How to Secure Software Financing

How to Secure Software Financing

How to Secure Software Financing, Present-day associations depend intensely on computer programs, which have changed the way operations are carried out. There’s no denying the need for cutting-edge programs as businesses work to remain competitive in an advanced age. In any case, the cost of obtaining such innovation is now and then high, which is why a lot of companies look into program financing.

Knowledge of Software Financing

It is essential to comprehend software finance in the ever-changing corporate environment. It entails borrowing money or getting loans expressly to buy and put software solutions into place. Applications ranging from customer relationship management (CRM) software to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems might be included in this.

Software Financing Options Available

Software financing is available in a variety of formats to accommodate different corporate requirements. Lease contracts, payment schedules, and specially designed financing packages from software providers are examples of this.

Financing software’s advantages

Budget-Friendly Options

Cost-effectiveness is one of the main benefits of software funding. Businesses can stretch the cost over a certain length of time rather than making a sizable upfront payment, allowing expenditures to be in line with the advantages of the program.

Availability of the Newest Technology

Keeping up with the ever-changing digital scene is crucial. Businesses may get the newest software thanks to software finance, free from the burden of technology’s quick depreciation.

Adaptable modes of payment

One of the main characteristics of software finance is payment flexibility. Payment plans that fit a business’s cash flow can be selected, avoiding financial burdens on how to Secure Software Financing.

How to Pick the Best Financing Option for Software

Making the best software finance decision involves careful consideration.

Evaluating business requirements

The first stage is to determine the particular software requirements of the company. Selecting a financing plan that meets these demands is easier when one is aware of the characteristics and functions that are necessary.

Examining the Financing Options Available

It is essential to thoroughly investigate the various funding options. Terms, interest rates, and repayment plans vary among vendors and financial institutions.

Assessing the Conditions of Use

It is important to carefully review the financing agreement’s terms and conditions to make sure there are no unpleasant surprises or stipulations.

Examining various cases

Let’s look at a few case studies that illustrate various financing strategies to gain a better understanding of the real-world uses of software funding.

Financing for Software Subscriptions

In this case, a medium-sized marketing firm chose to finance its software through subscriptions. As a result, they could now use the newest marketing automation solutions without having to spend a large sum of money upfront. The monthly payment allowed them to consistently use state-of-the-art software while also being in line with their financial flow.

Financing for Software Lease-to-Own

In contrast, an ERP system for a manufacturing business was chosen using a lease-to-own arrangement. With this strategy, they might eventually become the software’s owner after the prearranged lease time expires. Full ownership and fewer total expenses were among the long-term benefits, even if the initial prices were lower than those of an outright purchase.

Financing Package Specific to the Vendor

An international IT company chose a finance plan tailored to a certain provider. The software supplier directly provided this agreement, which included customized payment schedules and extra support services. The procedure was expedited by the smooth integration of funding and software purchases, which improved operational efficiency.

Software Financing
How to Secure Software Financing

Software Financing’s Function in Startups

Relevance to New Businesses

Financing for software may significantly impact startups. Limited start-up funds frequently make it difficult for them to make investments in superior software. Startups can acquire the resources they require to grow their businesses, fight successfully, and build a strong technological base thanks to financing choices.

Achievement Stories

Software finance has helped several firms succeed. One noteworthy instance is a fintech business that managed to obtain funding for sophisticated analytics software despite severe financial limitations. As a result, they were able to gather insightful information, improve their products, draw in investors, and eventually take the lead in the sector.

Recording business requirements

A thorough grasp of your company’s demands is crucial when applying for software finance. Clearly state the functions that are needed, the scalability issues, and the expected effects on your operations. This documentation provides the framework for a successful application of Secure Software Financing.

Making a compelling case

Showcasing the observable advantages the software will provide for your company is essential to building a strong case for software funding. Explain how it supports long-term growth, increases productivity, and is in line with your strategic objectives. Your chances of getting good financing conditions are better the stronger and more persuasive your argument is.

Compliance Conditions

Financing software requires careful navigation of the regulatory environment. Certain compliance regulations controlling software use and financial activities may apply in different areas. To prevent any legal issues, make sure the funding choice you have selected complies with applicable requirements.

Lawful Points to Remember

Review the legal issues of any software finance arrangement in detail before signing. Recognize all of the terms and conditions, including any that address revisions, early termination, or any penalties. During this procedure, getting legal advice can give assurance and help to avoid future conflicts.

Expert Interviews on Software Financing

Perspectives from Experts

Let’s look at the opinions of professionals in the field who deal with software finance daily to gain a better grasp of its complexities.

First interview with Sarah Thompson, financial analyst

Sarah Businesses might benefit from software finance as it breaks down large upfront costs into smaller, more regular payments. Businesses looking to preserve financial stability and carefully utilize resources will find this flexibility particularly appealing.

Software funding has several advantages, but it is especially helpful in fields like IT and healthcare, which see quick technical improvements. It allows them to stay up-to-date with advances without depleting their financial resources.

Interview 2: John Ramirez, Legal Advisor

John Businesses need to carefully review the terms and conditions of the financing agreement. Read carefully the sections about data ownership, intellectual property rights, and any usage limitations on software. To prevent future legal issues, these specifics are essential to Secure Software Financing.

What effect do regulatory factors have on software financing?

John, It is crucial to comply with regulations. Companies must be informed about licensing requirements, data protection legislation, and other industry-specific rules that might affect the financing arrangement. Serious repercussions may result from noncompliance.

Impact of Software Financing Worldwide

From an International Perspective

The funding of software transcends national boundaries. It has a big effect on the world stage, affecting companies and sectors all over the world.

Cultural Perspectives

Cultural quirks influence software finance patterns in the worldwide economy. A culture’s propensity for long-term partnerships with financial partners may have an impact on the choice of suppliers, whereas another culture might value a more transactional approach.

Initial Markets

As companies look to close technology gaps, software financing adoption generally soars in emerging regions. Financing alternatives enable these markets to adopt cutting-edge solutions that have the potential to stimulate economic growth since they are easily accessible.


How to Secure Software Financing, To sum up, software financing makes it possible for companies to prosper in the digital era without having to worry about paying large upfront expenditures. Through cautious consideration of available choices, comprehension of company requirements, and awareness of industry developments, enterprises may utilize software finance to achieve long-term expansion.


Is financing for software exclusive to big businesses?

No, funding solutions for software are available to companies of all sizes, including small and fledgling organizations.

What occurs if my company expands beyond the software that was financed?

Numerous funding options are flexible, enabling companies to change or update their software solutions as needed.

Does software funding come with any tax benefits?

Businesses may occasionally qualify for tax credits or deductions associated with software funding. Seek guidance from a tax expert to ensure precise guidance.

Is it possible to finance software development for bespoke software?

Funding for software may be adjusted to meet the price of developing custom software.

How soon after funding does a firm have access to the software?

Software is often accessed within a short amount of time, which enables firms to quickly put solutions into place.

What is Unit Trust Fund?

What is Unit Trust Fund?

Ever feel overwhelmed by the stock market? Could you invest but need more time or expertise to pick individual stocks? If so, then unit trust funds might be your perfect solution. Think of them as a basket of carefully chosen investments managed by professionals that you can easily buy and sell. Imagine pooling your money with others and letting experts do the legwork – essentially, what unit trust funds do.

What is a Unit Trust Fund?

In simpler terms, a unit trust fund is like a team effort for investing. You contribute your money along with other investors, and a fund manager takes the wheel. This manager, a financial pro, selects various investments like stocks, bonds, or real estate for the fund. So, instead of researching and buying individual stocks, you own a tiny piece of this diverse portfolio managed by someone who knows the market inside and out.

Investing in a unit trust fund gives you access to a diversified portfolio, professional management, and a convenient way to invest without breaking the bank.

Now, let’s dive deeper into the benefits of joining this investment team and explore why unit trust funds might be your ticket to a brighter financial future.

Benefits of Unit Trust Funds

  1. Professional Management: No more late-night market research or stressing about picking the right stocks. Unit trust funds come with built-in expertise. The fund manager, your financial teammate, handles all the heavy lifting, constantly analyzing the market and selecting the best investments to grow your money. You can relax knowing your financial future is in capable hands.
  2. Diversification: Imagine spreading your eggs across multiple baskets instead of just one. By investing in a unit trust fund, you own a slice of various investments, like stocks, bonds, or even real estate. This diversity is like a safety net, reducing your risk if one investment takes a dip. So, your portfolio stays more stable even if the stock market throws a curveball.
  3. Accessibility: I forget I need a hefty sum to start investing. Unit trust funds allow you to invest smaller amounts than buying stocks. This makes them an excellent option for first-time investors or those with limited budgets. Think of it like building your financial future brick by brick. Each unit purchased adds to your growing investment.
  4. Convenience: Gone are the days of manually buying and selling stocks. With unit trust funds, everything is streamlined. You can easily buy and sell units through your bank or financial advisor, like online purchases. No more paperwork hassle, just convenient investment management at your fingertips.

Types of Unit Trust Funds: Finding Your Perfect Fit

So, you’re sold on the benefits of unit trust funds but feeling lost in a sea of options? Don’t worry. There’s a whole fleet out there, each with its unique destination. Understanding the different types of unit trust funds will help you navigate this financial ocean and find the one that aligns perfectly with your investment goals.

First, let’s talk about your financial compass:

  • Income Seekers: Do you envision a steady income stream supplementing your lifestyle? Then, income-generating funds are your ideal mates. These funds prioritize investments like bonds and dividend-paying stocks, aiming to deliver regular payouts to investors. Think of them as reliable sailors, bringing you income at predictable intervals.
  • Growth Gurus: Do you dream of your money growing like a well-watered garden? Growth-oriented funds are your go-to explorers. These funds focus on high-growth potential investments, like tech stocks or emerging markets. They might be a bit rougher sailing sometimes, but their potential for long-term capital appreciation is like finding fertile ground for your financial seeds.
  • Balanced Buddies: Can’t decide between income and growth? Balanced funds are your diplomatic friends. They strike a middle ground, investing in income-generating and growth-oriented assets. They are stable ships offering a smooth blend of income and capital appreciation.

Next, let’s consider your risk tolerance:

  • Low-Risk Lieutenants: Prefer calmer waters? Low-risk funds are your cautious captains. They prioritize stability and income through investments like government bonds and blue-chip stocks. Imagine them as sturdy tugboats, safely navigating you through market choppiness.
  • Moderate-Risk Mates: Comfortable with a bit of adventure? Moderate-risk funds are your balanced adventurers. They mix income-generating assets with moderate growth potential stocks, offering a blend of stability and potential for capital appreciation. Think of them as reliable sailboats, exploring new horizons while keeping you comfortable aboard.
  • High-Risk Heroes: Thrill seeker on a financial quest? High-risk funds are your daring pirates. They focus on aggressive growth, investing in volatile assets like small-cap stocks or emerging markets. Imagine them as high-speed jets, promising potentially high returns but with a bumpier ride.

Remember, choosing the right type of unit trust fund is like finding the perfect ship for your investment journey. Consider your goals, risk tolerance, and desired pace, and you’ll soon set sail toward a brighter financial future.

Demystifying Unit Trust Funds for Beginners

Are you thinking about investing but need help? You’re not alone! Unit trust funds might initially seem daunting, with fancy terms and talk of the stock market. But fear not because this guide will clear the fog and show you how these investment powerhouses can be your key to a brighter financial future.

