Sunday, August 25, 2019

What Happened on the White Sea near Nyonoksa, Russia?

Something strange happened near Nyonoksa, Russia. There was an explosion. There was a radiation spike. At least five Russian nuclear personnel were killed. Information is dribbling out. The Russians are slowly fessing up to what happened. However, details are very, very elusive and there is an enormous amount of speculation.

Nyonoksa, Russia is in the Archangelsk Oblast (district) near Severodinsk and Archangels. It is located off the east shore of the White Sea and in the general vicinity of a lot of Russian naval bases. The accident or incident didn't happen at the town itself though, but rather at a site nearby. If the Russians are to be believed, it was out on the White Sea itself.

On August 8th, an accident took place. The accident was supposedly due to rocket fuel catching fire and at least five people have so far have died. The reports initially just stated there was an accident with a rocket. This happens rockets having far, far more energy stored in them than even a 747 and when precautions are not sufficiently taken, people die. It even happens here in the US: ask the Challenger astronauts or Virgin Galactic employees. It would have been a tragedy rather than a mystery.  This is not a strictly Russian thing.

But then...

Radiation counters spiked in in Nyonoksa, Russia and elsewhere. The radiation levels spiked to 20x the norm. And then returned to normal within days. Even possibly a day. The Norwegians reported no spike in Norway until several days later, but it was a spike of radioactive iodine. Previous radioative iodine spikes have been attributed to medical manufacturing in Russia in the past.

Therein lies the mystery.

Had this been a case where a nuclear weapon or whatnot had had a subcritical explosion, the fallout would have contaminated the area and the radiation would be persistent and VERY detectable with the cloud it would have generated in Norway with far more isotopes than merely the glowy-version of iodine. Yet it did not. Whatever caused the spike did so with a gas or something very transiently and easily dispersible.

The Moscow initially denied there was no radiation spike. They originally stated there was an explosion with a liquid fuel rocket engine. Now they are saying the stating the 7 killed were working on iso tope power sources' for new weapon systems. Yet, they still deny the radiation release: the city of Nyonoksa stated there was a radiation spike though and there was a run on iodine in town (iodine can protect the thyroid from radiation damage).  The Russians later announced and then cancelled an evacuation of Nyonoksa.

This has increased the speculation as to what happened. The Warzone (and others) have suggested there was an explosion related to the Burevestnik nuclear powered cruise missile the Russians have been working on: NATO calls the weapon 'Skyfall' which I find to be way more awesome, btw. This uses an exposed nuclear reactor to heat air into providing thrust. This was explored by the US in Project Pluto back in the 1960s/1970s. A premature or accidental test run would fit the profile for the radiation spike, but would not be a match for the description of an explosion: the engine exhaust can be radioactive even if no radioactive material from the engine is lost. The workers being present when the engine started and unexpectedly would also fit why they died and what they were doing.

However...

If the workers were killed in an accidental test, it would be a massive case of negligence. Worse than that, actually. Heads ought to be rolling so much that Putin could field a bowling team using the severed heads as bowling balls.

Burevestnik has been an air launched weapon. Russia has been testing it over in Siberia. Archangelsk's area is more naval. The location seems rather strange for the Burevestnik then unless they were working on it to integrate with naval assets. Possible, but strangely premature. The weapon is still in very early testing and the flight regime is still being expanded.   Adding the capability to, say, the Tu-144 Backfires, would be really dumb at this point. Likewise attempting to do the same with a sub or surface ship is also stupid: with money tight in the Russian defense budget, getting the missile working ought to come first and the Russians are far from stupid in that regard. This should have greatly decreased the possibility of the Burevestnik being the source of the radiation.  

But!

The engineers killed were related to the nuclear industry in Russia.  the Russians have copped to the explosion being related to their nuclear weapons development.  The US gov has stated they think the explosion was related to the Burevestnik.  In a weird and blatant twist, the Russians have been disabling radiation sensors in the area.  And doctors reported Cesium-137 in patients.

Other possibilities - unlikely ones - were a nuclear sub had to do an emergency reactor venting after an explosion.  Yet another possibility was the explosion and the radiation leak were from difference incidents.   Some have thrown out some crazy ideas based on the fact the Russians called the test as using a isotopic power source: a deliciously obfuscating phrase that covers nuclear reactors, RTGs and several other oddities.

