Readers!

June 27th marks the 8th anniversary of my first post here on Behind the Black. In those eight years my goal has been to provide a clear and independent analysis of the present-day space effort as well as the culture, politics, and technology that moves it.

 

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Cryptic terrain in Martian high southern latitudes

Cryptic terrain in Reynolds Crater near Mars south pole

Cool image time! The image on the right is a small cropped section from a larger image taken of the floor of Reynolds Crater, near the margins of the Martian southern polar carbon dioxide icecap.

The image was part of the August 1, 2018 image release from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and was taken on July 5, 2018. Because that was during the peak of now clearing global dust storm, a large majority of MRO’s images were obscured. Only images taken at high latitudes appeared clear and sharp.

The image link, which has no caption, calls this “cryptic terrain.” Since this is at the margin of the polar cap, the white areas are almost certainly still-frozen dry ice. The white strip down the center of the image appears to be a low drainage gully, made even more evident on the full image.

What are the dark spots however? These are probably related to the dark spiders that appear wherever the carbon dioxide starts to melt and evaporate into gas, releasing the darker dust from below to coat the surface. The dark spots in this image are probably that same darker dust, but why it is scattered about as spots and splotches is a mystery. It does appear that the dark areas more completely cover the higher terrain, but why and if so is definitely unclear.

Back in 1999 I attended a press conference just prior to the failure of Mars Polar Lander. One of the mission’s investigators explained that, based on the orbiter images available at the time, they expected the lander to see some very weird land forms once it reached the surface, shaped in ways that are not seen on Earth. Unfortunately, contact with the spacecraft was lost just before it entered the Martian atmosphere, and was never recovered.

This image however remains me of that scientist’s lost expectation. The seasonal growth and retreat of the Martian icecaps will likely create some strange geology, which is only hinted at in this particular MRO image.

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A different type of color scale for maps that the color-blind can read

Scientists have devised a different type of color scale for scientific maps that makes them more readable for the color-blind.

Data visualizations using rainbow color scales are ubiquitous in many fields of science, depicting everything from ocean temperatures to brain activity to Martian topography. But cartographers have been arguing for decades the “Roy G. Biv” scale makes maps and other figures difficult to interpret, sometimes to the point of being misleading. And for the those with color blindness, they are completely unintelligible.

Now scientists at a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory have developed a color scale that is mathematically optimized to be accurate for both color blind people and those with normal vision. The scale was described Wednesday in a new study in PLOS ONE. “People like to use rainbow because it catches the eye,” says lead author Jamie Nuñez, a chemical and biological data analyst at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). “But once the eye actually gets there and people are trying to figure out what’s actually going on inside of the image, that’s kind of where it falls apart.”

Ditching this multicolored scale may even save lives. Harvard University researchers found that when traditional rainbow-colored 3-D computer models of arteries were replaced by 2-D models using a red-to-black color scale (pdf), doctors’ accuracy in diagnosing heart disease jumped from 39 percent to 91 percent.

For planetary scientists, changing from the rainbow scale will be difficult. Topography maps especially have for almost a century have shown low regions as blue with high regions as red. This is what scientists, and even ordinary people, have come to expect.

Still, to make these maps understandable to the colorblind seems smart. I wonder if the idea will catch on.

Hat tip from reader Milt Hays Jr.

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Christian baker files lawsuit against Colorado for continuing harassment

Fascist Colorado: Despite a victory in the Supreme Court allowing him to refuse to back cakes with political themes he disagrees with, the Christian baker in Colorado has been forced to file another lawsuit against the state’s Civil Rights Commission for continuing harassment.

On the same day the high court agreed to review the Masterpiece case, an attorney named Autumn Scardina called Phillips’ shop and asked him to create a cake celebrating a sex transition. The caller asked that the cake include a blue exterior and a pink interior, a reflection of Scardina’s transgender identity. Phillips declined to create the cake, given his religious conviction that sex is immutable, while offering to sell the caller other pre-made baked goods.

In the months that followed, the bakery received requests for cakes featuring marijuana use, sexually explicit messages, and Satanic symbols. One solicitation submitted by email asked the cake shop to create a three-tiered white cake depicting Satan licking a functional 9 inch dildo. Phillips believes Scardina made all these requests.

