Once upon a time, everything in aerospace was designed with nothing more complicated than the slide rule. How many people even know what a slide rule is anymore? Those tools and a bunch of people crunching numbers with a calculator and pen and paper put men on the moon. To this day we haven’t built a rocket more powerful than the legendary Saturn V. We still have not made an aircraft that flies higher and faster than the equally impressive SR-71 Blackbird, a plane that first flew in 1964 and was retired back in 1999. The base designs for aircraft and rockets haven’t really changed much since then.
So what is left for our massive improvements in computing power as well as data gathering and analysis to accomplish? There are certain obvious things like making improvements to those base designs. There have been massive gains in engine efficiency, tweaking the aerodynamics of aircraft and the incorporation of stealth technology. Rockets of course haven’t seen many improvements in those fields but recent advancements from companies like Blue Origin and Space X have greatly improved the reusability of rockets, especially the recent successes by Elon Musk’s Space X in landing first and second stage boosters to be refurbished for reuse. Thanks to extensive use of data to build and refine their designs, those stages can land on something a little bigger than a helicopter pad. This is much more efficient than the space shuttle’s reusable boosters that would just fall into the ocean and have to be picked up by a large ship with a crane before they sank.
Even here though, in some ways, things have been pushed to their limits. In the realm of fighter craft, the human body is the limit now, as demonstrated by the existence of ‘Raptor cough’. It was discovered years ago that pilots of the F-22 Raptor had developed respiratory issues due to the stresses that flying the craft and the oxygen system used to help keep pilots alert while doing so put on the human body. Data will help design better support systems but it’s clear that physical limits are now the barrier, not our imaginations.
So again, what is left for data in aerospace and defense? Much of the best and most exciting uses of data is happening in low earth orbit, thanks to improvements in satellite technology. One of the reasons we haven’t make anything bigger than the Saturn V is because our satellites can be made smaller and still accomplish a lot more. One of the recent things that data analysis and satellites did was uncover and break up a human trafficking operation. Thanks to analysis of patterns and satellite imagery they were able to find where the traffickers’ boats were operating in the middle of the ocean.
Of course there is also the various intelligence uses of data. The ability to rapidly collect and analyze data has grown exponentially ever since 9/11 and has been used effectively to track any number of terrorist operations, including the Boston Marathon bombers. Of course, there is a whole other side to that, but that’s a different article.
Cyberwarfare has also increased dramatically since then and being able to track the spread of viruses and other malware across the internet will only become more important in the years ahead.
Finally, there is the issue of space junk. There are millions of satellites and pieces of satellites in low earth orbit right now and tracking them is a full time job. NASA has to be aware of every bit of stuff floating around up there to prevent collisions. Data analysis is essential to that operation as they don’t just have to predict where an old satellite will be tomorrow, they have to predict where it will be in ten years. Not to mention the various bits of bolts, frozen fuel, and even paint chips that can’t be so easily tracked and yet can still cause considerable damage.
While most of the major physical designs have already been nearly perfected, there are still plenty of uses for data in the world of aerospace and defense. From learning how to push the human body to its limits, to stopping human traffickers, to figuring out how to best handle our space garbage, data and the analysis of it will be a big part of the future.
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Speaker 1 (00:07):
Welcome to TotalCast with your hosts, Alexander McCaig and Jason Rigby, where humanity steps into the future and source data defines the path.
Jason Rigby (00:24):
Alexander McCaig (00:26):
Jason Rigby (00:28):
This is interesting. I had a friend yesterday tell me she brought her boyfriend over to her parents' house and she's like, "You need to call my dad the last name. He's kind of like that."
Alexander McCaig (00:39):
Jason Rigby (00:40):
And I'm like, in 2020, fixing to be 2021, really? A dad would want-
Alexander McCaig (00:46):
Jason Rigby (00:47):
I know. It's just funny to [crosstalk 00:00:48]-
Alexander McCaig (00:49):
"You need to call me by my last name."
Jason Rigby (00:50):
Mr. So-and-so. Yeah.
Alexander McCaig (00:52):
Jason Rigby (00:52):
And so her boyfriend is sitting there saying, "Mr. So-and-so."
Alexander McCaig (00:56):
You had already-
Jason Rigby (00:56):
To introduce. If somebody said that, I'd say, "No, call me Jason. I want to get to know you as a person, because you're dating my daughter-
Alexander McCaig (01:04):
Jason Rigby (01:04):
... so I want to really know you. So I'm going to give you some beers, if you're over 21."
Alexander McCaig (01:10):
I don't want him to walk in and feel like it's a hierarchy and I've got to prostrate on the ground. You know what I mean?