Myth Busters

  • Myth 1: Unit trusts are for the rich: Forget the Wall Street image! Unit trusts are pretty accessible. You can start with small amounts, even less than a cup of coffee. Think of it like building your financial castle brick by brick.
  • Myth 2: Risky business? Not entirely: While no investment is guaranteed, unit trusts spread your money across different assets, like stocks and bonds. This diversification acts like a safety net, reducing the impact of any one dip in the market.
  • Myth 3: Fees eat your returns? Not necessarily: Fees exist, but they’re often lower than other investment options. They are a small tollbooth fee on your financial journey, ensuring everything runs smoothly.
  • Myth 4: Choosing the right one is impossible: Relax, you’ve got this! We’ll break down different types of funds based on your goals and risk tolerance. Picture it like picking the perfect toppings for your financial pizza.
  • Myth 5: Constant monitoring? No way!: Once invested, you can sit back and let the professionals manage your fund. Think of them as your financial co-pilots, navigating the market while you enjoy the ride.

Benefits Galore

Now, let’s talk about the perks of having these trusty funds on your team:

  • Professional Management: Experts like financial wizards steer the wheel, analyzing the market and choosing suitable investments for your fund. It’s like having a personal chef preparing a delicious financial feast.
  • Diversification Power: Imagine having a basket of eggs instead of just one. Unit trusts spread your money across various assets, reducing risk and boosting your financial future even if one egg cracks.
  • Convenience at Your Fingertips: Buying and selling units is as easy as ordering online. There is no need for complicated paperwork or trips to fancy offices. Think of it like shopping for your financial demands from the comfort of your couch.
  • Lower Investment Thresholds: Forget needing a hefty starting sum. Most unit trusts welcome you with open arms, even if you don’t have a fortune to spare. Every little bit counts when building your financial castle.

Step-by-Step to Success

Ready to take the plunge? Here’s your roadmap to investing in your first unit trust:

  1. Define your goals: Do you dream of a steady income stream or long-term growth? Knowing your destination helps you choose the right fund. Think of it like setting the GPS on your financial road trip.
  2. Assess your risk tolerance: Are you a rollercoaster lover or a smooth-sailing person? Understanding your comfort level with market ups and downs guides your fund selection. Imagine choosing the perfect bike for your terrain – bumpy or smooth.
  3. Compare and conquer: Once you know your goals and risks, research different funds that fit the bill. Compare their performance, fees, and investment styles. Think of it like testing different flavors of financial ice cream before picking your favorite.

Beyond the Basics: Advanced Strategies for Informed Investors

Level Up Your Game: Now that you’ve mastered the basics, explore advanced maneuvers to maximize your unit trust journey.

  • Double Down on Dividends: Imagine reinvesting your earnings like planting seeds that sprout more seeds. Dividend Reinvestment Plans (DRIPs) automatically reinvest your unit trust dividends, compounding your growth over time.
  • Tax-Savvy Investing: Uncle Sam doesn’t need to be your biggest shareholder. Learn about tax-efficient investing techniques like tax-advantaged accounts or choosing funds with lower tax liabilities. Think of it like keeping more of your financial harvest for yourself.
  • Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket: Remember the diversification magic? Expand your basket using unit trusts to diversify across different asset classes, sectors, or geographical regions. It’s like spreading your financial picnic across multiple parks to enjoy varied landscapes.
  • Asset Allocation Mastermind: Consider asset allocation as deciding how much to invest in stocks, bonds, or other assets. Mastering this strategy helps balance risk and potential returns, like adjusting the sails on your financial yacht to catch the perfect wind.

Head-to-Head: Unit Trusts vs. the Competition

  • Mutual FundsSimilar ships sailing the same waters, mutual funds offer professional management and diversification. The main difference? Unit trusts typically pay out income directly, while mutual funds reinvest earnings within the fund. Choose the one that best suits your income needs.
  • ETFs (Exchange-Traded Funds)Imagine these as high-speed speedboats, trading like stocks throughout the day. They offer similar benefits to unit trusts but with more flexibility and potentially lower fees. Consider them if you prefer a more active investment approach.
  • Individual Stocks: These solo yachts offer high potential returns but with greater risk and responsibility. They might be an option if you’re an experienced investor comfortable with market fluctuations.

Choosing the Captain of Your Ship:

The person steering your unit trust is crucial. Here’s what to consider:

  • Track Record: Check their past performance, like reading a captain’s logbook. Consistent success in navigating market storms is a good sign.
  • Investment Philosophy: Align your values with the manager’s approach. Do they prioritize income, growth, or ethical investing? Choose a captain who shares your destination.
  • Fee Check: Compare expense ratios and other charges. Remember, lower fees leave more treasure in your financial chest.

Taming the Market Monsters:

Market volatility can be scary, but knowledge is your shield.

  • Understand market fluctuations: Think of them as waves, some bigger, some smaller. Don’t panic at every dip. Adjust your sails with a long-term perspective.
  • Manage liquidity concerns: Ensure you can access your money when needed. Choose funds with reasonable trading restrictions to avoid feeling trapped.
  • Diversification as your anchor: Remember, not putting all your eggs in one basket helps weather any storm. A well-diversified portfolio acts as your financial lifeboat.

Investing in Unit Trust Funds: Making Your Move

Now, with a more transparent map and understanding of your ideal ship, it’s time to set sail! Let’s navigate the practical steps of investing in unit trust funds:

  1. Boarding the Fund: Buying units is as simple as visiting your bank or financial advisor. They’ll guide you through the process, which usually involves filling out a simple application and specifying the amount you want to invest. Remember, most funds have minimum investment amounts, so check before setting sail.
  2. Setting Sail Smoothly: Transaction fees might apply when buying or selling units, so be aware of these costs beforehand. Think of them as harbor taxes you pay to enter or leave the fund.
  3. Charting Your Course: Track your investment’s performance through key metrics like the fund’s net asset value (NAV) and total return. NAV tells you the value of each unit, while total return shows how much your investment has grown over time. Think of them as your compass and map, guiding you toward informed investment decisions.
  4. Adjusting the Sails: Be bold and adjust your investment strategy over time. Market conditions and your goals can change, so regularly reviewing your portfolio and potentially switching funds is always an option. Remember, flexibility is vital to a successful financial voyage.

Investing in unit trust funds is more manageable. By understanding the basics and taking these steps, you’ll be well on your way to confidently navigating the financial market.

Additional Topics for a Well-Rounded Understanding

Investing with a Conscience:

  • Ethical Investing: Align your money with your values by choosing socially responsible unit trusts. These invest in companies committed to sustainability, environmental practices, and fair labor standards. Think of it as investing in a future you believe in.
  • Impact of the World Around You: Economic and political events can rock the investment boat. Understanding how external factors like inflation or political instability affect unit trust performance helps you adjust your course.

The Future is Now:

  • Robo-advisors: Imagine automated financial advisors managing your unit trust investments. These tech-driven platforms offer personalized recommendations and simplified investing for the digital age.
  • Thematic Funds: Want to invest in specific trends like clean energy or healthcare innovation? Thematic funds focus on niche sectors, offering targeted exposure to exciting future markets.
  • Blockchain on the Horizon: This groundbreaking technology is revolutionizing the investment landscape. Track investments with greater transparency and security through blockchain-powered solutions.

A review of Japan’s space policy after the H3 launch vehicle failure

A review of Japan’s space policy after the H3 launch vehicle failure

On March 7, 2023, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) tried and failed to launch the first H3 launch vehicle. The H3 is Japan’s first new major rocket in 12 years and is expected to replace the current H-2A launch vehicle in terms of high-cost performance and flexibility. The main reason for its failure was that the second-stage engine did not ignite due to electrical problems. JAXA is working to determine the problem’s cause and resolve it immediately. However, the next launch date has yet to be set. This article discusses the losses suffered by Japan due to this failure and some of the contributing causes of these losses. Finally, a mechanism for ensuring a better balance of costs and risks for all Japanese space stakeholders is discussed for a positive way ahead. A review of Japan’s space policy after the H3 launch vehicle failure

Optical and Synthetic

The losses to Japan caused by this failure are immeasurable. The satellite on the H3 was JAXA’s Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3 (ALOS-3). The ALOS-3 satellite was developed and manufactured at a total cost of about 28 billion yen (about $208 million). JAXA’s ALOS series has alternated between optical and synthetic aperture radar imaging satellites. ALOS-3 was the first advanced optical satellite for land observation since 2011, when the ALOS-1 satellite mission was completed. The ALOS-4 satellite, currently in the manufacturing and testing phase, is a synthetic aperture radar satellite. Therefore, JAXA is not expected to have an optical satellite for land observations until 2028 or later.

A review of Japan’s space policy after the H3 launch vehicle failure
A review of Japan’s space policy after the H3 launch vehicle failure

The first H3 lifts off March 7 on its ill-fated mission. (credit: JAXA)


Operational Phase

In addition, the current ALOS-2 satellite is about to complete its mission and enter its late operational phase. Japan frequently experiences natural disasters such as earthquakes, heavy rains, and typhoons, and the loss of domestic remote sensing capability will be severe. For example, in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, the ALOS-1 satellite was used for emergency observations to assess the extent of the damage. In addition, JAXA is leading Sentinel Asia, an international cooperative project that aims to contribute to disaster management in the Asia-Pacific region by utilizing space technology. ALOS-3 was expected to contribute to Sentinel Asia and other international cooperative efforts. Japan’s loss will affect disaster prevention, security, and space exploration in the Asia-Pacific region. A review of Japan’s space policy after the H3 launch vehicle failure

Communications Satellite

According to the latest Implementation Plan of the Space Basic Plan published by the Government of Japan (GoJ) in December 2022, the Ministry of Defense’s X-band communications satellite is scheduled to be launched by the H3 vehicle at the end of Japan’s Fiscal Year (JFY) 2023, which will be March 2024. The influence of the H3 failure on the implementation plan is being reviewed within the GoJ. However, the launch date of the next H3 launch vehicle will likely be delayed for an unknown amount of time. Some estimates suggest a delay of a year or more. This situation will hinder the Ministry of Defense’s ability to obtain a new communications satellite on-orbit.

Martian Moons Exploration

In addition, the launch of the Martian Moons exploration (MMX), which aims to be the first sample return from Martian orbit; the Lunar Polar Exploration Mission (LUPEX), which is a joint mission with India; and the HTV-X, which is the new space station cargo resupply vehicle, are all scheduled to use the H3 launch vehicle after the end of JFY 2023. The ALOS-4 satellite and the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System MICHIBIKI-5 are scheduled to be launched by the H3 launch vehicle after JFY 2023.A review of Japan’s space policy after the H3 launch vehicle failure

Dummy Payload

Previous first flights of NASA’s, ESA’s, and Japan’s launch vehicles proceeded in different ways. The first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, Artemis 1, was done at the same time as the test of the Orion spacecraft. The first flight of Japan’s H-2B launch vehicle was also done with the H-2 Transfer Vehicle (HTV) testing. However, Delta 4 Heavy, Antares, Falcon Heavy, and ESA’s Ariane 6 each carried, or will carry, dummy payloads or sets of small satellite as payloads on their first flights. In addition, in the case of the H-2A launch vehicle, there was a history of launching a payload for performance verification, which was affected by launch vehicle development delays. Based on these circumstances, it is not unusual for a launch vehicle’s first flight to carry a dummy payload.

Launch Vehicle Carries

If the first flight launch vehicle carries a test satellite, the budget for that satellite can be reduced. On the other hand, if not, the budget will inevitably grow because of the separate cost of launching that satellite on another launch vehicle. The launch cost of the H-2A is about 10 billion yen (about $75 million), which is inexpensive compared to the development cost of the ALOS-3 satellite. Although cost reduction sounds good, Japan has suffered a more significant loss.



A review of Japan’s space policy after the H3 launch vehicle failure
A review of Japan’s space policy after the H3 launch vehicle failure

The budgets for various Japanese agencies working on space programs, in billions of yen.


Government’s Policy

Additionally, the total budget of other ministries has increased sevenfold between JFY 2019 and 2023. The overall budget increase from JFY 2020 onward can be attributed to the decision to participate in the Artemis program in October 2019 and the government’s policy of significant increases in other space-related budgets. This increase means that the GoJ is becoming more active in space utilization.