Scardina filed a complaint with the civil rights commission, alleging discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The matter was held in abeyance while the Supreme Court adjudicated the Masterpiece case.

Three weeks after Phillips won at the high court, the commission issued a probable cause determination, finding there was sufficient evidence to support Scardina’s claim of discrimination. In a somewhat strange development, the probable cause finding reads that Phillips violated state law, even though the proceedings are still in a preliminary stage.

Masterpiece has filed suit against the commission for instituting these proceedings, which clearly contradict the Supreme Court ruling.

Essentially this campaign by one gay rights lawyer in league with the commission, is aimed at destroying this business, merely because of its owner’s personal religious beliefs. He gladly sells his products to anyone, he merely refuses to create cakes with political messages he disagrees with. To try to destroy him for this, using the government, is the epitome of fascism.

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Ceres’ internal structure

The Dawn science team has released their first artist’s concept of the interior of Ceres, based on data gathered by the spacecraft.

Using information about Ceres’ gravity and topography, scientists found that Ceres is “differentiated,” which means that it has compositionally distinct layers at different depths. The most internal layer, the “mantle” is dominated by hydrated rocks, like clays. The external layer, the 24.85-mile (40-kilometer) thick crust, is a mixture of ice, salts, and hydrated minerals. Between the two is a layer that may contain a little bit of liquid rich in salts, called brine. It extends down at least 62 miles (100 kilometers). The Dawn observations cannot “see” below about 62 miles (100 kilometers) in depth. Hence, it is not possible to tell if Ceres’ deep interior contains more liquid or a core of dense material rich in metal.

The most intriguing part of this concept is the existence of a brine layer below the crust. I suspect it is this layer that they believe is the source of the white salty brine that produces Ceres’ ice volcanoes and bright spots.

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Will SpaceX bail out Tesla?

Link here. There appears to an effort on Wall Street to convince SpaceX to use its significant profits to bail out failing Tesla. It is also unclear whether Musk agrees with this approach.

If SpaceX does this, it will be a very bad thing for the company’s future, throwing good money after bad. Musk might love both companies and what they are trying to accomplish, but the future of the two companies appears to be heading in opposite directions. To weigh SpaceX down with an unprofitable company that has a failing product would seriously harm SpaceX’s abilities in the future.

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An update on China’s private smallsat rocket companies

Link here. The article describes the most recent news from OneSpace (which recently secured $44 million in financing), Landspace (building larger rockets), and Exspace (next launch planned for September).

While these companies are structured like American private companies, in China nothing having anything to do with space is really private. None of these companies can do anything without the full approval of China’s authoritarian communist government. Unlike Russia, however, China, has decided to allow competition to drive its space industry, not central control. It is encouraging small independent operations to come up with their own ideas and to compete with each other.

In the end, they will all be co-opted by the government, but for now this policy is producing for China some real results.

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SpaceX unveils interior of manned Dragon

Capitalism in space: Earlier this week SpaceX unveiled the interior of its Dragon capsule, along with the suits and other details, to reporters in California.

The article at the link has some good videos showing the capsule interior as well as its touchscreen control panel. It also includes quotes from SpaceX’s president Gwynne Shotwell repeating their intention to launch the manned mission by April 2019.

“Whenever we talk about dates we’re always confident and then something crops up,” Shotwell said. “Predicting launch dates can make a liar out of the best of us. I hope I am not proven to be a liar on this one. We are targeting November for Demo 1 and April for Demo 2.”

“I would love to say that this mission is going to be like every other mission, because I want every rocket and every capsule to be reliable, but I can tell you there will be about 7000 extra sets of eyes on the build of this system, the testing of this system and all the interfaces,” Shotwell added.

I would not be surprised if there was a few months slip in that schedule. I will be surprised if it slips more than that.

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India’s prime minister: manned mission by 2022

The new colonial movement: Facing an election next year, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi produced his own Kennedy-like space speech today, announcing a plan to launch a manned Indian mission by 2022.

