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Iran deal “not legally binding”

More absurdity from the Obama administration: In a letter the State Department wrote to a congressman, they admitted that the Iran treaty was not a “legally binding” document.

“The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document,” wrote Julia Frifield, the State Department assistant secretary for legislative affairs, in the November 19 letter.

In other words, the whole kerfuffle about the Iran deal was garbage. There was no deal. All the Obama administration accomplished was to lay out what they’d like Iran to agree to, even as Iran refused to agree to it. Worse, what the Obama administration wished Iran would agree to was still weak and pointless and would allow them to develop nuclear weapons. They rejected that sweet deal (that Congress approved) and instead are proceeding with nuclear weapon development as fast as they can.

Aerojet Rocketdyne gets Boeing rocket engine contract

The competition heats up: Boeing has awarded Aerojet Rocketdyne a $200 million contract to build the propulsion system for the service module for its manned Starliner capsule.

Unlike the big contract NASA gave Aerojet to restart its shuttle engine production line, this contract is for engines that will actually fly in space and accomplish something.

The launch cost of Japan’s H-IIA rocket

The competition heats up: Yesterday’s launch of Japan’s first commercial payload on its upgraded lower cost H-IIA rocket suggested that they are now a serious player in the competitive launch market. What the earlier articles didn’t tell me was the cost they charge to launch a payload on H-IIA.

This article today states that each launch costs 10 billion yen, which translates to about $80 million. That is about $10 million more than SpaceX charges for its Falcon 9, but is certainly cheaper than many other rocket companies. At this price they have a chance of grabbing some of the launch market, but to really compete they need to cut that cost even more, which the article suggests their next rocket will succeed in doing: “The government is developing a new core rocket named the H3, whose launches are expected to cost only about a half of the H2A.”

They do not say whether H3 will be reusable, but at $40 million per launch it will be the cheapest rocket on Earth. That it is government developed however makes me skeptical they will succeed. We shall see. What is clear, however, is that the competition is certainly encouraging the lowering of cost.

Earth’s magnetic field might not be flipping

The uncertainty of science: A new analysis of the past strength of the Earth’s magnetic field suggests that today’s field is abnormally strong and that, even with the 10% decline in the field’s strength in the past two centuries, it remains stronger than the average over the past 5 million years.

The new data also suggests that the field might not be about to shut down and then reverse polarity, as some scientists have theorized based on the 10% decline. Instead, the data says that the field’s unusual strength today only means that the decline is bringing it back to its average strength, and is not necessarily an indication of a pending reversal.

To put it mildly, there are a lot of uncertainties here, including questions about the database that has been used previously by geologists to estimate the past strength of the Earth’s magnetic field. The database might have been right, but the new study raises significant new questions.

Oldest known footage of New York City

An evening pause: Having left Brooklyn last night, let’s take a look at what New York City looked like to the first documentary filmmakers. I myself am struck by two things immediately: First, how much the city really still looks like this. The buildings might have changed, but New York is still crowded, packed with buildings and people. Second, how much change also occurred in a very short time. The streets went from horses and carriages to street cars to automobiles in just a few decades, quickly, and with relatively little difficulty. Today such changes are hard, slow, and very expensive, mostly because of the introduction of an unending number of regulations.

They mean what they say

And “they” are the evil murderers of ISIS and other Islamic terrorist killers.

Here we have ISIS, a murderous, genocidal Islamic supremacy group. They have stated quite openly that they intend to carve a caliphate out for themselves by any means necessary, and by “by any means” they mean as violently as possible. They view the West, Christianity, Secular Humanists, Hindus, everybody who doesn’t conform to their brand of Islam as the enemy, and they have only one tactic for dealing with the enemy : kill them and keep on killing them until they are either all dead or their remnant is so cowed that they convert to Islam. They justify this using the Koran and various Hadiths and they will quite happily tell anyone who will listen exactly what they believe is divine rational for their actions.