Gathering Satellites

Five launches of the H-IIA launch vehicles are scheduled in the future: three Information Gathering Satellites, the Global Observing SATellite for Greenhouse gases and Water cycle (GOSAT-GW), and the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) with the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM). Given the reasons mentioned above for JAXA’s decision to launch the ALOS-3 satellite on the H3, it is clear that the more essential satellites were assigned to the H-2A; that is, the ALOS-3 satellite had less policy importance compared to intelligence gathering satellites, SLIM, and others. It is clear that security and international space exploration are a focus of the GoJ, even from a non-budgetary perspective.

Agricultural Fields and Forest Management

The reason why the H-2A was assigned to the GOSAT-GW satellite instead of the ALOS-3 satellite may be because the ALOS-3 satellite was developed solely by MEXT/JAXA. On the other hand, the GOSAT-GW satellite is being developed under shared responsibility with MOE. The GOSAT-GW satellite is also expected to contribute to the global stocktaking of the Paris Agreement. This means that, unlike the ALOS-3 satellite, it is difficult for the GOSAT-GW satellite to divert budgets or change transport vehicles at the sole discretion of MEXT/JAXA. JAXA’s activities are not necessarily funded only by the operating budget from MEXT but can also be financed by commissioned contracts and grants from other ministries. For example, in the case of the ALOS-3 satellite, these ministries include MLIT from the perspective of disaster risk reduction and national land management and MAFF from the perspective of agricultural fields and forest management. Both MLIT and MAFF are expected to use the satellite’s data. A review of Japan’s space policy after the H3 launch vehicle failure

A review of Japan’s space policy after the H3 launch vehicle failure
A review of Japan’s space policy after the H3 launch vehicle failure

Developing and Manufacturing

nation, it is crucial to develop cutting-edge space technology and make greater efforts to utilize space for practical applications. Earth observation satellites are in increasing demand for disaster risk reduction, security, and international cooperation and diplomacy. Therefore, the CONSEO seeks continuous acquisition of Earth observation data through the infrastructure of governmental satellites. However, with the failure of the H3 launch, the Japanese government faces a significant gap in optical land observation data. This review suggests two ways that the GoJ can avoid such a situation in the future, based on the above discussion of how current situation came about. The first is that a dummy payload should be used for the first flight test of a new launch vehicle. For this purpose, it is necessary to allocate a sufficient budget to put a dummy payload on board. The second is that not only MEXT/JAXA, but also the relevant ministries and agencies that will use satellite data and services, should actively participate in the development process and equitably bear the development costs and risks when developing and manufacturing new governmental satellites in the future.

Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space

Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space

Space debris is made up of human-made objects in space that are now defunct. It ranges from complete satellites or spacecraft, to cast-off pieces like debris shields, all the way down to tiny pieces of those objects produced by collisions. Collision debris is the most numerous, and it has a tendency to multiply. Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space

Human Technology

Human technology is crossing another threshold. Tractor beams have been common in science fiction for decades. Now a team of researchers is working on a real-life tractor beam that could help us with our burgeoning space debris problem. Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space

Non-Functioning Russian Satellite

In 2009, a non-functioning Russian satellite collided with an Iridium satellite over the Siberian Peninsula. The collision produced over 1,800 pieces of debris that are now orbiting the Earth at high velocity. That’s just one source of debris, and when scientists add up all the other debris, they conclude that there are over 25,000 pieces of debris orbiting Earth that are large enough to be measured. Estimates show that there are far larger numbers of objects too small to be tracked, including more than 128 million pieces of debris smaller than 1 cm (0.4 in). And these numbers will grow.

That constitutes a palpable hazard for functioning spacecraft. Even small pieces can cause damage because of their high velocities. In low-Earth orbit (LEO,) debris travels at about 25,250 kph (15,700 mph), according to NASA, so when two pieces both travelling that fast collide, the energy released is substantial. And satellites are not hardened targets.

Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space
Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space

Professor Hanspeter Schaub

Professor Hanspeter Schaub is leading a team of researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who are working on a real-life tractor beam. It uses the electrostatic force to influence an object’s motion. While a working model or prototype is a ways away, the researchers are creating a small vacuum chamber mimicking space in their lab. It’s called the Electrostatic Charging Laboratory for Interactions between Plasma and Spacecraft (ECLIPS.)Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space

The Problem with Space Debris

The problem with space debris is that it will only get worse. Collisions between objects produce eve

Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space
Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space

n more objects in a cascading effect. Even if we stopped launching things into orbit, the number of objects will keep growing.

“The problem with space debris is that once you have a collision, you’re creating even more space debris,” said Julian Hammerl, a doctoral student in aerospace engineering sciences at CU Boulder. “You have an increased likelihood of causing another collision, which will create even more debris. There’s a cascade effect.”

The only way to reduce collisions is to reduce the number of objects, and in recent years there’s been a lot of thinking and research into how to reduce space debris and collisions. Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space

Harpoon System for Handling Space Debris

A team from the Australian National University looked at using ground-based lasers to alter the trajectory of objects on a collision course. Both the ESA and China have used drag sails to hasten the de-orbiting of rocket boosters. And a UK company called RemoveDebris tested an interesting harpoon system for handling space debris.

But if Schaub’s team can find an answer to space debris, it’ll start in their little vacuum chamber. They’re developing electron beams that can either be attractive or repulsive and could hopefully be used to change the trajectory of individual pieces of space debris. The small chamber is where they perform tests.

“We’re creating an attractive or repulsive electrostatic force,” said Schaub, chair of theAnn and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences. “It’s similar to the tractor beam you see in Star Trek, although not nearly as powerful.” Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space

The Cascading Collision Problem

Their potential solution could bypass one of the huge risks in mitigating the space debris problem: touching it. Contacting a piece of fast-moving, tumbling space debris could change its trajectory unintentionally, making the problem even worse. That could add to the cascading collision problem.

“Touching things in space is very dangerous. Objects are moving very fast and often unpredictably,” said Kaylee Champion, a doctoral student working with Schaub. “This could open up a lot of safer avenues for servicing spacecraft.”

Eventually, if their work bears fruit, the team envisions a fleet of small spacecraft orbiting Earth. The spacecraft would rendezvous with things like defunct satellites and then use either attractive or repulsive electron beams to alter its trajectory. It’s all based on the Coulombe force. Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space


Inside ECLIPS, the researchers recreate the space environment around Earth. That region isn’t empty. Instead, it’s full of plasma, charged atoms and free electrons. In recent experiments, Schaub and his team recreated a geosynchronous orbit (GEO) environment in their chamber. GEO is much higher than low-Earth orbit (LEO.) LEO is a region extending to about 2,000 km (1,200 mi) above Earth’s surface, whereas GEO begins about 34,000 km (22,000 mi) above the Earth’s surface.

GEO is where the big boys play. Up there, we find satellites as large as school buses, dedicated to military and telecommunication applications. “GEO is like the Bel Air of space,” Schaub said, comparing it to the high-rent neighbourhood in Los Angeles.

Earthly Bel-Air

But like Earthly Bel-Air, orbital Bel-Air only has so many addresses, and they’re filling up quickly. Engineers estimate there are about 180 orbital slots up there that can hold satellites. All 180 or either already filled or have been claimed. The UN’s International Telecommunications Union allocates the slots on a first-come, first-served basis.

Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space
Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space
Satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) circle Earth above the equator from west to east following Earth’s rotation taking 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds by travelling at exactly the same rate as Earth.
This makes satellites in GEO appear to be ‘stationary’ over a fixed position. In order to perfectly match Earth’s rotation, the speed of satellites in this orbit should be about 3 km per second at an altitude of 35 786 km. This is much farther from Earth’s surface compared to many satellites. Image Credit: ESA L. Boldt-Christmas

The problem is that some of those slots are occupied by defunct satellites, and those slots are in high demand. According to Schaub, tractor beams could safely remove defunct satellites and clear the slot for another functioning satellite, and it’s based on a fairly simple principle that we all come across when we’re kids.

Two Objects

Everybody remembers rubbing a balloon on their hair and then sticking it to the wall. The rubbing creates a static charge by moving electrons from one object to the other. Then the two objects, the balloon and the wall, have different charges. The stationary wall holds the mobile balloon in place. For a while, anyway. Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space

Tractor Beam

Schaub’s team sees it working this way: the spacecraft with the tractor beam would approach a defunct satellite to a distance of about 15 to 25 meters (49 to 89 feet.) Then the spacecraft would fire a stream of electrons at it. The electrons give the spacecraft a negative charge, and the servicing spacecraft would be more positively charged.

Virtual Tether

Every kid that’s played with magnets knows opposites attract. And once the servicing spacecraft and the defunct satellite have opposite charges, they’re attracted to one another. This creates what Schaub and his team call a ‘virtual tether.’

“With that attractive force, you can essentially tug away the debris without ever touching it,” Hammerl said. “It acts like what we call a virtual tether.”

Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space
Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space
Julian Hammerl makes adjustments to a metal cube representing a derelict spacecraft inside the ECLIPS facility. Image Credit: Nico Goda/CU Boulder

The team’s experiments in ECLIPS show it could work. So do computer models. Schaub’s work shows that their space-tug idea, the Geosynchronous Large Debris Reorbiter (GLiDeR,) could move a spacecraft weighing 1000 kg a distance of 320 km (200 miles) in two or three months. The dead spacecraft would be evicted from orbital Bel-Air and placed into a Graveyard Orbit. That’s not fast, but it doesn’t need to be fast. It just needs to work to start solving the problem and freeing up orbital slots in GEO.

Defunct Satellites

Defunct satellites aren’t moving in a uniform fashion in GEO. Instead, they’re tumbling around wildly, and this invites a serious challenge. But Schaub’s team thinks they may be on to a solution. Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space

Their experiments show that a pulsed beam fired in a rhythm can calm down the wild tumbling. Once it’s calm, it’s easier to deal with. Not only could it be directed into a different orbit, but the beam could even be used to calm spacecraft so a repair vehicle could dock with them, or refuel them. Tricky, but not forever impossible.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics

The plasma environment around Earth is much different than it is nearer the Sun. The Sun emits a constant stream of plasma called the Solar Wind. Sometimes vast blobs of plasma burst free of the Sun’s embrace, too.

This video from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, orbiting more than 20,000 miles above Earth, shows a stream of plasma burst out from the sun on May 27, 2014. Since the stream lacked enough force to break away, most of it fell back into the sun. The video, seen in a combination of two wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light, covers a little over two hours. This eruption was minor, and such events occur almost every day on the sun and suggest the kind of dynamic activity being driven by powerful magnetic forces near the sun’s surface. Credit: NASA/SDO

Turbulence and Wake

The closer to the Sun you go, the more unpredictable the plasma environment is. In cis-lunar space, things can get wild and woolly. As a vehicle travels through the plasma, it can create a kind of wake, similar to a boat moving through water. If you’ve sat on the shoreline while a large vessel passes by, you know what it’s like. A large enough vessel can imperil a smaller vessel with its turbulence and wake.

“That’s what makes this technology so challenging,” Champion said. “You have completely different plasma environments in low-Earth orbit, versus geosynchronous orbit versus around the moon. You have to deal with that.” Researchers are Working on a Tractor Beam System for Space

The team has developed an ion gun that they’ve used inside ECLIPS to deal with the Sun’s disruptive plasma. It creates its own stream of fast-moving ions. It could be used to shape the plasma region where the spacecraft is operating and counteract the Sun’s effect.