Wearing a flowing saffron turban, the Hindu nationalist leader also announced the plan to take the “Indian tricolor to space” in a manned mission that would make India the fourth nation to launch one, after the United States, Russia and China. “India is proud of our scientists, who are excelling in their research and are at the forefront of innovation,” Modi said from the ramparts of the Mughal-era Red Fort in Delhi to a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands.

“In the year 2022 or, if possible, before, India will unfurl the tricolor in space.”

He also announced a healthcare initiative that has been dubbed “Modicare.” He was elected in a landslide to replace the socialist policies of the leftwing Congress Party. He is now beginning to act like the U.S.’s establishment Republican Party, who love to mouth conservative values but advocate leftist programs to win re-election.

The question is whether the Indian people will be more like Americans of the 20th century, buying into these government programs proposed by a fake-conservative, or whether they will be more like an increasing number of Americans today, sick of too much government. I suspect the former, which will bode ill for India’s future.

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Coron Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

An evening pause: There are so many wonderful places in this universe to see. We just don’t have time. From the youtube website:

Coron is one of the famous beautiful spots of the Philippines, located in the north of Palawan. Palawan is considered one of the best islands in the World, and Coron and the surrounding islands offer spectacular views and beautiful beaches. In this video: view on the way to Kayangan Lake (0:28), Kayangan Lake (0:32), Barracuda Lake (1:33), Twin Lagoon (2:18), Atwayan Beach (3:11), Coron town (3:54), Malcapuya Beach (4:20), Banana Island (5:26), Bulog Dos Island (5:48), view from the top of Mt Tapyas (6:15).

Hat tip Danae.

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Google lied when it said it would allow you to block it from tracking you

Reason #1,238,435 for not using Google: Google lied when it said you can shut off its location tracking functions on your smartphone. Even if you do so, numerous Google applications ignore that instruction and track you anyway.

Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.

An Associated Press investigation found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so. Computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP’s request…

Google’s support page on the subject states: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.

The article at the link outlines numerous other examples where Google tracks and records your location, even if you have set your privacy functions to prevent that.

Essentially, the large software companies such as Google and Facebook have no ethics. They are not trustworthy partners, which is why I do not use them. And if an alternative to youtube existed, I would switch from that in a nanosecond.

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One “tiny” storm on Jupiter

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Cool image time! The image on the right, cropped to post here, shows the white center of one of the smaller giant storms on Jupiter, taken by Juno. The image was processed by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran. If you click on the image you can see the entire picture, which has a host of spectacular details surrounding the white spot.

Unfortunately, they do not provide a scale. Based on past experience, I would guess that this tiny storm probably exceeds the size of the Earth. What makes the image so impressive however are the white cloudtops visible as they swirl around the storm’s center. Sunlight shadows clearly shows that these thunderheads rise above rest of the storm.

The full image shows even more fascinating details. It is worthwhile studying, though one can certainly get lost in that vast and turbulent Jupiter atmosphere.

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Ghana considers its first national space law

The new colonial movement: Ghana moves to write and pass its first national space law.

In setting out space legislation, Ghana would be following international precedent. More than 25 countries have enacted such laws. The space powers Russia and the US are among them, but so are smaller states like Argentina, Kazakhstan, Indonesia and Iran. Closer to home, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa already have space laws. Other nations on the continent will undoubtedly follow suit.

A national space law would ensure that space activities launched within Ghana’s jurisdiction – whether on land, ships or aircraft – and perhaps even abroad by its nationals or registered companies are appropriately regulated. Such laws may govern a host of space-related ventures. These include launches; remote sensing and space data protection; aeronautics; rocket and satellite development, space tourism and space mining.

Of course, the complexity of space activities combined with the rapid pace at which technology develops means that national space laws are unlikely to cover every eventuality. They do, however, provide a degree of certainty for the public, investors and courts should disputes arise. National laws also facilitate compliance with global obligations. Article 6 of the Outer Space Treaty, for example, requires all space activities to be authorised and continually supervised by the state. National laws which demand licensing of space activities foster adherence to the treaty.