The author then describes how the left-leaning intellectuals of the west seem to have a fundamental inability to recognize this reality, an inability that has gotten so profound that it now feeds a blindness that makes them willing to even help these killers in order to avoid seeing them for what they are.

Read it all. The author makes a reasonable effort to understand why the intellectual leadership of the west, in the U.S. and Europe, seems incapable of understanding the threat of Islam. In order to defeat these terrorists, we are going to have to overthrow the blind fools we presently consider our intellectual elite. And to do that we need to see them for the fools they are.

Ex-Im bank: Crony capitalism at its absolute worst

Republican pigs: Not only is this Republican Congress pushing to reinstate the Export-Import Bank so that the federal government can provide cheap loans to their corporate buddies, several senators are pushing to require that there be political litmas tests before those loans are granted.

[S]enators from both parties are pitching a condition: that applicants for loans essentially vouch support for the Israeli economy in order to be approved. The move, described by multiple sources, is meant to counter a pro-Palestinian campaign to undermine Israeli exports because of its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Specifically, the Ex-Im Bank would have to consider whether applicants for loans oppose “policies and actions that are politically motivated” and meant to inhibit “commercial relations specifically with citizens or residents of Israel.” In the past, Ex-Im has taken into account applicants’ stance on human rights and terrorism, prompting advocates of the new language to propose the new qualification.

It is obscene for the federal government to be in the loan business, picking favorites among private companies. It is even more obscene for these elected officials to demand that those favorites adhere to their political whims (no matter that I might agree with those particular whims). The Ex-Im bank should go away, along with the senators who are now pushing for it.

The climate fraud at NASA

A German scientist has taken a very close look at the climate data being released by NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Science (GISS) and found significant and unjustified tampering in order to create the false impression that the climate is warming.

A German professor has confirmed what skeptics from Britain to the US have long suspected: that NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies has largely invented “global warming” by tampering with the raw temperature data records.

Professor Dr. Friedrich Karl Ewert is a retired geologist and data computation expert. He has painstakingly examined and tabulated all NASA GISS’s temperature data series, taken from 1153 stations and going back to 1881. His conclusion: that if you look at the raw data, as opposed to NASA’s revisions, you’ll find that since 1940 the planet has been cooling, not warming.

Ewert’s results confirm what numerous climate skeptics and scientists have already noticed. The raw data shows a cooling trend in recent years, but the released data unjustifiably cools past records while warming recent records to reverse this into a warming trend.

Either everyone at GISS should be fired forthwith, or its funding must cease. They aren’t scientist there, but propagandists for the Obama administration.

Japan launches its first commercial payload

The competition heats up: Using its H-IIA rocket, upgraded to lower cost, Japan launched its first commercial payload today, putting Canada’s Telestar 12V into geosynchronous orbit.

It is not clear if Japan’s government-run space program can compete. The rocket is built by Mitsubishi, but it appears owned and operated by JAXA, the equivalent of Japan’s NASA. It has also been a very expensive rocket to launch, as for much of its existence it has been like SLS, more dedicated to producing pork jobs than actually competing with other rocket companies. Whether they can upgrade it sufficiently to compete in price with other rockets is highly questionable.

Nonetheless, that Japan is trying to compete is good news. The more competition, the better. The effort alone will produce new ideas, which in turn can only help lower the cost to get into space, thus making it possible for more people to afford it.

XCOR founders step down

In the heat of competition: Three of XCOR’s founders are leaving the company, even as it struggles to finish its Lynx suborbital spacecraft.

XCOR Aerospace said in a statement that Jeff Greason and Dan DeLong, the chief technology officer and chief engineer of the company, respectively, were “stepping back” from those positions “to turn their attention to pursue other interests.” A third co-founder, Aleta Jackson, was not mentioned in the release but is also leaving the company.

I am saddened that these individuals will not be there should XCOR finally succeed in finishing Lynx and flying it. At the same time, the fact that they are leaving at this stage suggests strongly to me that Lynx is nowhere close to flying, and that the company bean-counters have realized this and have now been forced to take action.

As regular readers to BtB know, I have always been extremely skeptical of XCOR’s effort. I have always wanted them to succeed, but in casting a cold eye at their progress I have never had much confidence that they would. Today’s story sadly adds strength to my skepticism.

Blue Origin lands first stage rocket vertically

The competition heats up: Yesterday Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin did its second test flight of its New Shepard suborbital rocket and capsule, and successfully recovered the rocket’s first stage, landing the stage vertically using its rockets.

As Jeff Bezos wrote at the link:

Rockets have always been expendable. Not anymore. Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts, a used rocket.

This flight validates our vehicle architecture and design. Our unique ring fin shifted the center of pressure aft to help control reentry and descent; eight large drag brakes deployed and reduced the vehicle’s terminal speed to 387 mph; hydraulically actuated fins steered the vehicle through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to a location precisely aligned with and 5,000 feet above the landing pad; then the highly-throttleable BE-3 engine re-ignited to slow the booster as the landing gear deployed and the vehicle descended the last 100 feet at 4.4 mph to touchdown on the pad.

When you watch the video you’ll see that we took the liberty of engineering all the drama out of the landing.

I have posted video of the flight below the fold.

SpaceX has been attempting this with its orbital Falcon 9 rocket for the last two years. They have come very close, hitting their target and almost landing. They plan to try again in December. Blue Origin however has beaten them to it, even if they have done it with a suborbital rocket.This demonstrates unequivocally that the concept is sound and that a rocket’s first stage can be recovered. It also demonstrates that of all the rocket companies in the world, SpaceX and Blue Origin are in position to dominate for at least the next decade. I am very confident that SpaceX will succeed in its efforts to recover its first stage. I am also very confident that Blue Origin’s plans to upgrade New Shepard into an orbital rocket/capsule will proceed quickly.

In both cases, the companies will then move forward, capable of recovering and reusing significant parts of their rockets, thus making it possible to significantly lower the launch cost and thus charge their customers less. No one else is in this position, or even close to it. The launch market will belong to them.
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Spat between senators over Russian rockets

Pig fight! In response to Senator Richard Shelby’s (R-Alabama) effort, with the lobbying aid of ULA, to slip an amendment into a budget bill that would allow ULA to use Russian engines in its Atlas 5 indefinitely, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) has written a scathing letter condemning the effort.

In a Nov. 19 letter, McCain asked Cochran to “respect the well-informed work my committee took” and to avoid the “year-over-year relitigation” of the engine issue.“Recent attempts by the incumbent contractor to manufacture a crisis by prematurely diminishing its stockpile of engines purchased prior to the Russian invasion of Crimea should be viewed with skepticism and scrutinized heavily,” McCain wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by SpaceNews. “Such efforts should not be misconstrued as a compelling reason to undermine any sanctions on Russia while they occupy Crimea, destabilize Ukraine, bolster Assad in Syria, send weapons to Iran and violate the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.”

McCain is no saint when it comes to pork, even if he is right on this issue. Shelby however is and has always been a pork pig. He has always put the needs of local companies ahead of the needs of the country. This story illustrates this perfectly.

Gene Pitney – Last Chance To Turn Around

An evening pause: This 1950s song, which many think is titled “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” actually has no connection to the 1950s book with that title. As noted at the youtube webpage, “Maybe Hubert Selby, the book’s author objected or Gene didn’t want to confuse people since they are unconnected.” Thus, the different title.

Hat tip Diane Zimmerman.

NASA contracts Aeroject Rocketdyne to build shuttle engines for SLS

The competition heats up? NASA has awarded Aerojet Rocketdyne a $1.4 billion contract to restart production on the space shuttle engines, with the intent to use those engines for its hoped-for missions beyond Earth orbit using the Space Launch System (SLS).

Normally I am thrilled when an American company gets a contract to build rocket engines, but here I have my doubts. This contract will only produce deep space engines if Congress gives NASA the money to fly SLS on deep space missions. Right now, Congress has only given NASA just enough money to fly one, maybe two SLS missions, with the second not coming until 2024 at the earliest. My impression of this contract award thus is that it is not to produce engines, but to keep Aerojet Rocketdyne from going bust, since no one else has been interested recently in buying their engines. In other words, it is pork, government money handed out in order to keep the people who work for Aerojet employed.

This is not the way to become a space-faring society. Better Aerojet Rocketdyne goes bust and the good engineers that work for it find jobs with companies making products that people want. Then, the government money can be spent wisely on things that we will eventually want and use, instead of make-work projects that accomplish nothing.

More students demand firing of a teacher for saying things they didn’t like

The coming dark age: Graduate students at Kansas University are demanding the firing of a professor for trying to talk to them reasonably about race issues and saying things they didn’t agree with.

The article describes in detail the circumstances that caused the students, which in a sane world would have been considered actions of a decent and thoughtful professor trying to inspire a thoughtful discussion about issues of our time. The students, which the article’s names and correctly dubs “little fascists”, instead turn around and smear the professor to order to get her fired.

However, the worst aspect of this story is something noted by another professor in an email to the author of the article:

As a fellow communication professor on the tenure track, what’s happening at KU [Kansas University] chills me about the future of my profession. As an evangelical with “crunchy con” political leanings, I’ve always had to be mindful of what supervisors or colleagues might do should I make me views too strongly known (though thankfully not at my current institution, in which I feel very welcomed!). But my concern increasingly is not with the higher-ups, but with the possibility of unintentionally saying (or failing to display proper outrage at) something that the wrong student deems triggering, insensitive, discriminatory, or “unsafe.”

What is particularly disheartening is that the students in this scenario are not just run-of-the-mill undergrads looking for a cause of the week. They are grad students in one of the top programs in my discipline. Some of them are going to be newly-minted professors within the next six years or less. I agree with Jonathan Haidt that something has shifted in the last two or three years in terms of the grievance culture among today’s students, and we are only just beginning to see the consequences in places like Mizzou, Yale, and now, KU. Currently, much of the ire is being directed by students against their professors, but what happens when these students *become* the professors?

A new dark age will certainly come if we allow these thugs to gain power over others. Every student who is named here should themselves be expelled from the university. Not only do they not have the slightest idea what a university education is supposed to teach them, allowing them to gain a degree with allow them to impose their ignorance and fascist beliefs onto others.

NASA contracting development of new ion/nuclear engines

The competition heats up: NASA has awarded three different companies contracts to develop advanced ion and nuclear propulsion systems for future interplanetary missions, both manned and unmanned.

These are development contacts, all below $10 million. However, they all appeared structured like NASA’s cargo and crew contracts for ISS, where the contractor does all of the development and design, with NASA only supplying some support and periodic payments when the contractor achieves agreed-upon milestones. Because of this, the contractors will own the engines their develop, and will be able to sell them to other customers after development, thereby increasing the competition and innovation in the field.

Dawn’s first close look at Ceres’s poles

Ceres's poles

The Dawn science team have released their first images of the north and south poles of Ceres.

The region around the south pole appears black in this view because this area has been in shade ever since Dawn’s arrival on March 6, 2015, and is therefore not visible. At the north polar region, craters Jarovit, Ghanan and Asari are visible, as well as the mountain Ysolo Mons. Near the south pole, craters Attis and Zadeni can be seen.

Trump’s real weakness

While Donald Trump has remained the leader in every poll for president since he entered the campaign, it still remains to be seen whether Republican voters will give him the nod when actual voting begins in the primaries. I have tended to believe that they will not, and I base this on Trump’s essential lack of understanding of the small government principles of conservatism. Though it is very clear that Trump has rejected the left and the big government ideas of the Democratic Party, it is also clear that he really doesn’t really believe in small government either. This story quoting a Trump speech from yesterday illustrates this very well:

Speaking during a town hall meeting in Iowa Thursday, Republican front-runner Donald Trump told the crowd the way to make college affordable for students is “to start some governmental program. … Well the only way you can do it is you have to start some governmental program and you have governmental programs right now,” Trump told the crowd.

Click on the link to read the whole quote, which also illustrates the generally incoherent way in which Trump speaks. His incoherency however, is not what hurts him here, but his easy acceptance of the idea that government is the solution.

Don’t get me wrong. Trump is by far a better candidate than any of the Democratic Party options, and he would do a far better job then them as well. His business experience in the real world will make him a better president, and is also likely the reason he now generally favors conservative solutions. Nonetheless, when voting time comes I think the Republican voters are going to move away from him.

Obamacare regulations to destroy craft beer industry

Finding out what’s in it: The cost to meet Obamacare regulations requiring beer companies to include specific calorie information on every beer they make is likely going to destroy many small local beer breweries.

As of December 2016, all brewers must include a detailed calorie count on every type of beer they produce. Failure to comply with the new regulations means craft brewers will not be able to sell their beer in any restaurant chain with over 20 locations. Because this is a major market for selling beer, it hamstrings smaller craft brewers if they do not comply.

The Cato Institute estimates the Obamacare calorie labeling requirements will cost a business as much as $77,000 to implement. For larger beer companies, this is a drop in the bucket, but for small, local craft brewers it represents a significant cost that they must pay. As a result, it creates a significant disadvantage compared to larger beer companies who can better absorb the cost of this new regulation.

But hey, who cares if a major thriving industry should be destroyed by Obamacare. The Democrats passed it because they care. And caring is all that matters, no matter what the consequences.

Another company enters the orbital remote sensing field

The competition heats up: A California company, Hera Systems, has announced plans to launch 9 cubesats late in 2016 to provide commercial imagery of the Earth.

Hera Systems of San Jose, California, is planning to launch nine cubesat-class spacecraft in late 2016 that will be able to provide images at resolutions of up to one meter over several spectral bands, as well as video. That initial constellation could grow in time to up to 48 satellites, allowing the company to take images of the same location several times a day.

This field is becoming very crowded. Either there will be a significant shake-out, or we will see a burst of profits that will invigorate it even more. The companies all seem to think there is enough business to justify their existence.

Bezos gives museum recovered Saturn V engines

Jeff Bezos today personally delivered to the Seattle Musuem of Flight the restored remains of two Apollo Saturn V engines that his company recovered from the ocean floor in 2013.

Over the course of two and a half years, the experts at the museum worked to stabilize the F-1 engine parts, halting the corrosion caused by the salt water. The engines were not restored, however. Rather they were conserved in their “as found” condition to preserve their full history, from the sky to the sea.

In the process, the Cosmosphere was able to reveal and research the parts’ serial numbers and identify the flight history for most of the large parts. The conservators were able to tie the components to the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions in 1969 and to Apollo 16 in 1972.

The Apollo 11 components will be donated to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

ULA is adding cubesat capability to its Atlas 5

The competition heats up: ULA has announced that they are adding a cubesat launch capability to their Atlas 5 rocket so that by 2017 they will be able to place in orbit as many as 24 cubesats per launch, as secondary payloads.

In addition, the company will offer universities to compete for six launch slots at no charge.

“ULA will offer universities the chance to compete for at least six CubeSat launch slots on two Atlas V missions, with a goal to eventually add university CubeSat slots to nearly every Atlas and Vulcan launch,” noted Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “There is a growing need for universities to have access and availability to launch their CubeSats and this program will transform the way these universities get to space by making space more affordable and accessible.”

This offer is ULA’s way of trying to capture some of that growing smallsat market that companies like Rocket Labs and Virgin Galactic are trying to grab.

