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SIGNAL Online Exclusives

NASA Tests Biofuels for Environmental Effects, Performance

March 15, 2013
By Max Cacas

NASA is in the midst of its first phase of flight tests to determine the effects of alternative biofuels on the emissions and performance of jet engines flying at altitude.

The program is called the Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions, or ACCESS, according to Dr. Ruben Del Rosario, project manager of NASA’s Subsonic Fixed Wing project. The goal is to investigate how biofuels perform compared with traditional jet fuel and also to measure the environmental impact of biofuels. The results of the tests are significant because of the growing popularity of biofuels for both the U.S. Air Force and Navy as well as private sector aviation.

During the ACCESS tests, the space agency’s highly modified Douglas DC-8, which normally is used as a flying laboratory, will conduct a series of flights at altitudes as high as 40,000 feet, while a NASA Falcon HU-25 aircraft follows behind at distances of between 300 feet and more than 10 miles, according to Del Rosario. The flights will take place primarily over restricted airspace over Edwards Air Force Base in California.

ACCESS is the outgrowth of earlier preliminary research on biofuels and jets. “It was born out of two previous experiments that we conducted in 2009 and 2011 at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility,” Del Rosario explains. During those tests, ground-based instruments measured the exhaust emissions of the DC-8 while the plane was parked on a ramp at the Palmdale, California, facility.

“During the ground tests, we took very detailed emission measurements, measuring CO2 [carbon dioxide], different oxides, different particulates, measuring sulfur, all the different kind of emissions we could possibly measure with many other companies and institutions joining us, as well,” Del Rosario says.

Virtually Navy Education

March 11, 2013
By Rita Boland

The U.S. Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) is in the first stages of a five-stage plan to virtualize its computers at facilities across the globe in an attempt to save resources. Though the program itself has no direct connection to the recent sequester cuts that went into effect earlier this month, such projects could present possible cost-saving options to budget-constrained organizations.

U.S. Defense Science Board Calls for Segmented Force Cyber Defense

March 5, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

The United States quickly must adopt a segmented approach to its military forces to ensure that key elements can survive a comprehensive cyber attack, according to a recently released Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on Resilient Military Systems. This approach entails a risk reduction strategy that combines deterrence, refocused intelligence capabilities and improved cyber defense. The effort must constitute “a broad systems approach … grounded in its technical and economic feasibility” to face a cyber threat that has “potential consequences similar in some ways to the nuclear threat of the Cold War,” the DSB report says.

The report declares that the United States cannot be confident that its critical information technology systems will work under attack from sophisticated adversaries combining cyber capabilities with conventional military and intelligence assets. In particular, the Defense Department’s dependence on vulnerable information technology “is a magnet” to U.S. opponents. U.S. networks are built on “inherently insecure architectures with increasing use of foreign-built components.” The report states that the department and its contractor base already have sustained “staggering losses” of system design information representing decades of combat knowledge and experience.

No silver bullet exists to eliminate cyberthreats, the report allows. Instead, it recommends an approach analogous to that employed against U-boats in World War II. Risks are not reduced to zero, but the challenge can be contained and managed through broad systems engineering of a spectrum of techniques.

Two-in-One Unmanned Aircraft

February 25, 2013
By George I. Seffers

U.S. Navy technology may allow in-flight conversion from helicopter to fixed wing.

Researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are developing unmanned aircraft technology that will allow the conversion from a vertical take-off and landing system to a fixed-wing craft during in-flight operation. The conversion capability will provide the take-off and landing flexibility of a helicopter with the longer range, higher speeds and lower wear and tear of an airplane.

The technology demonstrator is referred to as the Stop-Rotor Rotary Wing Aircraft. It is capable of cruising at about 100 knots, weighs less than 100 pounds and can carry a 25-pound intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) or electronic warfare payload, such as the Expendable, Mobile Anti-submarine warfare Training Target (EMATT). “We decided to do a demonstration vehicle that could carry an EMATT. It’s like a little submarine that can generate sonar signals, and it’s for training anti-submarine warfare operators,” explains Steven Tayman, an aerospace engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory. “It’s a neat payload.”

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) includes a removable payload bay that is about 12 inches wide, 38 inches long and six inches deep with “bomb bay doors” for dropping payloads, such as sonobuoys. “You could use a UAV to deploy a sonobuoy field, which would be pretty exciting,” Tayman says. “There’s really no limit to the payload other than volume.”

