Science and Technology News

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Navy Prepares for Jan. 20 Communications Satellite Launch



By Steven A. Davis, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Navy military and civilian engineers are preparing the latest military communications satellite for a planned Jan. 20 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The satellite is part of MUOS, or Mobile User Objective System, which operates like a smartphone network from space, vastly improving secure satellite communications for mobile U.S. forces. Unlike its predecessor system, MUOS provides users a global, on-demand, beyond-line-of-sight capability to transmit and receive high-quality voice and mission data from a high-speed Internet Protocol-based system.

This third of five MUOS satellites was encapsulated into its payload fairing Dec. 19, representing one of the final steps in preparation for its upcoming launch. The payload fairing protects the satellite from forces during the early stages of its journey.

"This third MUOS launch is another major step toward achieving a fully operational MUOS end-to-end capability by 2016," said Navy Capt. Joseph Kan, the MUOS program manager. "The Navy, in close collaboration with the Army, Air Force and our industry partners, is bringing the future of worldwide mobile satellite communications into reality for the United States and potentially allied nations."

The Navy plays a key role in national space efforts by providing narrowband satellite communications for the DoD and other government agencies. While MUOS was designed for mobile users who require worldwide, secure voice and mission data at higher data rates, services are also available for ships, aircraft and vehicles.

MUOS is more than just a five-satellite constellation. It additionally comprises four ground stations across the globe, complex software to manage the network and a Wideband Code Division Multiple Access waveform that serves as an interface for end-user radios.

Two MUOS satellites, launched in 2012 and 2013, are already providing legacy communications capability from their geosynchronous orbit locations 22,000 miles above Earth. Ultimately, the satellite constellation and associated network will extend narrowband communications availability well past 2025.

The Navy's Program Executive Office for Space Systems, located at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego, is responsible for the MUOS program.

Monday, December 22, 2014

DTRA Experts Scan World Horizons for Biothreats



By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2014 – Since 2009, when a Pentagon memo to military department secretaries announced that emerging infectious diseases would become part of the chemical and biological defense mission, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency has worked to advance its biosurveillance capabilities.

Biosurveillance, at least for the Defense Department, is the process of gathering, integrating, analyzing and communicating a range of information that relates to health threats for people, animals and even plants, to help protect troops worldwide, and to increase global health security.

Such advance knowledge comes from monitoring the environment, monitoring medical and clinical disease reporting worldwide, monitoring the many networks established for collecting and distributing disease information, and most recently monitoring social media and online services for crowd-sourced infectious disease news.

The planet’s largest outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in West Africa is the latest example of how an infectious disease in one area can become a major international security issue.

Countries have reported 17,551 cases so far and 6,202 deaths from Ebola, according to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.

Preparing for Threat Events

“We work with a lot of interagency partners because [biosurveillance] is a big mission space, it's not something any single agency can cover all on its own,” Dr. Ronald K. Hann Jr., director of research and development in DTRA’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department, told DoD News during a recent interview.

“We work with DARPA and some of our other interagency partners,” he added, “to make sure we're really covering biosurveillance in the country and overseas, to see if there are events we need to be aware of and how to prepare [if] we have to respond to any kind of crisis.”

For the warfighter, biosurveillance offers DTRA a way to identify early on that something is occurring, Hann added, “so we can move diagnostics or therapeutics forward to the battlefield to see who is affected and how to adequately respond.”

Hann likens biosurveillance to the kind of remote monitoring of serious weather events that meteorologists do.

“If you think about how hurricanes work, [meteorologists] look off the coast and see in Africa that a storm is beginning to brew, and it starts to move across the Atlantic over time. You know that it's going to make landfall in the States but you're not sure where,” Hann said.

On the Horizon

Biosurveillance works in a similar way, he explained.

“We can watch overseas or within our own country,” Hann said, “to see if something will emerge as an infectious disease that's going to have an impact on the nation.”

