of paper" Chamberlain about this. Sometimes, people are not reasonable, and you have to kick them in the ass.

        Personally, I thought that the Iraq war would be a mistake, and sadly, I feel proven right. That said, what do you think the people blowing up US troops want? In your worldview, once the troops leave, there will be peace and the people doing this will stand down and get involved in a democratic, political proces. Because after all, they are victims of US aggression, and not aiming for a power-grab.

        • I'm amazed at the hypocrisy of people. On September 11th 2001, the US was attacked. They could have taken the standard terrorist approach and hit back.

          Last I checked, Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th.

          Secondly, we were responsible for Taliban being in power.

          Do you remember the Afghan conflict? The one we sent Stinger missiles and butt loads of money and CIA advisors to Afghanistan? Did we help them rebuild after the Soviets left? No we left them to rot and didn't lift a finger leaving a power vacuu
  • I remember the first time I saw that movie [imdb.com]! It was called the Crossbow Project, right?!? And Jordan...don't get me started on Jordan...perfect woman!

    Dave
  • Question: (Score:2, Insightful)

    Am I the only one here who looks at Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq and thinks our money would be better spent on a few crates of AK-47's, body armor, and more benefits for the troops?

  • Jiffy Pop (Score:2, Funny)

    by aaronaskew (901639)
    Lazlo, call me for the coordinates [imdb.com] of Professor Hathaway's new house.
  • Eh..? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Just what indeed IS a garden variety laser pointer?

    I mean, if you just wanted to point out flowers, you'd normally use your finger.
  • Can it fill up Dr. Hathaway's house with fresh hot popcorn?
  • Oh my gosh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by suv4x4 (956391) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @10:13PM (#15110566)
    I don't want to put the blame on anyone but when few years ago US was 'freeing' Jugoslavia flying off from bases based over here (Bulgaria), it was happening that from time to time they accidentally were dropping their radioactive bombs over houses in our capital city (I'm not kidding).

    I just hope this new weapon doesn't make it too easy to destroy wrong targets when your aim is kinda off, given the power and distancees we're talking about.

    Not that I blame anyone. But I don't want a hole through my house (or me).
    • Exactly what radioactive bombs were they dropping?
      • Re:Oh my gosh (Score:4, Informative)

        by hibiki_r (649814) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @11:43PM (#15110962)
        It's pretty well known that US troops used depleted uranium weapons in Yugoslavia, just like they did in the gulf war. I'm not aware of the specific incident the grandparent is talking about though.
        • The depleted uranium munitions you speak of were not "dropped", they were fired out of a barreled weapon.
  • by M0b1u5 (569472) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @10:17PM (#15110588) Homepage
    Well, I'm all for megawatt class lasers - as this means the technology is about 1/1000th of the way towards using lasers for something useful: Beamed Laser Launching of hardware into space.

    Liek Myrabo of http://www.lightcrafttechnologies.com/ [lightcraft...logies.com] has been developing beamed power launch technology for some years now. In my correspondence with him, he has estimated that a 1-ton payload can be launched into low earth orbit using a 1-Gigawatt class pulsed laser cannon.

    This ground-based launcher is the ultimate tool, and if you build a ring of them around your country, you can be pretty well assured of having utter domination of not just the sky above you, but the skies above everywhere. The first to deploy the network wins the game!

    There is almost no end of uses for this array of gigawatt laser cannons:

    1) Beamed Laser launcher, with total cost to orbit of just cents per kilo.

    2) Inbound missile melter, extraordinaire.

    3) Extreme Bug-eyed alien tamer. Unfriendly invaders might think twice before tangling with a species capable of focusing better than 100 Gigawatts of energy at inbound bogies.

    4) Surgical Strike weapon par excellence. Reflected back to earth via large space-based mirrors allows you to wave the thing in a decreasing spiral which will turn your neighbours house to molten slag, but barely singe your fence.

    5) Galaxies' brightest Search and Rescue spotlight: defocused in orbit, and reflected to earth to illuminate areas currently under search and rescue operations.

    6) Illuminate work sites on the moon during the long luna night. Defocused to make a nice night light back on earth.

    7) Interplanetary messaging system: embed knowledge into the beam, and send it to likely looking planets. Long term payoff - unknown.

    8) Asteroid deflection device: light pressure alone is enough to deflect an inbound near earth object. Just 2cm/s velocity change is enough to deflect most inbounds.

    9) Interstallar probe launcher: lightsail driven robot craft accelerated to a decent %age of light speed in fairly short order.

    I'm sure there are other uses too - but these would seem to be the obvious ones.

    • On proposition 1, using a laser to beam something into orbit: The value of the kinetic energy of something in low orbit (roughly 8.8KW-h/kg) is indeed cents, depending on where you live. However, it promptly becomes dollars when you consider the efficiency of the driving laser (Typically 1-3%, 25% for CO2) and the efficiency of converting laser joules to kinetic energy joules (?). If you get the power for $.10/KW-h, and assume the laser and propulsion to be 10 and 50% efficient, the cost to orbit becomes 8.8KW-h * 10 * 2 * $.10/KW-h = $17.6/Kg.

