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Laser Powers Lockheed Martin's Stalker Drone For 48 Hours 129

Posted by samzenpus
from the power-up dept.
garymortimer writes "Lockheed Martin (LMT) and LaserMotive, Inc., recently demonstrated the capabilities of an innovative laser power system to extend the Stalker Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) flight time to more than 48 hours. This increase in flight duration represents an improvement of 2,400 percent. Stalker is a small, silent UAS used by Special Operations Forces since 2006 to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions."
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Laser Powers Lockheed Martin's Stalker Drone For 48 Hours

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  • No on felt the need to mention what the "laser power system" is, but what I gather it's just concentrating the power into a beam to wirelessly charge the UAV without landing. I don't know what the strength/distance of the beam is though.
    • No on felt the need to mention what the "laser power system" is, but what I gather it's just concentrating the power into a beam

      That, sir, is what a laser is. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser [wikipedia.org]
    • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @02:15AM (#40625333)

      I've played enough SimCity 2000 to know that this is a terrible idea.

      • I've played enough SimCity 2000 to know that this is a terrible idea.

        SC2k used masers (microwave-based wireless power stations)
        Lasers are perfectly harmless (as long as you don't look at them with your remaining eye)

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Lasers are perfectly harmless (as long as you don't look at them with your remaining eye)

          And sometimes when you do, as long as the surgeon doesn't screw up. They use lasers to repair torn retinas, repair damaged corneas, fix nearsightedness, and clean artificial implanted lenses.

    • Yeah I would be interested to know about scalability. Could this be a future solution to commercial airliners? Save a shit-ton of weight by just having enough battery power to get a plane to the nearest airport but then charge in-flight through recharge corridors.

      Probably not economically feasible but could be cheaper to build a laser station every 10km than to build transcontinental highspeed rail.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @11:41PM (#40624703)

    From the article, "At the conclusion of the flight test, held in a wind tunnel,"

    So they've pointed a laser at a photocell indoors, this is so far from doing it over hostile territory as to be laughable.

    • by plover (150551) * on Thursday July 12, 2012 @12:07AM (#40624833) Homepage Journal

      From the article, "At the conclusion of the flight test, held in a wind tunnel,"

      So they've pointed a laser at a photocell indoors, this is so far from doing it over hostile territory as to be laughable.

      This is what research looks like. You don't start out testing a ready-to-deploy espionage platform. You take an idea, enhance it a bit, test it to see if your change works, enhance it more, see if your changes improved it, etc. Nobody's laughing at this stage, but I bet they were cheering.

      Leaking the test results is also what 'marketing to investors' looks like. "Hey, Vulture Capitalists Inc., we've got a shiny laser powered spy drone for you to invest in, and we have proof of some ongoing tests ... the military is interested ... you'll get rich ... give us $20 million ... please?"

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Leaking the test results is also what 'marketing to investors' looks like. "Hey, Vulture Capitalists Inc., we've got a shiny laser powered spy drone for you to invest in, and we have proof of some ongoing tests ... the military is interested ... you'll get rich ... give us $20 million ... please?"

        And when they accidentally blind a seagul is when this thing gets shutdown for years on end by environmentalists.

      • Here are some issues that are greatly simplified by testing indoors in a wind tunnel;
        1. Tracking; The aircraft does not move therefore tracking is trivial.
        2. Range; Sure it may work at a few feet but does it work at a few kilometers?
        3. Atmospheric conditions; Atmospheric conditions can be completely controlled indoors. Does it work in heat haze, rain, snow, dust, etc. at range?

        At least do a test that remotely approximates a real world situation. Everyone knows that power can be transmitted by laser which is

        • by plover (150551) * on Thursday July 12, 2012 @07:00AM (#40626651) Homepage Journal

          Did you RTFA? It said nothing about the test conditions inside the wind tunnel, only that “This test is one of the final steps...The next step in proving the reality of this technology is to demonstrate it outdoors in an extended flight of the Stalker.”

          They could have used a low powered laser to simulate range. They could have introduced dust, smoke and fog into the tunnel to simulate weather. And they don't need to prove the tracking platform works if they already have a tracking platform that works, and such tracking platforms were demonstrated last year on test aircraft at distances of 20km or more. And none of that info made the blurb, which as I said looked designed to stimulate investment.

          • by Solandri (704621)

            And they don't need to prove the tracking platform works if they already have a tracking platform that works, and such tracking platforms were demonstrated last year on test aircraft at distances of 20km or more.

