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Belmont Club

North Korea and the Transit of Venus

May 13th, 2013 - 5:16 am

Despite the media focus on the destabilizing effect of 3D printers — which make plastic zip guns — the fact is that the rapid advances made possible by the fusion of education and commercially available technology has long been undermining the power of great states. That the North Koreans know how to do this was described by this article from Wired.

There is evidence that North Korea attempted a disinformation campaign that may have played a role in generating surprise. On December 8 [2012], U.S. intelligence satellites spotted a train carrying rocket components en route from a missile plant to the launch pad. On December 9, North Korea stated that it had discovered a problem with the rocket and it was delaying the launch and extending the window by nearly a week. The next day, the South Korean government stated that there was “no sign” of an imminent launch and another report stated that the rocket had been removed from the pad. That last statement was provably false at the time – analysis of imagery from commercial remote sensing satellites showed the rocket was still on the pad. However, the same imagery also indicated possible maintenance work on the rocket, leading to an assessment from a former U.S. intelligence analyst that a launch was at least a week out.

To take advantage of this disinformation campaign, it also appears that North Korea timed the launch to correspond to a significant gap in coverage of the launch site by imaging satellites. An analysis done by Marco Langbroek, a Dutch hobbyist satellite observer, shows that the launch occurred at the end of a one-hour gap with no coverage by any known American intelligence, Japanese intelligence, or commercial imaging satellites in LEO. Other portions of the launch window had at most fifteen minutes between satellite overflights. This is backed up by a quote from an unnamed U.S. official, who said they relied too much on overhead satellite imagery for their warnings about the launch.

Kim knows when American satellites are overhead? So did the North Koreans have a super-secret spy in the Pentagon. Or did they simply use Microsoft’s Streets and Tips and equipment ordered from Binoculars.com to figure it out? Don’t laugh. It’s possible.

The 2012 Transit of Venus motivated hobbyists to look up into the Sky. One fellow, Tomas Maruska, figured out to track the ISS transiting Venus while transiting the sun. His equipment came by mail order.

holes were cut in a computer scanner box (19″ tall) for a pair of 10x Bausch & Lomb binoculars, and a Kodak DC290 digital camera; a sheet of HP premium printer paper was affixed to the bottom of the box, coated side up. To the right of the binoculars is affixed a true-sized DC290 self-portrait, made by photographing the camera in a mirror (hence the photo is a mirror image!). In addition to the large hole for the camera lens, holes were cut for the focusing sensor, the flash (which makes a red flash to set the focus, in some modes), and light & flash sensors.

There was one more thing. He needed a place on the ground where he could take the pictures; where he should be to view the orbiting object in question. That problem was solved by correlating the orbital profile of ISS with its ground track.

There is open-source Javascript available to generate a set of location files which when plugged into Microsoft’s Streets and Tips and or Google Earth tells you where on the ground you have a line of site to the orbiting object.

Of course it gives you the reciprocal too. It shows you what on the ground can be seen from above. Even a guy like Kim could figure out what that meant.

Today you can probably forget the Javascript.  Wikipedia lists dozens of satellite predictors. Some are web based, others work on Android, or the Iphone. Others work on Windows phones. One even works on the Blackberry.

The vignette illustrates how capabilities which were once restricted to alphabet agencies in great powers are now in the hands of even the North Koreans, who presumably have purchased one or more of these devices and learned to use them.

And yet how many people, even the talking heads in the media, automatically assume that the supersecret eye in the sky can pass undetected over the primitives of the planet.

It would be interesting to know how many of today’s politicians, media pundits and bureaucrats still think that what was true in 1990 is still true today. Three-D printers, ubiquitous cell phone image sensors, computing power that dwarfs anything available only ten years ago — how much of this nascent reality has really seeped in to the narrative?

We will continue to be surprised by people with boxcutters, pressure cookers, home-made nerve gas — pray to God that’s all. We have the fire. We have the fire.


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
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All Comments   (25)
All Comments   (25)
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I'm amazed that an aircraft designed in 1955 by a bunch of guys with little more than slide rules is still an important part of our intelligence gathering apparatus. The U2. A "utility" plane. Some of the aircraft are based in South Korea.

The U2 is expected to remain in service until 2023. Not bad for a ~$20M investment.

Southern California was the Silicon Valley of its day. (in the 1950's and 60's) Too bad much of the expertise to design such elegant hardware has evaporated.