Read more

The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The night skies over Kazakhstan lit up on May 15, 1987 as a powerful rocket roared off its pad at the Soviet launch complex at Baikonur. The Energia launch vehicle consisted of a core stage with four engines and four liquid-fueled strap-on booster rockets. A long cylinder mounted on the side of the rocket contained the payload, a massive spacecraft with “Polyus,” or “pole”—as in north or south pole—painted in Russian on its side, and “Mir-2” painted on its front. “Mir” means “peace” in Russian, a name that was possibly advertising, a cover story, or an ironic joke.The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Skif-DM experimental weapons system was launched from Baikonur in May 1987. The large black cylinder attached to the Energia rocket contained a system for pointing and controlling a laser weapon. This spacecraft did not carry the laser, but was equipped with pressurized tanks to test the system that would eventually power the laser with CO2. Although the rocket performed as planned, the Skif-DM did not reach orbit. “Mir-2” was painted on its side. “Mir” means “peace” in Russian, and there were future plans to use Energia to launch a follow-on Mir space station. (credit:



Asif Siddiqi

Asif Siddiqi, a historian at Fordham University who has written extensively about the Soviet space program, explained that Skif dated from mid-1970s space weapons studies which focused on systems to attack satellites in space, ballistic missiles in flight, and ground targets. Two anti-satellite weapon concepts emerged from these studies: Skif and Kaskad (“Cascade”). Skif would be an orbital station using a laser to target lower orbiting satellites, and Kaskad would use missiles to attack satellites in medium and geostationary orbits. The Soviet Union already had an operational ASAT system, but it was limited, and Skif and Kaskad would be far more capable.

Skif was certainly not peaceful. It contained prototype systems for a powerful orbiting laser intended to burn American satellites out of the sky.

Although some details about these concepts leaked out in the mid-1990s, it was not until the 2000s, says Siddiqi, that the full extent of the programs finally became known, even in Russia. A former press officer in the Russian space industry, Konstantin Lantratov, pieced together the history of Skif. “Lantratov managed to dig deep into the story, and his research clearly shows the enormous scale of these battle station projects,” Siddiqi says. “These were not sideline efforts—this was a real space weapons program.” In the past decade, even more information on Skif has emerged.The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

Salyut Space Station

Design work began in the 1970s, not long after the symbolic 1975 Apollo-Soyuz “handshake in space” between NASA astronauts and Russian cosmonauts, and while the two countries were negotiating future cooperation, such as a space shuttle visit to a Salyut space station. The famed Energia organization, which had built the Salyut space stations as well as the ill-fated N-1 moon rocket, a giant that exploded four times between 1969 and 1972, started studying both the Skif and Kaskad ASAT concepts in 1976.

The Salyut space stations, the first of which was launched in 1971, would serve as the core for both the laser-equipped Skif spacecraft and the missile-armed Kaskad. Both would be launched by the workhorse Proton rocket. The Salyut-based weapons stations could be refueled in orbit and could house a crew of two. Skif and Kaskad remained study projects into the early 1980s. But that’s when international politics changed, and made new space weapons more attractive to the Soviet leadership.

The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War


Stills from an animated video produced around 1980 proposing a constellation of orbiting missile launchers for destroying Soviet ICBMs in flight. This concept was rejected in favor of directed energy weapons when Ronald Reagan approved the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983. Later, after directed energy weapons proved difficult to develop, SDI focused on the “Brilliant Pebbles” concept that was similar to this one.


Missile Defense System

Although the United States had spent considerable amounts of money in the 1950s and 1960s trying to develop a missile defense system, the difficulty of the task proved too daunting. In 1972, the United States and Soviet Union signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which forbade the deployment of new anti-missile systems. The United States completed a single system in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and immediately shut it down. The Soviets had a limited system surrounding Moscow.

Soviet Military Leaders

Some Soviet military leaders believed that the Americans would nevertheless develop a new ABM system despite the treaty. But after signing the ABM Treaty, the United States largely gave up on ABM technology development. By the mid-1970s ABM development was coming to a halt, with decreasing funding, and progress on anti-missile systems was minimal during President Jimmy Carter’s administration.The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

The ABM Treaty only forbade the deployment of anti-missile weapons—it did not prohibit testing or development (with some caveats), a loophole both sides exploited. In the United States, some former military and government officials began advocating for space-based anti-missile defenses involving orbiting interceptor weapons (see “Forces of darkness and light,” The Space Review, December 10, 2018.)

The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

In 1982, a non-government group attached to the Heritage Foundation produced a report advocating for space-based missile defense. (credit: Heritage Foundation)

Around 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California (among them physicist Edward Teller, the so-called “father of the H-bomb”), along with researchers at other federal labs and a handful of military and civilian policymakers, began looking at “directed energy” weapons—which shoot beams instead of bullets—as a way to neutralize an increasing Soviet advantage in launchers and missiles. A space activist even publicly advocated this approach in a 1981 article titled “Lase the Nukes.” In American national security circles, directed energy weapons soon began to eclipse the concept of orbiting interceptor missiles.

Defensive Shield

Reagan liked the idea, and in a televised speech on national security in March 1983, he announced his plan to build a “defensive shield” to “make nuclear weapons obsolete,” essentially changing the nation’s strategic posture from offense to defense. The proposal was immediately attacked by Democrats in Congress, who called it unworkable, and Senator Ted Kennedy who tagged it with the moniker “Star Wars.” Despite the skeptics, funding for missile defense increased dramatically, amounting to nearly $3 billion a year by 1986.The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech from the Oval Office in March 1983 announcing what became the Strategic Defense Initiative.

At the time, Allen Thomson was a senior analyst working for the CIA’s Office of Scientific and Weapons Research. He had studied other Soviet military research programs, including efforts to develop directed energy weapons and sensors for space-based submarine detection. In the summer after Reagan’s Star Wars speech, Undersecretary of Defense Fred Iklé requested a CIA study on how the Soviets might respond. The work fell to Thomson and two other analysts.

The Resulting Study

“The resulting study,” he recalls, “basically said that both politically and technically, the Soviets had a very wide range of options for responding to foreseeable U.S. SDI developments.” They could build more ICBMs, seek to thwart the American missile shield, or try to drum up international opposition to the American plan. “There was some recognition that the USSR might be financially strapped if it had to initiate new major weapons systems. But there was no indication that it would be unable to respond,” Thomson says.The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

Anti-Missile Program

Notably, the Soviet Union did not respond to the American SDI program with a space-based anti-missile program of their own. Bart Hendrickx points out that the Soviets did consider an orbiting ABM system similar to an American program of the late 1980s known as Brilliant Pebbles, but they rejected the concept. “It looks like the Russians concluded well before the start of SDI that a space-based missile shield was unrealistic… and unaffordable as well,” Hendrickx explained. This conclusion created problems for the Soviet leadership. Why did the Americans pursue a space-based anti-missile shield that Soviet scientists and engineers believed was impossible?

As the prominent planetary scientist and Mikhail Gorbachev advisor Roald Sagdeev wrote in his 1994 memoir The Making of a Soviet Scientist, “If Americans oversold [the Strategic Defense Initiative], we Russians overbought it.”

The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

Lieutenant General James Abrahamson, who ran the SDI program showing President Ronald Reagan projects to protect SDI satellites from attack. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Misread Intentions

From the perspective of many Soviet scientists and military and political leaders, for the second time in a little over a decade the Americans seemed to be pursuing a nonsensical space program, and Soviet military and political leaders sought to make sense of it. Their conclusions were not always rational. Paranoid fantasies weren’t uncommon among senior Soviet generals, according to Peter Westwick, a history professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara who has written about science during the Cold War. “They thought that maybe the [US] space shuttle was going to be doing shallow dives into the atmosphere and deploying hydrogen bombs,” he says (see “Target Moscow: Soviet suspicions about the military use of the American Space Shuttle (part 1),” The Space Review, January 27, 2020, and part 2, February 3, 2020.)

“The shuttle really scared the Soviets big-time because they couldn’t figure why you would need a vehicle like that, one that made no economic sense,” Siddiqi explains. “So they figured that there must be some unstated military rationale for the vehicle.”

Asif Siddiqi agrees that the Soviets misinterpreted US intentions for the space shuttle: “To the Soviets, the shuttle was the big thing. It was a sign to them that the Americans were about to move war into space.” Never mind the official explanation that the spaceplane, which made its debut in 1981, was meant to provide routine access to orbit. It could also be used to launch classified satellites for US defense agencies.


The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

President Ronald Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative program in March 1983. The proponents for the Skif weapons system used this announcement to gain approval for Skif development. Skif was intended to shoot down American SDI satellites from orbit.

Salyut Design Bureau

In 1981, the KB Salyut design bureau had been transferred to Energia from Chelomei’s design bureau. Skif and Kaskad were already underway at Energia, which was also developing a space shuttle and a large rocket to put it in orbit. Now that KB Salyut was part of Energia, the Skif and Kaskad projects were shifted internally to KB Salyut. (In 1993 KB Salyut became part of Khrunichev.)The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

SDI Satellites

Reagan’s 1983 SDI announcement was an instant kick in the pants for the Soviet space weapons program, giving bureaucrats in the aerospace design bureaus the political ammunition they needed to convince the Politburo to increase funding for Skif and Kaskad, which could be used to target the space-based elements of Reagan’s missile shield. Skif and Kaskad would be capable of going after American orbiting anti-ballistic missile satellites. “These were just two of a plethora of ASAT systems that the USSR worked on in the 1980s,” Hendrickx explained, and other ASAT weapons were also proposed to attack SDI satellites. In 2016 he published a paper in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society outlining the many Soviet anti-satellite programs of that era titled “Naryad-V and the Soviet Anti-Satellite Fleet.”

Continuous-Wave Gas Laser

According to the 2015 encyclopedia, the original plan had been to use a “continuous-wave gas laser” built by NPO Energomash, whose core business was the production of powerful liquid-fuel rocket engines. Presumably, this was a hydrogen fluoride laser, the only type of laser that Energomash worked on, drawing from its experience in developing fluorine-based rocket engines. A history of Energomash published in 2004 said it had done its laser work as a subcontractor to NPO Astrofizika, a major Soviet laser design bureau that most likely was the prime contractor for the Skif laser.

Hydrogen Fluoride

However, the hydrogen fluoride laser turned out to be too complex, and it was abandoned in favor of two alternatives. One was a CO2 laser developed for a system called “Dreif,” a nautical term meaning “drift” or “drifting.” Dreif was originally designed to be mounted in a modified Il-76MD cargo aircraft to shoot down American reconnaissance balloons. “Dreif” was also a term applied to balloons drifting across the sky, hence its use for the airborne anti-balloon program. The laser for Skif was apparently developed by NPO Astrofizika with KMZ Soyuz serving as a subcontractor.

Soviet and Russian Space Systems

Skif-D grew into a Frankenstein’s monster of a spacecraft: 40 meters long, more than 4 meters in diameter, and weighing 95 metric tons, more massive than NASA’s Skylab space station.

According to the encyclopedia of Soviet and Russian space systems, the plan was to fly both of these lasers on a Skif demonstration mission, with the Dreif laser as the main one, and KBKhA’s as an “auxiliary laser.” The two-laser combination was too heavy for a Proton rocket and was apparently the reason why designers switched to the much more powerful Energia. The need to operate the Dreif laser both automatically and in a space environment prompted substantial redesign. It also required the construction of extensive testing infrastructure.

In August 1984, the new spacecraft was approved and designated “Skif-D,” with the “D” standing for “demonstration.” This approval came only from the Ministry of General Machine Building, which oversaw the space and missile industry, and approval from the Central Committee of the Communist Party did not come until January 1986.

Zenith Star

Meanwhile, US scientists and engineers were having their own problems with space-based lasers. As research proceeded on projects like Zenith Star, which investigated the problems of placing a two-megawatt chemical laser in orbit, the challenges of building and launching such systems became clearer. SDI funded studies of particle beams and an X-ray laser that would use a nuclear explosion to set it off, but none of these projects ever came close to being deployed. By 1986, the SDI leadership was already shifting its attention away from lasers and toward small “kinetic kill vehicles” that could bring down enemy missiles by crashing into them—a more conventional interceptor concept that had predated Reagan’s 1983 speech.

