Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hey, That's My Lunar Uranium!

Warning: Read at your own risk!!! ;)

India launched Chandrayaan-I on 22nd October; our nation's first lunar mission. It consisted of a probe to study the surface of the moon. We are also looking for a rare earth mineral viz., Helium-3, for our future energy requirements. An interesting thought stuck me while reading the about the mission profile. With India-US Nuclear deal in the backdrop, I made up a complete scenario. Just imagine, what if we could just mine Uranium from the moon. That would be cool!! Just forget the cost factor for a second(which we obviously shouldn't :P). We would get a reliable supply of Uranium and need to depend less on "genuine" nuclear supplier countries like US, Australia, Canada and "so called nuclear suppliers" (and maybe whiners) Ireland, Austria, New Zealand(God knows what they supply).

Thence we could generate enough electricity to provide power to our growing population and could also fulfill our military needs. There are three main questions here. The 1st one, "Is there Uranium on Moon?" The answer is "Yes". JAXA, Japan's Space Agency announced that the Selene mission has gathered detailed information regarding the mineral composition of parts of the Moon's surface, including thorium, potassium, and uranium sites. You can see the complete report here. The Chandrayaan-I will confirm the JAXA's data and hopefully find some new data.
The 2nd question is, "Can we claim the Uranium deposits on the moon?" The answer is "No". To this effect, Outer Space Treaty was signed and ratified in 1967 by almost all countries (all countries with launch capabilities included, including India). The treaty explicitly forbids any government from claiming a celestial resource such as the Moon or a planet, since they are province of mankind. outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means. Not only this, the treaty bars States Parties to the Treaty from placing nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction in orbit of Earth, installing them on the Moon or any other celestial body, or to otherwise station them in outer space. It exclusively limits the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes and expressly prohibits their use for testing weapons of any kind, conducting military maneuvers, or establishing military bases, installations, and fortifications. However, the Treaty does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in orbit.
The 3rd million dollar question is, "Is mining allowed in outer space?". The answer is not defined, but presumed as "Yes". The Outer Space Treaty keeps mum on the issue of mining of resources from outer space. Space-faring nations maybe favorable to mining. However, if a country or company were to open a mine on Moon, it would be legally uncertain ground.
For those of you who've claimed to have bought a real-estate on moon, you've invested your money on nothing (you'd atleast get something, if nothing had you invested in Share markets even today!!! :P); I wished you'd done a little more research :D

Very capable technologies will be required if we have to achieve any of the above. Not to mention the cost of the technologies. Cheap ways must be found to launch system into space. ISRO's AVATAR RLV's to launch satellite into LEO is a small step in this direction, as was building of Space Shuttle. Then we'll need a Space station capable of storage, then mission control centers, management systems, telemetry and communications centre. Then, a fleet of space transport vehicles. In short, a complete Star Wars like system. So, we are centuries away :D

I wrote above analysis as fun, however, space agencies maybe indeed looking at space as resource waiting to be utilised. Also technology is advancing really fast, with new fields of genetics, nanotechnology emerging to revolutionalize our lives. With deep space programs such as Constellation Program by NASA, ESA's Aurora program, Russia's Lunar missions, China's CLEP (in Chinese), India's manned Chandrayaan-III in pipeline, countries are also showing keen interest in moon, mars and Solar System. The space research and development is following an evolutionary progress. So maybe after 100 years we'll be mining on moon and hopefully by 2145 we will be doing same on Mars(year sounds familiar, remember Doom 3 game ;)
In 1969, Neil Armstrong said while he set foot on moon,"A small step for man. A giant leap for mankind."
God bless the Homo Sapiens Sapiens!!!:)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Indian Navy 2008 - A Great White Shark with no teeth???

Advanced Technology Vessel model| Source -Wikipedia

The latest report by the Comptroller and Auditor General has slammed the Ministry of Defence for the poor health of the navy. the news article can be read at http://www.ibnlive.com/news/indian-navys-submarine-fleet-in-poor-health-cag/76679-3.html
Excerpts of the text are:
1) No more than 48 per cent of India's submarine fleet is available for waging war, should India be attacked. The auditors have blamed this situation on an ageing fleet, which the Defence Ministry has failed to replace.
2) The Indian Navy currently hold just 67 per cent of the force level envisaged in its 1985 plan.
3) At present, the submarine fleet strength of the Navy includes 12 Kilo-class and four HDW. Currently, six Scorpene submarines are under construction at the Mazgaon Docks in Mumbai and the Navy has floated fresh Request for Information to acquired submarines.
4) Some of the submarines have already outlived their maximum service life.
5) The report also castigates the performance of the newly acquired sonars costing Rs 168 crore as being unsatisfactory.
6) The report also sounded a grave alarm about the status of India's air defence, which are based on outdated, 32-year-old technology.
7) Shortage of key radars was to the tune of 76 per cent making India particularly vulnerable to air attacks.