Article 7 makes states liable for damage caused by space objects under its jurisdiction, including those belonging to private commercial entities. A Space Act can be vital in limiting a state’s liability through provisions on indemnities.

Ghana has signed the Outer Space Treaty. The next step will be for the government to ratify it, and then to establish a legislative framework for space activities. [emphasis mine]

I have highlighted the fundamental problem with the Outer Space Treaty. If Ghana wants to attract investment capital for its space industry, they are forced to sign the treaty. It establishes the only existing rules for liability. Unfortunately, the treaty is also hostile to freedom, and puts the government in charge, which is why it has taken so long for private enterprise to finally gain a foothold in space.

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Excavation begins on site for Giant Magellan Telescope

Excavation has begun for the site where the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) will be built in Chile.

Using a combination of hydraulic drilling and hammering, the excavation work is expected to take about five months to complete. Excavation is a key step towards the construction of the GMT, which is expected to see first light as early as 2024.

The 25-meter diameter GMT, expected to have a final weight of about 1,600 metric tons, will comprise seven 8.4-meter mirrors supported by a steel telescope structure that will be seated on the concrete pier. It will be housed inside a rotating enclosure that will measure 65 meters (~22 stories) tall and 56 meters wide. As well as working on the enclosure and telescope pier foundations, Conpax will excavate a recess in the summit rock for the lower portion of the mirror coating chamber and foundations for a utility building and tunnel on the summit.

Of the next generation of big telescopes, GMT is the closest to completion.

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The failed Arctic Ocean predictions of global warming scientists

Link here. The post at the link carefully documents the endless numbers of failed doomsday predictions foisted upon us for the past decade, claiming that due to global warming the Arctic Ocean icecap would be gone by 2018.

Instead, in the past three years there is evidence that the icecap has begun to thicken and expand, recovering from a two decade decline. Though this is not a certain conclusion, what is certain is that there is no sign of the icecap vanishing, in any sense. Every prediction documented at the link, by so-called experts, is completely bogus.

There is a reason the public does not take global warming very seriously. Its advocates have cried wolf too many times. Their predictions of doom have consistently failed. Every. Single. Time.

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FBI fires anti-Trump agent Peter Strzok

The FBI today finally fired anti-Trump agent Peter Strzok from his job at the FBI.

This action is far too little, and maybe far too late. What we really need is a complete house-cleaning, with a fresh set of new faces in charge at the FBI and the Department of Justice. What we have gotten so far has merely been the removal of a tiny handful of players while many of the big cheese remain in power.

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More testing of “Roc,” Stratolaunch’s giant airplane

This past weekend Stratolaunch completed more tests on its giant airplane, now nicknamed “Roc.”

They had intended to do another taxi test, but didn’t for some reason. Instead, they did test fueling operations. full-power engine tests, and communication tests.

Their upcoming schedule appears to me to be very extended.

Stratolaunch executives laid out the test schedule for the plane, which was built by Mojave-based Scaled Composites, during a space conference in April. The company plans to follow up on the first two taxi tests (at runway speeds of 15 mph and 40 knots) with three more at speeds of 70, 85 and 120 knots.

The last speed is roughly what’s needed for takeoff.

After the fifth taxi test, Stratolaunch would put the plane into the air for a series of flight tests over the course of what’s expected to be 18 to 24 months. In April, executives said they were targeting the first flight test for this summer (which technically runs until Sept. 23).

They also have not yet announced any launch contracts, though there have been announcements that both Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne will fly on Roc.

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Curiosity successfully drills another hole

Successful drill hole on Vera Rubin Ridge

Curiosity has finally drilled its first successful hole in the geology layer found on Vera Rubin Ridge.

This weekend’s plan is focused on the Stoer drill hole, the tailings derived from the drill and on portion characterization observations. The portion characterization is done prior to sending samples to the analytical instruments, SAM and CheMin, to ensure that the materials will not pose any threat to the instruments. ChemCam passive and Mastcam multispectral imaging will be taken of the drill tailings, to identify any potential differences between the surface and material from deeper within the drill hole. The ChemCam laser (LIBS) will be used to characterize the Stoer drill hole and a bedrock target “Greian,” which appears to show some colour variations. Mastcam will provide colour documentation for Greian.