The weirdness about the very transient nature of the radioactive cloud and Russia's obfuscations leave a lot of unknowns.  So, while, far less of a mystery than two weeks ago, the real nature of what happened continues to remain murky.

What caused the radiation spike? Why did it clear so quickly? What is going on on the shores of the White Sea?   We suspect, but don't know.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Paleolithic Papers #31

Genus Homo:

Apparently, there has been selection against the archaic components of the genome when interbreeding hast taken place between modern humans and other hominin species.   

Could cooking have shaped our evolution for the last 2 million years?

More articles about the two previously undetected hominin relatives people seem to have interbred with.

Rock art requires a relatively high density demographic.

Modern Humanity (H. sapiens):

Tetrapod Zoology goes into five "mysterious" cave paintings.

Two Patagonian volcanic caves have evidence of people for the last 19,000 years.

Late Pleistocene fossils of modern humans have been found across the Wallace Line.

Mesolithic fire pits from the Netherlands get studied.

Modern humans occupied the Ethiopian highlands sometime between 31 kya to 47 kya.

An infant burial was found from Late Pleistocene Morocco

Human presence evidence from the Upper Paleolithic of Joran.

Ancient tools suggest modern humans spread across Eurasia earlier than previously thought.

Neandertals (H. neanderthalensis):

Studying Neandertal brains may give insights to modern human brain evolution.

The virtual reconstruction of the Apidima-2 skull.

The paleogenetic analysis of the Gibraltar Neandertals shows two different populations separated by time.

Half of Neandertals suffered from surfers ear, strongly implying they spent a lot of time in the water gathering food.

A Neandertal tooth was found in the Zagros Mountains.

Denisovans:

Could the 3 rooted second molar in the first Denisovan mandible be morphological evidence of introgression into modern populations?

Did Denisovans intentionally carve and paint this rock?

Denisovans are starting to come into the paleoanthropological light.

Hobbits (H. floresiensis):

Meet the hobbits of Indonesia.

H. erectus:

The Koobi Fora site in Kenya gets more support for being evidence of early use of fire.

H. naledi:

Meet Homo naledi.

Genus Australopithecus:

A. africanus mothers appear to have nursed their children for at least a year.

Authors of a new paper are arguing StW 573's skull shows it to be a different species than A. africanus.

META:

Hominin fossils seem to indicate early human species had teeth development similar to modern humans.

A single gene mutation 2 million years ago might explain why humans are prone to heart attacks.

There were significant environmental changes in the Middle Pleistocene in Europe.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Is This China's Next Gen Space Capsule?





Pictures have emerged of what appears to be China's next generation space capsule.  It looks like the drawings I've seen, but...

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Terminator Times #61

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones):


DARPA tested OFFSET, a drone swarm building tool.  Can it be used to map battles in real time?

Four companies have been selected to compete for the US Army's Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems.

The US Army has awarded General Atomics a contract for work on their Gray Eagle UAVs.

The US Army wants to add a UAV to its Assault Breacher vehicles.

The US Army has started using its Black Hornet mini drones in Afghanistan for infantry patrols.

The "secretive" drone base near Groom Lake that the Warzone has been obsessing over gets new sat photographs.

The USAF is already testing software for Skyborg.

USAF RQ-4 Global Hawks will be soon operating out of Yokota air base.

The USAF is expecting a revolution in small turbines.

The USAF has designated the Dynetics Gremlins as the X-61A.


The USAF's AFRL made a robo pilot that flew a Cessna for 2 straight hours.

The USAF is seeking information on the small UAV supply chain.

The first two Marines have graduated from the training for MQ-9 Reaper operations as the USMC moves to operating their own.

The British unveiled the LANCA program, a British Loyal Wingman.

The British unveiled the Reaper to Protector transition.

How a British Watchkeeper drone went down.

China had a Soar Dragon UAV shadow the USS Antietam's transit of the Taiwan Strait.

A French Rafale has been spotted with a marking for killing a UAV.

Iraq only has one operational CH-4 drone and its ScanEagles are in terrible shape, too.

Japan is considering buying the MQ-8C FireScout.

A drone strike in southern Libya has killed 43 people.

