Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Inside Helendale RCS facility ...


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Lockheed Unmanned

Lockheed Martin VARIOUS at AUVSI

Faults In Space: Glitchy AEHF To Reach Orbital Slot Next Summer

Aug 31, 2010

By Amy Butler AVWK

The U.S. Air Force’s newest protected satellite communications spacecraft will likely reach operational status 7-8 months later than planned, after a liquid apogee engine designed for orbit raising was deemed useless after two failed burn attempts.

The first Lockheed Martin-built Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite was expected to reach its testing position at 90 deg. West in geosynchronous orbit in November, about three months after the Aug. 14 launch date, says Dave Madden, director of the Air Force’s military satellite communications program office. Now, however, a series of burns designed to carry the satellite about 22,000 mi. into geosynchronous orbit will require 10-12 months, Madden says. He spoke Aug. 30 with the media via telecom.

At issue is how to compensate for a failure of the liquid apogee engine (LAE) on AEHF-1. Air Force and company officials tried two burns of the LAE, which was designed to produce about 100 lb. of thrust, before declaring it unusable (Aerospace DAILY, Aug. 27, Aug. 30).

Now, Air Force officials are planning to execute a four-phased orbit-raising strategy. First, the Air Force will increase the satellite’s perigee (or the lowest point that it reaches in orbit). This is needed to reduce drag on the spacecraft from the Earth’s atmosphere.

For this phase, which began Aug. 29 at 7 a.m. PDT, the Air Force is using the third and final propulsion system on the satellite, a reaction engine assembly (REA) — which has six 5-lb. and 12 0.2-lb. thrusters).

This system was designed for use in maintaining yaw attitude control and for in-orbit operations. In the next three phases of the orbit-raising plan, additional REA apogee burns will be conducted to more than double the current perigee. Hall Current Thrusters (HCTs) will then be used at apogee and, finally, HCTs will conduct continuous maneuvers to reach the final orbital slot.

Madden says he expects this approach will not affect the satellite’s planned design life of 14 years .

The satellite’s design allows for the REA to tap into the LAE’s hydrazine fuel store during the orbit-raising process, Madden says. “We basically got lucky,” he says, noting the operational requirement was to reach orbit in 90 days. “We put enough fuel on board to pretty much fire those thrusters continuously.”

Discussions are ongoing with U.S. Strategic Command, which will be the operational owner of the satellite. Madden says that while the Milstar constellation now in orbit is aging, so far operators do not expect operational necessity to force them to tap into the fuel designated for on-orbit stationkeeping or maneuvers to get the spacecraft into orbit faster.

A team of Air Force, Lockheed Martin and Aerospace Corp. engineers is studying the root cause of the failure, and findings are expected in about three weeks. Because the overall propulsion performance was not as expected on the LAE, the “system shut it down,” Madden says. Possible causes could range from “a bad valve in the system all the way up to the propulsion wasn’t being cooled or heated properly ... or we could have a bad engine,” he says.

Lockheed ADP -Past- Present & Future Poster

I found this very interesting graphic on the Lockheed ADP site HERE

Some of the projects I recognize - some I do not. I'm guessing some highly classified projects are represented by the little Skunks sitting on clouds and what looks like a chess piece?

There's also an interesting looking aircraft in the right hand corner and another (blurred) one on the left.

Click to see the graphic full size.

Comments and speculation welcome.

-Steve Douglass

Yemeni flight pair 'not planning attack', cautions US


US officials have said they do not believe two Yemeni men arrested in Amsterdam after flying from Chicago were planning a terror attack.

The men were detained at Schiphol airport after they were found to have checked luggage onto a US internal flight but not boarded it.

Airport authorities had earlier found "suspicious items" in one of the men's luggage but had cleared it to fly.

The two men are being held by the Dutch authorities.

They are being held "on suspicion of a conspiracy to a terrorist criminal act". The Dutch authorities have until Thursday to charge or release them.

"We are taking it seriously. Otherwise we would not have arrested them," said Theo D'Anjou, a spokesman for the Dutch national prosecutor's office.

He said an investigation was under way "to see whether we can charge them, and if we can charge them, with what".

But in a statement, the US Department of Homeland Security urged caution over the incident.

"This matter is under investigation but as of right now, these two passengers have not been charged with any crime in the United States and we caution you against jumping to any conclusions," it said.

The two men, who had both been travelling to the Yemeni capital Sanaa, were arrested on arrival at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport on Monday morning.

They had checked luggage onto an internal flight in the US that they did not then take. Officials in the US say it appears they missed the flight and were re-routed by American Airlines to travel via Amsterdam.

That flight, from Chicago's O'Hare to Washington Dulles International Airport, was called back once it was found they were not on board.

'Already condemned'
US officials believe the two men did not know each other and were not travelling together.

One of the men had earlier been stopped by airport officials on a connecting flight from Birmingham, Alabama.

He was found to be carrying $7,000 in cash and when his luggage was searched, officials found a mobile phone strapped to a medicine bottle, as well as knives and watches.

The luggage was cleared for the flight after it was not judged to be a threat but there was speculation that the chain of events could have been a dry-run for a terror attack, testing the US flight security operations.

Customs authorities said it was not uncommon for people travelling to the countries like Yemen to be carrying large amounts of cash and that valuable items are often found bundled together.

Klaas-Arjen Krikke, a lawyer representing one of the men, said his client had recently resigned his job and was travelling to his home in Yemen. He also criticised the way information about the incident had been released.

"My client has already been condemned by a large section of the public via the media," Reuters quoted him as saying.

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Amsterdam says that whatever the investigation into the incident eventually concludes, serious questions will be asked about the airport security in the US.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the man had not been on any terror watchlists.

But he told CNN the US would conduct "a vigorous investigation to see if we can match up any of the circumstances that were involved with any intelligence that we might have".

"This is your pilot speaking - you are free to change your shorts."

British Airways Plc is investigating an incident in which an emergency alarm was sounded in the cabin of a Boeing Co. 747 warning passengers that the jumbo jet was about to make an emergency landing on water.

The button that played the message on the flight from London to Hong Kong on Aug. 24 can be activated in a number of ways, but isn’t accessible to pilots in the cockpit, British Airways spokesman Richard Goodfellow said today in an e-mail.

“Our cabin crew immediately made an announcement following the message advising customers that it was played in error and that the flight would continue as normal,” he said.

London-based British Airways is looking into exactly what happened and apologizes to passengers for causing “undue distress,” he said.

Mission Accomplished at 5 PM?

Washington (CNN) -- Almost 7½ years ago, President George W. Bush launched a blistering "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq.

The goal: eliminate a perceived threat of weapons of mass destruction while replacing a hostile, tyrannical regime with a friendly democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

At 5 p.m. ET Tuesday -- at a cost of more than 4,400 U.S. military personnel killed and 30,000 wounded -- America's combat mission in Iraq will officially draw to a close.
The quick removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ushered in years of grinding sectarian violence, war, terrorist attacks and, according to some observers, increased Iranian influence in the region. But it also paved the way for nationwide elections and increasing economic development.
Whether the war was worth the price remains a subject of fierce debate both at home and abroad.

President Obama, who based much of his campaign for the White House on growing public exhaustion with the conflict, will announce the conclusion of the combat mission in a speech to be delivered from the Oval Office at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday. He will spend the day meeting with veterans at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Obama called Bush for a "few minutes" from Air Force One while en route to Texas, according to White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton. The White House has not said if Obama will give Bush any credit during his speech for the controversial 2007-08 military "surge," believed by some observers to have helped curtail Iraqi violence.

Ben Rhodes, a presidential foreign policy speechwriter, told reporters Obama's remarks will focus on -- among other things -- the responsibilities of Iraqi leaders moving forward as well as the new partnership between the United States and Iraq.
Obama also will discuss the refocusing of U.S. resources in the global fight against al Qaeda as well as the heightened American military presence in Afghanistan, Rhodes said.
Vice President Joe Biden, who once advocated splitting Iraq along largely ethnic lines, is in Baghdad for the transition. He also will help mark Wednesday's transfer of U.S. military command there from Army Gen. Ray Odierno to Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin.

