Air Force’s X-37B space plane mystery mission wings by 500 days in orbit

An artist's depiction of the U.S. Air Force's unmanned X-37B space plane in orbit with its solar array deployed and payload bay open.

An artist’s depiction of the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane in orbit with its solar array deployed and payload bay open.  (United Launch Alliance/Boeing)

The latest secretive mission of the United States Air Force’s X-37B space plane has cruised beyond 500 days in Earth orbit since its launch last year.

The U.S. military launched the robotic X-37B space plane on May 20, 2015, marking the fourth flight for the Air Force program. A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lofted the spacecraft from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to kick off the OTV-4 mission (short for Orbital Test Vehicle-4).

Exactly what the winged space plane’s duties are while it’s in orbit continues to remain a tight-lipped affair. Similarly, how long the vehicle will remain in orbit has not been detailed. [The X-37B’s Fourth Mystery Mission in Photos]

The first OTV mission launched in April 22, 2010, and concluded on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit. The second OTV mission — which used a different vehicle than the first — began March 5, 2011, and concluded on June 16, 2012, after 468 days on orbit. The subsequent OTV-3 mission reused the X-37B that flew on the first mission, and chalked up nearly 675 days in orbit.

So far, the U.S. military has not stated where the OTV-4 mission’s craft will ultimately land once it’s current flight ends. In the past, all three X-37B flights ended at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, gliding to a runway landing on autopilot.

New landing site for X-37B?

Progress has been made, however, to consolidate its space plane operations, including use of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida as a landing site for the X-37B. A former KSC space-shuttle facility known as Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF-1) was converted into a structure that will enable the Air Force “to efficiently land, recover, refurbish and relaunch the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV),” according to Boeing representatives.

The X-37B vehicle development falls under the Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems in El Segundo, California, the firm’s center for all space and experimental systems and government and commercial satellites.

The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is leading the Department of Defense’s OTV initiative, by direction of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and the Secretary of the Air Force.

A fleet of two space planes

Only two reusable X-37B vehicles have been confirmed as constituting the fleet. This current OTV-4 trek is the second flight of the second X-37B vehicle built for the Air Force by Boeing.

The reusable X-37B military space plane looks like a miniature adaptation of NASA’s now-retired space shuttle orbiter. The space plane is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, and has a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.6 m).

The space drone has a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed. It has a launch weight of 11,000 lbs. (4,990 kilograms) and is powered on orbit gallium arsenide solar cells with lithium-ion batteries.

Onboard payloads

A few payloads onboard the OTV-4 craft have been identified.

Aerojet Rocketdyne has announced that its XR-5A Hall Thruster had completed initial on-orbit validation testing onboard the X-37B space plane.

It is also known that the vehicle carries a NASA advanced materials investigation, as well as an experimental propulsion system developed by the Air Force.

“It remains a very useful way to test out things,” Winston Beauchamp, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for Space told Inside Outer Space during last month’s American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) meeting in Long Beach, California.

Asked about any interest in increasing the X-37B fleet size, Beauchamp said that the number of vehicles currently in use is fine due to the pace of experiments it conducts.

‘Beardog’ discovery offers clues to how canines evolved

This undated illustration provided by Monica Jurik and The Field Museum in Chicago, shows the artist's reconstruction of an early 38 million year-old beardog.

This undated illustration provided by Monica Jurik and The Field Museum in Chicago, shows the artist’s reconstruction of an early 38 million year-old beardog.  (Monica Jurik/The Field Museum via AP)

For decades a fossilized carnivore jawbone sat largely unnoticed in a drawer at Chicago’s Field Museum.

Now the scientist who grew curious when he opened that drawer has established with a colleague that the fossil belonged to an early, long-extinct relative of dogs, foxes and weasels known as a beardog. The Field Museum fossil and another at the University of Texas each represent a new genus, the taxonomic rank above species.

The researchers believe these beardogs, which lived up to 40 million years ago, may eventually tell the world more about the evolution of dogs and other carnivores and how animals adapt to changes in climate.

