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Defending The Earth, A New U.S. Space Force?

U.S. President Donald Trump’s desire to create a Space Force might sound a little out of this world, but the idea of making military use of space is not new.

“We already, in fact, have a kind of Space Force,” says Ilya Somin, a professor of law at George Mason University. “We have military satellites that already exist. They’ve existed for a long time. It’s just that they’re controlled by the Air Force and sometimes by the Navy. So if Trump succeeds in persuading Congress to create a Space Force, all that will happen, at least initially, is that the sort of thing that was previously done by the Air Force will now be done by the Space Force.”

The U.S. military is currently composed of five armed services – the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. President Trump wants the Space Force to become a sixth military service branch focused on space warfare.

Constitutional scholars are debating how such a force would come into existence. Some question whether the U.S. Constitution, the nation’s founding governing document, allows for the establishment of a Space Force.

The Constitution grants Congress the power to “raise and support Armies” and also to “provide and maintain a Navy.”

Originalists, scholars who believe the Constitution should be interpreted as it was understood at the time it was enacted back in 1787, might argue that even the Air Force, which became a separate branch of the U.S. Armed Forces in 1947, should be considered unconstitutional.

Yet originalists could defend a Space Force if it were to be part of the Navy or Army, as the Air Force once was.

“A Space Force, like an Air Force, under modern conditions, is essential to conducting ground operations. It’s just another weapon for ground operations and sometimes naval operations,” Somin says. “The Constitution nowhere limits the kinds of weapons the Army or Navy is allowed to have. So if they’re allowed to have bullets that fly through the air, they can have planes that fly through the air and even spacecraft that fly through space.”

Originalists could also make a case for a completely separate Space Force organizationally because the Constitution gives Congress powers to do what is “necessary and proper” to enable lawmakers to execute their powers.

Agreeing that a Space Force is constitutional might come easily to “living constitutionalists,” scholars who believe that the meaning of the Constitution can change over time to account for modern conditions.

There is, however, one kind of Space Force that both originalists and living constitutionalists might have a problem with – a deep Space Force along the lines of Star Trek’s science fictional Starfleet, which conducts interstellar warfare, exploration and colonization.

“If you’re talking about the Starship Enterprise and it’s light years away from Earth and it’s fighting the Klingons or something in space, that has little or no connection to ground or naval warfare,” says Somin, adding, “I think there is a genuinely strong argument that that kind of deep Space Force would not be permissible under the original meaning of the Constitution.”

But what if aliens in a galaxy far, far away, plan to attack Earth?

“Any such thing, [our ability to use technology for deep space interstellar flight], if it ever happens at all, is many decades away probably, so we have plenty of time to discuss it and debate it, and if we decide this is something we really need, we can do a constitutional amendment,” Somin says. “It’s not like the Klingons or the Romulans are about to attack us tomorrow and we have to immediately authorize Starfleet to defeat them.”

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Senate Sends Defense Bill To President Trump For Signing

The US Senate easily passed a $716.3 billion defense authorization bill Wednesday that ramps up military spending and bolsters America’s posture against Russia, while avoiding policy changes that would have antagonized President Donald Trump.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed 87 to 10 in the Senate a week after clearing the House of Representatives, and now heads to the White House for Trump’s signature.

The bill provides $69 billion in special war funding known as overseas contingency operations, authorizes a 2.6 percent pay raise for members of the armed forces, and invests tens of billions in modernizing the Pentagon’s air and sea fleets and missile defenses.

It notably prohibits delivery of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to Turkey, a NATO ally with increasingly fraught relations with Washington, until Ankara can confirm it will not buy Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

And while China and Russia are classified as “strategic competitors” to the United States, the legislation negotiated between the House and Senate left out a proposal by senators that would have blocked a deal Trump reached with Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE that eases tough financial penalties on the firm for helping Iran and North Korea evade American sanctions.

The capitulation smoothed things over with the White House, but it angered Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who voted against the bill.

“It’s time we opened our eyes,” Rubio told colleagues.