While the official U.S. combat mission is ending, roughly 50,000 American troops will remain in the country until the end of 2011. Their mission will be to will train, assist and advise the Iraqis.
As the U.S. military has been scaling down, the U.S. civilian presence has been ramping up. Iraqi officials are struggling to form a new ruling coalition in the wake of March's closely contested national elections.

And while Obama administration officials have touted what they claim is a gradual decline in the overall level of violence in Iraq, the country has recently been the target of a series of attacks.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned Friday of the likelihood of continuing attacks across the country. His warning came two days after a wave of 20 bomb attacks struck 13 Iraqi cities, mostly targeting police. The bombs killed 48 and wounded at least 286.
Al-Maliki said there were indications that "al Qaeda and remnants of [Saddam Hussein's] Baath Party with foreign backing are planning to carry out a series of bombings in Baghdad and the other provinces."

The attacks -- a show of force for the insurgency -- have increased fears among Iraqis about the ability of their security forces to protect them after the U.S. withdrawal.
But Biden on Tuesday suggested that reports of increased violence in Iraq have been exaggerated by the media.

"Notwithstanding what the national press says about increased violence, the truth is things are still very much different," he told reporters while meeting with al-Maliki. "Things are much safer."
Biden called recent terrorist attempts "dismal."
For his part, the Iraqi prime minister marked the occasion on Tuesday with a national address proclaiming his country "sovereign and independent."

Like Biden, al-Maliki insisted there had been major strides in Iraqi security.
"If these security achievements were not real, we would not have been able to move to executing the bigger and more important step, which is the withdrawal of American forces that is happening today," he said.

"We do not view the withdrawal as an accomplishment of one person, or one party or one sect or one ethnicity; it is an achievement for all Iraqis. ... And it represents a golden opportunity to strengthen national unity and a starting point to build Iraq after decades of destruction and suffering."

Top Republicans have been loath to give the Obama White House any credit for Tuesday's milestone.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, will say in a speech to be delivered Tuesday to the American Legion in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that the day "belongs to our troops."
"When Gen. [David] Petraeus embarked on the surge strategy in January 2007, it was widely viewed as our last chance to save Iraq from spiraling into an irreversible descent toward chaos," Boehner argues in excerpts of his prepared remarks.

"The consequences of failure then, as now, were severe."
In a thinly veiled slap at Obama, Boehner says in his remarks that "some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for the results."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, is also set to address the Iraq war in a speech Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, asserted during a speech Tuesday to the American Legion that, despite the recent spate of attacks in Iraq, "overall levels of violence this year remain at their lowest point since the beginning of the war in 2003."
Al Qaeda in Iraq has been largely cut off from its masters abroad."
But Gates stressed that he was not "saying that all is, or necessarily will be, well in Iraq."
"Sectarian tensions remain a fact of life. Al Qaeda in Iraq is beaten, but not gone. This is not a time for premature victory parades or self-congratulation," he said.

Terrorist test run?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two men arrested in Amsterdam may have been conducting a dry run for a potential terrorist attack, U.S. officials said Tuesday after a cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle and a knife and box cutters were found in one of the men's luggage.

U.S. investigators are pursuing leads in Detroit, Birmingham, Ala.; and Memphis, Tenn., according to officials speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

The arrests come at a time of heightened alert just days before the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

On Sunday, authorities found the suspicious items — a cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle, multiple cell phones and watches taped together, and a knife and box cutter — in one of the men's checked luggage in Virginia. The man and his luggage were headed to separate international destinations, which also raised concerns.

None of the items found on the men or in their luggage violated U.S. security rules. But the items and the men's changing travel itinerary may have been a deliberate test of the U.S. aviation security system to determine what would raise red flags.

Neither man were on any U.S. terror watch lists, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told CNN Tuesday.

A U.S. law enforcement official identified the men as Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi and Hezam al Murisi. Al Soofi is of Yemeni descent from the Detroit area, one of the law enforcement officials said. An Alabama official said he had been living in Tuscaloosa for a time.

The pair were arrested Monday morning at Schiphol Airport after getting off a United Airlines flight from Chicago.

RTL Television News broadcast video footage filmed on a passenger's cell phone of armed law enforcement officers escorting two men off the plane, their hands bound behind their backs. The officers' weapons were holstered and there appeared to be no resistance.

They were being held at the Amsterdam airport for questioning, but neither has been charged with any offense in the Netherlands, said Martijn Boelhouwer, spokesman for the national prosecutor's office. Under Dutch law, the men can be held without charges for up to six days. No charges have been filed against the men in the U.S., a law enforcement official said.

Al Soofi was questioned as he went through security in Birmingham, Ala., on his way to Chicago, one of the officials said. He told the Transportation Security Administration authorities he was carrying a lot of cash. Screeners found $7,000 on him, but he was not breaking any law by carrying that much money.

Al Soofi was supposed to fly from Chicago to Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia and then on to Dubai, one of the officials said. But when he got to Chicago, he changed his travel plans to take a direct flight to Amsterdam, while his luggage went on to Virginia.

On international flights, passengers and their luggage must be headed toward the same destination, according to U.S. policy.

Al Murisi also changed his travel plans in Chicago to take a direct flight to Amsterdam, raising suspicion among U.S. officials. Federal Air marshals were on the flight from Chicago to Amsterdam, a law enforcement official said.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said once officials found suspicious items in luggage associated with two passengers on Sunday night's flight, they notified the Dutch authorities.

Alabama's director of homeland security, Jim Walker, said al Soofi had been living in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and working at a convenience store for about the last three months. He said there was nothing that al Soofi had done in Alabama that brought him to the attention of Alabama officials.

Security at Amsterdam's main airport has been boosted this year, after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian student, flew from Schiphol airport to Detroit on Christmas Day with explosives in his underwear. Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to detonate the explosives over the United States before being grabbed by passengers and crew.

After the Abdulmutallab security lapse, Schiphol ordered 60 new full body scanners to screen passengers flying to the United States. Those who do not pass through the scanners are patted down.

American passengers arriving from the United States on Tuesday appeared to take the news of the arrests in stride.

"There is always going to be problems but I think that the system in terms of security works pretty well. I am traveling all the time and I feel pretty safe," Steve Harriot of Chicago told AP Television News.

"I think we have to be vigilant, all of us. It is not going to change my travel," Francois Binette of San Francisco said.


Associated Press writers Corey Williams in Detroit, Phillip Rawls in Montgomery, Ala., and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Obama imposes new sanctions on North Korea

BBC: US imposes new North Korea sanctions - official

The sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan raised tensions
US President Barack Obama has signed an executive order mandating new financial sanctions on North Korea, senior administration officials say.

The sanctions will hit eight North Korean "entities" and four individuals, targeting the trade in arms, luxury goods and narcotics.

The new sanctions come after the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, in which 46 sailors died.

North Korea has denied responsibility for the sinking. But an international investigation blamed Pyongyang for the sinking.

The US Treasury Department said the sanctions were aimed "at freezing the assets of [weapons of mass destruction] proliferators and their supporters thereby isolating them from the US financial and commercial systems".

'Act of war'

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last month that US sanctions against North Korea would be expanded.

US State Department Spokesman P J Crowley on North Korea
The US has tried to drive international efforts to stop North Korea's efforts to build nuclear weapons.

North Korea indicated last year that any attempt to blockade the country would be regarded as an "act of war".

The country has been seeking nuclear weapons for some years and carried out its second nuclear test last year, prompting international condemnation.

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan says current US policy is to ratchet up economic sanctions against the North and carry out joint American-South Korean naval exercises.

But analysts say even as these new sanctions are announced, the State Department is debating whether to take a new approach, as there is little evidence that North Korea is either retreating from its nuclear programme or being less belligerent towards its neighbour South Korea.

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has told Beijing he hopes for an early resumption of six-party nuclear talks, China's state media has reported.

The comments came as confirmation that Mr Kim was in China at the weekend, his second visit to the country this year.

Mr Kim, who is believed to be ailing after suffering a stroke two years ago, rarely travels abroad, but last visited China in May.

His son Kim Jong-un, who observers believe is being prepared to take over the leadership, is widely speculated to have accompanied him on his latest visit, but this has not been confirmed.

Correspondents say the trip could have been aimed at securing Beijing's backing for the eventual handover of power.

Who cares about the USS Cole?