According to a paper to be published Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the jawbones belonged to two closely related types of Chihuahua-sized beardogs, new genera now named Gustafsonia and Angelarctocyon.

The Field Museum fossil set off the research by post-doctoral researcher Susumu Tomiya, who works at the museum and spends much time taking care of its large collection of fossils.

“In my spare time I like to walk around the aisles in the collections and open up drawers,” he said. “One day I just stumbled on these interesting-looking jaws of a little carnivore.”

The fossil was discovered in Texas in 1946 and 30 years ago was loosely classified as some type of carnivore. But no one knew where it fit into the carnivore family, said Tomiya, who authored the paper with Jack Tseng of the State University of New York at Buffalo.

The teeth stood out to Tomiya. They had flatter surfaces for crushing that suggested their owners ate more than meat — maybe berries and bugs, too, like present-day foxes.

The teeth reminded Tomiya of beardogs he was familiar with, he said. But the types of beardogs he knew were much larger predators that were the size of a bear and once roamed parts of North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

The researchers also compared the fossil with one written about in an earlier paper at the University of Texas. Tomiya and Tseng concluded both belonged in what had essentially been a blank spot in the branch of the mammalian tree that includes dogs, raccoons, weasels and similar animals. Beardogs evolved alongside the ancient cousins of present-day dogs, cats, bears and other carnivores.

The evolution of beardogs from the small varieties classified by Tomiya and Tseng to the much larger animals that needed more food and habitat seems to match evolutionary paths of other animals that led to extinction, Tomiya said. Beardogs were extinct by 5 million to 10 million years ago, he said.

Studying how the diversity of beardogs waxed and waned over time could tell us about larger patterns in carnivore evolution,” he said.

The two genera of small beardogs also lived at a time of climate transition in North America, from subtropical to cooler and relatively dry. Further study could help answer questions about what kinds of animals adapted well to that change, Tomiya said.

The new research is interesting in part because the fossils were found in North America, said Steven Wallace, a geosciences professor at East Tennessee State University and curator at the East Tennessee Natural History Museum.

Beyond that, Tomiya and Tseng’s work is a reminder to scientists that discoveries don’t just come from fresh digs in far-flung locales.

“It’s almost like they feel that once a specimen’s been described, they’ve learned everything they can from it,” Wallace said. “Sometimes the coolest discoveries come right out of a museum.”

Why mice are nature’s jet engines

File photo

File photo  (REUTERS/Daniel Munoz)

Wondering what animal might have the most in common with a jet engine? Prepare to be surprised. Elena Mahrt, author of a study published Monday inCurrent Biology, says mice sing ultrasonic songs using a method “never found before in any animal,” according to a press release.

It has, however, been found in jet engines. Mice use these high-pitched whistles—inaudible to humans—to defend their territory and find mates, but until now scientists had no idea how they made the noises, especially because mice’s vocal cords stay absolutely still while producing the “ultrasound bleeps,” Live Science reports.

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“Mice seem to be doing something very complicated and clever to make ultrasound,” study coauthor Dr. Anurag Agarwal says in the press release. To produce the high-pitched song, a jet of air originating in the mouse’s windpipe bounces off the inner wall of the larynx and doubles back on itself, making a “feedback loop.” This process—discovered in mice using high-speed cameras—has only ever been seen before in jet engines and their ilk.

Coauthor Coen Elemans says it’s likely many rodents use this same method, possibly even accounting for the echolocation of bats, according to theTelegraph. “Even though mice have been studied so intensely, they still have some cool tricks up their sleeves,” he says.

Researchers are studying the vocalizations of mice to better understand stuttering, autism, and other communication disorders. (Scientists makeshrunken, see-through lab mice.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Why Mice Are Nature’s Jet Engines

Secret fire station discovered under UK factory

 Image result for Secret fire station discovered under UK factory

Firefighters' uniforms (The Alan Nuttall Partnership).

Firefighters’ uniforms (The Alan Nuttall Partnership).

An incredible underground fire station, untouched for 60 years, has been discovered beneath a U.K. factory.