“We are engaged in a geopolitical competition, not with some poor agrarian country trying to catch up, but with a global super power who is quickly nipping at our heels and doing so unfairly, with the intent of replacing us in the world as the most powerful country militarily, economically, geopolitically and technologically.”

The NDAA also includes a provision allowing the administration to waive some Russia-related sanctions that would have barred Washington from selling defense-related equipment to countries using Russian technology.

Supporters of the provision stress that the change will help certain countries wean themselves off of Russian influence.

The bill including provisions which allow for better assessment of risks to US national security from transactions involving foreign firms aiming to gain access to sensitive American technology.

It also extends a restriction on US-Russian military cooperation, and authorizes $65 million to revamp the US nuclear arsenal by developing new “low-yield” nuclear weapons.

This year’s NDAA was named after Senator John McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman and national security hawk who is home in Arizona battling brain cancer.

“This year’s NDAA represents an important opportunity to implement an effective approach to confront a growing array of threats around the world,” McCain said.

Congress has passed the NDAA for 57 consecutive years, and Senate Democrat Richard Blumenthal noted its success marks “a victory for the notion that national security is above politics and party.”

U. S. Intelligence Confirms: North Korea Dismantles Nuclear Testing Facility

Praising his “good relationship” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday welcomed reports that Pyongyang has started dismantling a facility seen as a testing ground for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

New satellite imagery shows “that North Korea has begun the process of dismantling a key missile site, and we appreciate that,” Trump said at an event for military veterans in Kansas City, Missouri.

Hitting back at criticism that his June 12 summit with Kim in Singapore has so far yielded few concrete results, Trump suggested his newfound rapport with Kim was bearing fruit.

“We had a fantastic meeting with Chairman Kim and it seems to be going very well,” Trump said.

After the summit, Trump had declared the North Korean nuclear threat was effectively over, but some US media reports suggest he has been privately furious at the pace of subsequent progress on the denuclearization issue.

US-based website 38 North published imagery Monday indicating Pyongyang has begun taking down a processing building and a rocket-engine test stand that had been used to test liquid-fuel engines at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

Sohae, on the northwest coast of North Korea, is ostensibly a facility designed for putting satellites into orbit, but rocket engines are easily repurposed for use in missiles and the international community has labelled Pyongyang’s space program a fig leaf for weapons tests.

38 North analyst Joseph Bermudez called the move an “important first step” for Kim in fulfilling a promise Trump said the North Korean leader had made.

But some experts urged caution and one US defense official played down the news, saying the Sohae site was not a priority in terms of monitoring the North’s denuclearization efforts.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the imagery was “entirely consistent” with commitments Kim made to Trump during their summit in Singapore.

“We’ve been pressing for there to be inspectors on the ground when that engine test facility is dismantled, consistent with Chairman Kim’s commitment,” Pompeo said Tuesday at a news conference in California.

“They need to completely, fully denuclearize. That’s the steps that Chairman Kim committed to and that the world has demanded,” Pompeo added.

– ‘Good feeling’ –

On Tuesday, Trump told the Veterans of Foreign Wars group that he was hopeful the question of repatriating the remains of US troops killed during the Korean War would be addressed shortly.

The long-simmering topic was highlighted in a joint statement signed by Trump and Kim, with the US and North Korea committing to recovering remains, “including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”

“At the very end of our meeting, I said to Chairman Kim — good relationship, good feeling — I said, ‘I would really appreciate if you could do that’,” Trump said.

“He said, ‘It will be done.'”

On June 20, Trump erroneously said 200 human remains had already “been sent back” from North Korea, but the issue is far from resolved and Pyongyang has already canceled at least one meeting to discuss the return of the remains.

We are “working to bring back the remains of your brothers-in-arms who gave their lives in Korea,” Trump said Tuesday.

“I hope that very soon these fallen warriors will begin coming home to lay at rest in American soil.”

In a sign of Washington’s impatience with what it sees as North Korean foot-dragging on the denuclearization issue, Pompeo was in New York last week urging UN member states to keep tough economic sanctions in place to pressure Kim into moving forward.