The American shift from fewer, large satellites with directed energy weapons to many small satellites equipped with interceptor missiles undercut the justification for the Soviet Skif system. The Soviets, though, stayed the course, and kept working on the demonstration version of their space-based laser, with a target launch date of early 1987.

The Energia Rocket

The Energia rocket, named after its design bureau, was being built to carry the new Buran space shuttle into orbit, meaning that two big projects were now directly competing for resources and launch vehicles. Energia could carry 95 tons to space, enough to lift Skif-D. To keep costs down, engineers looked for other existing hardware designs to modify and incorporate, including a so-called “functional block,” the main section of the TKS spacecraft, which had originally been designed to carry crews and cargo to the canceled Almaz military space stations and would later also serve as the basis for the add-on modules of the Mir space station (as well as the the Zarya/FGB module of the ISS.) They also borrowed a payload module from the TKS.

Designing a Laser

Designing a laser to work in orbit was a major engineering challenge. A handheld laser pointer is a relatively simple, static device, but a big gas-powered laser is like a roaring locomotive. Powerful turbogenerators “pump” the carbon dioxide to the point where its atoms become excited and emit light at a specific wavelength. Not only do the turbogenerators have large moving parts, the gas used in the formation of the laser beam gets very hot and has to be vented.


Moving parts and exhaust gases pose problems for spacecraft—particularly one that has to be pointed very precisely—because they induce motion. The Skif engineers developed a system to minimize the force of the expelled gas by sending it through deflector vanes, which they referred to as “trousers.” But the vehicle still required a complex control system to damp out motions caused by the exhaust gases, the turbogenerator, and the moving laser turret. When firing, the entire spacecraft would point at the target, with the turret making fine adjustments.


The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

Artist impression of the Skif spacecraft in orbit. The “functional block” containing propulsion, power, and guidance systems, is on the left. The payload module with the lasers is on the right. Also visible at left are the targets that would be deployed and tracked in orbit.

From Skif-D to Skif-DM

Work on these projects was proceeding at a furious pace throughout 1985 when an unexpected opportunity arose. The Buran shuttle had fallen behind schedule, and wouldn’t be ready in time for the planned first launch of the Energia rocket in 1986. The rocket’s designers were considering launching a dummy Skif payload instead. Launch was scheduled for fall 1986, and the plan was that this would not impact the planned launch of Skif-D1 in summer 1987. According to the encyclopedia, everybody involved in the project did not believe that the 1986 deadline was achievable.The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

According to Westwick, Gorbachev began challenging his advisers: “Maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of SDI.”


The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
Video screenshot of the Skif-DM spacecraft. The “functional block” is at front, serving as what American space engineers usually refer to as a spacecraft bus. It was adapted from existing space hardware and provided propulsion, power, and guidance in orbit. The lasers would be mounted in the long cylindrical payload module but were not included in the Skif-DM version. During the first and only launch, the functional block was supposed to flip the entire spacecraft 180 degrees so that it was pointed up and the engines were pointed down. However, a software error led to the spacecraft flipping end over end several times before pointing down, and its engines forced it into the atmosphere. (credit:

Racing The Clock


Meeting such a tight deadline had a human cost. At one point, more than 70 firms within the Soviet aerospace industry were working on Skif. In his history of the project, Lantratov quotes from an article by Yuri Kornilov, the lead designer for Skif-DM at the Khrunichev Machine Building Factory: “As a rule, no excuses were accepted—not even the fact that it was almost the same group of people who, at that time, were performing the grandiose work associated with the creation of Buran. Everything took a back seat to meeting the deadlines assigned from the top.”

The launch of the demonstration satellite slipped to 1987, partly because the pad facility had to be modified from a test stand to a full-up launch pad for the Energia. In addition, the rocket assigned to the flight (designated 6S) had originally only been built for test firings and had to be modified to an operational launch vehicle designated 6SL. The delay had a critical impact on the project’s political fortunes.

In 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev, who had been General Secretary of the Communist Party for only a year, was already advocating the sweeping economic and bureaucratic reforms that would come to be known as perestroika, or “restructuring.” He and his allies in the government were intent on reining in what they saw as ruinous levels of military spending, and had become increasingly opposed to expensive military space projects. According to Westwick, Gorbachev began challenging his advisers: “Maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of SDI.” The Soviet leader acknowledged that the American SDI plan was dangerous, says Westwick, but warned that his country was becoming obsessed with it.


The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Skif-DM was launched in May 1987 and failed to reach orbit. It was to be followed by the Skif-D1 and Skif-D2 spacecraft about a year apart. However, the program was canceled after this failure. (credit:

Launching the Monster

On the night of May 15, 1987, Energia’s engines lit and the giant rocket climbed into the sky. Whereas most launches from Baikonur head for an orbit inclined 52 degrees to the equator, Skif traveled farther north, on a 65-degree inclination. If the worst happened, this heading would keep rocket stages or pieces of debris—or the Skif-DM itself—from falling on foreign territory. The goal was for a 64.6 degree, 280-kilometer orbit.

Proton launcher

The Energia rocket performed flawlessly on its first flight, gaining speed as it rose and arced out toward the northern Pacific. But the kluged nature of the Skif–DM test spacecraft, along with all the compromises and shortcuts, had ordained its doom. The satellite’s functional block had originally been designed for a Proton launcher, where it would be mounted under a payload shroud, so for aerodynamic reasons it was mounted near the top of the payload attached to the Energia.

It would jettison its protective shroud before separating from the rocket. Once the spacecraft separated from its booster, it was supposed to flip around to point toward space, with the control block’s engines facing downward toward Earth, ready to fire and push it into orbit. It would also roll 90 degrees as well. Payload fairing separation occurred as planned at 3 minutes and 32 seconds into the flight, at an altitude of 90 kilometers.


The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War
The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

The Strategic Defense Initiative became a contentious topic during arms control negotiations in the 1980s. Many Soviet scientists—like their Western counterparts—believed that it was unworkable. But the official Soviet government position was to oppose SDI.

Skif’s Legacy

We still don’t know the entire story. “Even today there’s a lot of sensitivity about the whole program,” says Siddiqi, who has recently written a paper about how various parts of the Soviet government responded to SDI. “Russians don’t like to talk too much about it. And our understanding of Soviet responses to SDI still remains murky.

Soviet military-industrial elite

It’s clear that there was a lot of internal debate within the Soviet military-industrial elite about the effectiveness of space weapons. And the fact that the Soviets came so close to actually launching a weapon platform suggests that the hardliners were in the driver’s seat. It’s scary to think what might have happened if Polyus had actually made it to orbit.”The Secret Space-Laser Battle Station of the Cold War

Another interesting thought experiment is to posit what might have happened had Reagan never announced the SDI, which had derailed arms control negotiations. Would the two leaders have gone further than they did if SDI had not become a point of contention?

CIA analyst Allen Thomson
SDI did not help bankrupt the Soviet Union, which was already bankrupting itself.

CIA analyst Allen Thomson’s 1983 report on possible Soviet responses to SDI accurately predicted several of the actions that the Soviet Union ultimately took, including the Soviet diplomatic offensive against it as well as the possibility that the Soviets would develop systems to attack American SDI satellites. The paranoid fantasies of some Soviet military and political leaders about what SDI could do, such as destroying targets on the ground using lasers, were the kinds of reactions that only became clearer after the end of the Cold War. (The CIA report can be downloaded here.)

How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life

How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life


 Study the Universe Fundamental Level

Imagine what it must have been like to study the Universe, at a fundamental level, way back in the early 1900s. For over 200 years, the physics of Newton appeared to govern how objects moved, with Newton’s law of universal gravitation and laws of motion dictating how things moved on Earth, in our Solar System, and in the greater Universe. Recently, however, a few challenges to Newton’s picture had emerged. You couldn’t keep accelerating objects to arbitrary speeds, but rather everything was limited by the speed of light. Newton’s optics didn’t describe light nearly as well as Maxwell’s electromagnetism did, and quantum physics  still in its infancy was posing new sets of questions to physicists worldwide.

But perhaps the biggest problem was posed by the orbit of Mercury, precisely measured since the late 1500s and in defiance of Newton’s predictions. It was his quest to explain that observation that led Albert Einstein to formulate the General Theory of Relativity, which replaced Newton’s law of gravitation with a relationship between matter-and-energy, which curves spacetime, and that curved spacetime, which tells matter-and-energy how to move. How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life

Yet Einstein didn’t publish that version of General Relativity; he published a version that included an extra ad hoc term: a cosmological constant, artificially adding an extra field to the Universe. Decades later, he would refer to it as his biggest blunder, but not before doubling down on it many times over the years. Here’s how the smartest man in history made his biggest blunder ever, with lessons for us all.


How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life
How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life

Essential Tools in Scientifically Testing 

A mural of the Einstein field equations, with an illustration of light bending around the eclipsed sun, the observations that first validated General Relativity back in 1919. The Einstein tensor is shown decomposed, at left, into the Ricci tensor and Ricci scalar. Novel tests of new theories, particularly against the differing predictions of the previously prevailing theory, are essential tools in scientifically testing an idea.

General Relativity, importantly, was built off of three puzzle pieces that came together in Einstein’s mind.

  1. Special relativity, or the notion that each unique observer had their own unique  but mutually consistent between observers — conception of space and time, including the distance between objects and the duration and order of events.
  2. Makowski’s reformulation of space and time as a unified four-dimensional fabric known as spacetime, which provides a backdrop for all other objects and observers to move and evolve through it.
  3. And the equivalence principle, which Einstein repeatedly called his “happiest thought,” which was the notion that an observer within a sealed room who was accelerating because they were in a gravitational field would feel no difference from an identical observer in an identical room who was accelerating because there was thrust (or an outside force) causing the acceleration.

These three notions, put together, led Einstein to conceive of gravity differently: that instead of being governed by an invisible, infinitely fast-acting force that acted across all distances and at all times, gravitation was instead caused by the curvature of spacetime, which itself was induced by the presence of matter-and-energy within it.


How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life
How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life

General Theory of Relativity

The identical behavior of a ball falling to the floor in an accelerated rocket (left) and on Earth (right) is a demonstration of Einstein’s equivalence principle. If inertial mass and gravitational mass are identical, there will be no difference between these two scenarios. This has been verified to ~1 part in one trillion for matter, and was the thought that led Einstein to develop his General Theory of Relativity.

Those three early steps happened in 1905, 1907, and 1908, respectively, but General Relativity wasn’t published in its final form until 1915; that’s how long it took Einstein and his collaborators to work the details out correctly. Once he had, however, he released a set of equations  known today as the Einstein field equations  that related how matter-energy and spacetime affected one another. In that paper, he verified that:

  • At large distances from relatively small masses, his equations could be well approximated by Newtonian gravity.
  • At small distances from large masses, there were additional effects beyond the Newtonian approximation, and those effects could, at last, explain the tiny-but-significant differences between what astronomers had been observing for hundreds of years and what Newton’s gravity had predicted.
  • And that there would be additional, subtle differences between the predictions of Einstein’s gravity and Newton’s gravity that could be searched for, including gravitational redshift and the gravitational deflection of light by masses. How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life

That third point led to a key new prediction: that during a total solar eclipse, when the Sun’s light was blocked by the Moon and stars would be visible, that the apparent position of the stars located behind the Sun would be bent, or shifted, by the Sun’s gravity. After “missing” the chance to test this in 1916 because of the Great War and losing out to clouds in 1918, the eclipse expedition of 1919 finally made the critical observations, confirming the predictions of Einstein’s General Relativity and leading to its widespread acceptance as a new theory of gravity.


How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life
How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life


 Scientist Formulating  Theory

But, like any good scientist formulating a new theory, Einstein himself was fairly uncertain of how the experiments and observations would turn out. In a letter to physicist Willem de Sitter in 1917, Einstein wrote the following:

In other words, sure, after figuring out the mathematics of General Relativity and how to successfully apply it to a variety of situations, now the big challenge arrives: applying it to every physical case where it should give a correct description. One big challenge to that, however, was when it came to the known Universe of Einstein’s time.How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life

Universe of Einstein’s time

You see, back then, it was not yet known whether there were other galaxies out there  what astronomers of the time dubbed the “island universe” hypothesis  or whether everything that we observed was contained within the Milky Way itself. There was even a great debate on this very topic a few years later, in 1920, and although both sides argued passionately, it was highly inconclusive. It was reasonable, and accepted by many, that the Milky Way and the objects within it were simply all there was.


How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life
How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life

Italian astronomer Paolo Maffei’s promising work on infrared astronomy culminated in the discovery of galaxies — like Maffei 1 and 2, shown here — in the plane of the Milky Way itself. Maffei 1, the giant elliptical galaxy at the lower left, is the closest giant elliptical to the Milky Way, yet went undiscovered until 1967. For more than 40 years after the Great Debate, no spirals in the plane of the Milky Way were known, due to light-blocking dust that’s very effective at visible wavelengths.How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life

 Initial Distribution of Masses

If you take any initial distribution of masses, and start them off at rest, what you’ll inevitably find, after a finite amount of time has passed, is that these masses will eventually collapse down to a single point, what we know today as a black hole.

This would be bad, because a black hole is a singularity, where space and time come to an end and no sensible physical predictions can be arrived at. This brought up precisely the type of contradiction that Einstein was worried about. If our Milky Way was simply a large collection of masses that all moved very slowly relative to one another, those masses should inevitably cause the spacetime they were present in to collapse. And yet, our Milky Way didn’t appear to be collapsing and clearly hadn’t collapsed in on itself. In order to avoid this type of contradiction, Einstein posited that something extra  some new ingredient or effect  must be added to the equation. Otherwise, the unacceptable consequence of an unstable Universe that should be collapsing (yet, observationally, didn’t appear to be) couldn’t be evaded.


How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life
How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life


Context of Einstein’s Gravity

In a Universe that isn’t expanding, you can fill it with stationary matter in any configuration you like, but it will always collapse down to a black hole. Such a Universe is unstable in the context of Einstein’s gravity, and must be expanding to be stable, or we must accept its inevitable fate.

In other words, if the Universe is static, it can’t just collapse; that would be really bad and would conflict with what we were seeing. So how did Einstein avoid it? He introduced a new term to the equations: what is known today as a cosmological constant. In his own words, again writing in 1917, Einstein stated the following:

“In order to arrive at this consistent view, we admittedly had to introduce an extension of the field equations of gravitation which is not justified by our actual knowledge of gravitation… That term is necessary only for the purpose of making possible a quasi-static distribution of matter, as required by the fact of the small velocities of the stars.”

  • a static universe filled with masses in some distribution is unstable and will collapse,
  • our Universe appears to be filled with nearly-static masses but isn’t collapsing,
  • and therefore, there has to be something else out there to hold it up against collapse.

The only option that Einstein had found was this extra term that he could add without introducing further pathologies in his theory: a cosmological constant term. How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life


How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life
How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life

Albert Einstein (right) is shown with physicists Robert Millikan (left) and Georges Lemaitre (center) several years after admitting his biggest blunder. If you think that modern critics are harsh, one can only imagine how Lemaitre must have felt to receive a letter from Einstein calling his physics abominable!

Other people  I should be clear here that these are other very smart, very competent people  took these equations and concepts put forth by Einstein, and went on to derive the inevitable consequences of them.

 Cosmological Constant

First, Willem de Sitter, later in 1917, showed that if you take a model Universe with only a cosmological constant in it (that is, with no other sources of matter or energy), you get an empty, four-dimensional spacetime that expands eternally at a constant rate. How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life

Second, in 1922, Alexander Friedmann showed that if you make the assumption, within Einstein’s relativity, that the entire Universe is uniformly filled with some type of energy  including (but not limited to) matter, radiation, or the type of energy that would yield a cosmological constant  then a static solution is impossible, and the Universe must either expand or contract. (And that this is true regardless of whether the cosmological constant exists or not.)

And third, in 1927, Georges Lemaitre built on Friedmann’s equations, applying them to the combination of galactic distances measured by Hubble (starting in 1923) and also to the apparently large recessional motion of those galaxies, measured earlier by Vest Slipper (as early as 1911). He concluded that the Universe is expanding, and not only submitted a paper on it, but wrote to Einstein about it personally as well.


How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life
How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life


The reason that the cosmological constant is often called “Einstein’s greatest blunder” isn’t because of why he originally formulated it; it’s because of his undeserved, unreasonable, and perhaps even unhinged reaction to everyone else’s valid criticisms and contrary conclusions. Einstein extensively, and incorrectly, criticized de Sitter’s derivations, being proved wrong on all counts by de Sitter and Oskar Klein in a series of letters throughout 1917 and 1918. Einstein incorrectly criticized Friedmann’s work in 1922, calling it incompatible with the field equations; Friedmann correctly pointed out Einstein’s error, which Einstein ignored until his friend, Yuri Kratovo, explained it to him, at which point he retracted his objections.

 Introduces the Element of Time into  Universe

And still, in 1927, when Einstein became aware of Lemaitre’s work, he retorted, “Vos calculus sent corrects, mays voter physique Est abominable,” which translates to, “Your calculations are correct, but your physics is abominable.” He maintained this stance in 1928, when Howard Robertson independently reached the same conclusions as Lemaitre with improved data, and did not change his mind with Hubble’s (and, later, Huma son’s) overwhelming demonstration that more distant objects (with distances determined using Henrietta Leavitt’s legendary method) were moving away more quickly in 1929. Hubble wrote that the finding could “represent the de Sitter effect” and “hence introduces the element of time” into the Universe.


How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life
How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life


 Sole Motive of Keeping the Universe Static

Throughout all of this, Einstein didn’t change his stance at all. He maintained that the Universe must be static and the cosmological constant is mandatory. And, because he was Einstein, many people  including Hubble  were tentative to interpret this data as implicating the expansion of the Universe. It wouldn’t be until 1931, when Lemaitre wrote a very influential letter to Nature, where he put together the pieces completely: that the Universe could be evolving in time if it started out from a smaller, denser state and has expanded ever since. It was only in the aftermath of that, that Einstein finally admitted that, just perhaps, he had jumped the gun by introducing a cosmological constant with the sole motive of keeping the Universe static.

In hindsight, the cosmological constant is now a very important part of modern cosmology, as it’s the best explanation we have for the effects of dark energy on our expanding Universe. But if Einstein didn’t introduce it and continue to defend and stand by it the way he had — if he had simply followed the equations  he could have derived the expanding Universe as a consequence of his equations, just as Friedmann did and, later, Lemaitre, Robertson, and others. How Einstein made the biggest blunder of his life

It was a small blunder to introduce an extraneous, unnecessary term into his equations, but his greatest blunder was defending his error in the face of overwhelming evidence. As we all should learn, saying “I was wrong” when we’re shown to be in error is the only way to grow.

Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows

Hawking Radiation Isn't Just For Black Holes, Study Shows


One of the most remarkable achievements in theoretical physics came in 1974, when Stephen Hawking demonstrated that black holes are not static, stable entities within spacetime, but rather must emit radiation and eventually decay. This radiation, known forever after as Hawking radiation, arises due to the combination of the facts that. Hawking radiation isn’t just for black holes, study shows

  • quantum fields permeate all of space,
  • including inside and outside a black hole’s event horizon,
  • that these fields are not static but exhibit quantum fluctuations,
  • and that those fields behave differently in regions where the curvature of spacetime is different.

E = mc²

When Hawking first put these facts together, his calculation showed that black holes can’t be stable with a constant mass, but will instead emit an omnidirectional amount of extremely low-temperature blackbody radiation. This radiation propagates away from the event horizon, and since real radiation carries energy, the only place where that energy can be taken from is from the mass of the black hole itself: via the classic equation E = mc², where the mass lost by the black hole has to balance the energy of the emitted radiation.

But in a delightful new paper, physicists Michael Wondrak, Walter van Suijlekom, and Heino Falcke have challenged the idea that an event horizon is necessary for this radiation. According to their new approach, this radiation arises solely because of the differences in the quantum vacuum of space dependent on its curvature, and therefore Hawking radiation should be emitted by all masses in the Universe, even those without event horizons. It’s a remarkable idea and one that’s been brewing for a long time. Let’s unpack why. Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows


Hawking Radiation Isn't Just For Black Holes, Study Shows
Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows

Visualization of QCD illustrates

A visualization of QCD illustrates how particle-antiparticle pairs pop out of the quantum vacuum for very small amounts of time as a consequence of Heisenberg uncertainty. The quantum vacuum is interesting because it demands that empty space itself isn’t so empty, but is filled with all the particles, antiparticles, and fields in various states that are demanded by the quantum field theory that describes our Universe. The particle-antiparticle pairs illustrated here, however, are only a calculational tool; they are not to be confused with real particles. Hawking radiation isn’t just for black holes, study shows

The particle-antiparticle pairs illustrated

There’s a very common misconception about how Hawking radiation works, put forth by none other than Hawking himself in his celebrated popular book, A Brief History of Time. The way Hawking told us to envision it:

  • the Universe is filled with particle-antiparticle pairs popping in-and-out of existence,
  • even in empty space, as a consequence of quantum field theory and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle,
  • that in uncurved space, these pairs always find one another and re-annihilate after a very small time interval,
  • but if an event horizon is present, one member of the pair can “fall in” while the other “escapes,”
  • leading to a situation where real particles (or antiparticles) are emitted with positive mass/energy from just outside the horizon itself,
  • whereas the paired member that falls into the event horizon must have “negative energy” that subtracts from the black hole’s total mass.

It’s a convenient picture, to be sure, but it’s a picture that even Hawking himself knew must be false. Despite the fact that, in his 1974 paper, he wrote:

“It should be emphasized that these pictures of the mechanism responsible for the thermal emission and area decrease are heuristic only and should not be taken too literally,”

He does, in fact, take it literally in his 1988 book that brought this idea to the general public.


Hawking Radiation Isn't Just For Black Holes, Study Shows
Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows

Brief History of Time

The reason you cannot take this picture literally is because the particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in-and-out of existence are not actual, real particles; they are what physicists call virtual particles: a calculational tool that we use that represents fluctuations in the underlying fields, but that are not “real” in the sense that we cannot interact with or measure them directly in any way.

If you did take this picture literally, you’d erroneously think that this Hawking radiation is composed of a mixture of particles and antiparticles; it is not. Instead, it’s just composed of extremely low-energy photons in a blackbody spectrum, as even the lightest set of massive particles known, the neutrinos and antineutrinos, are far too heavy for even a single one to be produced by the real black holes in our Universe.

Fundamental Properties of Quantum Fields

Instead, the actual explanation  although there are many legitimate ways to approach calculating the effect (including ways that do involve these virtual particle-antiparticle pairs) is that it is the difference in the quantum vacuum (i.e., the fundamental properties of quantum fields in empty space) between regions of space with different amounts of spatial curvature that leads to the production of this thermal, blackbody radiation that we call Hawking radiation. Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows

Hawking Radiation Isn't Just For Black Holes, Study Shows
Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows


The most common, and incorrect, explanation for how Hawking radiation arises is an analogy with particle-antiparticle pairs. If one member with negative energy falls into the black hole’s event horizon, while the other member with positive energy escapes, the black hole loses mass and outgoing radiation departs the black hole. This explanation has misinformed generations of physicists and came from Hawking himself. One of the errors inherent to this explanation is the notion that all of the Hawking radiation arises from the event horizon itself: it does not.

There are a few interesting points that arise, that have been known for many decades, as a consequence of the ways Hawking radiation actually works.