By Peter Finn - Reprinted from The Washington Post

The decision at least temporarily scuttles what was supposed to be the signature trial of a major al-Qaeda figure under a reformed system of military commissions. And it comes practically on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the attack, which killed 17 sailors and wounded dozens when a boat packed with explosives ripped a hole in the side of the warship in the port of Aden.

In a filing this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department said that "no charges are either pending or contemplated with respect to al-Nashiri in the near future."

The statement, tucked into a motion to dismiss a petition by Nashiri's attorneys, suggests that the prospect of further military trials for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has all but ground to a halt, much as the administration's plan to try the accused plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in federal court has stalled.

Only two cases are moving forward at Guantanamo Bay, and both were sworn and referred for trial by the time Obama took office. In January 2009, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates directed the Convening Authority for Military Commissions to stop referring cases for trial, an order that 20 months later has not been rescinded.

Military officials said a team of prosecutors in the Nashiri case has been ready go to trial for some time. And several months ago, military officials seemed confident that Nashiri would be arraigned this summer.

"It's politics at this point," said one military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss policy. He said he thinks the administration does not want to proceed against a high-value detainee without some prospect of civilian trials for other major figures at Guantanamo Bay.

A White House official disputed that.

"We are confident that the reformed military commissions are a lawful, fair and effective prosecutorial forum and that the Department of Defense will handle the referrals in an appropriate manner consistent with the interests of justice," said the official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Defense Department issued a statement Thursday saying the case is not stalled. "Prosecutors in the Office of Military Commissions are actively investigating the case against Mr. al-Nashiri and are developing charges against him," the statement said.

With the 10th anniversary of the Cole bombing approaching on Oct. 12, relatives of those killed in the attack expressed deep frustration with the delay.

"After 10 years, it seems like nobody really cares," said Gloria Clodfelter, whose 21-year-old son, Kenneth, was killed on the Cole.

The Reluctant Commander in Chief .. sometimes.

By Peter Baker New York Times OP/ED

WASHINGTON — President Obama rushed to the Oval Office when word arrived one night that militants with Al Qaeda in Yemen had been located and that the military wanted to support an attack by Yemeni forces. After a quick discussion, his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, told him the window to strike was closing.
“I’ve got two minutes here,” Mr. Brennan said.
“O.K.,” the president said. “Go with this.”

While Mr. Obama took three sometimes maddening months to decide to send more forces to Afghanistan, other decisions as commander in chief have come with dizzying speed, far less study and little public attention.

He is the first president in four decades with a shooting war already raging the day he took office — two, in fact, plus subsidiaries — and his education as a commander in chief with no experience in uniform has been a steep learning curve. He has learned how to salute. He has surfed the Internet at night to look into the toll on troops. He has faced young soldiers maimed after carrying out his orders. And he is trying to manage a tense relationship with the military.

Along the way, he has confronted some of the biggest choices a president can make, often deferring to military advisers yet trying to shape the decisions with his own judgments — too much at times for the Pentagon, too little in the view of his liberal base. His evolution from antiwar candidate to leader of the world’s most powerful military will reach a milestone on Tuesday when he delivers an Oval Office address to formally end the combat mission in Iraq while defending his troop buildup in Afghanistan.

A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.

North Korea Will Use Nukes

If North Korea is attacked by U.S. and South Korean forces, "we will respond with a sacred war based on the strength of our nuclear deterrent forces," Kwon said.

"Our government will make an effort towards the denuclearization of the peninsula and the establishment of a system of lasting peace based on the principle of the reunification of both Koreas," Kwon said, according to Prensa Latina.

North Korea on July 24 threatened a "powerful nuclear deterrence" in response to joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercises then taking place.

North Korea was prepared for a "retaliatory sacred war," North Korea's National Defense Commission (NDC) said in a statement carried then by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Courts allow agents to track you with GPS.

(CNN) -- Law enforcement officers may secretly place a GPS device on a person's car without seeking a warrant from a judge, according to a recent federal appeals court ruling in California.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Oregon in 2007 surreptitiously attached a GPS to the silver Jeep owned by Juan Pineda-Moreno, whom they suspected of growing marijuana, according to court papers.

When Pineda-Moreno was arrested and charged, one piece of evidence was the GPS data, including the longitude and latitude of where the Jeep was driven, and how long it stayed. Prosecutors asserted the Jeep had been driven several times to remote rural locations where agents discovered marijuana being grown, court documents show.
Pineda-Moreno eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy to grow marijuana, and is serving a 51-month sentence, according to his lawyer.

But he appealed on the grounds that sneaking onto a person's driveway and secretly tracking their car violates a person's reasonable expectation of privacy.
"They went onto the property several times in the middle of the night without his knowledge and without his permission," said his lawyer, Harrison Latto.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal twice -- in January of this year by a three-judge panel, and then again by the full court earlier this month. The judges who affirmed Pineda-Moreno's conviction did so without comment.
Latto says the Ninth Circuit decision means law enforcement can place trackers on cars, without seeking a court's permission, in the nine western states the California-based circuit covers.
The ruling likely won't be the end of the matter. A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., arrived at a different conclusion in similar case, saying officers who attached a GPS to the car of a suspected drug dealer should have sought a warrant.

Experts say the issue could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
One of the dissenting judges in Pineda-Moreno's case, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, said the defendant's driveway was private and that the decision would allow police to use tactics he called "creepy" and "underhanded."

"The vast majority of the 60 million people living in the Ninth Circuit will see their privacy materially diminished by the panel's ruling," Kozinksi wrote in his dissent.
"I think it is Orwellian," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which advocates for privacy rights.

"If the courts allow the police to gather up this information without a warrant," he said, "the police could place a tracking device on any individual's car -- without having to ever justify the reason they did that."
But supporters of the decision see the GPS trackers as a law enforcement tool that is no more intrusive than other means of surveillance, such as visually following a person, that do not require a court's approval.

"You left place A, at this time, you went to place B, you took this street -- that information can be gleaned in a variety of ways," said David Rivkin, a former Justice Department attorney. "It can be old surveillance, by tailing you unbeknownst to you; it could be a GPS."
He says that a person cannot automatically expect privacy just because something is on private property.
You have to take measures -- to build a fence, to put the car in the garage" or post a no-trespassing sign, he said. "If you don't do that, you're not going to get the privacy."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

NORAD will conduct exercise flights to test its response capability

Aug. 26, 2010

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will conduct exercise flights today from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Mountain Time as they practice intercept and identification procedures. The exercise flights will take place over Alberta, Canada.

Those living in the vicinity of Edmonton may hear and/or see NORAD-controlled fighter jets in close proximity to military or military contracted aircraft, which will be taking on the role of a Track of Interest (TOI).

In order to test responses, systems and equipment, NORAD continuously conducts exercises with a variety of scenarios, including airspace restriction violations, hijackings and responding to unknown aircraft. All NORAD exercises are carefully planned and closely controlled.

NORAD has conducted exercise flights of this nature throughout Canada and the U.S. since the start of Operation Noble Eagle, the command’s response to the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.

NORAD is the bi-national Canadian and American command that provides maritime warning, aerospace warning and aerospace defense for Canada and the United States. The command has three subordinate regional headquarters: the Alaskan NORAD Region at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska; the Canadian NORAD Region at Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg, Manitoba; and the Continental NORAD Region at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

For more information about NORAD, refer to http://www.norad.mil/Home.html.

For more information about NORAD intercept procedures, refer to the FAA website at http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/ATpubs/AIM/Chap5/aim0506.html.

Iran has enough uranium for 2 bombs

(Reuters) - Iran has stockpiled enough low-enriched uranium for 1-2 nuclear arms but it would not make sense for it to cross the bomb-making threshold with only this amount, a former top U.N. nuclear official was quoted as saying.

In unusual public remarks about Iran's disputed nuclear programme Olli Heinonen, the former chief of U.N. nuclear inspections worldwide, told Le Monde newspaper that Iran's uranium reserve still represented a "threat."

Until he stepped down earlier this month for personal reasons, Heinonen was deputy director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and head of its nuclear safeguards department, which verifies that countries' nuclear programmes are not being diverted for military use.