China and Russia have argued that North Korea should be rewarded with the prospect of eased sanctions for opening up dialogue with the United States and halting missile tests.

South Korea has also pushed ahead with its reconciliation with the North since a landmark inter-Korean summit in April.

Seoul’s defense ministry said Tuesday it was considering withdrawing some troops from the border Demilitarized Zone on a trial basis — a move which could expand into a gradual pullout.

The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.

The DMZ was designated as a buffer zone, but the areas to the north and south of it are heavily fortified.

More than 35,000 Americans were killed on the Korean peninsula during the war, with 7,700 of these US troops still listed as missing in action — most of them in North Korea.

Catching Them In The Act: Hyper Fast Camera Captures Atoms In Motion

An extremely fast “electron camera” at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has produced the most detailed atomic movie of the decisive point where molecules hit by light can either stay intact or break apart.

The results could lead to a better understanding of how molecules respond to light in processes that are crucial for life, like photosynthesis and vision, or that are potentially harmful, such as DNA damage from ultraviolet light.

In the study, published in Science, researchers looked at a gas whose molecules have five atoms each. They watched in real time how light stretched the bond between two atoms in the molecules to a “point of no return,” sending the molecules on a path that either further separated the atoms and cleaved the bond or caused the atoms to vibrate while preserving the bond.

“The starting and end points of a chemical reaction are often obvious, but it’s much more challenging to take snapshots of the rapid reaction steps in between,” said postdoctoral researcher Jie Yang, the study’s lead author from SLAC’s Accelerator Directorate and the Stanford PULSE Institute.

“The crossroads where a molecule can do one thing or another are an important factor in determining the outcome of a reaction. Now we’ve been able to observe directly for the first time how the atomic nuclei of a molecule rearrange at such an intersection.”

Co-author Todd Martinez, a professor at SLAC and Stanford University and an investigator at PULSE, said, “The system we studied is a paradigm for the much more complex light-driven reactions in nature.” For example, the absorption of ultraviolet light can cause damage to DNA, but other mechanisms turn the light’s energy into molecular vibrations and minimize the harmful effect.

Ultra-High-Speed Snapshots of Atoms in Motion
The first steps in light-driven reactions are extremely fast. Molecules absorb light almost instantaneously, leading to a rapid rearrangement of their electrons and atomic nuclei. To see what happens in real time, researchers need ultra-high-speed cameras that can “freeze” motions occurring within femtoseconds, or millionths of a billionth of a second.

The camera used in the study was an instrument for ultrafast electron diffraction (UED), in which a high-energy beam of electrons probes the interior of a sample, generating snapshots of its atomic architecture at different points in time during a chemical reaction. Strung together, these snapshots turn into a movie of the speedy atomic motions.

At SLAC, the researchers flashed laser light into a gas of trifluoroiodomethane molecules and observed over the course of hundreds of femtoseconds how bonds between carbon and iodine atoms elongated to a point at which the bond either broke, splitting off iodine from the molecules, or contracted, setting off vibrations of the atoms along the bond.

“UED was absolutely crucial to seeing that point during the reaction,” said physicist Xijie Wang, head of SLAC’s UED program and the study’s principal investigator. “Other methods either don’t detect nuclear motions directly or haven’t reached the resolution necessary to make this kind of observation in gases.”

Mapping Energy Landscapes of Chemical Reactions
The observation is in agreement with calculations that provide a deeper understanding of what happens during the reaction.

The laser light “energizes” the molecules, elevating them from a low-energy ground state to a higher-energy excited state (see image below). Molecular states like these can be described by energy landscapes, with mountains of more energy and valleys of less energy. Like a golf ball rolling on a curved putting green, the molecules can follow reaction paths on these surfaces.

When the landscapes of different molecular states intersect, the reaction can proceed in several directions. Chemists call this point a conical intersection.

In fact, molecules at conical intersections exist in several states at once – an oddity rooted in the fact that molecules are tiny quantum systems, said co-author Xiaolei Zhu, a postdoctoral researcher at PULSE and Stanford. “We can predict this behavior in computer simulations,” he said. “Now we’ve also directly seen that the molecules behave exactly that way in the experiment.”

