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Universe Today

UFO update says Pentagon’s case count is rising rapidly

new report to Congress says the Pentagon’s task force on UFOs — now known as unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs — has processed more reports in the past couple of years than it did in the previous 17 years. But that doesn’t mean we’re in the midst an alien invasion.

The unclassified report was issued this week by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI, in collaboration with the Department of Defense’s All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, or AARO. The office was created by congressional mandate, and this week’s report serves as an update to a preliminary assessment of the Pentagon’s UAP reports issued in 2021.

That assessment said there were 144 reports relating to aerial anomalies sighted by military service members between 2004 and 2021. “There have been 247 new reports and another 119 that were either since discovered or reported after the preliminary assessment’s time period,” the newly released report says. That brings the total to 510 UAP reports as of last Aug. 30.

The authors of the report say the increase in the reporting rate “is partially due to a better understanding of the possible threats that UAP may represent, either as safety of flight hazards or as potential adversary collection platforms, and partially due to reduced stigma surrounding UAP reporting.”

Either way, U.S. intelligence and military officials say they see that as a good thing. “This increased reporting allows more opportunities to apply rigorous analysis and resolve events,” the report says.

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GeekWire

Defense Innovation Unit explores Northwest tech frontier

If space is the next frontier for national security, then the Pacific Northwest may well be the new frontier for that next frontier.

That’s the word from Steve “Bucky” Butow, an Air Force brigadier general who is now director of the space portfolio at the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit.

“I really think that the best news story out of the Pacific Northwest is just how impactful this region is in the new space economy,” Butow told me. “It’s not widely recognized, but I think that’s going to be changing here in the near future.”

Butow and his teammates at the DIU got an on-the-ground look at Seattle’s tech frontier this week during a series of meetings and site visits in the region. Among the tour’s highlights were meetings with executives at Amazon and Microsoft (which just won contracts to help build the Pentagon’s Hybrid Space Architecture), a roadshow workshop with entrepreneurs and venture capital investors, and a stopover at SpaceX’s satellite facility in Redmond, Wash.

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Microsoft and Lockheed Martin team up on defense tech

Lockheed Martin and Microsoft say they’re deepening their strategic relationship to help power the next generation of computing and communications technology for the Department of Defense.

Cloud-based services play a key role in that relationship. Under the terms of an agreement announced this week, Lockheed Martin will become the first non-governmental entity to operate independently inside the Microsoft Azure Government Secret cloud.

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Air Force lab agrees to support hypersonic test flight

Stratolaunch, the company created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen more than a decade ago, says it’s won a contract from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to support next year’s flight test of Stratolaunch’s first Talon-A hypersonic vehicle.

The rocket-powered Talon-A is designed to be deployed from Stratolaunch’s twin-fuselage Roc aircraft, which is the world’s largest airplane. Last month, Stratolaunch flew a stand-in for the hypersonic test vehicle during Roc’s eighth flight test, and it’s planning to execute Roc’s first air launch with TA-1 in the first quarter of 2023.

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X-37B space plane lands after record-setting mission

The U.S. Space Force’s Boeing-built X-37B space plane today completed yet another record-setting mission, landing like an airplane at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida 908 days after it was launched.

This was the sixth mission in the hush-hush X-37B test program, and the first to fly with a ring-shaped service module on its tail. The service module, which was jettisoned before the reusable plane’s descent, accommodated an extra set of experimental payloads for NASA and the U.S. military. It’s built to be safely disposed of in the coming weeks.

Hours after the landing at 5:22 a.m. ET (2:22 a.m. PT), the Space Force declared the mission to be a success.

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Microsoft and Amazon join Pentagon networking effort

Microsoft Azure SpaceAmazon Web Services and Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite network are now among the Pentagon’s partners in a campaign to upgrade space- and ground-based communications infrastructure for national security purposes.

The Defense Innovation Unit has awarded contracts to those three Seattle-area business units — plus SpiderOak Mission Systems, a space cybersecurity venture based in Washington, D.C. — in the second phase of the Hybrid Space Architecture project. They join four awardees from the first phase: Aalyria, Anduril, Atlas and Enveil.

