This post provides my charts and paper from my presentation at SciTech 2019.
Charlie Vono, Cold War Lessons for the 21st Century
Across America and around the world, you have an opportunity to schedule me as a guest speaker for your organization, and somebody else foots the bill.
My inclusion in the AIAA Distinguished Lecturer Manual means that AIAA Sections or Student Branches across the USA can request me as a guest speaker, and have all my travel costs reimbursed by their general fund.
It is common for local AIAA Sections to team with other local organizations. So, if you’d like me as a guest speaker and are not AIAA, just talk to your local AIAA group.
I can even help you find them.
The AIAA has 58 local Sections across the US, for example, the Cape Canaveral AIAA Section. They also have over 200 Student Branches, for example, Cleveland State University. Besides US local sections, about one fifth of AIAA members from 86 countries are associated with international sections.
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is the professional society for aerospace engineers with a mission to:
“…address the professional needs and interests of the past, current, and future aerospace workforce and to advance the state of aerospace science, engineering, technology, operations, and policy to benefit our global society.”
For more information on AIAA, see AIAA.org.
For more information on who I am and what topics I speak on, take a look at this web site’s presentations and publications page, or read my entry in the AIAA Distinguished Lecturer Manual:
My friend, John, asked me to contribute gyros to the Northern Utah STEM Expo at the Davis Conference Center in Layton. So as I made my mental plans to cobble together a couple of classroom sized demonstrators, I thought about what a teacher might want.
Something simple. Something inexpensive.
My first stop was the Deseret Industries Store at 435 Wall in Harrisville. I knew they had plenty of used bicycles for cheap. They sometimes have single wheels if you ask the manager. But even if you buy a whole bicycle for just the front wheel, you are probably paying around $5.
The trouble with the wheels is that, very often, the bearings are gummed up or shot. I grabbed what looked like a good one, removed the front wheel, and tried it. Yep. Too much friction. I visited my favorite bike shop, Bingham Cyclery at 1895 Washington Boulevard in Downtown Ogden on a slow day. They were more than happy to tweak the bearings and greatly reduce the friction and, since I was a good customer with a good cause and it only took a couple minutes, they did not charge me one cent.
When I was at Deseret, I had picked up a handle for a couple bucks. Probably from a hoe or shovel? It was very hard wood. I cut it into pieces to make a handle. I also notched a groove in one handle with a power grinder perfect sized for a length of clothesline. I drilled holes in the end of each and affixed them to the axle with gorilla glue. Read and follow the directions and that stuff will really stick things together! But it does foam up a bit as it sets, so make sure it doesn’t get near the bearings!
An old drill bit through a trainer wheel (also from Deseret) and stuck into a portable drill gave me an easy way to spin up the wheel.
Have the student hold and feel the wheel before you spin it so they can feel the difference after. You can spin up the wheel and hang it from a piece of clothesline for a dramatic effect. A turntable to stand on while playing with the gyro makes a good angular momentum demonstrator. But I have yet to find a cheap, low-friction lazy susan.
Consider smaller wheels for ease of use and greater safety by smaller students. Pump up the tire and add wheel weights (see photo) to help increase the gyroscopic effect.
I’ll post this now for the teachers at the conference and then add some photos later as I get time. I’ll also talk about how I used the entire front end of a bicycle for my other gyro demonstrator. And I’ll also mention how a teacher might use the bicycle wheel gyro to explain their properties and uses. My favorite is how they are used as speedometers in missiles.
Here is where you find the charts and flyer from my presentation at Utah State University on 11 October.
USU Alumni, Charlie Vono, returns to spend an hour telling us stories about his first assignment in the USAF, in-flight refueling SR-71s world-wide in the Strategic Air Command during the Cold War. Charlie will explain how KC-135 tankers were retro-fitted with high-tech to be able to support the fastest manned aircraft ever flown. Flying above 50,000 feet and above Mach 3, nothing could touch the SR-71. To set the stage, Charlie will discuss geopolitics of WWII and the post war peri- od. He can do this from a very personal point of view. His Dad, Mike Vono, was a B-24 ball turret gunner flying out of Italy up the Adriatic to bomb Germany. His Uncle, Charles Vono, was a gunner in every major naval battle in the Pacific. Char- lie earned his B.S. in Astronautical Engineering from the USAF Academy in 1976, M.S. in Systems Management from the University of Southern California in 1985, and his M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from USU in 1995. Charlie is a retired USAF colonel, retired aerospace engineer, and an AIAA distinguished lecturer. Dis- cover more at charlesvono.com.
On 30 June, Asteroid Day, I was privileged to have been asked to address the Los Angeles – Las Vegas American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Conference on Planetary Defense held in Redondo Beach.
Last week, my post provided an introduction to this important event based on all the other presentations at this conference. This week, as promised, I will discuss my presentation and some of the questions asked and answers given.
You can find my PowerPoint charts here: Planetary Defense 2018.
The title of my presentation was “Predictably Effective Planetary Defense Systems”.