A guy like Elon Musk is able to cobble together a private aerospace company by buying a few want ads, and get all the talent he needs, and more.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_U-2
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Leaves said: "A guy like Elon Musk is able to cobble together a private aerospace company by buying a few want ads, and get all the talent he needs, and more. "

Elon Musk is a very shrewd operator. He realized the aerospace archive created by NASA and the USAF during the Cold War represented an investment of hundreds of billions of dollars. Most of the value contained in that archive was never exploited commercially. What Musk is doing with SpaceX is the equivalent of pulling up gold from a Spanish shipwreck found in shallow water.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Speaking of astronomical bodies, here is an article about the relative temperatures of the Earth and the Moon.

http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2013/05/republicans_block_obamas_choice_for_epa_administrator.html
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
VENUS TRANSITED

So beautiful my Venus was
Friends warned she was jail bait
They warned me not to transit her
Into another State
I scoffed and cried that he who Mars
Her good name with his lips
Will find his Solar plexus turned
Into a full eclipse
Alas my friends were heeded not
She claimed she’s twenty-four
But exiting my Phaeton I
Was shown the cell block door
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The X-37 is less constrained by orbital mechanics than the old fashioned Key Hole satellites (the X-37 can change orbital inclination by skipping off of the atmosphere). The problem with the X-37 is the aperture of any on-board optics is limited by the size of the cargo bay. They're trying to get hypersonic drones up and running as a crash program. Hypersonic drones might make reconnaissance satellites obsolete.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Funny. Circa 1970 everyone would have bet that manned spacecraft following Apollo would have been lifting bodies like the X-37.

But the need for the Shuttle to replace all other launch vehicles killed that. It had to have wings, because in order to launch from VAFB into a polar orbit and still meet the manned requirement to be able to recover on the first orbit, it had to have wings to fly crossrange to a suitable landing spot. The "Air Force crossrange requirements" were in fact the result of NASA's need to launch a manned vehicle into a polar orbit and put the ELVS out of business totally; after all the toiliet might get stopped up in the plus count.

And the need to add those wings, combined with all of the other requirements meant you had a large, very complex, very costly vehicle that never had a prayer of being either cost competitive or operationally competitive with anything else.

The Shuttle was designed to make manned spaceflight bulletproof by tying it to umannned missions that had become absolute necessities. Instead, it killed manned space exploration.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Martin-Marietta had the best design in my book.

It used the X-15 stubby wing solution. In conjunction with a lifting body M-M was able to beat Musk's dream by generations.

The delta wing simply weighed too much.

Ultimately, the big engineering decisions were made by an attorney: RMN.

Von Braun was dismayed -- in the extreme. Solid propellants are just too risky for manned spaceflight. You can't turn them off. You can't kick them free. Making even trivial flaws in SRB lethal.

The last Titan IV went to pieces because of SRB failure.

The more expensive the gear ... the more you want to use liquid propellants.

Solids really belong in military use.

I'm still a fan of Sea Dragon. Propellants are cheaper than hardware.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We had Titans fail from SRM problems in April 1986 and August 1993, and some people were suspicious about a failure in August 1985, but that was never pinned on the solids - they blamed the liquid engine. There were other failures, but not due to SRMs.

The last Titan IV failure was on 30 April 1999 (the last of 3 failures in a row from the Cape - that shook them up!). We flew 12 after that until 19 Oct 2005, all successful.

And Nixon only agreed to support a larger program than the original small manned reusable that NASA first called for - and they and the USAF went hog wild and built a money hog.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
According to the dates on the photos, this project was mashed up 10 years ago which belabors the point. Technology is ubiquitous and cheap as toys. Building satellites for fun is a long way off, or at least until commercial launch services picks up, but building your own drone isn’t. As of late there are a number of flight control systems that are being built on Arduino, the open source microcontroller that runs Micro Framework. One of these little projects I worked on through eLance was a derivative of the quad copter. People are building them using open source designs, some on 3D printers, open source hardware, open source software, using open source design tools, and even employing open source contractors online on the cheap to solve the problems that couldn’t be script-kiddied away. Your backyard swimming pool will never be safe from prying eyes.

And if we have seen anything greater altitudes, greater distances, and greater payloads will ensue, eventually opening the way for an idea that I had nearly 10 years ago. Take a small semi auto pistol and mount it upside down on a pan and tilt camera base. Put an eccentric cam on the trigger to rapidly fire. Mount the whole assembly onto a small drone. Fly over the roof tops of down town Sadr City. Pour lead on anybody who looks up to no good. I figured the accuracy would be poor but if you could keep the bastards looking up, eventually they might don helmets. If you could do that you’d be half way to getting the Islamists into uniform which would solve a lot of problems.