This is my analysis based on open source data:

Considering the facts, I can assume that the current SSK's, 10 Kilo Class (Sindhughosh), 4 Type 209 Class (Shishumar) and 2 Foxtrot Class in India's armory maybe/are below par than Pakistan's Agosta 90B. All we can hope for is the numerical superiority (nullified against PLA Navy). As if adding insult to the injury, as above report states, only 48% are in the state of readiness, rest undergoing refits. Keep in mind, the Type 209's and Foxtrot's are almost of the "Gandhian" era! The Kilo class only being latest of them(late Cold War era). While it may not mean that India has lost the edge, but the collateral damage in case of skirmish will certainly be greater at present.
The under construction Scorpene class are certainly more advanced compared to Agosta 90B's, however bear in mind they'll not be in service before 2010. This too, is an optimistic assumption. Additional RFI proposals may/are floated for another 6 SSK's, looks like 6-8 Russian Amur class submarines maybe on the radar. With 3 Advanced Technology Vessel's (ATV) under construction in India (4-6 planned) and 1 or 2 SSN Akula class submarines under construction in Russia, future looks fairly comfortable.
Another important factor to consider is the AIP system for Scorpenes and Amurs. It'll be interesting to see whether we choose French MESMA or German PEM, the latter outperforms former (Pakistani Agosta's are equipped with MESMA's). India's sure to buy the MESMA systems for Scorepenes, though Siemens has offered to fit them with PEM . I have read that Hydrogen and Oxygen tanks in PEM have raised safety issues (I would be very happy if we go for PEM, looking at the advantages they offer :D). Though I'd love to see more nuclear attack submarines in our armory, due to their range and speed advantage over SSK's over.
India's first SSBN, the ATV, capable of carrying 12 nuclear-tipped Sagarika missiles of range about 750km and maybe 4 Agni-III SLBM with 5000km range, is scheduled to be launched next year.

Navy's Air Arm:
Here again, the INS Viraat is nearing end of its operational life. The Sea Harrier bought from the BAe are also fairly old enough. I guess RAF has already phased them out. Carrier Admiral Gorshkov is undergoing upgrade. The new MiG-29K's to be bought will again take time.
Project lags, cost overruns have frequently plagued the Armed forces. Many equipments like radars, Klub missiles are legacy systems of the Cold War era, which in fact are indeed outdated compared to latest technology.

Considering the above facts, it is safe to say that the Indian navy will be a force to reckon only not prior to 2020, when all of its submarines, ships, weapons and avionics are fully in service. Presently, we maybe/are fairly vulnerable. However, gaining blue water capability may take longer, but it'll come surely!!!
The Defence Ministry has assured to fill up the loopholes... They'll have to say that, considering massive budgets allocated for military!!!

Trivia: As for the title, I'd always like to stay away from a Great White Shark even if it is toothless, it has strong enough jaws to break a spinal chord!!! :D

SSK - Hunter-killer submarines (Diesel powered); in simple terms submarine to destroy other submarines or ships
SSN - Attack Submarine (Nuclear powered); in simple terms same as above, except faster than SSK's
SSBN - Ballistic Missile Submarine (Nuclear powered); in simple terms, submarines used to launch ballistic missiles from underwater

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Dark Night - Facing power shortage

5.50 am, 22nd October 2008
I painstakingly woke up in the morning for the 1st time in 6 months to witness the launch of India's 1st moon probe, Chandrayaan-1 scheduled at 6.20 am and to see the excitement in the mission control. PSLV's been always been successful in past couple of years, so I was fairly convinced enough that it would be a successful launch, even considering the uncertainty factor. Then it struck at 6.00am!
The power was cut off. Load shedding had begun. The most outrageous part is the uncertainty in the timings of load-shedding. Nowadays papers declare schedule, which is seldom followed by the Electricity Board. It's as per the convenience of theirs. This monsoon was the worst in Maharashtra, with upto 7 hours of power cut in cities while 12 hours in rural areas. Lack of rain was the main reason. Another important point is load-shedding isn't uniform everywhere. Some areas have almost zero load-shedding while some have as high as 12 hours, worst being rural areas. I dont get the logic behind this asymmetry and discrimination. Industries and citizens alike are hit by this. Other incident occured on the eve of Commonwealth Youth Games, with power down for 2 days.
The behavior of the board is not very pleasing either. They dont care to communicate the people the reason as well as answer any questions raised. Its been time since the MSEB's been privatised, but nothing seems to have changed. The power crisis needs to be tackled asap. The contentious Nuclear deal maybe a step in this direction.

False positive on the first post!!!

My 1st post on Google's Blogger wasn't what I'd expected! Google's flagged me as a potential spam blogger, although I'd signed up barely about 13-14 hours before. Filled up my profile, thought for a topic for my 1st post, but couldn't get one. So decided to search for some inspiration by reading some blogs which I followed. At last made up my mind to post. On hitting the "Posting" tab I got an error something like "Try again after some time". After numerous attempts in vain yielding same message I signed out. Today morning, I signed in and Guess what, I got a new message on my Dashboard "You are flagged as a potential spam blogger. We need to investigate blah blah..." something like that. I was quite bemused seeing the message that the filters classified me as a spammer. I'd read about false positives generated in Information Retrieval, but not what I was expecting one.
I've heard how Google responds to bugs found in their programs, claiming them as a "Features" of the program! While at the same time their Engineers sit back and patch the problem quietly while their PR's are explaining the "Features" (for more information http://blogs.securiteam.com/index.php/archives/category/google/)
Hmm... so maybe this is just another of the product's "Feature" to keep out spammers! Remember??! Prevention is better than cure... eh!!! :D
One thing's for sure, even the most infallibles are prone to failure...