In any deck of charts, no matter how large, there should be one that summarizes the entire deck. It should contain the point you intend to make. Stated in another way, you should be able to brief the entire presentation from that chart. The following reproduces that chart from my presentation:
A Planetary Defense System must be continually demonstrated (by monitor, test, analysis) to be…
Effective: Eliminates or mitigates threat (design)
Reliable: All required functions work (measured)
Available: Ready to be used when needed (even after use)
Survivable: Can’t be harmed prior to use (people or nature)
Economical: Can be kept viable with resources available
Anti-Fragile: Stress improves system (beyond long-lived)
Safe & Sure: Doesn’t harm people, things, environment & works only when commanded
The key part of this excerpt is the focus on “continually demonstrated”. It is understandable that design engineers will focus on what the system needs to be in terms of initial effectiveness. But it must not be forgotten that once deployed, it will be essential to keep it working in tip-top shape, and be improved over the years. Funding to make this happen will most likely, in this case, come from US taxpayers. They must have confidence today, tomorrow, and the next day that the system works or they will stop funding it.
I told the audience that my experience keeping highly complex ICBMs viable since the 1950’s yields lessons in how to design a planetary defense system. So there were also charts explaining what ICBMs are, why they are highly complex, and how they were kept working for decades.
The conclusions chart says that a Planetary Defense System that can be sustained indefinitely would include hardware that is, as far as possible, predictable and state-of-the-practice. It would consist of many copies, closely tracked and tested. And the system would lend itself to continuous upgrades.
Broadly speaking, a Planetary Defense System would need (among other things) world-wide and orbital sensors to find and track asteroids, a command and control capability to trigger the defense, and then some kind of active weapon design to eliminate or reduce the destructiveness of the asteroid. It is likely that, at least in the near term, many copies of rockets would be part of the third major subsystem. In many instances, nuclear bombs might be the best way to mitigate the threat. Because of this and because I was speaking about ICBMs, a lot of discussion centered around the idea of using nuclear bombs.
I found myself advising caution about using this approach. From a purely technical point of view, it probably is the best one in the short term for a certain class of asteroids. If you would like to read up on this issue before continuing, you are in luck. AIAA’s magazine, Aerospace America, just recently addressed this.
For an anti-nuke argument see: https://aerospaceamerica.aiaa.org/departments/nuclear-nonsolution/
For a pro-nuke argument see: https://aerospaceamerica.aiaa.org/departments/earths-best-defense/
The main focus of my concern was the generational work that my fellow ICBM engineers have accomplished over the years with other US Government experts in reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons via treaties. Nuclear explosions that take place here on the Earth do a tremendous amount of ecological damage. The best path to eliminating these explosions on the surface of our planet would be to eliminate these weapons completely. Do not leave any capability in place on this planet to create them.
I also tried to make the point that continuing the momentum of eliminating these bombs is hard enough without attempting to carve out exceptions for planetary defense. I was thinking about the way Russia, for instance, will protest any missile defense system as de-stabilizing to deterrence. Serious work on the planetary defense system will enter that same diplomatic space. Nukes will only further complicate those discussions.
There are, of course, other considerations. This is probably the most important: These bombs can be made “safe” in that a rocket that fails to operate correctly and crashes back to Earth will not result in a nuclear detonation. However, a pile of burning rubble that contains a nuclear device is never a good thing.
What might be done without nuclear bombs? Kinetic impact. Directed energy. Placing devices on the asteroid to nudge it using various schemes. These and other options are already being debated. Key to this debate is effectively categorizing asteroids into groups. For instance, broadly speaking, a lot of time and distance allows for lower energy “nudging” solutions. But lack of warning time severely limits options. Many other categories are being discussed as well such as what the asteroid is made up of or how many pieces and what shapes the asteroid is. (Yes, asteroids can have “moons”.)
In the case of sizes and trajectories that result in short warning times, defenses are likely to be Earth-bound and regional (perhaps continental US plus some parts of Canada and Mexico). They would likely resemble current missile defense systems such as the Ground-Based Mid-Course Defense system currently in place at Fort Greeley, Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. This raises the questions (stated very well by one of the participants) just how quickly can we create this kind of system with a sufficient effectiveness? And this gets us back to the potential protestations from other countries like Russia. I reminded the audience that a similar concern was raised in the Reagan “Star Wars” Defense years. The answer at that time was to assist Russian in creating their own regional defense system. And this takes us full circle from my initial assertion that US taxpayers would pay for all of this. The reality will be much more complicated than that.
I think this post is long enough for this week. I would ask those who were at the conference to contribute in the comments section. Are there points that you felt were important that I have left out?
Saturday, 30 June 2018, “Asteroid Day”, it was my very great pleasure to meet and brief, for the first time, members of a very important technical community in Los Angeles: Planetary Defense. I didn’t quite know what to expect. So this post gives you my first impressions.