The team is now planning the next steps. “We’re continuing to develop the UED method so that we can look at similar processes in liquids,” Wang said. “This will bring us even closer to understanding light-driven chemical reactions in biological environments.”

First Space Tourist Flights Could Come In 2019

The two companies leading the pack in the pursuit of space tourism say they are just months away from their first out-of-this-world passenger flights — though neither has set a firm date.

Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Blue Origin, by Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, are racing to be the first to finish their tests — with both companies using radically different technology.

– Moments of weightlessness –

Neither Virgin nor Blue Origin’s passengers will find themselves orbiting the Earth: instead, their weightless experience will last just minutes. It’s an offering far different from the first space tourists, who paid tens of millions of dollars to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2000s.

Having paid for a much cheaper ticket — costing $250,000 with Virgin, as yet unknown with Blue Origin — the new round of space tourists will be propelled dozens of miles into the atmosphere, before coming back down to Earth. By comparison, the ISS is in orbit 250 miles (400 kilometers) from our planet.

The goal is to approach or pass through the imaginary line marking where space begins — either the Karman line, at 100 kilometers or 62 miles, or the 50-mile boundary recognized by the US Air Force.

At this altitude, the sky looks dark and the curvature of the earth can be seen clearly.

– Virgin Galactic –

With Virgin Galactic, six passengers and two pilots are boarded onto SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, which resembles a private jet.

The VSS Unity will be attached to a carrier spacecraft — the WhiteKnightTwo — from which it will then detach at around 49,000 feet (15,000 meters.) Once released, the spaceship will fire up its rocket, and head for the sky.

Then, the passengers will float in zero-gravity for several minutes, before coming back to Earth.

The descent is slowed down by a “feathering” system that sees the spacecraft’s tail pivot, as if arching, before returning to normal and gliding to land at Virgin’s “spaceport” in the New Mexico desert.

In total, the mission lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. During a May 29 test in California’s Mojave desert, the spaceship reached an altitude of 21 miles, heading for space.

In October 2014, the Virgin spaceship broke down in flight due to a piloting error, killing one of two pilots on board. The tests later resumed with a new craft.

The company has now also reached a deal to open a second “spaceport” at Italy’s Tarente-Grottaglie airport, in the south of the country.

Branson in May told BBC Radio 4 that he hoped to himself be one of the first passengers in the next 12 months. About 650 people make up the rest of the waiting list, Virgin told AFP.

– Blue Origin –

Blue Origin, meanwhile, has developed a system closer to the traditional rocket: the New Shepard.

On this journey, six passengers take their place in a “capsule” fixed to the top of a 60-foot-long rocket. After launching, it detaches and continues its trajectory several miles toward the sky. During an April 29 test, the capsule made it 66 miles.

After a few minutes of weightlessness, during which passengers can take in the view through large windows, the capsule gradually falls back to earth with three large parachutes and retrorockets used to slow the spacecraft.

From take-off to landing, the flight took 10 minutes during the latest test.

Until now, tests have only been carried out using dummies at Blue Origin’s West Texas site.

Company officials were recently quoted as saying the first tests with Blue Origin astronauts would take place “at the end of this year,” with tickets for the public expected to go on sale in 2019.

But in comments to AFP Friday, the company struck a more cautious note.

“We have not set ticket pricing and have had no serious discussions inside of Blue on the topic,” the firm said. “We have a flight test schedule and schedules of those types always have uncertainties and contingencies. Anyone predicting dates is guessing.”

– What’s next? –

SpaceX and Boeing are developing their own capsules to transport NASA astronauts, most likely in 2020, after delays — a significant investment that the companies will likely make up for by offering private passenger flights.

“If you’re looking to go to space, you’ll have quadruple the menu of options that you ever had before,” Phil Larson, assistant dean at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, told AFP.

Longer term, the Russian firm that manufactures Soyuz rockets is studying the possibility of taking tourists back to the ISS. And a US start-up called Orion Span announced earlier this year it hopes to place a luxury space hotel into orbit within a few years — but the project is still in its early stages.