How Cutting-Edge Technology & Science Are Powering The Future TPM Idealab

The U.S. Air Force's Space Fence program moved into its second phase last week when Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Company received contracts to develop a radar system to track orbital debris circling the earth. Orbital debris threatens the thousands of expensive and delicate satellites that enable communication, perform scientific research, and engage in military operations.

As TPM reported, the Space Fence project will be comprised of two to three radar stations placed throughout the world. Using the powerful radar arrays, the installations will help to automatically monitor the thousands of pieces of space debris that can travel as fast as 17,000 mph.

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The Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior this week announced the first-ever inter-agency plan to rapidly develop massive offshore wind farms. The plan is designed to encourage private industry to develop offshore wind farms -- and to produce enough energy to contribute to the Administration's goal of generating 80% of the nation's electricity from clean sources by 2035. If the plans come to fruition, the United States could see thousands of square nautical miles of ocean off the coast of the eastern United States developed into wind farms in the coming decade.

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White House officials are calling the president's State of the Union plan for widespread wireless broadband coverage "win-win-win" for its potential to reduce the deficit, create a comprehensive public safety network and connect the country via broadband.

The president traveled to freezing Marquette, Michigan Thursday to unveil details of the Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative before an invited crowd on the campus of Northern Michigan University.

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The Obama administration announced on Tuesday a six-year, $53-billion-dollar project to expand high-speed rail service in the United States -- promising trains reaching 250mph. The budget request is in addition to $8 billion already allocated in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Even so, those billions are a drop in the bucket compared to the investment European and Asian countries have been making to their rail networks for decades.

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As NASA's space shuttle program comes closer to its long-scheduled termination later this year, concern is growing in Florida and around the country about the future of the massive workforce currently employed both directly and indirectly by the program.

Brevard County -- the central Florida home of the Kennedy Space Center, the famous Cape Canaveral launchpad and ten of thousands of highly trained and specialized aerospace workers -- is bracing itself for the worst. Many fear the impending end of the shuttle program will bring about a repeat of the economic devastation of 1975, when NASA abruptly cancelled the Apollo program; everything from rocket science to real estate was impacted, practically overnight.

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The Department of Defense's agency in charge of advanced research and design is looking for new designers to work on the next generation of military vehicles. But the DoD is not directly recruiting from MIT, Carnegie Mellon or the nations' other top computer science and engineering schools. Instead they're looking to you, America, to help with the next generation of military design.

Last week, The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced a competition to help design an experimental combat-support vehicle. DARPA is looking for a design for a four-wheeled vehicle that can either transport four passengers or three passengers laying-down for evacuations.

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The workhorse of the space program for decades -- the aging US space shuttle -- has a cargo bay that measures 15 feet by 59 feet. It can launch the equivalent of six large SUVs 1,000 miles up into lower Earth orbit. That might sound like a lot space, but when NASA is trying to launch a new module for the International Space Station (ISS), that cargo space is a critically limiting factor.

Which is why NASA has in the past few months been talking to Las-Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace about producing a new module for the International Space Station based on a simple, space-saving concept: the balloon. When stowed in the space shuttle's cargo bay, the module would be deflated to save space. But once unloaded in orbit, the module would inflate like a very tall doughnut, providing a large ring of usable space for any number of tasks. The center of the doughnut would contain the structure and equipment to maintain the inflated module.

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New Hampshire's state government publicly embraced the open source movement recently by allowing its residents extensive access to app-friendly state legislature activity, arranged in handy pipe-separated database and spreadsheet files.

Simply put, this means that researchers, journalists and developers can now access the minutiae of government data in New Hampshire in an extremely easy-to-use manner. Previously, this information was only available in print or through clunky, hard-to-operate web pages.

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Apple is exerting more control over content purchased for and available on its popular iPad by enforcing rules that require magazine, newspaper and e-reader publishers to sell all content through iTunes.

As of March 31, apps that do not take payments through its iTunes store will be rejected. Although Apple has long required app publishers to sell subscriptions via Apple's "In App Purchase API," some publishers -- notably, The Wall Street Journal andThe Financial Times -- sold them outside Apple's digital store.

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At least two Interior Department offices are testing out iPads in an effort to increase productivity, and a third office is looking to acquire the coveted tablets. But iPads have proven vulnerabilities -- only two weeks ago, a duo was arrested for hacking into AT&T records and exposing 120,000 iPad accounts, including top government officials.

The department is still interested. "They're being used as replacements for laptops and blackberries," said Drew Malcomb, the Interior Department's chief of public affairs. "We see them as filling that need. They have a larger screen, the attachments are onboard and they have most of the capabilities of a laptop."

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