A no-nonsense Finn, he was one of the U.N. agency's leading experts on Iran, which denies Western suspicions that its nuclear programme is aimed at making bombs despite intelligence indications to the contrary, which he investigated for years.

In the interview published on Thursday, Heinonen said the Islamic Republic now possessed three tonnes of low-enriched uranium, material which can be used to fuel nuclear power plants, or form the core of a bomb if refined much further.

"In theory, it is enough to make one or two nuclear arms. But to reach the final step, when one only has just enough material for two weapons, does not make sense," Heinonen said in the interview carried out just before he left office.

In comments translated from English to French, he suggested this was not sufficient to constitute a serious bargaining chip in any negotiations with the United States, the Islamic Republic's old adversary.

"But this constitutes a ... threat," he said, apparently referring to Iran's LEU stockpile.

Heinonen said the United States estimated that Iran would need a year to convert its low-enriched uranium to higher-grade material, adding that this was a not a "bad estimate."

Top Pentagon officials told the U.S. Congress in April that Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon in as little as a year -- but would probably need three to five years to assemble, test and deploy it.

World powers hope that new U.N., U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Iran since June will persuade it to enter negotiations on its nuclear programme which the West hopes will lead to a suspension of all uranium enrichment activity.

Iran, which says its nuclear work is aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more of its gas and oil, has repeatedly ruled out halting enrichment, while keeping the door open for talks.

Heinonen is probably best known for giving a closed-door presentation to diplomats on Iran in 2008 which indicated links between projects to process uranium, test explosives and modify a missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear warhead.

His department's five-year investigation based on Western intelligence funneled to the agency helped harden IAEA concerns that Iran might have worked to develop a nuclear-armed missile and was still doing so.

Tehran says the intelligence is forged and that its atomic work is solely for peaceful purposes.

(Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall and Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Flash Drive Drives Cyber Attack

WASHINGTON - The most serious cyber attack on the U.S. military's networks came from a tainted flash drive in 2008, forcing the Pentagon to review its digital security, a top US defense official said Aug. 25.

The thumb drive, which was inserted in a military laptop in the Mideast, contained malicious code that "spread undetected on both classified and unclassified systems, establishing what amounted to a digital beachhead, from which data could be transferred to servers under foreign control,"

Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn wrote in the journal Foreign Affairs.

The code was placed on the drive by "a foreign intelligence agency," Lynn wrote.

"It was a network administrator's worst fear: a rogue program operating silently, poised to deliver operational plans into the hands of an unknown adversary."

Previous media reports speculated that the attack may have originated from Russia.

The Pentagon had never openly discussed the incident, but Lynn chose to reveal the details of the attack as officials try to raise public awareness of the growing threat posed to government computer networks.

The incident served as a wake-up for the Pentagon and prompted major changes in how the department handled digital threats, including the formation of a new cyber military command, Lynn said.

After the 2008 assault, the Pentagon banned its work force from using flash drives, but recently eased the prohibition.

Since the attack, the military has developed methods to uncover intruders inside its network, or so-called "active defense systems," according to Lynn.

But he added that drafting rules of engagement for defending against cyber attack was "not easy," as the laws of war were written before the advent of a digital battlefield.

Taliban planning attacks on U.S. aid workers in Pakistan.

Thousands have fled their homes in southern coastal areas in Pakistan
The Pakistani Taliban are planning to attack foreigners helping with flood relief efforts in the country, a senior US official has warned.

The Taliban plan "to conduct attacks against foreigners participating in the ongoing flood relief operations in Pakistan", the official told the BBC.

The official also said "provincial ministers in Islamabad" may be at risk.

The warning comes as thousands flee their homes in southern coastal areas as floods sweep down from the north.

The UN says more than 17 million people have been affected by the monsoon floods, and about 1.2 million homes have been destroyed.
Some five million Pakistanis have no shelter, and urgently need tents or plastic sheeting to protect them from the sun.

According to information available to the US government, Tehrik-e Taliban plans to conduct attacks against foreigners participating in the ongoing flood relief operations in Pakistan," the official told the BBC on condition of anonymity.

"Tehrik-e Taliban also may be making plans to attack federal and provincial ministers in Islamabad."

The BBC's James Reynolds, in Washington, says this marks the first time that the US has specifically warned about attacks in connection to the floods in Pakistan.

It is not yet clear what effect this warning will have on US involvement in relief efforts in Pakistan, our correspondent adds.

The US is one of a number of countries to have sent aid and assistance to Pakistan. The US Agency for International Development says that it has so far provided around $150m in support to victims of the flood.

Villages evacuated

The warning came hours after a top US general involved in the military relief effort said his men had not encountered any security problems in flying aid to Pakistan.

"We have seen no security threat whatsoever in the three weeks we have been operating here," Brigadier General Michael Nagata was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.

He added that the Pakistani military had done a "highly effective job in providing our force protection and security".

Nations, including the US, have pledged more than $700m (£552m) for relief efforts in Pakistan.

Workers have begun clearing up as the floods recede in the north and the UN has appealed for more helicopters to reach 800,000 people who are cut off.

But some 200,000 people have been evacuated in the Thatta area of the southern province of Sindh, where dozens of villages are submerged.

WikiLeaks leaks CIA report

CNN) -- The whistle-blower website WikiLeaks on Wednesday posted what it said was an internal CIA report into the perception that the United States exports terrorism, but one U.S. official said it does not divulge spectacular developments.

The three-page document, dated February 2, 2010, asks, "What If Foreigners See the United States as an 'Exporter of Terrorism?' "
"These sorts of analytic products -- clearly identified as coming from the agency's 'Red Cell' -- are designed to simply provoke thought and present different points of view," said CIA spokesman George Little.

A U.S. intelligence official said, "it's always disturbing when classified information is inappropriately disclosed." However the official added, "this is not a blockbuster paper."
The document, promised by the group in a Twitter message on Tuesday, is labeled "secret," the lowest level of classification.

The website set off a firestorm recently when it posted some 76,000 U.S. documents related to the war in Afghanistan. The group has said it has another 15,000 documents, which it plans to release soon.

The U.S. Defense Department has demanded WikiLeaks return all documents belonging to the Pentagon and delete any records of them. Officials in Afghanistan have also criticized the leak.
The founder and editor of the website, Julian Assange, was arrested in absentia last week in Sweden on charges of rape, but the warrant was revoked less than a day later by Chief Prosecutor Eva Finne.

Assange told the Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera on Sunday the accusations are "clearly a smear campaign."
"The only question is, who was involved?" he asked, declining to say who he thinks is behind the effort.

Separately on Tuesday, the attorney for the alleged victims told CNN rumors that the Pentagon or CIA was somehow involved in the sex crime accusations against Assange are "complete nonsense."
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also has criticized the organization's last leak of documents saying it would have a significant negative impact on troops and allies, revealing techniques and procedures.

Assange has defended the leak by saying it can help shape the public's understanding of the war. He said the material was of no operational significance and that WikiLeaks tried to ensure the material did not put innocent people at risk.

Assange reportedly has spent his life developing the tech skills needed to set up WikiLeaks. When he was a teenager in Melbourne, Australia, he belonged to a hacker collective called the International Subversives, according to the magazine Mother Jones.

He eventually pleaded guilty to multiple counts of breaking into Australian government and commercial websites to test their security gaps, but was released on bond for "good behavior," the magazine said.

As WikiLeaks has grown and published increasingly high-profile items, Assange has found himself the target of what he says are many legal attacks.

Lockheed unveils MAPLE (MPLE) UAV

AUVSI: Skunk Works lifts curtain on new UAV programs
By Stephen Trimble

Lockheed Martin's advanced development programs division - also known as Skunk Works - has chosen the AUVSI show to lift the curtain on two previously internal concepts for new unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).

The new disclosures reveal how far Lockheed has pushed internally during the last decade on sophisticated unmanned technology, even as rival manufacturers Boeing and Northrop Grumman worked on the high-profile, ill-fated, joint unmanned combat air systems (J-UCAS) program.

A concept image showing the multipurpose long-endurance (MPLE - pronounced "maple") reveals a twin-boomed UAV with a high-aspect ratio wing set against a desert backdrop at a medium altitude elevation.

