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We Can’t Contain Our Big Killer Lasers

YAL-1

In a bit of irony in the world, an article was published recently stating that laser weaponry research has begun to see a bit of stalling out.  Weapons scientists haven’t been able to deal with waste heat generated by these mega lasers, and the mirrors and optics needed to focus the lasers onto moving targets can’t handle the power.  From the article at New Scientist:

In recent tests, several prototypes have suffered serious damage to their optics at intensities well below the expected levels of tolerance. “Optical damage has been quietly alarming upper management in most major programmes,” Sean Ross of the US Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico told a meeting of the Directed Energy Professional Society in Newton, Massachusetts, last week. There are also big problems managing the waste heat generated by high-intensity beams.

In addition to this optics and reflecting problem, heat is also slowing the progress considerably. For every watt of laser fury we develop, four watts of waste heat is generated. Scientists are having a hard time developing a low form factor cooling mechanism that might slow the laser weapons from eating themselves.

Remember the YAL-1?  The “Flying Light Saber?”  The jumbo jet with a mega chemical laser mounted inside is also experiencing some stalling issues.  Again, from the New Scientist article:

Earlier this year in the US, engineers halted tests of the $4.3 billion megawatt-class Airborne Laser short of full power to avoid damaging “a handful of optics in the turret”, according to Mike Rinn, a Boeing vice-president who manages the programme. They realised that the optics, designed years ago, would be “frail” in the presence of any contamination, which would be virtually inevitable in flight. In the next week or so, Boeing engineers will install replacement optics and test them on the ground before running the laser at full power in flight.

Do you think that this should be a signal to focus some laser research in other areas, for example, healing people?  I am very critical of energy weapons, I realize – don’t get me wrong, if we have to have mega death killer weapons, I’d much rather the research be in high energy or light-related weaponry than I would them be nuclear, chemical, or biologically based.  But instead of using such amazing technology to wipe out life, why not at least, in conjunction with annihilating each other, that we research killing cancer and other worldwide nasties, too.

I cannot for the life of me figure out why we’re not researching helpful uses of high energy technology as much as we are killer weapons.  Anyone got an answer for that?

The YAL-1 Might Get Scrapped

I have written and referred to the 747 with the big real genius laser strapped to the nose a bunch of times.  I just read an article over at Wired’s Danger Room about the YAL-1 project – some call it the “Flying Lightsaber” – and things ain’t going too well financially.  The project is $4 billion over budget, it’s dangerous as hell to the crew, and the project is about 8 years behind.  I guess that means things don’t look too good for this project.  Did I mention that in-flight operating costs are $92,000 an hour?

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The laser that flies onboard – the COIL laser mentioned in previous posts (chemical oxygen iodine laser) contains some nasty, nasty stuff to power the laser reaction.  Check this out:

One of the bigger problems is the chemicals needed to start the laser chain-reaction aren’t exactly the most stable and healthiest things to have around: 1,000 pounds of chlorine, 1,000 pounds of ammonia, 12,000 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, 220 gallons of sulphuric acid.

They’re so toxic, in fact, that the Air Force documents recommend that “all personnel must be [in the] forward [part of the plane] “during taxi, takeoff, and landing.” Going to the Airborne Laser’s aft “in flight is only allowed during a declared emergency, and then only for the absolute minimum duration, in Level A hazmat suit.”

Well, that’s gonna get a run for its money from solid state laser technology at some point.  We know that solid state weaponized lasing just hit 105.5kW, but the chemical laser technology is up around the megawatt class.  Let’s see how quickly the JHPSSL can multiply that laser power factor.

From what I have read, the technology is very powerful, but quite dangerous and becoming a pain in the rear of the people funding it.  It’s got a limited range and a handful of firings of the laser – not exactly a full-time protector, per se.

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Senator Carl Levin (Senate Armed Services Committee chair) and Rep. Ellen Tauscher (Obama pick for undersecretary of state arms control) aren’t real happy with the progress of this program, and they keep slamming it.  From an article at The Danger Room:

Count as unimpressed Rep. Ellen Tauscher, the influential Congresswoman and Obama administration pick for under secretary of state for arms control. She spoke yesterday at a conference co-sponsored by the Missile Defense Agency. “If you were there and you are a supporter of the Airborne Laser program, you didn’t have a good morning,” InsideDefense.com quips.

Noting that the program is eight years behind schedule and $4 billion over cost, Tauscher said ABL [Airborne Laser] is the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over despite failing each time.