As an outbreak begins to develop, he said, “we can make sure we have adequate resources to respond, and when we respond we can be much more focused.”

Though the Ebola outbreak took most of the world by surprise, Hann said DTRA began seeing the threat several months in advance.

“Even though the biosurveillance tools we have are really prototypes, we could see that there was an emerging threat on the horizon,” Hann said, “and we’ve been steadily engaged ever since.”

DTRA’s Early Response

The initial West Africa Ebola outbreak began in December, Hann said, just around the time the first formulation of the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp was finalized.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical now is manufacturing the Ebola treatment, but for several years before that DTRA, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, and the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases had been funding studies and working to prove the validity of ZMapp’s monoclonal antibody technology.

By March, Doctors without Borders, already on the ground in West Africa, contacted a DTRA researcher about the drug.

“We had just completed two nonhuman-primate trials indicating that ZMapp might be useful,” Hann said, “and in the March timeframe we prepositioned one ZMapp regimen, or three doses, in Geneva for [Doctors Without Borders’] use in theater.”

Potential National Impact

In June, DTRA elements “started to talk about how we could potentially have an impact on [the outbreak] and we established a technical team here within DTRA to evaluate what we were seeing [and] what we had in inventory that would be useful,” Hann said.

Also in June, DTRA reached out through its collaboration with CDC to partner with them. At the time, CDC also was starting to respond to the Ebola outbreak, and Doctors Without Borders announced that the outbreak was out of control.

“For us,” Hann said, “that was the big signal that the Ebola outbreak was something that could have a national impact.”

One of the outbreak-response tools DTRA developed is called the ebolaportal.org, to be used by nongovernmental organizations, the governments of nations most affected by the Ebola outbreak, and DoD labs involved in the U.S. outbreak response.

A larger effort, developed by the Joint Program Executive Office, was accelerated and just now is gaining initial operating capability, Hann said. It’s called the biosurveillance portal.

“You can think of it as a ladder,” he added. “The portal is an unclassified [online] entry point where you can come in and get information on diseases around the world on a secure unclassified network.”

Hann said the portal was brought out recently during the U.S.-South Korea tabletop anti-bioterrorism exercise called Able Response.

“At DTRA we develop [applications] that will hang on the ladder,” he added, such as an app that does predictive analysis to estimate the path of an infectious disease, and others that are available in an app store.

Right now, Hann said, the biosurveillance portal is limited to U.S. government users, “but somebody can get on there and get the latest situation report from our diagnostic lab in place X.”

Computer programing and robotics students tour Fairchild communications squadron

by Staff Sgt. Samantha Krolikowski
92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs


12/19/2014 - FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Twenty-six local high school students toured the 92nd Communications Squadron Dec. 10, 2014, to see how computer programming and robotics are used in the Air Force.

Greater Spokane Incorporated offers both opportunities for computer programming and robotics seminars for students. They requested a tour with the 92nd CS to showcase 21st century cyber operations here.

"These students could be the future computer technicians of the Air Force; they are the ones who will take us to the next level of cyberspace operations," said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Kilmer, 92nd CS NCO in charge of server administration. "It's important for us to show them what we do in the military and how it relates to subjects they are interested in."

Members of the 92nd CS and 141st Communications Flight instructed 10th through 12th grade students on how the squadron members ensure software and IT hardware functionality, configure infrastructure critical to mission accomplishment, and secure Air Force systems from intrusion.

According to Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Russo, 92nd CS plans and resources flight chief, Airmen newer to the Air Force were chosen as briefers, not only to give them an opportunity to speak, but so the students could, "... hear from someone they could more easily relate to and to hear their experiences. These Airmen are acting as role models and are a positive influence for these students."

The students visited the communications focal point, knowledge management, radio frequency transmissions, network administration, network infrastructure, client systems team, information assurance and communication security offices. The students also saw a demonstration of the mobile giant voice and some of the robots used by the 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal flight.

"It's important to show these students the wide variety of missions a communications Airman can support," Kilmer said. "These students are interested in computer programming right now, but this tour showed them the many facets of communications including: networking, infrastructure, knowledge management, information assurance, radio, and plans and programs to name a few. This is important because it helps them realize that there is more to working in computers than just computer programming - there are so many different fields they could specialize in. And the bottom line is, if they want to be part of the cutting edge in cyber technology - there's no better service than the Air Force."

This tour was more than an opportunity for students to view an Air Force mission; it also falls in line with an Air Force diversity strategic priority.

"Attracting and recruiting the best and brightest future leaders, especially those interested in science, technology, engineering and math education, is important to the communications career field and the Air Force," said Maj. Jason Mayne, the 92nd CS commander. "At the beginning of the tour, only one student was interested in joining the armed forces. By the end, one-fourth of them were interested. That's a testament to the exceptional Airmen assigned to the 92nd Communications Squadron and the 141st Communications Flight, and the outstanding support we provide Fairchild."

DoD Scientists Work Globally to Improve Disease Diagnostics



By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

FORT DETRICK, Md., Dec. 22, 2014 – At the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases here, scientists who develop and refine diagnostics do more than work in a laboratory. Some take their disease-identifying tools into the field and try them out on a virus’s home turf.

That’s what virologist Dr. Randal J. Schoepp as doing in Sierra Leone in 2006, working as part of a collaborative project to develop and refine diagnostic tests for Lassa fever, a hemorrhagic virus endemic to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Schoepp is chief of the Applied Diagnostics Department in the Diagnostics Systems Division at USAMRIID. Since March 2014, he’s spent a total of 12 weeks in West Africa, where he and colleagues support the U.S. Ebola response.

“What’s better than to have an opportunity to take diagnostics that we develop in the laboratory out and look at a real-world situation?” he asked. “Because a lot of these things work just fine in the lab, but … they might not work well with African serum or at 80 degrees.”

The Sierra Leone project, funded by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center’s Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System, or GEIS, began looking for Lassa fever in patient samples but also found many other viruses, including Ebola.

Undiagnosed Fever-causing Diseases

The research team found evidence of dengue fever, West Nile, yellow fever, Rift Valley fever, chikungunya, Marburg and Ebola viruses in patient samples collected in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea between 2006 and 2008.

The Ebola finding was surprising in a region that had reported only one case of Ebola, the Tai Forest strain, in Cote d’Ivoire in 1994. And the strain found in Sierra Leone turned out to be Zaire, the most virulent Ebola strain and the one causing West Africa’s current outbreak.

In a research paper about the Ebola finding published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal in July, first author Schoepp said the research shows that Ebola had been circulating in the region since 2006, nine years before the current outbreak.

“We're trying not only to improve the [diagnostics] capacity of a host country, but to understand what diseases we’ll find there,” he said.

Developing and Refining Diagnostic Tests

USAMRIID has been working in the region since 2006, when it began the collaborative project to develop and refine diagnostic tests for the Lassa fever virus. In addition to providing laboratory testing and training support for the current Ebola outbreak, USAMRIID has provided more than 10,000 Ebola assays to support lab capability in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

In the USAMRIID Applied Diagnostics Department, Schoepp said, he and his colleagues work primarily on immunodiagnostics development, test and evaluation. Immunodiagnostics use antibodies to detect a virus or virus products, or antibodies that result from infections with a virus.

In this work, he said, “we partner with a lot of the overseas GEIS labs.”

Global Infectious Disease Surveillance

One of GEIS’s funded laboratories is the Naval Medical Research Unit-3, or NAMRU-3, the largest DoD overseas lab, formally established in Cairo in 1946. Scientists there conduct research on a range of diseases and perform infectious disease surveillance to support military personnel deployed to Africa, the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

NAMRU-3 also has a Ghana Detachment in Accra that is part of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, with a laboratory and administrative spaces where the detachment’s manager and technicians work.