Lockheed confirms MPLE will challenge the Aurora Flight Sciences' Orion vehicle for a new Air Force Research Laboratory contract to demonstrate a medium-altitude surveillance aircraft that can remain airborne for five days, says Bob Ruszkowski, a Skunk Works systems engineer.

Ruszkowski declined to divulge MPLE's propulsion system, although he ruled out hydrogen. Asked if the aircraft is battery- or gas-powered, Ruszkowski says only that the aircraft will employ a highly efficient propulsion system.

MPLE is actually a scaled-down version of a much larger concept design developed by Skunk Works, he adds.

Skywatchers: X-37 Mini Shuttle "disappears" for 2 weeks-changes orbit.

AMATEUR astronomers are enjoying a cat-and-mouse game with the US military in keeping track of its secret space plane, the X-37B.

The X-37B was launched in April amid much publicity, but scant detail about its true use.
Built by Boeing's Phantom Works division, the X-37B program was originally headed by NASA.
It was later turned over to the Pentagon's research and development arm and then to a secretive Air Force unit.

Only a very select few in the US military know what it's for, but observers on Earth believe they're putting together the puzzle piece by piece. Several sources claim quote arms control advocates who say it's clearly the beginning of the "weaponisation of space".

In May, avid skywatcher Ted Molczan studied the X-37B's orbit from his home in Toronto and said its behaviour suggested it was testing sensors for a range of new spy satellites.
Since then, the X-37B been arguably the least-secret secret project on the planet, as fellow backyard astronomers joined in the scrutiny, aided by how-to video guides and apps such as the Simple Satellite Tracker.

That is, they did until July 29, when the shuttle disappeared, causing all kinds of consternation and conspiracy theories about its fate.

It took amateur skywatcher Greg Roberts of Cape Town, South Africa, who noticed that it failed to appear as scheduled above his base on August 14, another five days to find it.
When he did, he noticed it was some 30km higher and on a different trajectory, according to calculations from other colleagues in Rome and Oklahoma.

The X-37B's new track takes it on a six-day orbit of the Earth, as opposed to its original four-day orbit.

Mr Molczan believes this may be another small piece to the puzzle about what role the shuttle may play in US military operations.

"This small change of orbit may have been a test of OTV-1's manoeuvring system, or a requirement of whatever payload may be aboard, or both," he said in a release paper about Roberts' X-37B find.
The shuttle has been in orbit now for 124 days. It uses a solar array once in space for power, which theoretically will allow it to stay airborne for up to 270 days.

But the additional presence of large fuel tanks and a rocket motor allows it to change orbit, as evidenced by the latest sudden change of course.

According to the The Register, this is a key component of its surveillance-related capabilities, along with the fact it can land in a much more versatile fashion than other shuttles.
Using its "cross-range" wings, it can duck off elsewhere once its entered the Earth's atmosphere rather than follow its oribital track to a pre-specified landing pad.

This means the X-37B can get up and down from space in one orbit, as its wings allow it to compensate for the slight turn in the Earth and bend it back to its original launch pad.
The Register says that capability would make it difficult to track, as it would only pass over a region once.

Theoretically, it could drop a spy satellite on one run, then pick it up on the next without the satellite having ever been detected.

Observers claim the X-37B can carry a payload roughly the size of a medium-sized truck bed, or enough to hold a spy satellite.

According to the Pentagon, a second X-37B is under construction, so expect the guessing game to continue for some time about what the US military is really up to in space.
Until now, all that remains known about the X-37B is that is it has at least one trick - the ability to hide from skywatchers for two weeks.

Russian bombers playing games with NORAD

NORAD is downplaying an incident on Tuesday that saw two CF-18s shadow a pair of Russian military aircraft as they flew within 56 kilometres of Canadian soil.

Two CF-18s, shadowed a pair of Russian military aircraft Tuesday north of Inuvik, N.W.T. The encounter came a day before parliamentarians were to discuss the government's purchase of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, slated to replace Canada's CF-18s. (Louis Nastro/Canadian Press)

In a statement Wednesday, NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defence Command, said the CF-18s "intercepted and visually identified" two TU-95 Bear bombers that entered the Canadian Air Defence Identification Zone.

"At no time did the Russian military aircraft enter Canadian or United States sovereign airspace," said NORAD spokesman Lt. Desmond James, a Canadian naval officer.

"Both Russia and NORAD routinely exercise their capability to operate in the North. These exercises are important to both NORAD and Russia and are not cause for alarm."

In a "readout" email to media early Wednesday, PMO communications director Dimitri Soudas said the aircraft were spotted approximately 220 kilometres north of Inuvik, N.W.T.

The CF-18 jets from 4 Wing Cold Lake in Alberta shadowed the Russians until both aircraft turned around, Soudas said.

"Thanks to the rapid response of the Canadian Forces, at no time did the Russian aircraft enter sovereign Canadian airspace," he said.

The Canadian aircraft returned to base without incident.

NORAD said its aircraft have intercepted four Russian bombers so far this year and 16 times in 2009.

James said NORAD recognizes that all countries have the right to operate in international airspace, but may conduct identification missions should aircraft approach the North American Air Defence Identification Zone.

Soudas said Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is in the Canadian North for his annual Arctic tour, was briefed during and at the end of the mission.

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2010/08/25/cf-18s-russians-airspace.html?ref=rss#ixzz0xeUvVZey

Breaking: Rash of bombings in Iraq may be al-Qaeda.


At least 50 people have been killed in a series of apparently co-ordinated bomb attacks across Iraq.

The deadliest killed 19 people in the southern city of Kut. Several blasts hit Baghdad, including a suicide bombing in which 15 died.

There were also attacks in other major cities. Officials blame al-Qaeda.

Correspondents say the violence highlights fears about the stability of Iraq ahead of the formal end of US combat operations next week.

These attacks may be a response by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq (a branch of al-Qaeda) to the Americans sending all their combat troops home.

The Pentagon announced on Tuesday that the remaining US forces were down to below 50,000. Under the State of Forces Agreement, signed by the US and Iraqi governments, all US troops are due to leave by the end of next year.

Or the attacks could be a response to a claim by the ministry of the interior that it had broken up an al-Qaeda cell in Baghdad.

Almost all of Wednesday's attacks targeted security forces.

In Baghdad, the suicide car bomb hit a police station in the Qahira district in the north-east of the city killing 15 people, most of them police.

Police and hospital officials said 58 people were wounded in the explosion, which left a crater 3m (10ft) wide and caused houses to collapse, trapping people inside.

"We woke up to the sound of this powerful explosion that shook the area," resident Abu Ahmed, 35, told the Associated Press news agency.

"I searched for victims in the destroyed houses, and evacuated seven dead children and some women."

Elsewhere in the capital, smaller explosions killed at least four people and injured many others.

In Kut, 160km (100 miles) south-east of Baghdad, a suicide bomber blew up a car outside a police station and the provincial government's headquarters.

At least 19 people were killed and 90 wounded.

In other incidents:

in Kirkuk, a car bomb killed one person and injured eight
in Falluja, a soldier was killed and 10 people injured when a suicide bomber drove into an Iraqi army convoy
in Tikrit, a roadside bomb killed a policeman and wounded another
in Mosul, a gunman killed one soldier and a car bomb killed four civilians
in Basra, a car exploded as police towed it from a parking lot, killing one person and injuring eight
in Ramadi, a car exploded as two alleged bombers were working on it, while a second car exploded about 1km away, killing at least two
in Karbala, a suicide car bomb exploded at police checkpoint at the entrance to police station, injuring 30 people
The Reuters news agency reported other explosions in Dujail, Balad Ruz and Samarra, but these could not be confirmed.

No group has said it carried out the attacks, but the BBC's Hugh Sykes in Baghdad says the Islamic State of Iraq, a branch of al-Qaeda, may be behind some of them.

US military spokesman Maj Gen Stephen Lanza called the attacks "desperate attempts" by al-Qaeda to undermine faith in the Iraqi security forces.

Iraqi security spokesman Maj Gen Qassim al-Moussawi also blamed al-Qaeda, and warned of more attacks as US troops end combat operations on 31 August.

"By mobilising all its capabilities, the enemy is trying to escalate the terrorist attacks during this coming period," he said. "We have plans to face those terrorist attacks."