In order to find rock soft enough on Vera Rubin Ridge, they had to once again retrace their route, retreating back down off the ridge slightly, to a lower point. The image on the right, cropped to post here, shows the drill hole. If you click on the image you can see the full picture.

With this successful drilling, I suspect they will now finally cross Vera Rubin Ridge and head up Mount Sharp.

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The on-going vicious debate over dinosaur extinction

Link here. The article is a very well-written and detailed description of the large doubts held by many paleontologists about the theory that a single asteroid/comet impact in Mexico caused the entire dinosaur extinction 65 million years ago. Key quote:

Ad hominem attacks had by then long characterized the mass-extinction controversy, which came to be known as the “dinosaur wars.” Alvarez [the man who first proposed the impact theory] had set the tone. His numerous scientific exploits—winning the Nobel Prize in Physics, flying alongside the crew that bombed Hiroshima, “X-raying” Egypt’s pyramids in search of secret chambers—had earned him renown far beyond academia, and he had wielded his star power to mock, malign, and discredit opponents who dared to contradict him. In The New York Times, Alvarez branded one skeptic “not a very good scientist,” chided dissenters for “publishing scientific nonsense,” suggested ignoring another scientist’s work because of his “general incompetence,” and wrote off the entire discipline of paleontology when specialists protested that the fossil record contradicted his theory. “I don’t like to say bad things about paleontologists, but they’re really not very good scientists,” Alvarez told The Times. “They’re more like stamp collectors.”

Scientists who dissented from the asteroid hypothesis feared for their careers. Dewey McLean, a geologist at Virginia Tech credited with first proposing the theory of Deccan volcanism, accused Alvarez of trying to block his promotion to full professor by bad-mouthing him to university officials. Alvarez denied doing so—while effectively bad-mouthing McLean to university officials. “If the president of the college had asked me what I thought about Dewey McLean, I’d say he’s a weak sister,” Alvarez told The Times. “I thought he’d been knocked out of the ball game and had just disappeared, because nobody invites him to conferences anymore.” Chuck Officer, another volcanism proponent, whom Alvarez dismissed as a laughingstock, charged that Science, a top academic journal, had become biased. The journal reportedly published 45 pieces favorable to the impact theory during a 12-year period—but only four on other hypotheses. (The editor denied any favoritism.)

In 1999, almost twenty years ago, I wrote a long article for a magazine called The Sciences describing this very same debate, including the efforts at the journal Science to push the impact theory and damage the careers of any dissenters. At the time I found the doubts by paleontologists to be widespread, backed up by lots of very credible evidence, including the fundamental data from the fossil record, which simply did not show an instantaneous extinction.

I also discovered that the planetary science community and many in the press were responding not with good science but with ad hominem attacks aimed at destroying anyone who disagreed with the impact theory. I also discovered that the editor at The Sciences who was assigned to edit my piece did not want me to reveal these facts. He was very liberal, had bought into the impact theory, as well as global warming, and like so many liberals I have met in my life he preferred squelching facts rather than allowing the facts to speak. In this case, he was not the editor in charge, and was unable to prevent my article’s publication, as I wanted it written.

Now twenty years later, the same debate continues, though under the radar because of the successful public relations effort by those on the impact theory side to bury the debate. If you were to ask almost any ordinary citizen what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, they would immediately say a asteroid/comet impact, and would assume that all scientists agree. Sadly, that is not the case, and has never been the case.

Read the article. It details this story quite nicely, and reveals once again the corruption that began permeating the science community in the 1980s and now warps so much research.

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Houston restaurant chain faces leftist boycott

They’re coming for you next: A Houston restaurant chain has been forced to shut down its social media webpages because of leftist demands on those pages for a boycott.

And why is the fascist left calling for a boycott? The chain had showed a picture of them serving Attorney General Jeff Sessions at one of their restaurants, and this is unacceptable. At first the owner of the chain had released a statement saying that the picture was not an endorsement of the Trump administration, noting that the photo “does not represent us supporting (Sessions’) positions.”