Jason Rigby (01:14):
Yeah. I want to be friends with this dude, to make sure he treats my daughter right.
Alexander McCaig (01:18):
It already gives the notion of no chill, and I'm like, "Oh man."
Jason Rigby (01:23):
Yeah, that's what she said. She said they was walking up to her room and she was behind him and he was walking up the stairs to her room, and his whole back was solid sweat. It's nervous meeting the parents for the first time.
Alexander McCaig (01:36):
Yeah, I know. I hear it. I hear it.
Jason Rigby (01:38):
And then he throws out, "You've got to do the mister."
Alexander McCaig (01:40):
Jason Rigby (01:41):
That would make me nervous.
Alexander McCaig (01:43):
Man, that's brutal.
Jason Rigby (01:45):
Speaking of mister, the big mister, the big M-R period-
Alexander McCaig (01:47):
Yeah, the man.
Jason Rigby (01:49):
... let's talk about aerospace and defense markets with big data.
Alexander McCaig (01:53):
There was a, what, some giant report that came out-
Jason Rigby (01:56):
Alexander McCaig (01:57):
... talking about what's trending for big data in aerospace. It's funny, not much has changed in aerospace since the early '50s. The SR-71 came out with these big Pratt Whitney turbine engines. You know the U2 spy plane? Okay, that flies high. And then while they were doing that, they were designing the SR-71 with a slide rule, and nothing flies high, and fast, and takes photos, right? And then after that you had the XP-7 Valkyrie or whatever it was called, or something along that, and they built like three of them. But apart from that, engines really haven't... Not much has happened in aerospace-
Jason Rigby (02:40):
Even on the rocket side of things. I mean, the same rocket systems are set. I mean, it looks the same as something from the '60s.
Alexander McCaig (02:47):
It's exactly the same. We've just retuned some of the aerodynamics and maybe some of the efficiencies. I don't even know if they use liquid oxygen anymore. I'm not sure what that is. But really a lot hasn't changed. Our CAD models for how we design things, with engineering, it's already plugged in with all the physics. Design on a computer pretty much tells you a lot of what's going on. So when I look at aerospace and defense and big data, the only thing that really comes to mind is almost like an Edward Snowden kind of thing, where the government, from a defense standpoint, wants to analyze and collect as much information as possible-
Jason Rigby (03:24):
Alexander McCaig (03:25):
... and then it wants to index it so that it can search through it. I don't know if the system, if it was actually called XKeyscore, which was that thing where you can literally type in whatever you want and it pulls up information on anyone, anywhere, anything that ever touched the internet, courtesy of the National Security Administration, the CIA and Google.
Alexander McCaig (03:45):
But when we look at the defense report, it's like, what is it that you're going to be able to tell us with big data when it comes to airlines? Using the fuel inefficiently? We're going to retool our Rolls Royce turbine engines better? We don't have to have five on the plane, we can actually... Or one on the tail, I know that's an odd number. But what is it that is truly a key driver for defense? It's going to be tracking things that deal with cyber warfare.
Jason Rigby (04:15):
Right, satellite and all that.
Alexander McCaig (04:17):
Satellite. People are going to be able to hack the system. It's going to be a function of security, speed, and reach.
Jason Rigby (04:27):
Alexander McCaig (04:27):
I think when we look at that report, those are the three major things that you're going to see in defense. Because we have more cloud computing that's happening. Processing is becoming a lot faster. People are becoming more connected. And you've got to worry about security problems of other countries getting your information, and then once they have it, the question is what are they doing with it? So now you want to actually trace where that data is moving back and forth. So a lot of that defense spending is going to be on that tracing. It's all going to be, where did the source of that information come from, how is it being used and how do we keep it secure?
Jason Rigby (05:01):
No, I love that. But there's a good side of it. We always look at the... I was listening to a podcast and they were interviewing a CMO of this big private contractor for defense. They have all these satellites and they're just using it for DARPA and all that. But she was saying that they helped... I think it was New York Times. I'm not positive on that, but I think it was New York times, and then they ended up winning awards for this. But they used their satellites to catch human trafficking in the oceans.
Alexander McCaig (05:32):
That's cool stuff. Not human trafficking, but the fact that you can use a satellite sitting in low-earth orbit, bouncing down-
Jason Rigby (05:40):
Right. Find a boat-
Alexander McCaig (05:41):
... some sort of radar or sonar-
Jason Rigby (05:42):
... and then watch the people in the other boat transfer over and be able to collect that, investigate.