Navy Hedges Bets on NGEN Contract

February 21, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

The sea service seeks to extend NMCI’s lifetime just in case its replacement is delayed.

Diving for Port Security

February 20, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The Long Beach Police Department dive team adopts new homeland security equipment.

The Long Beach, California, police department dive team is now using a newly acquired search and recovery system to help protect the local port, shipping lanes and critical infrastructure.

The Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) dive team has an atypical and varied mission along the port and in the city waterways. “We have the law enforcement responsibility as well as the homeland security mission, mostly dealing with the Port of Long Beach and protecting the port against any type of terrorist threat or action,” says Sgt. Steve Smock, LBPD dive team supervisor. “Everything that the police do on land, we do underwater.”

The mission can include body recovery after a shipping accident or searching for underwater mines attached to ships or piers. The LBPD works with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to search for and confiscate narcotics or other contraband being smuggled into the country. Additionally, the port is a potential terrorist target for several reasons, including the shipping lanes and some of the cargo coming into port.

“We have all these different wharfs and piers that these ships come up to and tie to. A good example is the oil exchange terminals where the oil container ships come in and offload their oil. These are, for obvious reasons, very sensitive. We do a lot to make sure that nobody gets in there to tamper with anything,” the sergeant states.

New NASA Communications Satellite Bridges Legacy, Future Technologies

February 15, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

The latest generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, TDRS-K, updates existing technology with an eye to the future. New electronics and better power management will help extend the TDRS constellation for at least another decade, but NASA already is looking ahead to major changes in the system’s capabilities that would define the next-generation TDRS.

Presidential Cybersecurity Executive Order Has Limited Reach

February 13, 2013
By Max Cacas

One day after unveiling a long-awaited executive order concerning a wide-range of cybersecurity concerns, President Barack Obama’s top cybersecurity advisers admit that the order only goes so far in dealing with pressing Internet security needs. They say that the order is only a “down payment” and no substitute for permanent congressional legislation on the matter.

“We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and economy,” President Obama said in reference to his executive order and the urgency to act during his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night.

Michael Daniel, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity adviser, told reporters and congressional staffers at a Commerce Department briefing on Wednesday that the executive order, and a companion Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-21), “rest on three pillars”:

  • Information sharing
  • Privacy
  • A framework of standards

Both documents build on numerous cybersecurity measures already in use within the government, dating back to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 7 (HSPD-7) signed during the previous Bush administration. Daniel describes the philosophy behind the most recent order as a “whole of government” approach designed to engage all agencies in a stepped-up effort to secure the nation’s digital infrastructure. In addition, Daniels says, the executive order reflects the work of “a number of other stakeholders,” primarily during last fall’s push to gain passage of comprehensive cybersecurity legislation on Capitol Hill.

The Now and Next of NIE

February 6, 2013
By Rita Boland

The U.S. Army is finalizing its official report on the Network Integration Evaluation 13.1 even as it prepares for the next iteration of the event and Capability Set 14. Soldiers are tweaking processes to make the exercises more valuable while working closer with industry to speed fielding as much as possible under tight acquisition regulations.

Liquid Metal Research Makes Wires That Stretch and Self-Repair

February 4, 2013
by Max Cacas

Imagine a wire that can stretch eight to 10 times its original length and still send crystal clear audio from your music player to your earphones, or imagine accidentally cutting a cable to a tactical radio and repairing the cut just by physically putting the wires back together.

Those are just two of the many possible products that could result from materials science research now underway at North Carolina State University under the direction of Dr. Michael Dickey, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the university.

Both scientific developments are the result of separate but related avenues of scientific research into advanced materials, explains Dickey, who says much of the work has been conducted by graduate and undergraduate students. “They’re related in the sense that we’ve used some common materials, but they are two different projects,” he says.

“Both ideas are almost embarassingly simple,” Dickey goes on to relate. “What we’ve done is taken the architecture of a conventional wire, which is a metal core surrounded by a plastic casing, and we’ve done two things. We’ve replaced the plastic casing with an elastomeric polymer that’s more like a rubber band, so it's stretchable, and then for the core of the wire, we use a special liquid metal alloy.”

That alloy, made up of gallium and indium, is a liquid at room temperature but has a unique characteristic. “We can shape it because there’s an oxide ‘skin’ that forms on the metal. The best analogy I can use is a waterbed, which, in the absence of a plastic casing, would be a big puddle.”

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