“We can no longer continue to do everything and explore every potential technology,” Tauscher added. “Missile defense cannot be like some second marriages — the triumph of hope over experience.”

Levin and Tauscher were also quoted in DoDBuzz while talking to a group of missile defense advocates:

The two politicians are Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. They told roughly 1,000 missile defense advocates in separate speeches that more and better testing must be done and hard choices are coming that will probably mean substantial cuts to the MDA budget. But there were also distinct signs of a hopeful nature, from the new head of MDA, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, and from one of its most persistent and respected critics, Philip Coyle, former head of Operational Test and Evaluation.

Tauscher’s line was simpler and less compromising than Levin’s. “We need to make some tough defense budget decisions,” she said, pointing to the Airborne Laser program, which is four years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. “Let me be clear. Those days are over.”

Well, goodbye big chemical laser flying machine of death.  Maybe solid state lasers will advance quickly.  I wonder how that cure for cancer’s going?

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Thanks, DangerRoom, DoDBuzz, and CNet!


Northrop Grumman Makes A 100kW Laser

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Defense contractor Northrop Grumman just recently released information that they’ve created a solid state laser that fired over 100kW in a beam – 105.5kW, to be relatively exact.  This mile marker is apparently a big deal, because now Northrop Grumman has entered the weaponized laser market.  This is also significant, as they’ve now created the most powerful ray from an electric laser, ever.  Northrop is part of something called the JHPSSL – The Joint High Power Solid State Laser program, which is dedicated to creating a weaponized laser system, obviously solid state.

Remember the big flying plane laser and the truck laser that shoots down planes?  Those are chemical lasers – the COIL variety (Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser), at least in the case of the jumbo jet laser.  Chemical lasers are apparently noxious, and freaking huge.  Solid-state lasers are much more compact – but still a little too big to send into battle quite yet.

The method for reaching over 100kW of power from their laser is pretty interesting – a series of laser amplifiers were added together in such a way to increase power with each block.  From Northrop Grumman:

For building blocks, the company utilizes “laser amplifier chains,” each producing approximately 15kW of power in a high-quality beam. Seven laser chains were combined to produce a single beam of 105.5 kW. The seven-chain JHPSSL laser demonstrator ran for more than five minutes, achieved electro-optical efficiency of 19.3 percent, reaching full power in less than 0.6 seconds, all with beam quality of better than 3.0.

100kW is apparently the “proof of principle” used in creating weapons like this – but experts say that 25kW-50kW can also make an effective weapon.  Solid State lasers are preferred in some of these packages because of the compact nature of solid-state.  Chemical lasers depend on the chemical being lased in the chemical devices, and are much more space-consuming.  Even though solid state technology is more compact, it’s still not quite small enough yet.  I bet it won’t take much longer.

I did find a video on this subject, from the LA Times:

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Thanks, LA Times and CNET!

A Plane That Shoots Lasers at Missiles. Or Other Stuff.

Remember that movie Real Genius with Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarret, William Atherton, and a big ol’ laser?  You know, the one that had a bunch of students building a laser that had already been purposed as a stealth weapon?

Well, most of that has come true already.

Boeing has a plane, a 747, that is fitted with a laser cannon – a very, very large laser cannon – that’s purpose is to track large missiles (like country-killing nuclear missiles) and destroy them in the boost phase, protecting the country and being super space cowboy cool at the same time.  It’s called the YAL-1 ABL, or Airborne Laser, and it’s a bad mofo, so to speak.

ABL has what is called a COIL laser – “Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser” – packing itself into the Megawatt laser class (if you remember the movie, the kiddies in Real Genius were trying to get 5 megawatts).  The ABL basically works like this:  it flies around looking for the hot back end of a missile launching, and once the infrared sensors and kilowatt-class helper lasers onboard detect a missile in flight,they track it and search for a fail point.  The main laser then fires for three to five seconds until POP – the laser creates a fail point in the missile that causes it to explode in flight.

This is the stuff that movies are made of.

A video of the ABL – get ready for some movie-quality stuff:

Here’s a video of that big, beautiful optic turret:

Images of the Airborne Laser, or ABL:

Check out the series of articles leading up to this post – there are a LOT.  Originally it came from Environmental Graffiti, and they got it from a ton of other sources.  Here’s the official Boeing page, and a page at the USAF website – also, see info on the COIL laser.