“Hybrid Space Architecture ventures into an experimental communications vision that connects users from around the globe using modern and future communications,” Steve Butow, director of DIU’s space portfolio, said today in a news release. “The additional four awards from this solicitation provide new capabilities while seamlessly integrating into this dynamic and innovative collective of information and networking infrastructure that will provide resilient communications, and future technologies access, worldwide and beyond.”

The focus of the Phase I effort was to create a “Hybrid Gateway Satellite” to prove out next-generation networking technologies. Phase II is aimed at expanding the operational network to link ground-based cloud and internet services with commercial satellite constellations to facilitate secure communications via a hybrid public-private network.

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Universe Today

UFO hearing brings a few answers and more questions

For the first time in more than half a century, Congress conducted a public hearing into the state of the Pentagon’s study of unidentified aerial phenomena — which is the new name for mysteries once known as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence, told a hearing organized by the House Intelligence subcommittee on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and counterproliferation that military reports about UFOs — sorry, I mean UAPs — have been “frequent and continuing.”

Today’s hearing follows up on a Pentagon report that was issued last year and listed 144 UAP sightings that have been reported since 2004. The report pledged to take such sightings more seriously than in the past. “Since the release of that preliminary report, the UAP task force database has now grown to contain approximately 400 reports,” Bray said. “The stigma has been reduced.”

However, the hearing also made clear that the Department of Defense is still keeping mum about the detailed workings of its UAP detection and assessment process due to national security concerns. Bray and the hearing’s other witness — Ronald Moultrie, the under secretary of defense for intelligence and security — deferred some of lawmakers’ questions to the closed session that followed the open hearing.

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Nuclear power in space? Pentagon boosts two projects

Two Seattle companies have won Pentagon contracts to develop nuclear-powered prototypes for space applications, with orbital demonstrations set for 2027.

The Defense Innovation Unit says Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies has been tasked with demonstrating a chargeable, encapsulated nuclear radioisotope battery called EmberCore for propulsion and power applications in space.

Plutonium-powered radioisotope batteries have been in use for decades, going back to the Apollo era. For example, NASA’s Perseverance and Curiosity rovers are relying on such batteries to provide the heat and electricity for their operations on Mars.

EmberCore would provide 10 times as much power as those batteries, producing more than 1 million kilowatt-hours of energy using just a few pounds of fuel.

Another Seattle-based venture, Avalanche Energy, will receive backing from the Defense Innovation Unit to continue development of a compact fusion device known as Orbitron. The device, which is about the size of a lunchbox, would use electrostatic fields to trap ions in conjunction with a magnetron electron confinement system.

The resulting fusion reaction would produce energetic particles for generating either heat or electricity, which can power a high-efficiency propulsion system.

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Wave Motion will work on jet-gun launcher for Navy

Everett, Wash.-based Wave Motion Launch Corp. has been awarded $1.3 million to support its efforts to develop a barrel-less launcher technology that could eventually be used to send payloads to space.

Wave Motion was selected for project funding from the U.S. Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division via the Naval Surface Technology and Innovation Consortium. NSTIC offers federally funded research and business opportunities related to naval surface technology innovation, with a focus on emerging ventures.

The funding is due to run through the end of 2023 — and if Wave Motion’s jet-gun technology proves out, the company could be selected for follow-up awards.

Wave Motion is the brainchild of three University of Washington alumni — Finn van DonkelaarJames Penna and Casey Dunn. The two-year-old venture was one of the award winners in UW CoMotion’s I-Corps program in 2020. Van Donkelaar is Wave Motion’s CEO and holds the patent for the jet-gun system. Penna is the chief operating officer, and Dunn has served as chief financial officer.

The jet-gun concept involves firing a jet of supersonic gas to push a projectile to very high speeds. Since there’s no physical structure or barrel surrounding the projectile, Wave Motion says the system has the potential to be up to 100 times more compact than a rocket or regular cannon of equivalent power.

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FTC blocks Lockheed Martin’s $4.4B deal with Aerojet

The Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit to block Lockheed Martin’s $4.4 billion acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne, saying that the deal would “give Lockheed the ability to cut off other defense contractors from the critical components they need to build competing missiles.”