Interesting point #1:

The Hawking radiation itself cannot all originate from the event horizon of the black hole itself.

One of the fun things you can calculate, at any moment in time, is the density of the Hawking radiation that arises all throughout space. You can calculate the energy density as a function of distance from the black hole, and you can compare that to a calculation for what the expected energy density would be if the radiation all originated at the event horizon itself and then propagated outward in space.

Remarkably, those two calculations do not match up at all; in fact, most of the Hawking radiation that arises around the event horizon of the black hole originates within about 10-20 Schwarzschild radii (the radius from the singularity to the event horizon) of the event horizon, rather than at the event horizon itself. In fact, there are non-zero amounts of radiation that are emitted throughout all of space, even far away from the event horizon itself. The horizon itself may play a role that’s important in the generation of Hawking radiation, just as Unruh radiation ought to be generated owing to the presence of a cosmic horizon in our own Universe, but you cannot generate all of your Hawking radiation at the event horizon of a black hole and get predictions that are consistent with our theoretical calculations.


Hawking Radiation Isn't Just For Black Holes, Study Shows
Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows

It must be noted that it isn’t particles or antiparticles that are produced when black holes undergo Hawking radiation, but rather photons. One can calculate this using the tools of virtual particle-antiparticle pairs in curved space in the presence of an event horizon, but those virtual pairs should not be construed as being real particles, nor should all of the radiation be construed as arising from just barely outside the event horizon.

Interesting point #2:

More radiation gets emitted from more severely curved regions of space, implying that lower-mass black holes emit more Hawking radiation and decay faster than higher-mass ones.

This is a point that puzzles most people the first time they hear about it: the more massive your black hole is, the less severely curved your space will be just outside the black hole’s event horizon. Yes, the event horizon is always defined by that boundary where the escape velocity of a particle is either less than the speed of light (which is outside the event horizon) or greater than the speed of light (which defines inside the event horizon), and the size of this horizon is directly proportional to the black hole’s mass.

But the curvature of space is much greater near the event horizon of a smaller, low-mass black hole than it is near the event horizon of a larger, greater-mass black hole. In fact, if we look at the properties of the emitted Hawking radiation for black holes of different (realistic) masses, we find:

  • The temperature of the radiation is inversely proportional to the mass: ten times the mass means one-tenth the temperature.
  • The luminosity, or radiated power, of a black hole, is inversely proportional to the square of the black hole’s mass: ten times the mass means one-hundredth the luminosity.
  • And the evaporation time for a black hole, or how long it takes for a black hole to completely decay away into Hawking radiation, is directly proportional to the mass of the black hole cubed: a black hole that’s ten times as massive as another will persist for one thousand times as long.


Hawking Radiation Isn't Just For Black Holes, Study Shows
Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows

Although no light can escape from inside a black hole’s event horizon, the curved space outside of it results in a difference between the vacuum state at different points near the event horizon, leading to the emission of radiation via quantum processes. This is where Hawking radiation comes from, and for the lowest-mass black holes ever discovered, Hawking radiation will lead to their complete decay in ~10^68 years. For even the largest mass black holes, survival beyond 10^103 years or so is impossible due to this exact process. The higher mass your black hole is, the weaker Hawking radiation is and the longer it will take to evaporate.

Interesting point #3:

 The amount by which spacetime is curved at a given distance from a mass is completely independent of how dense that mass is, or whether it has an event horizon at all.

Here’s a fun question to consider. Imagine, if you will, that the Sun was magically, instantaneously replaced with an object that was the exact same mass as the Sun but whose physical size was either:

  • the size of the Sun itself (with a radius of about 700,000 km),
  • the size of a white dwarf (with a radius of about 7,000 km),
  • the size of a neutron star (with a radius of around 11 km),
  • or the size of a black hole (whose radius would be about 3 km).

Now, imagine you’re assigned the following task: to describe what the curvature of space is, and how it’s different, between these four separate examples.

The answer, quite remarkably, is that the only differences that arise are if you’re at a location that’s inside of the Sun itself. As long as you’re more than 700,000 km away from a solar mass object, then it doesn’t matter whether that object is a star, a white dwarf, a neutron star, a black hole, or any other object with or without an event horizon: its spacetime curvature and properties are the same.


Hawking Radiation Isn't Just For Black Holes, Study Shows
Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows

Although the amount that spacetime is curved and distorted depends on how dense the object in question is when you’re close to the object’s edge, the size and volume that the object occupies is unimportant far away from the mass itself. For a black hole, neutron star, white dwarf, or a star like our Sun, the spatial curvature is identical at sufficiently large radii. Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows

If you put these three points together, you might start wondering for yourself what many physicists have wondered for a very long time: does Hawking radiation only occur around black holes, or does it occur for all massive objects within spacetime?

Key Feature in Hawking’s Original Derivation

Although the event horizon was a key feature in Hawking’s original derivation of the radiation that now bears his name, there have been other derivations (sometimes in alternate numbers of dimensions) that have shown this radiation still exists in curved spacetime, irrespective of the presence or absence of such a horizon. That’s where the new paper that comes in is so interesting: the only role the event horizon plays is to serve as a boundary for where radiation can be “captured” from versus where it can “escape” from. The calculation is done in fully four-dimensional spacetime (with three space and one time dimension), and shares many important features with other approaches to calculating the presence and properties of Hawking radiation.

The boundary for what gets captured versus what escapes would still exist for any other example of a mass we chose:

  • it would be the event horizon for a black hole,
  • the surface of a neutron star for a neutron star,
  • the outermost layer of a white dwarf for a white dwarf,
  • or the photosphere of a star for a star.

Escape Fraction

In all cases, there would still be an escape fraction that depended on the mass and radius of the object in question; there’s nothing special about the presence or absence of an event horizon. The event horizon of a black hole has been considered an important factor in the generation of Hawking radiation around black holes in many previous studies, but a new one suggests that this radiation can still be generated outside of an event horizon even if the horizon itself does nothing more than forbid light from escaping from within it.

Hawking Radiation Isn't Just For Black Holes, Study Shows
Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows

Wondrak, van Suijlekom, and Falcke

There’s a very simple analogy to the approach that Wondrak, van Suijlekom, and Falcke take in their paper: to that of the Schwinger effect in electromagnetism. Way back in 1951, physicist Julian Schwinger one of the co-discoverers of quantum electrodynamics detailed how matter could be created from pure energy in the vacuum of space simply by creating a strong enough electric field. Whereas you can envision quantum field fluctuations however you like in the absence of an external field, applying a strong external field polarizes even the vacuum of space: separating positive from negative charges. If the field is strong enough, these virtual particles can become real, stealing energy from the underlying field to keep energy conserved.

Schwinger Effect, the Gravitational Analogue

Instead of an electric field, charged particles, and the Schwinger effect, the gravitational analogue is simply to use the background of curved spacetime for the electric field, to substitute an uncharged, massless scalar field for the charged particles: a simplistic analogue to stand-in for the photons that would be produced via Hawking radiation. Instead of the Schwinger effect, what they see is the production of new quanta in this curved spacetime, with a “production profile” that depends on the radius you are away from the event horizon. But note that there’s nothing special about the horizon itself: production occurs at all distances sufficiently far from the object itself.

Gravitational Pair Production and Black Hole Evaporation

 As calculated in the paper “Gravitational Pair Production and Black Hole Evaporation,” there is no emitted radiation from inside a black hole’s event horizon (less than “2” on the x-axis), but the radiation arises from an infinitely-extending region outside of the event horizon, peaking at 25% larger than the horizon itself but falling off slowly thereafter. The implication is that even massive objects without an event horizon, like stars, should emit some amount of Hawking radiation.
Credit: M.F. Wondrak et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. accepted, 2023

The key takeaway, assuming the paper’s analysis is valid (which of course requires independent confirmation), is that there is no “special role” played by the event horizon as far as the production of radiation (or any other types of particles) goes. Quite generally, if you have

  • a quantum field theory,
  • with creation and annihilation operators,
  • with some sort of tidal, differential forces acting on the field fluctuations (or virtual particles and antiparticles, if you prefer),
  • that will create an additional separative effect over what you’d expect in a uniform background of empty space,

then you can conclude that a fraction of the particles that are produced will escape, in a radius-dependent fashion, irrespective of the presence or absence of an event horizon. Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows


Hawking Radiation Isn't Just For Black Holes, Study Shows
Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows

Travel the Universe with astrophysicist Ethan Siegel. Subscribers will get the newsletter every Saturday. All aboard!

Theorized by Julian Schwinger

It’s perhaps important to note that this new work does not reproduce all of the known features of Hawking radiation exactly; it is only a simplistic model that stands in for a realistic black hole. Nevertheless, many of the lessons gleaned from this study, as well as from the toy model motivating it, may prove to be incredibly important for understanding not only how Hawking radiation works, but under what circumstances and conditions it gets generated by. It also sets the stage, just as has been already accomplished for the Schwinger effect, for condensed matter analogue systems to be constructed, where this effect may actually be quantifiable and observable.


Hawking Radiation Isn't Just For Black Holes, Study Shows
Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows

In theory, the Schwinger effect states that in the presence of strong enough electric fields, (charged) particles and their antiparticle counterparts will be ripped from the quantum vacuum, empty space itself, to become real. Theorized by Julian Schwinger in 1951, the predictions were validated in a tabletop experiment, using a quantum analogue system, for the first time.

Hawking Radiation Black Hole Decay

One of the things I greatly appreciate about this paper is that it corrects a big, widespread misconception: the idea that Hawking radiation is generated at the event horizon itself. Not only is this not true, but the horizon only serves as a “cutoff point” in the sense that no radiation generated inside of it can escape. Instead, there is a specific radial production profile for this radiation, where there’s a peak amount of radiation that is generated and escapes at about 125% of the event horizon’s radius, and then that radiation falls off and asymptotes to zero at greater radii, but there’s always some non-zero amount of production that can be predicted.

An interesting thing to think about is that, for black holes, there is no external energy reservoir to “draw” this energy from, and hence the energy for this radiation must come from the massive object at the center, itself. For a black hole, that means it must decay, leading to its eventual evaporation.


Hawking Radiation Isn't Just For Black Holes, Study Shows
Hawking Radiation Isn’t Just For Black Holes, Study Shows

The event horizon of a black hole is a spherical or spheroidal region from which nothing, not even light, can escape. But outside the event horizon, the black hole is predicted to emit radiation. Hawking’s 1974 work was the first to demonstrate this, and it was arguably his greatest scientific achievement. A new study now suggests that Hawking radiation may even be emitted in the absence of black holes, with profound implications for all stars and stellar remnants in our Universe.Hawking radiation isn’t just for black holes, study shows

Credit: NASA/Dana Berry, Skyworks Digital Inc.

Self-Gravitational Energy

 Objects that aren’t black holes, what is it, specifically, that will occur? Will this emitted radiation steal energy from the self-gravitational energy of an object like a star or stellar remnant, leading to gravitational contraction? Will it eventually lead to particle decays, or even some sort of phase transition within this object? Or does it imply something far more profound: such as once certain limits are reached and surpassed, that all matter will eventually collapse to a black hole and, via Hawking radiation, eventually decay?

At this point, these are just speculations, as they’re questions that can only be answered by follow-up work. Nevertheless, this paper is a clever line of thought, and does something remarkable: it poses and analyzes a nearly 50-year-old problem in an entirely new way. Perhaps, if nature is kind, this will wind up bringing us closer to resolving some of the key, core issues at the very hearts of black holes. Although it’s still just a suggestion, the implication is certainly worth considering: that all masses, not just black holes, may wind up emitting Hawking radiation.