And the smart ads are getting smarter. I just typed this and there is an ad for an altitude encoder on my browser.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And if we have seen anything greater altitudes, greater distances, and greater payloads will ensue, eventually opening the way for an idea that I had nearly 10 years ago. Take a small semi auto pistol and mount it upside down on a pan and tilt camera base. Put an eccentric cam on the trigger to rapidly fire. Mount the whole assembly onto a small drone. Fly over the roof tops of down town Sadr City. Pour lead on anybody who looks up to no good. I figured the accuracy would be poor but if you could keep the bastards looking up, eventually they might don helmets. If you could do that you’d be half way to getting the Islamists into uniform which would solve a lot of problems.

Interestingly enough, I saw an online video some months ago that did just that. Albeit, they used a paintball pistol, because mounting a firearm on a drone would be "illegal". And we know that in this country, making something illegal totally prevents both the government and civilians from committing that act. [Do I really need the sarc tags for that last sentence?].

Granting that they got to do the editing, but flying across a field with silhouette targets the hit percentage was respectable, if not Mozambique Drill. It may not stay foreign. It may involve multiple actors, and there may be a large number of false flags flying.

Oh, Brave New World ....

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The other day I came across the story of someone who had staked out a career a "remembrance specialist". What the person really did was design plaques and statuary, but with great enterprise broadened it to encompass a process. That was truly genius. Many of the most successful people provide stuff we could do ourselves, only we would do it too simply.

It would be a mistake to offer acting classes for CEOs and congressmen. But call it corporate communications workshops and that might fly. It was the Grand Inquisitor who observed that humanity was led by three things: authority, miracle and mystery.

Nobody likes something that anyone can understand. Back in the day they referred to the nuclear strategists as a priesthood and one of the sources of power of every priesthood is mystery. So it was good to preserve the myth of the mysterious eye in the sky. The power was in the mystic aspect of it as much as in the imagery it delivered.

How sad that you can time their passage overhead on a Blackberry.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There are two main reasons for having intelligence gathering programs (admittedly politicians and bureaucrats have some of their own):

1. Gathering useful intelligence
2. Causing your adversary interference to prevent your intelligence gathering. (This usually is easy to do because nothing is more bureaucratic than security.)

For one system I was involved with they gave us a great, highly detailed briefing on what it did and how well it worked. Then someone asked “What if the other side figures out what it does?”

The answer from the briefer was, “Then I would fill the skies with these satellites, because countering them would cause them so much harm it would not matter if the birds no longer gave us useful data.”

Now, in North Korea, they ain’t going to many ball games and ice cream socials, so they have time to obsess about who is watching them and what they can do about it. There is not much impact because there is not much to impact. But even then, it hurts them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

Any weapons system, or defensive system, will spend only a short percentage of its life cycle doing the job it was designed to do. After that, it becomes a free rook on the chessboard, keeping everybody in the center of the action and away from the outer bounds.

Siege cannon were only briefly decisive against fortifications--then everybody built star forts. You had to have them, to force the other guy to spend money on the fortifications, but it was starvation or mines that won sieges, not the cannon.

Battleships were decisive until everybody had them. Then they became the fleet-in-being that restricted the playing field to only those navies that could afford the battle line.

And now reconnaissance satellites are not so much useful for the information they gather, as for limiting the scope of above-ground activity.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Battleships -- Ships of the Line -- were decisive and effective for centuries. It was Trafalgar that 'ruined' them for France and Spain. They ONLY stopped being decisive when aircraft -- and their carriers had bigger punches and even longer tactical range.
In turn, these have been upstaged by submarine ICBM -- the new capital ship. Carriers still have their sway, popular as ever.
Siege cannons were dominant right through Sevastopol -- 1942. Aircraft and paratroops did them in.
As the ultimate high ground, satellites will -- as a category -- never lose their luster. Even centuries of development will not eclipse their intrinsic panorama -- the ultimate big picture machines.
As previous military operations show -- above ground activity carries on just the same -- now with vigorous deception thrown in.
Weapons systems only spend the beginning of their careers before counters/ adjustments kick in. For many, the 'only' economically successful counter is emulation: battleship vs battleship, etc.


1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One reason the USSR was so in favor of arms controls treaties – which they always proceeded to violate – was that they feared the innovation that characterizes the West, and especially the U.S. More advanced ICBM guidance systems led to integrated circuits which led to smaller and cheaper computers which led to replacement of the increasing complex carburetor with much cheaper electronic fuel injection systems, which led to much improved automobile fuel economy. The DARPANET (and maybe the hated GWEN as well) led to the Internet and then this interfaced with cellphones. In the book Unlimited Wealth they refer to this as “alchemy.”

Back in the mid-70’s a Soviet diplomat complained that dealing with the U.S. was so difficult because we kept changing the rules. As an example he pointed out that they would build ICBMs and we responded with small cruise missiles. And at that point neither nation realized that the cruise missiles were not only effective strategic counters to ICBMs but could be used in conflicts other than general nuclear war.

It is also noteworthy how many Western elites reliably express horror over each new scientific development or engineering innovation. Genetic manipulation research was horrible, a malignant genie about to escape our control, according to “consumer advocate” Ralph Nader back in the 70’s. Once you are on top, anything that new thing comes along threatens to upset your applecart. AGW, Green Energy, concocted concerns over fracking, and similar scams seek to divert energy into less productive areas, to not only pay off the “right” people but also keep the Design Margin down, keep things under control. A poorer and less educated society is easier to control.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Designer viruses are a very scary concept. 10 years from now, some obscure al Qaeda bio-warfare lab in Mauritania maybe reprogramming common flu viruses into the ultimate weapon. Supposedly the Chinese are horsing around with ultra virulent flu viruses in facilities that are not all that secure. It's only a question of time before that Pandora's Box is opened.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is why our degradation of NASA is so harmful. Mankind was meant to expand beyond his immediate limitations. First from valley to valley, then continent to continent and now the universe. We should start with a more significant and self-sustained presence in orbit and build from there to long range, multi-generational trips to other planets. That way when the super-plague is unleashed on Earth, mankind will survive it. History has shown convincingly that reaching for the stars will bring about scientific innovation that could make escaping a moot point.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Protection against super virulent disease is one of the strongest arguments for placing human colonies on Mars. Say for example, something really horrible got loose on Earth, the colony on Mars could refuse to accept anymore people from Earth unless they went through some sort of quarantine process. Also, the colony on Mars could provide the genetic basis for reestablishment of the human species on Earth after a total wipe-out due to a designer virus. This is such a compelling argument that I'm surprised it hasn't had any political traction.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Lagrange is a harsh mistress.

Going down into gravity wells is economically ruinous.

I'm with Augustine: the Asteroid Belt is the future. It's a source for Earth destroying rocks -- and can be reasonably assumed to have all of the heavy (rare) metals that Earth's geochemistry denies us.

If Iridium is common (ish) in space rocks -- then so too are the rest of the Platinum group metals -- and probably the rest of the dense stuff.

Clever scheming can bring them to Earth -- with 'ferrous ion power.'

( Convert pellets of Fe into dipole magnets -- and accelerate them off into space, rail-gunning to the planets. Just use humble accelerations so that the gear really lasts.)

Ultra light weight reflectors should permit viable solar collection even beyond the orbit of Mars.

PV conversion efficiencies now reach past 30% -- solid state.

Who can say what the next fifty-years might bring?

Some rough calculations imply that even one, run of the mill, asteroid could have as much gold as now above ground on Earth.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I see asteroids as "stepping stones". They are either stepping stones from Earth to Mars and/or stepping stones from Mars to the Saturn system. O'Neill colonies (google it) are an invalid concept because of the problem of shielding against primary galactic cosmic radiation (GCR). However one can shield against GCRs by building what is effectively an O'Neill colony inside a hollowed out asteroid.

Right now, the whole problem of space colonization and industrialization is getting the process bootstrapped. For which world is it cheapest to setup a colony that runs entirely on in-situ resources? The moon can be dismissed immediately because it lacks an atmosphere, key volatiles in its regolith and due to its 28 day period of rotation (total darkness for 14 days). Naive people keep bringing up the Moon because they argue it is closer (Antarctica and the ocean floor are closer). Asteroids are interesting but the start up cost of building an O'Neill colony inside an asteroid is beyond our current economic capability. The option of colonizing Mars is left mainly because all other options are excluded.

The big problem with colonizing Mars is not getting the people there. That's the "easy part". Also Mars appears to have all the essential elements for supporting a colony. The big gotcha with Mars is the energy supply (same problem that is killing us on Earth). For a Mars colony to work, there needs to be a high power density energy supply. Forget about solar voltaics, wind power and other nonsense. You need an energy supply that can drive blast furnaces, fix ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen, retort fresh water from frozen ice, etc. Just like on the Earth, nuclear fusion would be the panacea. However Mother Nature may have dictated that nuclear fusion is not an option anywhere in the universe except in the cores of stars and thermonuclear weapons. That means we are limited to some form of nuclear fission. If regions of concentration thorium or uranium can be found on Mars then we are in business. Finding the thorium and/or uranium deposits on Mars is the missing piece to solving the puzzle.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm not surprised. The most outspoken philosophies around are more concerned about the human race doing damage to the universe rather than vice versa. AGW or ozone depletion, or pollution or the Silent Spring are important to those people. The idea that humans may have to defend the biosphere against external threats is totally alien.

