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Big Freakin' Laser Beams In Space 142

schnippy writes "Esquire is running an interesting article on the work on adaptive optics and directed energy being done at the U.S. Air Force's Starfire Optical Observatory. This facility was the subject of a New York Times article earlier this year which suspected the facility was conducting anti-satellite weapons research under the cover of astronomy."
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Big Freakin' Laser Beams In Space

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  • do this at home! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @04:11PM (#16857834) Homepage []

    That's all you need to build a fire-starting laser out of a DVDRW.

    He leaves off some of the important details, though :-(

    Also, my research suggests this is illegal.
  • by weinerofthemonth ( 1027672 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @04:34PM (#16858290)
    FTA: "The same electromechanical pistons that shape the adaptive-optics mirrors hold the whirling primary mirror's true shape (to a precision of twenty-one nanometers, three thousand times finer than a human hair) while small, fast-steering mirrors cancel out additional jitter." The accuracy they are able to obtain is amazing. Before you know it, they will be able to fire a small projectile from a satellite and eliminate a target as small as a human. In a few years, enemy leaders will not even be able to go outside without fear of a bullet falling from the heavens and crashing into their skull. Cool.
  • by NSIM ( 953498 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @04:38PM (#16858366)
    I actually worked for a company that a did a lot of the initial work in designing the storage system used at StarFire (which had some pretty nasty data capture requirements because of the highly "bursty" nature of the data capture.) From what I understood of the limited amount we were told the idea was to use an array of smaller optical telescopes and image analysis software to create a "mosaic" of the overall image that was corrected for atmospheric distortion. While nothing was said at the time, the implication was that this was for ABM, not anti-satellite, i.e. it was to make easier to shoot something down with a laser inside the atmosphere. Of course, the trick was not producing the image per-se, but producing it fast enough to be useful as part of a firing solution, i,.e a crystal clear shot of the target that takes 5 minutes to produce is of limited utility :-) Of course the technology has a number of potential uses, both military and non-military, but that's true of just about any large hi-tech experiment. Given that StarFire is run and funded by the USAF (not NASA or a University institute like JPL), I don't think should come as any great surprise that they are rather more interested in it's military applications.
  • by adageable ( 972913 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @04:38PM (#16858372)
    Hmm... back when I was a graduate student at Penn State in the 90's, we could often see the remote sensing teams testing LIDAR (think RADAR, but with laser light). The laser was quite powerful, seemed to extend all the way up to the heavens, and could be seen for miles around.
    Perhaps I'm just a bit jaded that them "city folks" (aka The New York Times) seems to think that anyone beaming a laser into the sky must want to destroy stuff.
    Hrmpth. []
  • by KevinKirmse ( 984586 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @05:04PM (#16858868)
    I worked on the design and deployment of that same storage system. My impression was that the work done at Starfire was multipurpose. The military certainly has a fair number of reasons to have better optical systems. Given that the project was already in progress over six years ago I kind of doubt that the project and current interest in anti satalite systems have much connection.
  • Re:do this at home! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by waferhead ( 557795 ) <> on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @05:17PM (#16859084)
    Where would this be illegal?

    Does anyone have any experience with peak power on these laser diodes?

    I recall from working with similar units ages ago that it's far less than average power, but still pretty significant.

    (A LED is basically thermally limited, so at a low duty cycle your peak can approach achieve many times the "rated" power...

    Laser diodes used in pulsed mode are nowhere near that, it's a power vs area thing, basically the point at which they blow their tiny mirrors/facets off...)

    I want to blow little pits (~150 micron) in iron cylinders for oil retention/friction reduction, or perhaps on piston rings. Enough power?

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas