Trump initial agenda includes Obamacare repeal and “fundamental tax reform”

This article provides a good summary and analysis of comments by vice-president-elect Mike Pence describing the initial plans of the Trump administration.

The new administration’s first priorities would include curbing illegal immigration, abolishing and then replacing Mr. Obama’s signature health-care system, nominating a justice to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and strengthening the military, said Mr. Pence, whose wife, Karen Pence, sat nearby during the interview.

…By springtime, the Trump administration would work with congressional leaders “to move fundamental tax reform” meant to “free up the pent-up energy in the American economy,” he said. Pillars of the tax overhaul would include lowering marginal tax rates, reducing the corporate tax rate “from some of the highest in the industrialized world” to 15%, and repatriating corporate cash held overseas, he said.

Overall, if they do what Pence says (some of which was confirmed by Trump in his remarks at the Carrier plant yesterday), they will move the government in the right direction.

Hampshire College ends ban on U.S. flag

Hampshire College, faced with intense criticism over its decision to stop flying the American flag, has ended the ban.

Hampshire President Jonathan Lash says the flag was not removed to make a political statement or to offend, but to facilitate dialogue. He says the flag has been raised again “as a symbol of … freedom, and in hopes for justice and fairness for all.”

Yeah, right, dialogue is always facilitated by banning something. What I think really happened here is that Lash suddenly discovered that his anti-American ban had really facilitated the end of all donations from alumni, and thus he suddenly discovered that he really is a loyal American who loves his country.

Personally, I think donations should continue to dry up until the college replaces Lash and the rest of its academic personnel that initially supported this ban.

Another captive carry flight test of Virgin Galactic’s Unity

After cancelling a planned first glide test of Virgin Galactic’s Unity spaceship in early November, the company completed a second captive carry flight on November 30.

“As part of our ground and flight testing, we made a few tweaks to the vehicle,” Virgin Galactic tweeted before the Nov. 30 flight. “We’ll test those in a captive carry flight today.” Virgin Galactic has not announced when the next test flight will take place or if it will include a glide test.

They apparently found some issues both from the first captive carry flight as well as ground tests that required them to make some changes to the spaceship and do another captive carry flight.

Japanese company developing suborbital mini-shuttle

The competiion heats up: A private Japanese company is developing a sub-orbital mini-shuttle capable of carrying up to eight people, and hope to fly it by 2023.

An unmanned trial run of the prototype to an altitude of 100 kilometers is scheduled for 2018, and if a manned mission is successfully achieved by 2020, the company hopes to commence its space travel enterprise by the end of 2023. The price of a trip into space is aimed to be about 14 million yen — which is approximately 70 percent of that announced by American company Virgin Galactic. PD Aerospace aims to take passengers to an altitude of 100 kilometers, where they will be able to enjoy a “zero-gravity floating experience” for about 5 minutes, before returning to Earth.

They are entering this competition very late. Considering how slowly Virgin Galactic has moved, though, they still might beat them into orbit.

Japan developing small rocket for commercial smallsats

The competition heats up: Canon has joined a new project by the Japanese space agency JAXA to develop a small rocket for commercial smallsats.

The three-stage rocket is an upgrade to JAXA’s two-stage SS-520, which carries instruments for research observations. Measuring 52cm in diameter and less than 10 meters in length, the new version will cost less than one-tenth as much to launch as leading rockets and is expected to be used to lift microsatellites in orbit. An initial launch is slated for early next year from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Fourth Google Lunar X-Prize team gets launch deal

The competition heats up: TeamIndus, based in India, has signed a contract with ISRO to launch its Google Lunar X-Prize rover as a secondary payload on a Indian PSLV rocket.

This is the fourth X-Prize team to announce a launch contract. According to the rules, the teams have until the end of the year to obtain a contract or else they are out of the competition. We should therefore expect more of these announcements in the coming weeks.

Cygnus fire experiments a success

The fire experiments that were done on the Cygnus cargo freighter after it left ISS two weeks ago have been declared a success.