Workers at the Dudley site recently entered the fire station for the first time in decades, discovering an amazing time capsule.

The fire house is beneath a manufacturing facility owned by The Alan Nuttall Partnership, which makes interiors and displays for stores. “It was notionally known about, but nobody had opened it up to take a look,” Anna Bamford, Nuttalls’ marketing manager, told FoxNews.com.

After locating the key, staff opened the mysterious basement door and were stunned to find a fully-equipped fire station complete with dust-covered pump, hoses, and firefighters’ uniforms hanging on the wall. “We came across all of these fascinating finds – there’s a set of seven or eight uniforms – they have got the original hats and jackets, still with the silver buttons,” said Bamford. “There’s a lot of hoses, I think there’s about 10 or 12 down there, there’s even an old gas mask.”

Other items found include a half-drunk bottle of Pepsi and a certificate awarded to one of the firefighters in a competition against other stations. Firefighters’ names also appear to be chalked on the wall above their uniforms.

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Bamford explained that documents in the fire station are dated from 50s and 60s, which provide a hint as to when it was last in use.

The pump, however, may be more than 80 years old. “We have had some feedback about the pump – people are saying that it’s from the 30s,” Bamford said. “It has a towbar on it, so it would have hooked to some sort of vehicle – it’s a really special piece.”

The fire station dates back to the site’s earliest days – the factory was built in 1915 to manufacture munitions during World War I. “It has a heavily structured feeling – we don’t know if it was an air-raid shelter or maybe an explosives storage area from when it was a munitions factory,” said Bamford.

After about 15 or 16 years making munitions, the factory was used for car manufacturing. Later, in the mid-20th century, the site used to build store interiors and displays and was taken over by the Alan Nuttall Partnership in 1986.

The company, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, wants to find out more about the underground fire station and hear from firefighters that worked there. “Part of what we are looking to do is see if we can get hold of someone who worked in that room,” said Bamford.

Ancient teeth lead researchers to prehistoric shark discovery

Megalolamna paradoxodon had grasping-type front teeth and cutting-type rear teeth likely used to seize and slice medium-sized fish and it lived in the same ancient oceans megatoothed sharks inhabited.

Megalolamna paradoxodon had grasping-type front teeth and cutting-type rear teeth likely used to seize and slice medium-sized fish and it lived in the same ancient oceans megatoothed sharks inhabited.  (Kenshu Shimada)

Researchers have discovered a new species of prehistoric shark, and at about 13 feet long, it was comparable to the size of the great white sharks of today.

The new predator, called Megalolamna paradoxodon, lived about 20 million years ago and is now extinct. The scientists based their discovery on just a handful of teeth from the shark, describing five of the prehistoric chompers (which originated from three different countries) in a new study in the journal Historical Biology. Like great whites, the shark is a member of the lamniformes group, and it lived during the Miocene epoch, which spans about 23 million to five million years in the past.

Kenshu Shimada, the lead author of the new paper and a professor at DePaul University, described the species as “exceptionally rare.”

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“The fact that such a large lamniform shark with such a wide geographic distribution had evaded recognition until now indicates just how little we still know about the Earth’s ancient marine ecosystem,” he told FoxNews.com in an email.

He said that their newly-discovered ancient shark was “distantly related” to great white sharks.

The new shark had teeth in the front meant for grasping, and teeth in the back for cutting, and likely ate “medium-sized fish” according to a statement from DePaul University announcing the discovery. Its teeth measured as much as 1.8 inches long.

Sharks attack 2 different surfers in Florida beach area

new smyrna beach 103

 (Google Street View)

Two surfers are recovering from shark bites off the beaches in central Florida over the weekend.

Authorities say a 32-year-old surfer was bitten on his side in New Smyrna Beach on Saturday evening. The next day, a shark nipped a 21-year-old surfer on the left foot.

Volusia County Beach Safety Ocean Rescue Capt. Andrew Ethridge says neither surfer wanted to be transported to a hospital for treatment.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports there have been 14 shark bites in the county so far this year. Officials say that’s an increase from previous years. In 2014 there were 10 unprovoked shark attacks in Volusia County and seven in 2015.