This obviously wasn’t good enough for the fascist left. How dare this restaurant dare provide dinner to a Republican!?

Also notice the hypocrisy of the left. They want to force Christians to endorse homosexual weddings, but also force restaurants not to serve Republicans. Both reveal the tyrannical nature.of the left: They aren’t for equal rights, but an imposition of their agenda and the oppression of anyone who opposes them.

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ISRO schedules Chandrayaan-2 launch for January 3rd

The new colonial movement: ISRO has now scheduled the launch of the lunar rover/lander Chandrayaan-2 on its most powerful rocket for January 3, 2019.

An increase in the spacecraft’s weight forced the space agency to switch launch rockets and use India’s most powerful rocket, the GSLV Mark 3.

The 3,890-kg Chandrayaan-2, which will be launched onboard the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk-3, will orbit around the moon and study its lunar conditions to collect data on its topography, mineralogy and exosphere.

A lander with rover which will separate from the spacecraft will orbit the moon, and then gradually descend on the lunar surface at a designated spot. The rover’s instruments will observe and study the lunar surface.

The lander has been named “Vikram” as a tribute to the pioneer of India’s space programme and former ISRO chairman (1963-71), Vikram Sarabhai, Sivan said.

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ULA’s Delta-4 Heavy successfully launches the Parker Solar Probe

ULA’s Delta-4 Heavy has successfully launched the Parker Solar Probe.

As I write this the spacecraft is in orbit, but there are several more steps needed to confirm the spacecraft is on course, including a second burn of the upper stage, its separation from the spacecraft, followed by the firing of the solid rocket kick stage and then its separation from the spacecraft. All these steps will take another 40 minutes or so, so reporting them will have to wait until tomorrow.

Update: The spacecraft has successfully separated from its last stage and is on its way.

Over the next two months, Parker Solar Probe will fly towards Venus, performing its first Venus gravity assist in early October – a maneuver a bit like a handbrake turn – that whips the spacecraft around the planet, using Venus’s gravity to trim the spacecraft’s orbit tighter around the Sun. This first flyby will place Parker Solar Probe in position in early November to fly as close as 15 million miles from the Sun – within the blazing solar atmosphere, known as the corona – closer than anything made by humanity has ever gone before.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

22 China
15 SpaceX
8 Russia
6 ULA
4 Japan
4 Europe

The U.S. and China are once again tied in the national rankings, 22 each.

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ISRO head: Recall of India satellite prevented a failure

K. Sivan, the chairman of ISRO, India’s space agency, revealed today that the decision to recall GSAT-11 in April just as it arrived in French Guiana for a May Ariane 5 launch prevented a major failure.

They had decided to recall it because two previous satellites had failed, using almost identical equipment. As he notes,

GSAT-11 had the same set of power system configuration that two older satellites had. RISAT-1 died prematurely and GSAT-6A lost communication contact soon after launch on March 29 because of suspected power system failure, harnesses etc… We had just sent GSAT-11 [to Guiana] and no one was sure if the same issue was there in GSAT-11,” he said.

Checks found that the provision or “margin” for the deployment of the solar panel was much smaller than was required. “Had it gone in that configuration, the panel [which generates power for the 15-year life] would not have deployed in space. The satellite would have been a failure.”

Because the recall cost money and delayed the launch significantly, it required the ability to look at the engineering honestly and not let politics interfere. Sivan and his managers did that, which speaks well for future space engineering from ISRO.

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A spinning heat shield to lower their cost and weight

Link here. Key quote:

Made of a flexible, strong and heat-resistant material that folds down when not in use, his shield automatically starts spinning like a samara-type tree seed when exposed to the onrush of air that a spacecraft would experience when dropping through a planet’s atmosphere.

As it spins, centrifugal force causes its skirt-like sides to flare out and stiffen. This creates the drag needed to help slow the descent, while also providing a large protective surface for the dissipation of heat. No additional machinery, other than the shield itself, is required for its deployment.

“Since this prototype is lightweight and flexible enough for use on smaller satellites, research could be made easier and cheaper,” says Wu. “The heat shield would also help save cost in recovery missions, as its high induced drag reduces the amount of fuel burned upon re-entry.”