      Vastly superior to $x00/KG, and good enough to put the cost of reaching orbit within reach of the affluent (75Kg adult + 500Kg of vehicle -> $10000), but until power is too cheap to meter, the cost will never be pennies/KG.
    • 3) Extreme Bug-eyed alien tamer. Unfriendly invaders might think twice before tangling with a species capable of focusing better than 100 Gigawatts of energy at inbound bogies.

      I'm not too sure about that. Any spacecraft can defend against a laser weapon by making the hull a very good reflector- the maximum power that could hit the craft without damage would just be limited by how perfect the reflectivity could be. In fact, if your spacecraft had a smart deformable concave mirror on the front of it, you

      • Obviously we have no idea what aliens might put on the outsides of their UFO's. (I've heard about confederate flags being seen painted on them, but that's not relevant.)
        With that said, the problem with trying to make a reflective surface that'll stop a laser of this power is that we simply don't know of anything that is 100% reflective at UV wavelengths and at those wavelengths absorbed photons have sufficient energy to instantly break molecular bonds. This isn't melting, where you have to heat atoms up e
  • by geekbeater (967717) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @10:43PM (#15110706)
    Yeah, well the implications are much more impressive. The acquisition, tracking and targeting system will be most impressive if it works well enough to fully utilize the lasers potential. But what may be most intriguing is how this could be used on stationary targets... say... Saddam's bunkers, (pastense) or perhaps... North Korean and Iranian nuclear potentials. And don't be so naive to think that the chicoms don't want to be on level ground with us strategically...they've been doing some major muscle flexing in the pacific rim as of late... the end of the USSR does not mean the end of potential threats to our way of life (translation, loss of ability for geeks to hang out at /.)
  • So when are we going to get one of those [wikipedia.org]? Give it a few solar panels and some fat-ass capacitors, it wouldn't be hard to do. I'm sure the satcom devision in our military would LOVE to perform an assassination on Bin Laden with this.
  • by tm2b (42473) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @11:17PM (#15110824) Journal
    Hate to break it to you, but sci-fi weapons have been in our arsenal for years.

    Namely, the geostationary communications satellites that are the backbone of our military communications system (and not to mention the later GPS system). If you told a commander in the field in the early 1970s (in, say, Vietnam) that he'd be able to have maps with his location pinpointed by meters, or that he'd be able to guide a cruise missile air strike just by pointing a pencil-sized cylinder at a target, or that he could have a live, secure telephone call with anybody in the world from anywhere with open sky, he'd cream his pants.

    They're such a part of our everyday world now that many people forget (or never learn) that the notion of communications satellites were invented by Science Fiction author Arthur C Clarke.

    Yesterday's science fiction is taken for granted by tomorrow.
  • by _mythdraug_ (27158) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @11:21PM (#15110839)

    Yep. I noticed this in the last month on a government website that maps NOTAMs [nifc.gov].

    It is quite common for there at the national scale map, to see a purple dot. This purple dot indicates that there is scheduled laser activity in the area. Frequently a laser light show. The NOTAMs advise altitude and range for which precaution is advised.

    Then suddenly broad sections (that can only be assumed to be flightlines) stretching from Texas, down the Gulf of Mexico (just off the Mexican coast) to the Yucatan penensula and over to Florida. These NOTAMS frequently advised precaution of several thousand feet "below the aircraft" and "above the aircraft" and for a range that makes the "light show" type NOTAM seem laughable.

  • by icepick72 (834363) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @12:55AM (#15111355)
    So what happens if a bird or sky-diver gets in the way? At worst, will it maybe delay the laser's ability to blow up the missle for only a second or so? Then I still feel safe ... as long as I'm not sky-diving.
  • by Maljin Jolt (746064) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:27AM (#15111654) Journal
    Should Americans have a power source device with equivalent energy density for such weapon, they wouldn't be fighting desperately for remnants of oil today. Considering latest Russian rockets have unpredictable trajectory, targeting would be quite an interesting math problem. Unpredictable as in chaotic, not as in "we don't know where they shoot". Certainly a 747 is a much better target for identical weapon of an opponent than speedy rocket is... Optical properties of atmosphere are horrible, ask some pilot; so called "beam preconditioning" sounds pseudoscience bullshit to me. Possible iodine laser wavelengths will not be dificult to find, what if the misile surface will be polished mirror for that waves? Or maybe the opposite: vaporized metallic carbide of outer coat can serve as thermal isolation or even coolant..

    Anyway, high energy weapons projects for upcoming age of energy scarcity is a really challenging strategy. Water pistols in desert, anyone?

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