Fast trains, hacked landings, and engines to reach the moon


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The Maserati Levante GTS head-on

These days, we review cars regularly around Ars through the excellently-named Cars Technica section (see, for instance, our managing editor selflessly taking the assignment to drive around a Maserati Levante GTS recently). But every so often we dream a little bigger and toss around the idea of an Aviation Technica or straight up Ars Transportation—why should wheels be the only mode of travel consistently in focus? This past week would've been a heckuva week for those grandiose transportation ambitions.

First, we got the extremely appropriate (and awesome) reveal of the new NASA Moon program name, Artemis. Then, we learned SpaceX will take a page out of the Internet headlining playbook and utilize A/B tests—just for spaceship designs, not naming TV lists. Uber's fumbling IPO rollout barely even registered because the bigger train wreck might've been damaging data finally showing up to scold all the e-scooter diehards

So for this week's Orbital Transmission, we're compiling a pseudo glimpse into everything that could live under a theoretical Transportation Technica banner.  We'll never stop closely following the escapades of, say, e-racing teams looking to best the world's scariest tracks, but maybe we could squeeze in some more in-depth bike lane coverage every now and then. 

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Orbital Transmission 05.15.2019
A plane in the researchers' demonstration attack as spoofed ILS signals induce a pilot to land to the right of the runway.

This hack tampers with planes' radio-based landing navigation

Just about every aircraft that has flown over the past 50 years—whether a single-engine Cessna or a 600-seat jumbo jet—is aided by radios to safely land at airports. Unfortunately, now, researchers have devised a low-cost hack that raises questions about the security of instrument landing systems (ILS), the tools used at virtually every civilian airport throughout the industrialized world to aid landings. Using a $600 software defined radio, the researchers can spoof airport signals in a way that causes a pilot’s navigation instruments to falsely indicate a plane is off course. Normal training will call for the pilot to adjust the plane’s descent rate or alignment accordingly and create a potential accident as a result. Ugh.

The "ALFA-X" bullet train in May 2019

The fastest commercial train may do Tokyo to Nagoya at 224mph

This month, Japanese railway company JR East showed off its new Alfa-X, a high-speed bullet train that is designed to achieve a top speed of 400kph, or 249mph, which would make it the fastest commercial train in the world. In day-to-day operations, the train would shuttle passengers at 360kph, or roughly 224mph. People may hope Hyperloop can bring even faster travel to the US sometime soon, but Virgin Hyperloop One, arguably the best-funded Hyperloop startup, has only been able to log a speed of 240mph (386kph) in less than a quarter-mile (300 meters) so far.

During the speech, he showed off a full-scale mock-up of the Blue Moon lander on stage

Jeff Bezos wants to take humanity to the moon—and stay this time

One week ago, the world's richest person, Jeff Bezos, unveiled his sweeping vision for humanity—and it involves using his rocket company, Blue Origin, to pave a way to space for future generations. As part of his speech, Bezos also revealed new details about some of the travel options coming sooner. First, he previewed a large lunar lander, called "Blue Moon," capable of delivering up to 3.6 tons of cargo and scientific experiments to the lunar surface. Blue Origin has spent three years working on the vehicle, he said. The company also has a brand-new engine, not previously known, named BE-7 that has 10,000 pounds of thrust. It will power the Blue Moon vehicle during its descent to the lunar surface. The company will perform its first hotfire test of the BE-7 engine this summer in West Texas, Bezos said.

Hermeus concept for a Mach 5 aircraft.

New aerospace corp. wants to build the world's fastest aircraft

On Monday, a US-based company named Hermeus announced plans to develop an aircraft that will travel at speeds of up to Mach 5. Such an aircraft would cut travel time from New York to Paris from more than 7 hours to 1.5 hours. The type of vehicle Hermeus seeks to develop will travel considerably faster, but COO Skyler Shuford said it will rely mostly on existing technology and materials. "We aren't getting into anything too miraculous," Shuford said. "We want to do engineering, not science." To date, civilian supersonic service has a checkered record. The Soviet Tupolev supersonic aircraft flew just a few dozen commercial flights back in 1977, and the Concorde, flown by British Airways and Air France beginning in 1976, retired in 2003 after a fatal accident three years earlier that compounded economic problems.

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