Violence in Iraq is down from the peak seen during the sectarian conflict in 2006-2007, although the number of civilian deaths rose sharply in July.

Black Horizon mentioned in Air & Space Magazine article!

The Truth is Out There
A veteran reporter describes his search for the aircraft of Area 51.
By William B. Scott
Air & Space Magazine, September 01, 2010


In 1992, a series of intercepted radio transmissions presented an entirely new possibility for the mystery airplane. Around 6 a.m. Pacific time on April 5 and 22, Steve Douglass, an investigative journalist who monitors military aircraft radio chatter and maintains a black-projects blog (www.DeepBlueHorizon.blogspot.com), picked up transmissions between Edwards’ radar control facility and a high-altitude aircraft that was using the call sign “Gaspipe.”

Controllers were directing the aircraft to a landing, using advisories that would be familiar to space shuttle astronauts returning from orbit. Edwards told Gaspipe: “You’re at sixty-seven thousand [feet], eighty-one miles out.”

Moments later, Edwards radioed, “Seventy miles out, thirty-six thousand. Above glide slope.” During years of flight testing in the Edwards area, I had heard controllers issuing similar clipped directives. The cadence and tone of the one talking to Gaspipe were the same. I concluded that Douglass’ recording was authentic. The mystery aircraft was descending rapidly, dropping from an altitude of more than 12 miles to almost seven in a few seconds, and evidently it lined up to land. Where, we didn’t know. Maybe Groom Lake.

Link: http://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/The-Truth-is-Out-There.html?c=y&page12

Iran showcases new obsolete missile!

Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- Iran has successfully test-fired a new version of its Fateh missile, which has a longer range than previous models, Iranian news agencies reported Wednesday.
The Fateh-110 was designed by Iranian scientists and is also more accurate than older versions, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, Iran's defense minister, told state-run Press TV and the semi-official Fars news agency.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the Fateh-110 is a short- or medium-range missile. Press TV reported it is 9 meters (29.5 feet) long and weighs 3,500 kilograms (7,716 pounds).
Vahidi claimed that the production of the missile was "another victory in the field of defense and technology, and was another example of busting the sanctions and getting rid of them," Fars quoted him as saying.

He also denied that Iran's implementation of the Fateh missile was linked to the recent purchase of U.S.-made Patriot missiles by Kuwait, according to Fars.

"Kuwait is not a threat to us because we have friendly relations with Kuwait ... however, there was no need to have that system (Patriot) in Kuwait," the minister said.
The test-firing of the missile came days after Iran unveiled the first long-range military drone manufactured in the country, state media reported.

On Saturday Iran also began fueling its first nuclear energy plant in the southern city of Bushehr, according to the nation's state media.
Press TV said the effort would help the country create nuclear-generated electricity.

But some Western nations have questioned whether the nuclear fuel will be used solely for electricity, suggesting that Iran would eventually try to enrich uranium on its own, providing material for nuclear weapons.

The United States has questioned Iran's motives in continuing to enrich uranium within its borders.
The five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany offered Iran a deal last October: send the low-level uranium out of the country to be enriched elsewhere in exchange for fuel for its reactor.

Tehran did not accept and instead made a counteroffer: make the swap a simultaneous one and carry it out on Iranian soil.

The U.S. State Department called the Iranian proposal a stalling tactic and said world powers would not "front" the fuel to Iran. A stalemate ensued.

The United States is now seeking support for expanded sanctions, saying Iran is unlikely to negotiate unless sanctions are in place.

Taliban cowards stoop to new low: poisoning schoolgirls.

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Dozens of schoolgirls and teachers were sickened Wednesday by poison gas in Afghanistan, medical and government officials said.
The latest incident, this one at a high school, is the ninth such case involving the poisoning of schoolgirls, said Asif Nang, spokesman for the nation's education ministry.
Dr. Kabir Amiri said 59 students and 14 teachers were brought to the hospital, and were faring better.

"We don't have good equipment to verify the kind of gas that they were poisoned with, but we have taken their blood tests to send to Turkmenistan for verifying the type of gas" that was used, Amiri said.

Many Afghan girls were not allowed to attend school during the Taliban's rule from 1996 to 2001. Girls' schools began reopening after the Islamist regime was toppled. The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, estimates that 2 million Afghan girls attend school these days.
But female educational facilities, students and teachers have come under vicious attack as the insurgency has strengthened and spread from Taliban strongholds in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.

A report compiled last year by the humanitarian agency CARE documented 670 education-related attacks in 2008, including murder and arson. Much of the violence in what CARE called an "alarming trend" occurred at girls' schools.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Planetary system discovered in Hydrus.


Astronomers have discovered a planetary system containing at least five planets that orbit a star called HD 10180, which is much like our own Sun.

The star is 127 light years away, in the southern constellation of Hydrus.

The researchers used the European Southern Observatory (Eso) to monitor light emitted from the system and identify and characterise the planets.

They say this is the "richest" system of exoplanets - planets outside our own Solar System - ever found.

Christophe Lovis from Geneva University's observatory in Switzerland was lead researcher on the study. He said that his team had probably found "the system with the most planets yet discovered".

The discovery could provide insight into the formation of our own Solar System
"This also highlights the fact that we are now entering a new era in exoplanet research - the study of complex planetary systems and not just of individual planets," he said.

The research has been submitted for publication to the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Eso's High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (or Harps) instrument was responsible for the discovery.

Harps measures the wobble of a star; this gives a measure of how much it is being tugged on by an orbiting planet.

"If there is one planet it will induce a little movement - the star will come towards us and move away," Dr Lovis explained to BBC News.

"And what works for one [planet] works for many."

With many planets orbiting the star, its movement becomes a very complex "superposition" of several different planet-induced movements.

"[This] marks the way towards gathering the information that will put our own existence into cosmic context”

Martin Dominik
University of St Andrews
Using Harp, Dr Lovis and his team were able to measure this and break it down, in order to calculate how many planets were in the system, how great each of their masses was, and even the path of each individual planet's orbit.

The researchers said the system around HD 10180 as unique in several respects.

It has at least five "Neptune-like planets" lying within a distance equivalent to the orbit of Mars, making it more populated than our own Solar System in its inner region. And all the planets seem to have almost circular orbits.

Dr Lovis said: "Studies of planetary motions in the new system reveal complex gravitational interactions between the planets and give us insights into the long-term evolution of the system."

False alarm?
So far, the astronomers have picked up clear signals from five planets, along with two slightly "fuzzier" signals. One of these possible sixth and seventh planets was estimated to be just 1.4 times the mass of the Earth; if its presence in the system was confirmed, it would be the lowest mass exoplanet yet discovered.

It is also predicted to be very close to its host star - just 2% of the Earth-Sun distance, so one year on this planet would last only 1.2 Earth days.

Dr Lovis said he was 99% certain that this small planet was there.

"There are five signals that are really strong that we have no doubt, but we have another two with a 'false alarm' probability of 1%," he said.

Martin Dominik, an astronomer and exoplanet hunter from the UK's University of St Andrews said the complexity and structure of this system made it an interesting discovery.

"The richness of the system of planets around HD 10180 with its many characteristic features marks the way forward towards gathering the information that will put our own existence into cosmic context," he told BBC News.

He cautioned against describing this as the "richest system" saying that it was not clear whether other systems that had already been detected hosted further planets.

Dr Dominik added: "I am tempted to consider the detected system as one of the most 'informative' ones.

"Like most discoveries in science, the findings come with more questions than answers; but in my opinion, this is what really advances a field.

Pakistan: Ripe With Resentment -terrorist breeding ground.

TARBELA, PAKISTAN -- Everyone here remembers the Americans.
The Washington Post

They came with their blueprints, their engineering know-how and their money. By the time they left in the early 1970s, they had helped build a world-class dam that kept parts of Pakistan dry this month while vast stretches of the country drowned.

"This dam gives great benefit to the nation, and if not for the Americans it would never have been constructed," said Syed Naimat Shah, a local contractor.

But Shah hasn't seen any new assistance from the Americans in decades, and apparently many Pakistanis haven't, either. The U.S. government has provided about $18 billion in civilian and military aid to Pakistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made this country America's most essential, and vexing, ally. Yet according to a Pew Research Center survey released last month, half of Pakistanis believe the United States gives little to no assistance here.