The LNA claims a counterstrike against Turkish UAVs.



The Russian flying wing Ohotnok-B/Hunter-B UCAV had its first flight.  More on the S-70 Ohotnik-B flight.

The Russians have an interesting hybrid drone.

South Korea's KUS-VH unmanned variant of the MD 500 helicopter has flown.

The US State Department approved the possible sale of support for South Korea for the Global Hawk.

South Korea will take delivery of its first RQ-4 Global Hawk next month.

Taiwan's Chien Hsiang antiradiation drone was unveiled.

Taiwan's Hong Que small UAVs have been unveiled as well.

Taiwan is also working on a new MALE UAV.

Yemeni Houthis attacked Saudi Arabia with drones again.  The Houthis also attacked a military parade in Aden.  Apparently 30 were killed.  Another attack again.  And again.  And again.  And Again.  And again (and the Saudis shot a drone down).

Boeing Australia is stepping up its unmanned work.

Kratos is expecting orders totaling up to 40 for its Valkyries UCAV by year's end.

MartinUAV's V-Bat gets profiled.  the drone is under consideration for the US Army's FTUAS program mentioned above.

Northrop won two contracts for the MQ-4C Triton.

Orbital Corp of Australia is eying the tactical UAV market.

Unmanned Ground Vehicles (Bolos and Ogres):


Can robots make an Army platoon 10x more effective?

The USMC is looking at unmanned ground systems to refuel F-35s and other assets on islands and remote bases.

The Australian Army trialed logistics UGVs at an exercise.

Israel is exploring manned-unmanned teaming for armoured warfare.

The Russian Marker UGV is being used for R&D.

ST Engineering demonstrated a new UGCV, an unmanned version of its NGAFV.

Umanned Surface Vehicles (Ro-boats);

The US Navy released the draft RFP for the Overlord Large USV.

British Aerospace is demonstrating the P950 USV.

Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (robo subs):

Huntington Ingalls is expecting high demand from the US Navy for UUVs and is preparing for that future.

Saab has finished the first production Sea Wasp ROV.

Exoskeletons:

Soft robotics might be the route forward for exoskeletons for the US Army.

META:

The US Army is seeking software bots and unmanned tech to make infantry squads more effective.

The US Navy tested several unmanned systems on the USNS Spearhead.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Cargo DreamChaser to be Flown 6 Times on ULA Vulcan Rocket

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Cargo Dream Chaser has extended its agreement with United Launch Alliance (ULA) from two to six launches during its Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) missions to the International Space Station (ISS). All six missions will launch on ULA’s new rocket, Vulcan Centaur. The move was expected but requirement confirmation given Dream Chaser’s ability to launch on several launch vehicle options.

Dream Chaser will be flying at least six missions to the ISS in the 2020s, following NASA’s contract award to SNC – along with SpaceX and Orbital ATK for the CRS2 missions.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Is China Building a Naval Base in Cambodia?

Along pristine Cambodian beaches, past parades of elephants in its largest national park, sits an area half the size of Singapore that is raising alarm bells among military strategists in the U.S. and beyond.

Dara Sakor, a $3.8 billion China-backed investment zone encompassing 20% of Cambodia’s coastline, is unlike any other in the developing Southeast Asian nation. Controlled by a Chinese company with a 99-year lease, it features phased plans for an international airport, a deep-water seaport and industrial park along with a luxury resort complete with power stations, water treatment plants and medical facilities.

The size and scope of the plans for Dara Sakor have fanned U.S. concerns the resort could be part of a larger Chinese plan to base military assets in Cambodia, according to an official familiar with the situation. A naval presence there would further expand China’s strategic footprint into Southeast Asia, consolidating its hold over disputed territory in the South China Sea and waterways that carry trillions of dollars of trade.



Cambodia denies it.

China downplays it.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Stealth Saga #50

6th Generation Fighters:



The sixth gen of fighters gets profiled.

MDBA unveiled its weapons concepts for the European FCAS project.

The fighter component of the FCAS project is now known as the Next Generation Fighter and will be designed to work with carriers in the same way as the Rafale from the get go.

The Swedes have joined the Tempest project.

The Tempest will probably have hypersonic weapons.