I discovered that Asteroid Day itself is a worldwide phenomena. February 2014, Dr. Brian May, astrophysicist and guitarist for the rock band QUEEN, was working with Grigorij Richters, the director of a new film about an asteroid impact on London. May composed the music for the film and suggested that Richters preview it at Starmus, an event organized by Dr. Garik Israelian and attended by astrophysicists, scientists and artists, including Dr. Stephen Hawking. These collaborations and others led to the launch of Asteroid Day in 2015.
In Los Angeles, last Saturday, the event I attended was hosted by the Los Angeles – Las Vegas Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Brian May wasn’t there, but there were about 40 people in the room representing serious thought on the question of planetary defense against asteroids from all walks of life: university professors, aerospace industry experts, spacecraft designers, a pharmacist, a high school student, a film producer, and many others
I had approached this request to speak with some trepidation. What could Planetary Defense experts need from a person focused on the sustainment of complex systems after they had been designed and fielded? In pondering that question, I came up with the title and the theme: “Predictively Effective Planetary Defense Systems” and “Keeping highly complex ICBMs viable since the 1950’s yields lessons in how to design a planetary defense system”.
Gratifyingly, my spiel was listened to with great interest and the questions afterwards, and at the end of the day, were insightful and fun. I will tell you more about that in next week’s post. You can find my charts here: Planetary Defense 2018.
I took notes as I waited to speak so I could tailor my talk to information conveyed in these earlier presentations. Here are a few items from my notes:
During the entire event, filming was going on. I even signed a waiver. Philip Groves, the producer of the IMAX film that was in progress (“Asteroid Impact”) was sitting near me and I found his perspectives fascinating. Interestingly, major funding for the IMAX film is coming from the Knights of Columbus. I am a member of the St. James Parish Knights of Columbus Council in Ogden Utah. So I know that the Knights run a top-rated life insurance program. I know they try to invest the funds into socially helpful work. But they are also savvy businessmen. Since Philip convinced the Knights to invest, I expect this film to turn a profit. Look for it at your local museum or planetarium IMAX in mid-2019. If I survive the cutting room floor, I’m the guy in the black Strategic Air Command ball cap.
It turns out there have been 700 asteroids hit the Earth in the last 30 years large enough to be detected. Thankfully our atmosphere burns up most of these impacts. We have satellites that can show all of these the impacts as they hit the upper atmosphere. The biggest in that 30-year period was the Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013. See the video. Other videos you can easily find on youtube show damage on the ground from this asteroid to be similar to an earthquake, such as store shelves knocked over. It occurred at the same time that a very much larger asteroid missed the Earth, yet analysis shows they were actually on very different trajectories. Two unrelated asteroids, one detected and missed. One undetected and hit. Hmmm.
Things are relatively calm now, but since the Solar System travels around the Milky Way at 500,000 miles per hour, it is not a stretch to imagine we could hit a more crowded patch. The vast majority of asteroids, nowadays however, come from within our Solar System. Most are kept in check by Jupiter’s gravitational influence. But some make their way towards us.
The most famous asteroid collision, Chicxulub Crater, is the one that “killed the dinosaurs”. Evidence for this theory is vast and convincing. My favorite story is the Ring of Cenotes at the impact site. A gravity scan by oil exploration teams was an early indication that something important happened here. See photo.
Scott Manley (no, he wasn’t there either) has some great videos on line. This one shows asteroids being discovered over a period of years. Turn on the sound. A voice-over by Scott tells us why the various patterns appear. For instance, new satellites came on-line or certain views away from the sun are more productive.
Many professional societies play major roles. The next International Academy of Aeronautics Worldwide Planetary Defense Conference will be held in Washington D.C. April/May 2019. It is held every 2 years. In 2017, it was held in Japan. One of the great technical debates is whether the use of nuclear bombs is a good idea. Surprisingly, some key Japanese members were convinced that, for certain types of asteroids, it is. There are still some compelling arguments against their use. Many of these discussions came up during the AIAA LA-LV conference, especially during my talk. More next week.
Finding and tracking asteroids is a big part of defense. One method briefed showed that the CMOS sensors (used in cell phones) are better for this than CCD sensors (used for astronomical sightings). A method using CMOS and video game software proved surprisingly effective at finding and tracking asteroids. Orbital tests are planned with hopes for 3 satellites in heliocentric orbits in about 10 years.
Asteroid mining is a strongly related area of scientific and business research. There is a good business case for traveling to a select class of asteroids, capturing one (at a time) in a balloon, literally digesting it using the power of the sun, and then bringing it back to Earth to be used for fuel.
A couple more fun facts I picked up at random:
Meteorite hunters using metal detectors tend to scramble magnetics fields in their finds, making them a bit less valuable if you wanted to infer origins from the fields.
There is a scheme someone cooked up to put humans in orbital colonies to save the human race in case of a Planetary Catastrophe. The colony would be called Asgardia. Sure, the home of the Norse Gods. Why not put your hubris on full display?
More next week: What I presented and the ensuing discussions.