More good stuff on the open frontiers in space and technology – 5-5-14

More good stuff on the space and technology open frontiers – SpaceX trying to get some of the military launches, drones in agriculture, and criminals using tech to steal pot and poach rhinos.


4/25 – Popular Mechanics – SpaceX Sues to Break Spy Satellite Launch Monopoly SpaceX wants the chance to bid on launches for the Air Force and spy agencies. Currently, only United Launch Alliance (ULA) has those contracts. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. ULA charges about $380M per launch, per the article. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX says they could do a launch for $50M each, stepped up to $90M each to meet defense procurement requirements.

Hmmm. $380M or $90M. Maybe time to go out for bid. Oh, and the ULA shots uses RD-180 engines, made in Russia. So there’s a national defense and diplomatic dimension of ULA’s monopoly.

Superb background on ULA and SpaceX; room here for a superb case study:

5/1 – Popular Mechanics – Why I Feel Bad for the United Launch Alliance (Sort Of) – Great background on the steady reliable performance by United Launch Alliance, the current joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin that is the sole provider of military and spy launches. SpaceX is working to enter their market and undercut them on price by 75%. The emergence of SpaceX will be a great topic for a business school case study in a few years. As for ULA,

 It has played the game well, but the rules have changed, and there was no way ULA’s hardware and business model can keep up with SpaceX’s breakneck innovation.

Can you say creative destruction?


3/20 – CNNThis drone can steal what’s on your phone – Drone can listen to phones as they transmit the wi-fi locations the phones have previously logged in to and then the drone can spoof that site. As data is transmitted from the phone through the drone to the real site, the drone siphons off all the transmissions. Possible to pick up and passwords and credit cards that are sent to the real site. To avoid stealing real info from real people, CNN set up several dummy accounts and observed the drone steal their dummy information.

~4/29 – MIT Technology Review – Agricultural Drones – Relatively cheap drones with advanced sensors and imaging capabilities are giving farmers new ways to increase yields and reduce crop damage– Drones that help farmers reduce input and increase outputs are getting cheaper and easier to use. A farmer can have drone run on autopilot from launch to recovery. You can only imagine how much more data can be gathered with a cost of $1,000 to buy a drone compared to perhaps $1,000 an hour for manned overflights. Check out the technology:

drones this small, cheap, and easy to use is due largely to remarkable advances in technology: tiny MEMS sensors (accelerometers, gyros, magnetometers, and often pressure sensors), small GPS modules, incredibly powerful processors, and a range of digital radios.

A few advantages are that frequent aerial views can spot problems not visible from eye level. Multispectral cameras can show where unhealthy plants are. Data gathered as often as you want (daily or even hourly) can provide lots of trend info.

Technology, criminal uses thereof

4/17 – The Independent – Shropshire criminals ‘using unmanned drones and infrared cameras to find illegal cannabis farms’ – and then steal from the growers – Not sure if I should be lamenting the decline of civilization or chuckling at the thought of criminals stealing from criminals.

Two pieces of background. Apparently raising pot requires use of special lights (hydroponic is apparently the description) that generate a lot of heat. Second, it is possible to put a sensitive infrared camera on a small drone. Combine a criminal willing to steal or extort protection money and you have bad guys using drones with infrared cameras to find hidden pot farms and then either steal the dope or extort the grower. While there are still many risks, one that isn’t present is police involvement. How could a pot grower ever report an extortion threat or turn in the guy who ripped off the pot farm?

5/5 – Quartz – Geotagged safari photos could lead poachers right to endangered rhinos – Geographic location information embedded in some photos could reveal the exact location of rhinos or other big game that poachers want to take. Sign in a photograph in the article tells the story. Presumably it is at a wildlife preserve:

Please be careful when sharing photos on social media. They can lead poachers to our rhino

Turn off geotag function and do not disclose where the photo was taken

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