More details here. Very clever. It needs to be tested to see if it can work.

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Parker Solar Probe launch scrubbed two minutes prior to launch

The launch of the Parker Solar Probe on a ULA Delta 4-Heavy rocket was scrubbed early this morning two minutes prior to launch.

[A] member of the launch team announced a gaseous helium regulator alarm at T-minus 1 minute, 55 seconds. There was not enough time remaining in the launch window Saturday to resolve the alarm, so launch managers declared a scrub for the day.

In a brief statement, ULA said the launch was scrubbed “due to a violation of a launch limit, resulting in a hold.”

No other information about the gaseous helium system alarm, or the other technical concerns during the countdown, were released by NASA or ULA.

They are going to try again tonight, at 3:31 am Eastern. You can watch it here. The launch window closes on August 23. If they do not launch by then, they will have to wait until May 2019.

The spacecraft will fly closer to the Sun then any spacecraft ever has in order to study the Sun’s corona.

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Tea party groups get major payout in lawsuit settlement with IRS

Still working for the Democratic Party: Tea party groups have settled their lawsuit with the IRS in which they will split a $3.5 million payout from the government agency for harassing them for their political beliefs.

The $3.5 million closely approximates the fines the IRS would have had to pay in damages for each intrusive scrutiny of tea party groups, had the agency been found in violation of the law. The money will be split with half going to the lawyers who argued the case and the other half to more than 100 tea party groups, which will get a cut of about $17,000 each.

Judge Michael R. Barrett called the settlement “fair, reasonable and adequate.”

The settlement doesn’t actually include an admission of wrongdoing by the IRS, though Mr. Greim and others said the payment is perhaps an even bigger mea culpa.

Meanwhile, the depositions in this suit by IRS managers Lois Lerner and Holly Paz remained sealed. Both are fighting to keep them from coming public, claiming unsealing them will put them at physical risk.

Yeah right. What I think unsealing these depositions will clearly show is how corrupt these two partisan hacks were in using the IRS to help the Democratic Party and to squelch the free speech of conservatives. This is what they don’t want the public to know.

Meanwhile, there remains no guarantee the IRS won’t do this again, mainly because the agency and its employees have generally gotten away with it. No one was fired. Many who participated in the harassment even got bonuses.

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Researchers say cubesats with propulsion systems must have encrypted software

Capitalism in space: Researchers from Yale University are recommending that the smallsat industry establish rules requiring all future cubesats that carry their own propulsion systems be encrypted to prevent them from being hacked.

That research by a team of graduate students, presented at the AIAA/Utah State University Conference on Small Satellites here Aug. 9, recommended the space industry take steps to prevent the launch of such satellites to avoid an incident that could lead to a “regulatory overreaction” by government agencies. “We would propose as a policy that, for those cubesats and smallsats that have propulsion, that the industry adopt a ‘no encryption, no fly’ rule,” said Andrew Kurzrok of Yale University.

That recommendation comes as cubesat developers, who once had few, if any, options for onboard propulsion, are now looking to make use of more advanced chemical and electric propulsion systems. Some of those technologies can provide smallsats with large changes in velocity, which can enable major orbital changes.

Kurzrok and colleagues at Stanford University and the University of Colorado modeled several different propulsion systems on a notional 10-kilogram nanosatellite, assuming the spacecraft was in a 300-kilometer orbit and that the propulsion systems accounted for half the spacecraft’s mass. The results ranged from the satellite reaching medium Earth orbit altitudes within two hours when using chemical propulsion to passing geostationary orbit in about a year with an electric propulsion system.

The scenario involving the nanosatellite with chemical propulsion is particularly troubling, he said. “What are the abilities within two hours to track that something isn’t where it’s supposed to be and then warn or take some sort of secondary action?” he said, concluding that the satellite reaching GEO in a year is a much less plausible threat.

The concern, then is a scenario where hackers are able to take control of a satellite and redirect it quickly.

Getting encryption for their software would raise costs, but it really is the cost of doing business. Better for the industry to create these rules than wait for the federal government to step in, as the government regulation will certainly end up being more odious and difficult to change.

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