10 Ways to Uncover the Mysteries of a Black Hole

10 Ways to Uncover the Mysteries of a Black Hole

Some of the most fascinating and mysterious things in the cosmos are black holes. They have such a powerful gravitational attraction that not even light can flee from them. Learning about black holes is essential as we explore the depths of space. Here are 10 strategies for learning more about these cosmic marvels.10 Ways to Uncover the Mysteries of a Black Hole

10 Ways to Uncover the Mysteries of a Black Hole
10 Ways to Uncover the Mysteries of a Black Hole

Let us first have a firm grasp on what black holes are and why they matter, and then we can move on to discussing the methods used to solve their secrets.

Defining a Black Hole, What Is It?

When an extremely massive star falls under its own weight, a black hole is created. This collapse produces an area of space with gravity so strong that not even light can make its way out.

Why It is Crucial to Learn About Black Holes

We can learn about universal constants like gravity and the nature of stuff in extreme environments by studying black holes.10 Ways to Uncover the Mysteries of a Black Hole

Looking Down the Rabbit Hole: Observational Methods

Scientists use a wide range of observational methods and technology to delve further into the mysteries of black holes.

Radio Telescopes Tune In to the Cosmos

The radio waves released by materials falling into black holes can be detected by radio telescopes. The attributes of the black hole may be learned through the study of these waves.

Observations of high-energy X rays in H2 reveal several interesting phenomena.

When heated gases orbit a black hole, they emit X rays, which may be seen by X-ray telescopes. The accretion mechanism and energy release can be better comprehended thanks to these observations.

Hidden Reality Simulation Using Computational Methods

The study of black holes requires more than just observation; computer simulations are also crucial.

Modeling Complex Phenomena Using Supercomputer Simulations

In order to model how matter and energy behave in the vicinity of black holes, supercomputers crunch incredibly complicated equations. These simulations are useful for understanding data and developing forecasts.

Black hole interaction simulations as a test of theory

Scientists may run simulations to test their ideas about how black holes affect neighboring stars and twist spacetime.

Reality Warping – Gravitational Lensing

Gravitational lensing, a process predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity, is one of the most intriguing consequences of black holes..

Hawking Radiation: Unifying Quantum Mechanics and Gravity

Stephen Hawking postulated that black holes release a modest radiation due to quantum phenomena around the event horizon, meaning that they are not completely black.

How Hawking Radiation Works

The production of quantum particles near the event horizon leads to Hawking radiation. Both escape, but the one that falls into the black hole will eventually cause it to shrink in size.

Challenges and Implications

Hawking radiation has significant implications for our knowledge of black holes, yet it is still difficult to detect because of its low intensity.

 Discovering New Event Horizons with Cutting-Edge Observational Methods

The event horizon, the point beyond which escape is impossible, can only be studied with novel approaches.

Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI),

When data from several radio telescopes are combined, a virtual telescope the size of Earth is created, allowing us to take pictures of the event horizons of supermassive black holes.

10 Ways to Uncover the Mysteries of a Black Hole
10 Ways to Uncover the Mysteries of a Black Hole

Space-Time Warps, including Wormholes and Black Hole Transportation

Black hole travel has been the subject of many fantastic theories inspired by theoretical concepts like wormholes.

Are Wormholes Time and Space Condensers?

A wormhole is an imaginary passage that may theoretically connect two locations on opposite sides of the universe. Their presence and stability are interesting, yet they remain a mystery.

Revealing the Invisible – Technologies of the Future

The secrets of black holes will be unraveled in new ways as technology develops.

Cutting-Edge Telescopes of the Future

Even more precise studies of black holes and their environments are expected to be made by future observatories like the James Webb Space Telescope.

New Developments in Quantum Mechanics and the Resolution of Related Paradoxes,

Recent developments in quantum physics may provide a solution to the information loss problem and other black hole dilemmas.10 Ways to Uncover the Mysteries of a Black Hole


The road toward understanding black holes, through observation, simulation, theory, and cutting-edge technology, is continuous. As we keep exploring the cosmos, we get a little bit closer to making sense of these fascinating events.

 Frequently Asked Questions 

Is it possible for objects to evade a black hole’s pull?

No, once an object passes the black hole’s event horizon, it can never make it back out again owing to the immense gravitational pull.

Is there more than one kind of black hole?

The collapse of huge stars may create black holes of stellar mass, and supermassive black holes can be discovered in the cores of galaxies.

Is it possible for a black hole to die?

Although it takes an extraordinarily long period, black holes can lose enough mass by Hawking radiation to evaporate.

Could a black hole approach Earth?

It is theoretically feasible for a black hole to approach the solar system, albeit this is an exceedingly remote possibility. However, the likelihood is quite low.

How can black holes impact time?

Time slows down in the vicinity of a black hole because of its enormous gravity, a phenomenon known as time dilation. Both observation and theory have validated this occurrence.

The birth of a black hole has created the brightest space explosion ever

The birth of a black hole has created the brightest space explosion ever

A record The most powerful sky-lighting space explosion we’ve ever seen was caused by a structured jet carrying massive amounts of exploded stellar innards aimed directly at Earth, scientists have determined.

The gamma-ray burst GRB 221009A, detected in October last yearwas so brilliant that our instruments struggled to measure it. But as clues emerged, scientists scrambled to point their telescopes in its direction, and with the wealth of data gathered, an international team of scientists finally figured out how the supernova generated such a powerful boom.

GRB 221009A, dubbed BOAT (for Brightest of All Time), was the result of the death of a massive star at a relatively close distance of 2.4 billion light-years, which collapsed into a black hole after ejecting its envelope external. The gamma-ray burst produced by this collapse contained a narrow, textured jet surrounded by a larger outflow of gas.

This is unexpected; our current models predict that the explosion would produce only a jet. The findings have implications for our understanding of black hole formation and how the brightest explosions in the Universe occur.

GRB 221009A (within the purple circle) shining bright among the stars. (NASA)

“GRB 221009A represents a huge leap forward in our understanding of gamma-ray bursts and demonstrates that the most extreme bursts do not obey the standard physics assumed for garden-variety gamma-ray bursts,” says astronomer Brendan O’Connor of the George Washington University, lead author of the new paper.

“GRB 221009A may be the Rosetta Stone equivalent of long GRBs, forcing us to revise our standard theories about how relativistic outflows form in massive collapsing stars.”

Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions seen throughout the cosmos, and they occur in a variety of ways. Long-duration gamma-ray bursts, such as GRB 221009A, are caused by the death of massive, rapidly rotating stars.

When they reach the end of their lives, the cores of these stars, no longer supported by the external pressure of the merger, collapse under gravity to form an ultradense object, such as a black hole. At the same time, the star’s outer material is ejected outward in a huge explosion, the supernova.

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It wasn’t immediately obvious what we were looking at with GRB 221009A, although its long duration suggested a supernova. But the sheer power of the explosion of up to 18 teraelectron volts, a staggering record, was truly staggering, and the puzzle only deepened as scientists continued to dig.

We know that gamma-ray bursts are accompanied by jetstwin columns of material emerging from opposite sides of a collapsing object, carrying material a relativistic speeds; that is, a significant percentage of the speed of light. We also know that these jets appear brightest when pointed directly at us; think staring directly into the beam of a flashlight, instead of at an angle.

Scientists had already concluded that GRB 221009A’s jet was aimed at Earth, but the glow from the explosion was still bright months later. This is uncharacteristic of a narrow emission jet, suggesting that something else was going on.

That something else, the team’s analysis suggests, was a large amount of ejected external stellar material that was pulled along by the jet as it passed through it.

Artist’s impression of a gamma-ray burst. (ESO/A.Roquette)

“GRB jets must pass through the collapsing star in which they form”, explains astrophysicist Hendrik Van Eerten of the University of Bath in the UK.

“What we think made the difference in this case was the amount of mixing that occurred between the stellar material and the jet, such that gas heated by the impact kept appearing in our line of sight up to the point where any characteristic features of the jet would have been lost in the overall afterglow emission”.

The findings could help explain previous bursts of exceptionally bright gamma-rays that didn’t show the typical jet signature. These outbursts could also consist of a narrow jet aimed in our direction, piercing and dragging the guts of the exploded stars with it.

“The exceptionally long GRB 221009A is the brightest GRB on record and its afterglow is breaking all records at all wavelengths,” says O’Connor.

“Because this flash is so bright and so close, we think this is a once-in-a-thousand-year opportunity to address some of the most fundamental questions surrounding these outbursts, from the formation of black holes to testing dark matter models.”

The research was published in The progress of science.

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Nuview reveals backers including actor Leonardo DiCaprio

Nuview reveals backers including actor Leonardo DiCaprio

SAN FRANCISCO Nuview, a startup that intends to establish a constellation of light-sensing and range-finding (lidar) satellites, announced investments from US and European venture capital funds, as well as actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio.

We see many opportunities in working with Mr. DiCaprio over the next few years to raise awareness both nationally and with groups such as the United Nations and the World Bank, said Clint Graumann, CEO and co-founder of Nuview Space news.

Orlando, Fla.-based Nuview has yet to reveal how much money it has raised to date. TechCrunch reported June 6 that the startup has raised $15 million to date, including $12 million in an ongoing Series A round.

Participants in the Series A round, led by MaC Venture Capital, include Broom Ventures, Cortado Ventures, Florida Funders, Industrious, Liquid2 and Veto Capital.

Since Nuview, founded in 2021, emerged from stealth mode in May, the company has disclosed a $2.75 million contract with National Security Innovation Capital, an organization founded in 2021 in the Defense Innovation Unit to support startups in early stage developing dual-use hardware. In addition, Nuview has $1.1 billion in early adoption deals that promise customers quick access to geospatial data collected by its planned constellation of 20 dishwasher-sized satellites, Graumann said.

Mister Spoc

Nuview plans to launch a Space Proof of Concept satellite called Mr. Spoc in just over two years. The satellite will provide the data to early adopters of Nuview.

After that, we will launch 20 commercial satellites, five at a time, Graumann said.

To date, lidar data has been collected from airborne platforms and government satellites such as NASA’s IceSat-2 launched in 2018. In recent years, a key sensor that Nuview plans to fly has been declassified.

When you combine that with some of our proprietary wide-area monitoring technologies, that gives us some unique capabilities, said Graumann.

Paul McManamon, Nuview’s chief science officer and former chief scientist for the Air Force Research Laboratories Sensors Directorate, has applied for or been granted more than two dozen patents, many related to optics and photonics. Jack Hild, former deputy director of origin operations at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, is a senior consultant at Nuview. Nuviews chief technology officer Patrick Baker has worked extensively with aircraft-based lidar.

We picked one of the toughest Earth observation challenges you can pick, but we hired the best people in the industry to do it, Graumann said.

Lidar’s Promise

After years of working with geospatial data providers and clients through TerraMetric, a consultancy also headed by Graumann, he co-founded Nuview to meet the widespread demand for lidar.

“No matter what type of dataset we were working with, whether it was optical, radar, thermal or hyperspectral, customers always mentioned lidar,” Graumann said. They said if we could get lidar data as a basis for what we’re building, everything would be better.

Lidar is popular for its accuracy.

Every collection with lidar is natively 3D, Graumann said. It allows us to see through a tree canopy to get a 3D rendering of what’s underneath. You can create surface models of the top of the canopy and terrain models of what’s below in one collection.

And Nuviews lidar will offer centimeter-level accuracy, Graumann said.

While lidar data is often collected from aircraft, Graumann noted “a pent-up demand for lidar data” from places that “defy a plane to fly over it.”

Leonardo Dicaprio

Earth observation data have important environmental applications.

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation established a nonprofit in 1998 to support organizations that protect wildlife, preserve threatened ecosystems, and address climate change.

Nuview expects its data products to encourage “good land use management,” Graumann said, as it relates to “forestry and agriculture carbon monitoring.”

When Nuview was looking for someone to help the company raise awareness of climate applications for its technology, Graumann reached out to DiCaprio’s staff. DiCaprio “wanted to see how lidar could be used for climate science and environmental purposes,” Graumann said. “We put it all together and it worked really well.”

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