            In a documentary about early radar guided missile tests, circa 1950s and 1960s, one of the engineers talked about how they needed film footage of the hits (or misses) to evaluate how well the system was working. How do you aim a camera at the point where two nearly-supersonic objects are going to

      • by necro81 (917438)

        This is what research looks like. You don't start out testing a ready-to-deploy espionage platform. You take an idea, enhance it a bit, test it to see if your change works, enhance it more, see if your changes improved it, etc. Nobody's laughing at this stage, but I bet they were cheering

        Nuh-uh! I've seen James Bond. I'm sure Q will walk in any moment now with a perfect, bug-free device that will provide the perfect plot element at just the right time.

      • Leaking the test results is also what 'marketing to investors' looks like. "Hey, Vulture Capitalists Inc., we've got a shiny laser powered spy drone for you to invest in, and we have proof of some ongoing tests ... the military is interested ... you'll get rich ... give us $20 million ... please?"

        $20M is not much money at all. Instead, most likely, this data was published (I really really doubt it was "leaked" in any way, shape, or form) in preparation for a contract proposal worth hundreds of millions, if not over a billion, dollars.

      • by mrops (927562)

        Just in time for today's dilbert

        http://www.dilbert.com/2012-07-12/ [dilbert.com]

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Which is why we should use this technology for a space elevator instead.

  • Nice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @11:45PM (#40624737) Homepage Journal

    I'm sure that any airborne attackers will greatly appreciate this opportunity to locate the ground station.

    • Ground station? Who cares, you're really pointing a bright (at some wavelength) laser beam at the aircraft. Pointing out where it is. I'm guessing this will only be used intermittently to charge batteries.

      The ground station will probably be well protected, the US tends to operate with air superiority these days.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        I'm guessing this will only be used intermittently to charge batteries.

        if it could be used meaningfully intermittently then it could also extend the flight time indefinitely, but they "only" got 48 hours...

        • by bluemonq (812827)

          Perhaps it would have only gone 36 hours without the laser, but they were able to extend operational life by 33%. That's not chump change. Maybe what's limiting the use right now is cooling for the laser system?

        • by plover (150551) *

          They "only" got 48 hours because by that time the test had proved all of their objectives and there was no point in continuing it, according to TFA.

          Unfortunately with all the details lacking in TFA, there's no way to know if the laser was fired intermittently, or if it was continually charging the UAV.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Ground station? Who cares, you're really pointing a bright (at some wavelength) laser beam at the aircraft. Pointing out where it is. I'm guessing this will only be used intermittently to charge batteries.

        That's a really foolish thing to say. Take out the ground station and you remove the aircraft's reason to exist, and besides, air to surface is a lot easier than surface to air, you can just drop shit.

    • It doesn't necessarily have to come from the ground; or from a static source, or be continuous. Other options are:
      1) space based laser
      2) larger plane nearby
      3) multiple dynamic ground stations
      4) shorter bursts that "charge" batteries so no continuous beam required.

    • by Idaho (12907)

      I'm sure they'll listen to Reason.

      (sorry, couldn't resist)

  • now we have to devise a way to get a laser-sourcing UAV to fly (for 48 hrs) within range of this one to relay the juice
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Easy. Just power it by a third laser sourcing UAV.

  • by Gravis Zero (934156) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @11:57PM (#40624791)

    <LMT> "Stalker is a small... it's only half the size of a predator drone!"
    <guy> "Oh?... How large is a predator drone?"
    <LMT> "The size of a bus."

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @12:07AM (#40624831) Journal

    Otherwise it'll be pretty obvious (in any atmospheric conditions where there are particles or aerosols) as to just where the drone (and base!) is.

    Of course with a pair of night vision goggles the same might be true of an infra-red laser. How about x-ray? ;)

  • Power it from above (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gothmolly (148874) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @12:08AM (#40624835)

    You can power them from satellites rather than ground based - you'll escape all the dust and much of the atmospheric crap, and your power will be free from the sun. Park a satellite over the Middle East and you have LOS everywhere.

    • Yep, I was thinking same. The laser from ground will limit its usefulness to line-of-sight distance only.

      Another improvement could be to use solar heat on the fly and run Stirling Engine for additional power. That way the plane would be used for way longer period.

    • by sFurbo (1361249)
      Even laser beams spread out. To hit a small target from geostationary orbit would require a really large satellite. It gets better with bigger targets, but only if you also allow for a big satellite.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Power attenuation (due to atmospheric interference and beam divergence) would probably be the limiting factor. These drones are probably flying between 1-4 miles from the ground. Compare to 22k miles for a geosynch satellite "parked over the Middle East" or ~200 miles for a LEO satellite in a constellation of satellites. Attenuation increases as the function of the square of the distance, so even an increase in a factor of 50 for a LEO sat would probably be a deal breaker.