Alexander McCaig (05:46):
Yeah. That's incredible. And so when you're using defense money, using high technology like that to analyze things for the preservation of human life and the quality of life, that's a really cool way to spend your defense budget.
Jason Rigby (06:04):
Drones. Replanting forests.
Alexander McCaig (06:05):
Yeah. I think that's fantastic. I mean, replanting forests, I don't know if that has a lot to do with defense and aerospace, but there's some neat aspects to that, and there are a lot of positive benefits. We focus a lot on the tracking and a lot of the spending does go down towards a militaristic effort, but a lot of those things do get retooled and they're used for other purposes that are preventative in a good way.
Jason Rigby (06:29):
Right. And I think on the defense side of things, whenever you look at China, and you look at some of these other large countries, and I know India has done a big push with putting soundbites up, but we're just trying to... It almost seems like, especially here in the United States, and I know TARTLE's a global company, so we'll speak to this globally, but everyone's reacting to each other. So it's just creating this... You remember, as a kid, you would put your hand on the other person's hand-
Alexander McCaig (06:55):
Yeah, and who will get to the top? Yeah.
Jason Rigby (06:56):
... and then create this big stack? Yeah. It's like, who created the stack in the first place?
Alexander McCaig (07:01):
Who started that gravy train?
Jason Rigby (07:02):
Yeah. And then each country is putting... "As soon as we can afford it, we're going to do this." Iran released the... "Oh, we got nuclear warheads." We don't know-
Alexander McCaig (07:11):
Cool. Yeah. No, we did that in the '40s. It was a mistake. It was a total mistake. Don't do it.
Jason Rigby (07:16):
North Korea is like, everything that they have in their school systems is songs to sing to missiles.
Alexander McCaig (07:21):
No, I know that. And so when we're looking at the spending, it's... Remember the space race?
Jason Rigby (07:28):
Alexander McCaig (07:30):
It's like we get so caught up in a rat race of spending, even from a defense side. Connectivity is great, but now it's like everybody wants to have a satellite. And what you're going to find is that companies will have their own personal satellites soon, because everyone's going to want to push out their own media outlets. There's going to be a lot of that sort of push to sit up in the upper orbit so that we can connect as much as possible beyond something that might be a physical limitation because you have the oceans here. It's like, how do we keep people connected all the time?
Alexander McCaig (07:59):
That's why Elan did a big push to satellite internet. It's old technology. It's like K band, or I don't know what the band's called, but it's old tech that we're pushing out there in the aerospace sector. But that is not... It's like, how do you move beyond the current geographic restrictions that we have? And now all the people are like, "Well, we've got to jump to space." And that's where the spending needs to be. It's like, how do we connect, how do we encrypt, and how do we watch from space?
Jason Rigby (08:24):
But also, how do we make sure that... I saw that they were showing on the last... oh, what do they call that when they go to the space station, the back and forth? They have a name for it. But they were showing a piece of paint-
Alexander McCaig (08:38):
Jason Rigby (08:39):
... from a satellite that had blown up.
Alexander McCaig (08:40):
Jason Rigby (08:41):
A little chip of paint hit the glass and cracked the glass, because it's going so fast. So now we have all this debris.
Alexander McCaig (08:50):
We have a lot of space junk.
Jason Rigby (08:52):
And at some point... That's a piece of paint. Imagine a bolt flying through.
Alexander McCaig (08:56):
Bolt? Imagine a whole satellite.
Jason Rigby (08:57):
It would just go right through the... Then you just killed a bunch of people.
Alexander McCaig (09:00):
It's a low friction environment up there. And so our engineering's kind of... If you look at those trends, everything is trending towards things sitting in that low earth orbit. And especially from a defense... It's about how much can we see with that bird's eye view? I mean, just our government in general, for a very long time, have had satellites that can show us with great quality what's been going on, but now things are becoming more public and we have the ability to analyze more data, because of cloud computing. So now they're like, "We have more processing power. How can we watch more? How can we keep more safe? How can we be more global?" And you'll see a lot of that spending in the aerospace and defense with that.
Jason Rigby (09:36):
Yeah. I think that's good. So we'd better peace out before they track us.
Alexander McCaig (09:39):
Yeah. I bet you they have some sort of LIDAR system that's coming through and it's just reading through the walls with a satellite.
Jason Rigby (09:45):
Exactly. This is our last video, guys. Bye.
Alexander McCaig (09:48):
See you later. Yeah.
Speaker 1 (09:56):
Thank you for listening to TotalCast with your hosts, Alexander McCaig and Jason Rigby, where humanity steps into the future and source data defines the path. What's your data worth?