“We work with the Ghana Detachment out of NAMRU-3,” Schoepp said. “I have a colleague there from NAMRU-3 that has just been sent to the Ghana Detachment because it's closer to Liberia, and NAMRU-3 wants to build capabilities in Liberia.”

The Ghana Detachment was established to build a partnership between the U.S. Navy and Ghana for lab- and field-based infectious disease research and to perform clinical and field trials of new drugs and vaccines against malaria, according to a State Department fact sheet.

In Ghana, research collaboration among NAMRU-3, the Ghana Ministry of Health and the Noguchi Institute began in 1995 and recently was formalized.

Infectious Disease Research Collaboration

Accomplishments there include creating a West African military collaboration for disease surveillance for flu, sexually transmitted infections and acute febrile, or fever-causing, illnesses. Upcoming efforts include research collaborations with GEIS, one involving malaria resistance and another involving immunology, or how the body protects itself from disease.

Another GEIS-funded lab is NAMRU-6, hosted by the Peruvian Navy and collocated at their hospital in Lima. This lab conducts research and surveillance on infectious diseases that threaten military operations in the region, including malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever.

“We do a lot of work with USAMRU-K in Nairobi,” Schoepp said, referring to the U.S. Army Medical Research Unit-Kenya.

Twelve Army soldiers and two DoD civilians make up USAMRU-K. Assigned to the unit are two U.S. Embassy staff members and more than 600 contracted Kenya Medical Research Institute or Henry Jackson Foundation-Medical Research International employees.

Immunodiagnostics for Overseas Labs

USAMRU-K headquarters is in Nairobi, Kenya, on the campus of the Kenya Medical Research Institute. Primary operational sites in Kenya include Nairobi, Kericho Field Station and Kisumu Field Station.

“My program in GEIS is to help with and provide immunodiagnostics to the overseas labs,” Schoepp said.

“I try to do this collaboratively,” he added. “I don't want to be ‘Diagnostics R Us’ and just hand out diagnostics, because diagnostics interpretation is as important as the test you're using. If you don't understand the test, your interpretation can be completely wrong.”

The virologist said he also works with scientists in Mongolia, “because one of the hemorrhagic fevers I have an interest in and the DoD has an interest in is Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever,” or CCHF.

Stalking a Tick-borne Virus

CCHF is a widespread hemorrhagic disease caused by a tick-borne virus that causes severe outbreaks. Cases have a fatality rate of 10 percent to 40 percent. CCHF is endemic in Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East and Asian countries south of the 50th parallel north, the geographical limit of the main tick carrier, according to the World Health Organization.

“CCHF is a very plastic virus, meaning it has a lot of variability among strains, and we don't even understand how plastic it is,” Schoepp said. “We know what strains are in Russia but we have very little idea what strains are in China, and Mongolia sits right between them.”

So Schoepp, in collaboration with a colleague, traveled to Mongolia, got to know several scientists there and began working with them, he said.

Building Host Country Capacity

“We’re looking at over 2,000 human samples from five different regions in Mongolia for antibodies to CCHF, and corresponding to that we have ticks from livestock from the same villages where we're working with the virology folks to attempt to isolate the virus out of those ticks and identify it,” Schoepp explained.

The scientists are hoping to find CCHF, and they’ll also look for any other tick-derived diseases that may be circulating in the populations, he said.

These and other collaborations in the United States and around the world allow USAMRIID to protect troops worldwide, respond to international public health emergencies, identify undiagnosed febrile illnesses that are circulating in host countries, build the country’s capacity to identify diseases, and test their medical diagnostics in settings where diseases naturally occur.

After spending 12 weeks in West Africa between since March, Schoepp said, he wants to go back there to continue his search for undiagnosed febrile diseases.

“I'm going to try to mimic in Liberia what we had in Sierra Leone,” he said. “The infrastructure is better in Liberia, and we know bits and pieces [about what infectious diseases are there], but nobody knows the whole story. It's a chance for me to go in and tell another story.”