One day last month, officials say three people were bitten by sharks in one day.

Toughie the frog, likely the last of his species, dies

Toughie the frog (Atlanta Botanical Garden).

Toughie the frog (Atlanta Botanical Garden).

A frog named Toughie, likely the last of his species, died quietly in his enclosure at the Atlanta Botanical Garden this week, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“He will be missed by Garden staff and visitors alike,” the Garden posted onFacebook. The Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog wasn’t even discovered until 2005 when scientists were attempting to rescue specimens of any amphibian they could before a deadly chytrid fungal infection hit Panama.

According to National Geographic, Toughie made it out of Panama, but it’s estimated that the chytrid fungus killed up to 85 percent of all amphibians left behind in his natural habitat.

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He had lived in isolation at the Garden since 2008. A cause of death is unknown, but Toughie was believed to be at least 12 years old.

In his final years, Toughie became a “symbol of the extinction crisis.” His photo was projected onto St. Peter’s Basilica, and he was visited by film directors and race car drivers.

“A lot of people were moved to tears when they saw him,” a photographer who worked with Toughie says. “When you have the very last of something it’s a special deal.” While some scientists are holding out hope for the Rabbs’ tree frog, it’s likely Toughie was the last, Scientific American reports. His species hasn’t been seen in the wild since 2007. It’s rare for humans to actually witness an extinction when it happens and not just learn about it years later. (For the first time, bees have been put on the endangered species list.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Toughie the Frog, Likely the Last of His Species, Dies

Montana hiker survives 2 attacks by the same bear, sheriff says

 (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart, File)

A hiker in Montana managed to survive a “Revenant”-style series of attacks — apparently by the same bear — and even drove himself to the hospital for treatment over the weekend, investigators said.

Todd Orr recorded video of himself after the mauling and posted it online. With gashes on his arms and blood streaming down his face, the 50-year-old survivor told the camera: “Yeah, life sucks in bear country… be safe out there.”

Warning: Video is graphic!

The first attack unfolded Saturday morning not far from the man’s home in Bozeman, Madison County Sheriff Roger Thompson confirmed. Orr said he unleashed bear spray and rolled into a ball to play dead as the bear chewed on him. He said it looked like a grizzly bear protecting two cubs.

The man headed back to the trailhead — but was attacked again. After the second attack, the bear wandered away and the man escaped.

“It’s like being struck by lightning twice in the same day; you don’t get attacked by the same bear in one day,” Thompson said. “I think he should go out and buy a lottery ticket now.”

Bleeding all over, Orr drove himself 17 miles to the Madison Valley Medical Center in Ennis. He called the sheriff’s office to report the attacks.

“He did everything he was supposed to do,” said Thompson. “He got a small fracture in his left forearm when the bear jumped on him.”

Despite the gruesome injuries, doctors say they expect Orr to survive.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks will determine what will happen to the bear, the Montana Standard reported.

In the Oscar-winning 2015 movie “The Revenant,” Leonardo DiCaprio’s character barely survives a mauling by a bear in the 19th century American wilderness.

Bozeman is about 90 miles southeast of Helena.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This new superyacht looks like a UFO on the water

Glider Yachts

Glider Yachts

If zooming over the waves in a sleek high-end vessel that looks right out of a science-fiction movie is your idea of fun, then London-based firm Glider Yachts has the answer: the Super Sports 18, a futuristic-looking luxury craft that can reach speeds of up to 64 miles per hour.

The high-performance sports day boat—as the company describes it—boasts a striking minimalist design, with an open cockpit with room for five atop a pair of innovative hulls devised to cut smoothly through the water, even at high speeds. The 60-foot-long hand-built boat, powered by four 270-horsepower supercharged engines, is capable of traveling from Monaco to Saint-Tropez or Miami to the Bahamas in just 45 minutes.