For Obama administration officials, that's a source of deep anxiety -- and frustration. Pakistan is at the center of U.S. hopes to turn around the flagging Afghan war, but persistent anti-American feelings limit the extent of Pakistani cooperation. On her visit to Pakistan last month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton mused that Americans must wonder "why we're sending money to a country that doesn't want it."

Pakistanis insist they are not ungrateful. They just don't see any tangible impact from the massive sums the United States spends. Unlike assistance from decades ago, the money from the post-Sept. 11 era, Pakistanis say, tends to vanish without a trace.

"Everyone here hates the American government," said Shah, a spirited 71-year-old with a stark white beard and a sharp tongue. "I haven't seen a penny of this U.S. assistance."

Analysts say there are many reasons: poor coordination with the Pakistani government, a lack of understanding of Pakistan's needs and a reluctance to produce iconic projects, lest they become targets for terrorists.

"American assistance is always of a nature that is not seen or felt," said Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States. "How many dams were built? How many highways? Can you touch anything that was built with U.S. assistance?"

U.S. officials say aid money is making a positive impact, if not always a widely noticed one. Since Sept. 11, Pakistan has ranked among the top five recipients of U.S. civilian and military aid, in a group with Israel, Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq. But they acknowledge the overall criticism and say they are fundamentally changing the way they spend taxpayer dollars here.

The $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar civilian aid package, passed by Congress late last year, is providing the first big test. Unlike in the past, the money will be routed directly through Pakistani agencies and institutions, and officials say the results will be far more visible.

But already, there have been delays that could keep the money from making an impact anytime soon.

"We're having trouble moving this money," said Robert J. Wilson, the USAID mission director here. "It's not easy to change the approach."

The Kerry-Lugar funds, which will be spread over five years, were intended to help erase the widespread perception that the United States cares only about supporting Pakistan's military.

Indeed, most U.S. assistance over the past nine years has paid for night-vision goggles, F-16 fighter jets, unmanned surveillance planes and other tools that help the army battle the Taliban, but has done little to convince Pakistanis that the United States cares about their well-being.

Still, the United States will have spent nearly $5 billion in civilian assistance by the end of the year, and that money is supposed to buy goodwill.

By almost all accounts, it hasn't. Although the United States has received praise here for its speedy response to the summer's catastrophic floods, Pakistanis remain suspicious of American motives. In the Pew poll, nearly six in 10 Pakistanis described the United States as an enemy; only one in 10 called it a partner.

Javed Ashraf Qazi, Pakistan's former education minister and onetime top spy, thinks he knows the reason.

When Qazi was appointed education minister in 2004 after retiring from the military, he expected that U.S. assistance would help him raise standards. There was much to do: Pakistan's public schools are in deplorable condition, with more than half lacking electricity and teachers earning as little as $50 a month.

But Qazi said he soon discovered that the United States did not even coordinate its programs with the education ministry. Most of the money seemed to go to U.S. consultants "who would carry out a study for something or other that we did not need."

One program was geared toward "setting up democratic schools in Pakistan," he said. "I was very curious to know what the hell is a democratic school."

Another, he said, involved spending millions to send Pakistani teachers to Washington for months of training. Qazi wondered why the United States had not just paid for training in Pakistan, which could have had many times the impact.

Invited to Washington himself, Qazi said he finally lost his patience at a meeting in a State Department office once used by Gen. George C. Marshall, architect of Europe's reconstruction.

"I said, 'You do the opposite of what Marshall did. You don't ask us what we want to do. You tell us what you want to do,' " he said.

The complaint is a familiar one here. A program to train female health workers, for instance, was duplicating the work of a similar Pakistani government program. A recently announced plan to put solar panels on the roofs of the elite and private Beaconhouse school system, meanwhile, has been widely derided as out of touch when many public schools lack even roofs.

Pakistani analysts say a system that relies largely on Beltway contractors to devise the plans and get the work done has yielded few results. Wilson, the USAID director, said his agency is transitioning away from that system and toward the Pakistanis themselves.

But doing so poses its own set of challenges. Pakistan's government is rated among the most corrupt in the world, and the United States has a lengthy process for certifying the accountability of its partners. As a result, very little of the Kerry-Lugar money has hit the ground nearly a year after the bill's passage.

When it does, Pakistani development officials worry that it will be spent without regard for the results, or for the limitations in Pakistan's capacity to absorb the funds.

"When the money comes in, there's a lot of pressure to spend it," said Mehnaz Aziz, chief executive of the Children's Global Network, a nongovernmental organization that has had small contracts with USAID. "I would never want to be in a position to spend $100 million in Pakistan."

All that money does not necessarily mean high-profile projects. Because anything in Pakistan that's associated with America is vulnerable to attack, the United States has shied away from projects that could make for alluring targets.

Qazi, the former education minister and spymaster, said the threat is overstated. He said that if the United States set up a technical training institute, no one would dare attack it. "Call it the American School of Technology. People are running to the U.S. for good technical education. So set it up over here," he said.

U.S. officials are not convinced. But they say the incoming money will have a tangible impact. Among the projects slated to begin is one in Tarbela, where American engineers worked decades ago with a consortium of international and Pakistani partners to build the dam.

For $16 million, USAID plans to upgrade the dam's turbines, which produce hydropower. The work is expected to significantly cut Pakistan's chronic energy deficit.

Word has begun to spread in Tarbela that the Americans are coming back, and former mayor Firdous Khan said he would welcome them.

He said he admired the American engineers who helped build the dam for their ability to get things done without delay, and without demanding a bribe.

But decades later, surveying his town's potholed streets, its archaic sewer system and its vast population of unemployed young men, Khan's mind turns to regret: "I just wish they had stayed."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Breaking: Agni air crash in Nepal.

A NEPALESE passenger plane with 15 people on board crashed shortly after taking off from Kathmandu early today, a spokesman for the home ministry said.

"The Agni Air plane crashed while flying to Lukla," Jayamukunda Khanal said, referring to a popular trekking spot in the Everest region of eastern Nepal.

"There were 15 people on board."

Russian blames US "Secret Climate Weapon'" for heat wave.

By Ashley Cleek
As Muscovites suffer record high temperatures this summer, a Russian political scientist has claimed the United States may be using climate-change weapons to alter the temperatures and crop yields of Russia and other Central Asian countries.

In a recent article, Andrei Areshev, deputy director of the Strategic Culture Foundation, wrote, "At the moment, climate weapons may be reaching their target capacity and may be used to provoke droughts, erase crops, and induce various anomalous phenomena in certain countries."

The article has been carried by publications throughout Russia, including "International Affairs," a journal published by the Foreign Ministry and by the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.

In an telephone interview with RFE/RL, Areshev appeared to back off from claims he made in the article, saying that he was merely positing a theory.

"First of all, I would like to say that what I wrote in that article, even the citations, does not in any way claim to a be final truth. It is, if you will, speculation, in other words, the definition of an hypothesis," Areshev said.

Moscow is currently sweltering under record temperatures. On July 29 Moscow suffered its hottest day ever, with temperatures hitting 39 degrees.

But Russia isn't the only country suffering form a heat wave this summer. Indeed, the United States is also experiencing record temperatures. On July 24, temperatures in Washington, D.C., hit 37.7 degrees, and local weather services issued heat warnings for the first time this summer.

Areshev agrees that it is also hot in the United States, but notes that the United States is significantly farther south than Russia, meaning that such high temperatures are not so surprising there.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, however, announced in July that land and ocean temperatures throughout the world were the highest ever, since they began tracking global temperatures in 1880.

Conspiracy Theories

In the article, Areshev voiced suspicions about the High-Frequency Active Aural Research Program (HAARP), funded by the U.S. Defense Department and the University of Alaska.

HAARP, which has long been the target of conspiracy theorists, analyzes the ionosphere and seeks to develop technologies to improve radio communications, surveillance, and missile detection.

Areshev writes, however, that its true aim is to create new weapons of mass destruction "in order to destabilize environmental and agricultural systems in local countries."

Areshev's article also references an unmanned spacecraft X-37B, an orbital test vehicle the Pentagon launched in April 2010. The Pentagon calls X-37B a prototype for a new "space plane" that could take people and equipment to and from space stations. Areshev, however, alleges that the X-378 carries "laser weaponry" and could be a key component in the Pentagon's climate-change arsenal.