      I'm assuming the system they would

    • by aaronb1138 (2035478) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @02:19AM (#40625353)

      I tried to design a system like that once, but during the development I had a dream where I was dressed in a Sun God robe surrounded by naked women chanting and throwing pickles at me. That brought and end to it all.

      • by David Gould (4938)

        Good to know I'm not the only one who has that dream.

      • by necro81 (917438)

        I tried to design a system like that once, but during the development I had a dream where I was dressed in a Sun God robe surrounded by naked women chanting and throwing pickles at me. That brought and end to it all.

        Are you kidding? That kind of dream would only motivate me to finish sooner.

      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        Were you, by chance, on top of a pyramid?

    • by evilviper (135110) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @03:18AM (#40625615) Journal

      You can power them from satellites rather than ground based - you'll escape all the dust and much of the atmospheric crap, and your power will be free from the sun.

      Satellite power isn't free... In fact it's EXTREMELY expensive. Satellite EoL is most commonly when solar panels have deteriorated enough that they can't provide the trickle of power most sats need.

      Yes, you escape dust problems, but then you pick up the problem of hugely-increased distances from laser to drone.

      And the biggest problem is targeting... Drones are small, subject to atmosphere turbulence and ground control, both of which can cause sudden location changes, and the satellite is going to need to handle this, in real-time, or else a massive laser beam suddenly shines down at the feet of the people who aren't supposed to know they're being spied on.


      • Satellite power isn't free... In fact it's EXTREMELY expensive. Satellite EoL is most commonly when solar panels have deteriorated enough that they can't provide the trickle of power most sats need.

        Incorrect. EoL is when they are out of fuel for position control.

    • You can power them from satellites rather than ground based - you'll escape all the dust and much of the atmospheric crap, and your power will be free from the sun. Park a satellite over the Middle East and you have LOS everywhere.

      And if you miss the little flying drone and happen to fry some people on the ground...oh well, shit happens...

    • The difference in the distance is kinda staggering though, it's much harder to hit a small moving target from space on an also moving satellite, not to mention that even a laser beam diverges.
    • Lasees really suck up the electric. You'ld need ground staions hooked into a power grid spread out near the intended fly route. This idea has potential for powering passenger planes, jet fuel isn't getting any cheaper.
    • by thed8 (1739450)
      And now make the huge leap to putting a manned vehicle on it, build a bunch more lasers, find a President who will spend money on space exploration, and head for Jupiter and points beyond. (Apologies for the optimism.)
  • "No birds were blinded in the making of this invasion."

  • Stalker... that's a nice name for a drone.

    The complete series will go something like Stalker, Creep, Pedo.

  • While I can see applications for something like this, I don't see how espionage and special forces ops are among them.

    The whole point of these kinds of operations is to not let anybody know they are happening. They even talk about this drone as being extra quiet and stealthy. So, if that is the case, does it really make sense to shine a big laser at it? Maybe you could start it out quiet and then only turn the laser on after the bullets start flying, which makes more sense for special forces than espiona

    • Well,
      for recharging the drone can leave the operation area. E.g. if it is a carrier based drone it moves 10km out of the surveilance area closer to the carrier and get recharged in flight. Saves the full round trip and the landing / launching.

  • Laser painting with the hard job done by the owners :-)
  • So that's what they need the Sharks with freaking Laser beams for...

  • Why dose technology increase to reduce the man kind all the time. Can these UAS used to calculate the exact number of elephants in the world.
  • It recharges by a bunch of military personal with laser pointers? Won't that give the location away?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yes, the swarms of cats would be a first indicator.
    • no.. that's not really the point, it recharges a drone whilst it's in air.
      it's presumably to be used in situations where it doesn't matter that you give your position away.
      it's not for a guerilla mission, but for mop up, think about keeping an eye on protest campers and fighting against guerillas who already know where your base is.

      it's not to be used in a situation where it's a certain sized and enabled group vs. another. but more like elephant(usa) against a squirrel. squirrel knows where the elephant is

      • by cephus440 (828210)
        "it's presumably to be used in situations where it doesn't matter that you give your position away." And presumably against an enemy without a mirror. Now if we can mount this in a satellite and beam down on it and use the sun as the energy source. Maybe Reagan's Star Wars [wikipedia.org] wasn't so off after all.
  • Oh good, so now they can not only shine a big, bright, detectable light on the drone but it can also be traced back to the charging station on the other end of the beam. What a brilliant military invention! Since this has no practical use whatsoever on foreign battlefields, I think they just wanted to build a giant, high powered laser with a good tracking system. Now that they could turn into something useful.
  • that can home in on a laser, this might not turn out to be such a hot idea. Oh, wait.... [nd.edu]

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