“We are absolutely thrilled to finally show off the first Glider to the world,” Glider Yachts managing director Robert McCall said in a statement. “The SS18 is unlike any other yacht seen in the market today, with unparalleled design and technological capabilities—we’re sure she is going to be a real game-changer.”

Along with its streamlined exterior, the SS18 features a smart tailored interior anchored by custom-made luxury leather sports seats by Corbeau and chrome detailing, adding to the overall polished feel.

The yacht, fitted with a specially engineered audio system by JL Audio and a bespoke Garmin dashboard with a state-of-the-art navigation system, is priced around $1.3 million. For more information, visit glideryachts.com/supersports/

A new combat vehicle that swims for the Marine Corps

(BAE Systems)

(BAE Systems)

A nearly 34-ton armored fighting vehicle– that swims? Marines will have a new Amphibious Combat Vehicle to storm the beaches in future battles.

Unveiled this week at the Modern Day Marine, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, or the ACV 1.1, was created by BAE Systems and IVECO Defence. The vehicle combines a high degree of protection with amphibious and land capabilities.

The new armored assault vehicle can launch from a ship at sea and then travel by water, ready to launch attacks on the shore. Once it reaches ground, it can chase enemy forces at 70 miles per hour and unleash some serious firepower.

Currently, the Marines use options like the AAV-7A1 amphibious assault vehicle to move from ship to shore. The AAV-7A1 has been in service for about 45 years, and has undergone upgrades, but there is room for improvement and a new vehicle to meet the current and future requirements of today’s Marine Corps.

The ACV 1.1 could join the Marine Corps’ Assault Amphibious Vehicle fleet in the future.

What can it do?

Based on a platform developed by IVECO Defence Vehicles, the ACV 1.1 leverages a new 6-cylinder, 700HP power pack. This approach aims to equip the Marines with even more power than the current Assault Amphibious Vehicle.

The ACV 1.1 is big enough to carry 13 Marines plus a crew of three. It’s about 29 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 9 feet high.

In practice that would mean that it could launch from a ship and “swim” about 12 nautical miles through the ocean to reach the shore. While out on the water, it can reach speeds of six knots. Once on land, it could travel about 250 miles at a maximum speed of about 70 mph. It has a total range of approximately 350 miles.

Surf? Not a problem for this vehicle. The ACV 1.1 can continue to charge forward in spite of nine-foot plunging surf.

On land

A ship-to-shore assault force often encounters tough conditions like surf, wet sand, soft soil, and steep inclines among others. Helpful in tackling these sorts of challenges, this 8×8 leverages all-wheel drive for traction, more power and torque for the land and surf areas.  It also uses 16R20 tires, a type used on other Marine Corps’ vehicles.

There is a special H-drive system on this vehicle. You won’t find any axles– instead on each side there are three drive shafts.

In response to feedback from Marines, BAE System also built more stowage and enhanced seating into the design. The instrument panel for the driver was also adapted for better ease of use. For the gunner, the controls will incorporate advances like enhanced automation with easy push-button approaches.

Protection

The ACV 1.1 aims to provide Marines with far better protection against IEDs and mines beneath the vehicle, as well as protection from threats above.

The design for this assault vehicle includes integrated armor for MRAP-level protection.

For further enhanced safety, there are energy-absorbing seats in addition to an optimized blast-resistant hull.

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Background

Last year, the U.S. Marine Corps awarded two contracts to BAE Systems and SAIC for the Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development phase of the Amphibious Combat Vehicle 1.1 program. SAIC is working on their version, called the Terrex 1.

During this current phase, BAE Systems will produce 16 prototypes that the Marine Corps will test. The Marine Corps will decide whether to proceed with the ACV 1.1 or the Terrex 1 in 2018. Within two years after the decision, the goal is to have more than 200 of the new amphibious assault vehicles to join the force.

Allison Barrie consults at the highest levels of defense, has travelled to more than 70 countries, is a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees and now the author of the new book “Future Weapons: Access Granted”  covering invisible tanks through to thought-controlled fighter jets. You can click here for more information on FOX Firepower columnist and host Allison Barrie and you can follow her on Twitter @allison_barrie.