The Pentagon was not immediately reachable for comment.

Areshev also cites the U.S. government's effort to use rain and cloud coverage to block the Vietnam Army's supply routes during the Vietnam War. He insisted, however, that he was not a conspiracy theorist.

"My comments were not made in order to accuse the U.S., or any other country, of consciously influencing Russia," Areshev said. "That would be quite ridiculous."

Asked whether or not Russia was also experimenting with climate-control methods, Areshev said since he was not a member of the government, he did not have information about such projects.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Iran unveils bomber drone!

TEHRAN, Iran - Iranian leaders on Aug. 22 unveiled a bomber drone with a range of up to 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), touting the Islamic republic's home-grown capacity to resist attack, state media reported.

THIS PHOTO RELEASED by the Iranian Defense Ministry claims to show the launch of the long-range drone, dubbed Karar, at an undisclosed location. (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE)
Television footage showed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad applauding as a blue cloth covering the drone - called Karar ("Assailant") - was removed to reveal a short aircraft marked "bomber jet" in military-green.

"This jet, before it heralds death for enemies, is the messenger of salvation and dignity for humanity," Ahmadinejad said in a speech at the unveiling in a hall at Tehran's Malek Ashtar university.

The broadcast showed the high-speed unmanned aircraft in flight, while Fars news agency quoted Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi as saying the drone had a range of up to 1,000 kilometers.

State television said the drone was built to "carry and fire four stealth cruise missiles... and, depending on the mission, it can carry two bombs of 250 pounds each or a precision missile of 500 pounds."

Ahmadinejad said Iran's defense abilities "should reach a point where we can cut off the aggressor's arm before he acts, and if we miss, we should destroy him before he hits the target."

"The main message of the Karar bomber is to prevent any kind of aggression and conflict" against Iran, which is embroiled in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program, he added.

The drone was unveiled on Iran's annual Defense Industry Day, and two days after it test-fired a surface-to-surface missile also built domestically, called the Qiam ("Rising").

Iran is expected to follow up with series of military announcements during the nation's "government week," a period when Tehran boasts of its latest technological achievements.

The country is also expected to test-fire a third generation Fateh ("Conqueror") 110 missile, after having already paraded a version with a range of 90 to 125 miles (150 to 200 kilometers).

The production lines for two missile-carrying speedboats, Seraj and Zolfaqar, are also due to be inaugurated.

Karar's unveiling came days after Iran took delivery of four domestically built Ghadi mini-submarines, a "stealth" vessel designed to operate in shallow waters such as the Arabian Gulf.

The moves coincide with Iranian warnings against any attack. The United States and Israel have not ruled out taking military action over Tehran's controversial nuclear program.

On Aug. 21, Iran began loading nuclear fuel in its first nuclear power plant. The Russian-built reactor in the southern port of Bushehr, which is not targeted by U.N. sanctions, aims to generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

On the military front, Gen. Ali Fadavi, a naval commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, said earlier this month that the country is to mass-produce replicas of the Bladerunner 51, often termed the world's fastest boat.

"The Bladerunner is a British ship that holds the world speed record. We got a copy [on which] we made some changes so it can launch missiles and torpedoes," he said.

Iran will make the strategic, oil-rich Gulf region unsafe if it comes under attack over it nuclear program, Yadollah Javani, deputy chief of the Guards, said at the start of August.

The Guards were established after the 1979 Islamic revolution to defend the regime from internal and external threats.

Friday, August 20, 2010

WhiteKnightTwo plane damaged in test

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Aug 20 (Reuters) - An aircraft designed to launch Virgin Galactic's suborbital passenger spaceship was damaged in an accident on a California runway, manufacturer Scaled Composites said.

In a statement on its website, Scaled, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman (NOC.N), called Thursday's incident "minor" and noted that SpaceShipTwo was not attached to the carrier aircraft, known as WhiteKnightTwo, at the time.

Aviation Week & Space Technology, an industry trade publication, is reporting that WhiteKnightTwo's left main landing gear collapsed on the runway. It was not known if the plane was taking off or landing at the time.

Scaled said no one was injured in the accident at a Mojave, California, airport. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

WhiteKnightTwo began flying in 2008 and was making its 37th test flight on Thursday. The aircraft is designed to carry SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of about 45,000 feet (13,650 metres).

The six-passenger, two-pilot spaceship would then be released so it can fire its rocket engine to punch through Earth's atmosphere, experience a few minutes of weightlessness in suborbital space and then land on a runway.

Virgin Galactic, which is selling tickets to ride SpaceShipTwo for $200,000 a seat, has signed up about 340 customers so far. The company is an offshoot of Richard Branson's London-based Virgin Group and hopes to begin commercial space operations in late 2011 or 2012.

SpaceShipTwo is based on a prototype known as SpaceShipOne, which made a trio of suborbital piloted spaceflights in 2004 to clinch a $10 million contest for private human spaceflight.

Scaled did not say how the damage to WhiteKnightTwo will affect the testing program for SpaceShipTwo and pilot training.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

North Korean Jet Fighter Crash May Have Been Defection

A North Korean aircraft, which may be a fighter jet, has crashed in China near the country's shared border, say Chinese and South Korean reports.

It is believed the pilot, who was killed, may have been trying to defect to Russia, according to unnamed intelligence sources cited by Yonhap.

The crash happened on Tuesday afternoon in Fushun county, Liaoning province.

Defections are common but an attempt by plane is highly unusual and would be a source of embarrassment for Pyongyang.

China has a repatriation agreement with North Korea, which could explain why the pilot may have been trying to reach Russia, the report added.

North Korea has a military airbase in Sinuiju, near the border with China.

China's state media confirmed an unidentified small plane had crashed and that it may belong to North Korea.

An investigation into the cause of the crash was under way, Xinhua reported.

Soviet-era jet
Photographs of the wreckage reportedly taken by a local resident and posted on the internet showed a North Korean flag on the plane's tail.

Military experts said the plane appeared to be a Soviet-era fighter jet, which were used during the 1950-53 Korean War.

A report in Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper said that a second pilot had bailed out but gave no information on his whereabouts. It conflicts with the South Korean report of only one pilot on board.

Technically, North and South Korea remain at war although a ceasefire agreement ended fighting in 1953.

Their border is the most heavily militarised zone in the world.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Russia is doing something extremely stupid ...

Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- Russia will start loading a nuclear reactor in Iran with fuel next week, moving the project closer to being complete, both nations said Friday.
The August 21 arrival of fuel at the Bushehr facility, which Iran says will create atomic energy but other nations fear could be used for nuclear weapons, marks a key step toward its completion, Russia said.

"This event will symbolize that the period of testing is over and the stage of physical start-up has begun," said Sergei Novikov, spokesman for Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency.
The head of that agency will visit Iran next week, said the semi-official Fars News Agency. A Russian group is already in Iran to make the necessary arrangements for his arrival.
The reactor in the western Iranian port city of Bushehr will be operational by the third week of September, Fars said, though Novikov said the plant will not be ready to produce energy for another six months.

"All the installations and tests are now complete and the plant is now headed for launch," said Mahmoud Jafari, head of the Bushehr plant workshop.
Russia's state-sponsored nuclear corporation has been under contract for several years to help Iran build the Bushehr reactor site.

The United States has urged Russia to wait, saying more evidence is needed that Iran doesn't plan to use the site to make weapons.
Novikov said the fuel's arrival and loading into the plant will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"The IAEA inspectors will remove seals from containers with nuclear fuel, examine it," he said. "The fuel will be then transferred into a special storage facility. And when the Iranian nuclear watchdog agency gives its permission, the fuel will be loaded into the reactor."

Western corporations began the Bushehr facility in the 1970s but after the Iranian revolutions, the Islamic regime looked to Russia to complete the $800 million nuclear facility.
Iran has maintained all along that the site will produce energy, but the United States and other international observers remain unconvinced.

Earlier this month, the United States extended sanctions against Iran, saying it was targeting a number of Iranian businesses and groups accused of helping organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban.

In June, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions targeting the country's nuclear and missile programs -- identifying more than 20 companies and several individuals allegedly involved with those programs.


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