Thales and Aeralis have signed an MOU to develop a combat training system for the Tempest.

US experts opine on the NGAD.

The USAF expects to do a lot of modeling and simulation in support of the NGAD effort.  This has always worked so well in the past (*cough*Zumwalt*cough*FCS*cough*).

KF-X:

Jakarta is still trying to get concessions on the cost of their participation in the KF-X program.

Jakarta is also exploring trying to send commodities instead of money for their payment of the KF-X program.

Ohotnik-B/Hunter-B:


The Russians have stated the flying wing Ohotnik UCAV has made its first flight.

SU-57:

The SU-57 has supposedly entered serial production.  The first production model is supposed to be delivered this year.

The Su-57 will be put on static display at MAKS.

PAK-DA:

Supposedly, the PAK-DA will be tested (if its ever built) in Zhukovsky.  Article mostly talks about the other, older bombers Russia has.

Chengdu's Mystery Plane:

A flying pin from the Chengdu Aircraft company doesn't match with any known aircraft.  Real? Trolling? What?

J-31/FC-31:

AVIC officials are upbeat on the J-31/FC-31 progress and eventual adoption by the PLA.

J-20:

The first J-20 has been assigned to a combat unit in Wuhu.

B-21:

Northrop has started building the first EMD B-21.  There are additional test aircraft being built, which implies there were earlier demonstrators were flown.  The first flight will be in late 2021.

B-2:

It is the 30th anniversary of the first flight of the B-2 bomber.

F-117:

NASA tested scale models of the F-117 in 1995 to see what would happen if the aircraft carried external weapons.

F-22:


Like the F-35, the F-22 will not reach the required 80% combat readiness.

Some great shots of the F-22 with aggressors were shot over Alaska.

There are some gorgeous videos of the F-22 and F-35.

The F-22 sent to Oshkosh had its RAM skin crumbling.

F-22s (and CF-18s) intercepted Russian bombers.

F-35:

The F-35 won't reach the 80% availability due to parts problems.

The new engines for the F-35 will improve fuel efficiency by 25% and increase thrust by 10%.

There has been a leadership change in the F-35 program.

F-35As are getting the Auto GCAS aircraft early.

4 F-35As landed in Powidz air base as part of a deployment to Poland.

F-35s have landed in Latvia for the first time.

The first permanent base in Europe for US F-35s is being built.

The first F-35A for the Vermont NG has flown from the Lockheed Ft Worth facility.

The F-35A demo team will fly in Canada.

An F-35 went on its first combat training mission 5 hours after being delivered from the factory.

An F-35 sent target data to a US Army missile command.

The USS Tripoli has completed builder's trials.

The newest LHA USS Tripoli (F-35B baby carrier) has been delayed.

Take a look at the shockwaves on the. F-35C

1st Lt Catherine Stark is the first female USMC pilot to be selected to fly the F-35C.

WiB reports the F-35 may have an issue with its canopy.  A new canopy glue may fix the readiness problems.

The first locally trained Australian F-35 pilots have flown.

Australia has consolidated its MRO support for the F-35.

Belgium is spending 375 million Euros on F-35 infrastructure.

Britains 2nd F-35B squadron arrived at Marnham.

Israel is going to have to pick between the F-15X and F-35I in their budget since they do not have the resources for both.

Are Israeli F-35Is making strikes in Iraq against Iranian assets?

The Netherlands has plans to order another 8 to 9 F-35s.

Turkey has taken delivery of the S-400 missiles.  Will Trump keep Turkey in the F-35 program?  The Pentagon is planning on raiding the spare parts budget - which is already 15 years behind schedule! - to pay for removing Turkey from the program.  Turkey is officially out of the F-35 fighter program by March 2020: Turkey cannot have the S-400 and the F-35. The Pentagon has started unwinding Turkey's involvement in the F-35 program.  Of course, Trump found a way to blame Obama: fscking man up, Trumpster.  Lockheed's CEO is stating the Turkish question is being addressed and is confident other customers will buy the F-35s built for Turkey.  A refund and details of how Turkey will be removed are up in the air.

South Korea has had two more F-35As arrive in country: its 3rd and 4th out of 40.

South Korea has started designing a light carrier for the F-35B.

South Korea is moving forward with its F-35B acquisition.