And that kind of capability requires Big Engineering: Nuclear rockets and freakin' huge weapons. Politically active people are not in college studying that stuff.

And the last real nuclear rocket program we had going, NASA sabotaged in DC because it was not theirs. At the time we could not understand the virulence against Timberwind but my recent research has made the source of it all too clear.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If "peace on Earth good will to men" doesn't have traction, what chance does a Mars colony have? "Only raises the priority!" you reply. Well, OK. Problem is we don't have near the technology to *do* the latter, I'm not sure what you'd say are the roadblocks to the former.

Might want to factor "asteroid patrol" and interdiction in there somewhere too, along with orbital solar power. Lots of reasons to be in space, but it's a century of investment with no tangible returns, plus or minus a bad asteroid showing up.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We do have the technology to send people to Mars. Manned Mars missions have been studied to death, refer to:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manned_mission_to_Mars#NASA_Design_Reference_Mission_5.0_.282007.29

Probably one of the best manned Mars mission studies was one of the earliest ones (1963), i.e. the TRW study, refer to:

http://www.astronautix.com/craft/trwmars.htm

Unlike an "asteroid patrol" which requires an unlimited budget and political commitment, a Mars colonization program can be done as a "one shot project", i.e. send 500 people to Mars with sufficient technology to survive on Mars using only "in situ" resources (no supply line from Earth). The cost of such a program if it were managed by an entity like SpaceX and not politically micromanaged is probably on the order of $300 billion. That's equivalent to about 3 1/2 months of Bernanke's quantitative easing money printing. Yes, I know there is no way $300 billion would be spent on a Mars project. Much better to piss the money away on crony capitalism.

Also, getting back to the "asteroid patrol". It's probably a 100% probability that we will get whacked by a large asteroid in the next 100 million years. Divide the worth of the human race by 100 million and you get an expectation value for the annual cost that an "asteroid patrol" needs to undercut. What is the likelihood that some evil screwball will cook up a designer virus in the next 20 years that could wipe out the human race? My guess is it's about 50%. What's the expectation value that a Mars colonization program needs to undercut? $300 billion suddenly looks cheap. Now add to this that the money is being pissed away anyway and it would be better for our economy to spend the money on new technology rather than giving it to banksters and Wall Street criminals.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I really don't think so. If we had use of a stargate for a month and could put 10,000 people and a million tons of equipment and suppllies on Mars and after that had to resupply by rocket, I'd give it less than a 50% chance any of them would be alive there in five years.

Without a stargate? Well, SpaceX seems reasonably well-run, and they are only trying to commercialize with today's vastly improved technology, what already worked 30 years ago. So, $300b to land 500 people on Mars? Still sounds low to me. We have yet to land *anything* on Mars bigger than a golf cart. If I thought we could do it successfully for $1t or $5t (over say ten years) I'd be all for it, but frankly, I doubt it. We lack the biological/ecological knowledge to keep people alive off-planet, for sure it hasn't been proven that we could do it. The condition of returning space station astronauts is not encouraging, yes Mars has some gravity but is it enough?

Economically, if we can develop much cheaper ground to orbit technology, I'd revisit all these numbers - though of course that still doesn't touch the biological issues.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We have the fire without. We had the fire within. It was called wisdom. Wisdom is what allows us to say "No" to simply picking up a rock and using it to bash someone for an easy meal, which was Cain's choice. Wisdom is what allows us to keep exploring for other answers and paths. The short path to the dead end of seeking only the fire without, the use of things for our immediate gratification and power to feed our emptiness within, contrasts with having the strength within to know that there is more to learn beyond ourselves and greater rewards in the future.

The temptation to feed our inner weakness can overcome any of us and on occasion it overwhelms societies, as it did the Totalitarians of the 20th century. The condition of the Ummah shows what happens when society submits, literally as that is what Islam means, to a creed that denies there is a future beyond surrendering to the fire without that promises selfish gratification. There is no reason to seek new answers or inventions that may benefit others, only a desire to take the rocks or box cutters or explosives or computers that others have discovered and use them to bash and destroy or steal. In the West the Gramscians have spent 3 generations consciously draining the wisdom from our society.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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