Hawaii’s Supreme Court temporarily stops TMT

With the possibility of a new confrontation on Mauna Kea between protesters and the builders of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), Hawaii’s Supreme Court on Tuesday placed a temporary stay on all work until December 2..

Earlier in the week, Thirty Meter Telescope opponents were preparing to face off Wednesday against hundreds of law enforcement officers. But hours before the anticipated showdown, state Department of Land and Natural Resources agents who were scheduled to be on Mauna Kea to ensure TMT crews safe, unobstructed access to the construction site were told to stand down after the state Supreme Court temporarily prevented construction on the mountain until December 2.

TMT officials say they wanted for workers to complete maintenance and repairs on equipment that has sat idle since April, when construction crews were blocked by more than 750 protesters. Opponents of the project say it desecrates a sacred Native Hawaiian place.

At least two heavy-duty machines at the construction are reportedly leaking oil and fuel.

As much as these protesters claim they do not want the mountain desecrated, I believe their real goal, much like the thugs today on college campuses, is the gaining of power. The religious argument is merely a convenient tool for hiding their power grab. And even if they are sincere, their ultimate goal is still racist, as they are hostile to all non-Hawaiian natives, and wish them expunged from the islands.

Under these conditions, I do not see TMT being built on Mauna Kea. Even though the public there generally supports its construction, the public also has a naive sympathy for the protesters (Scroll down in this article to see the poll numbers).

Japan’s Venus probe zeros in on Dec 7 arrival

A Japanese Venus research spacecraft, dubbed Akatsuki, has completed all its preliminary course corrections and is ready for a December 7 orbital insertion attempt, the second since the spacecraft’s main engine failed during the first attempt in 2010.

The space probe accomplished its last targeting maneuver Oct. 11 to aim for its Dec. 7 arrival at Venus, and all systems are go for the encounter, said Takeshi Imamura, Akatsuki’s project scientist at JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science. Imamura said the Akatsuki spacecraft, named for the Japanese word for dawn, will zoom 541 kilometers, or 336 miles, above Venus for a 20-minute insertion burn using the probe’s secondary attitude control thrusters. Japanese ground controllers have programmed the probe to use the backup rocket jets after a faulty valve knocked out Akatsuki’s main engine during its first attempt to enter orbit around Venus in December 2010.

Four of the eight attitude control thrusters aboard Akatsuki will fire for 20 minutes and 33 seconds to slow the spacecraft down enough for Venus’ gravity to pull it into an egg-shaped orbit that skims above the planet’s cloud tops on the low end and ranges several hundred thousand miles in altitude at peak altitude. The reaction control thrusters, originally designed to help point the spacecraft, were not rated for such a hefty propulsive maneuver.

To make this second chance possible, they have spent the last five years improvising. First they dumped the fuel from the now-useless main engine to make the spacecraft lighter so that the attitude control thrusters could handle the maneuvers. Then they used those thrusters repeatedly to adjust the course to bring Akatsuki back to Venus after it zipped past in 2010.

If they succeed in getting it in a useful orbit on December 7, it will be real triumph for these Japanese engineers.

The first image of a newly formed exoplanet

Astronomers have captured the first image, using ground-based telescopes, of an exoplanet in the process of forming.

The star is 450 light years away, and the image is really a combined image using data taken by two different telescopes, one in infrared light and the other gathering visible light spectroscopy. So, this really isn’t a photograph like you’d take with your camera, but a re-creation. Nonetheless it provides us a first look at the star and the new planet forming in orbit around it.

Vine to Wine

An evening pause: Making wine, the modern way. It is interesting how many steps here are still done by hand when they clearly could be automated. I suspect that it doesn’t pay for this winery to upgrade to more sophisticated equipment because their overall output is relatively small and it is more efficient for these steps to still be done by hand.

Hat tip Phill Oltmann, who tells me he is thinking of planting his own grape vines this year.

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