Saffire-II burned nine different samples, in an effort to gauge the flammability of various materials in a microgravity environment. These 12-by-2-inch (30 by 5 centimeters) samples included silicon of different thicknesses; a cotton-fiberglass blend; plexiglass; and Nomex, a commercially available material that’s used in spacecraft on cargo bags and as a fire barrier, NASA officials said. Everything went well during the experiment, they added: All nine samples burned as planned, and the Saffire-II team collected more than 100,000 images. All data had come back down to Earth by Friday (Nov. 25), at which point Saffire-II achieved “complete mission success,” NASA officials wrote in an update.

This was the second set of fire tests. There are plans for a third on a future Cygnus freighter.

Buzz Aldrin evacuated from South Pole due to health issue

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was today evacuated from U.S. South Pole station due to a worsening health condition.

Aldrin, 86, is in stable condition after “his condition deteriorated” while visiting Antarctica, according to White Desert, which organizes luxury tourism trips to the icy continent. The group said Aldrin was evacuated on the first available flight out of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to the McMurdo Station on the Antarctic coast under the care of a doctor with the U.S. Antarctic Program. He then was flown to Christchurch, New Zealand, and arrived at about 4:25 a.m. local time Friday (10:25 a.m. Thursday ET), according to the National Science Foundation, which provided the flight for Aldrin.

They have not released much information about his condition, other than saying that Aldrin is in good spirits.

Russia Progress freighter lost during launch

Due to what appears to be the failure of the third stage of its Soyuz rocket, a Russian Progress freighter bringing supplies to ISS was lost.

The Russian space agency — Roscosmos — confirmed the demise of the Progress MS-04 cargo craft in a statement, saying the automated spaceship was lost as it flew nearly 120 miles (190 kilometers) over the Tuva Republic in Southern Russia. Engineers lost telemetry during the Soyuz rocket’s third stage engine burn, and most of the vehicle’s fragments burned up in the atmosphere, Roscosmos said.

The consequences of this failure are numerous:

  • The cargo failures to ISS have been a continuing problem. Despite significant redundancy, every single cargo freighter has had failures or delays in the past two years.
  • The failure of the Soyuz rocket is a major concern, since this is the rocket that we depend on to bring humans to ISS. Nor is this the first time this year that the third stage had issues. In May the third stage cut off prematurely.
  • This failure, combined with the other quality control problems Russia has experienced in the past few years with the Soyuz capsule and the Proton rocket, adds to the concerns.

It now becomes even more imperative for the U.S. to get its own manned spacecraft capability back.

Democrats pick Pelosi again

Nancy Pelosi has fought off a challenge to her position as the House Democratic leader, winning 134 to 63.

Considering how badly the Democrats have fared in elections under her leadership, her victory here indicates strongly the bankrupt state of the Democratic Party. They seem unable at all to accept any blame for their losses, which would be the first step in reforming their increasingly corrupt party. Instead, they have been doubling down on the same rejected leftwing and race-based policies. Note also how the Democratic Party has become entirely dominated by its urban and coastal regions. While those areas have become almost one-party states run unopposed by the Democratic Party, their influence is very regionally limited and has been strongly rejected by most of the rest of the country. Even so, the Democrats continue to pick as their leader an extreme leftist from the extremely leftist San Francisco area.

None of this bodes well for either the Democratic Party, or the nation on the whole. To have a healthy democracy you need a healthy opposition party. Right now we do not have it.

Russia sets budget for Vostochny through 2019

The Russian government has now allocated a new budget for the next phase of construction at its new spaceport at Vostochny.

“The money has been allocated and specified by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for 2017-2019 within the limits of about 25-30 billion rubles annually, i.e. these funds are not as large as it seemed to us earlier,” the vice-premier said. “These funds have been set aside on the basis of the so-called ‘optimal scenario’ proposed by [State Space Agency] Roscosmos,” Rogozin said.

Essentially, they have lowered the budget and pushed back some of the more costly construction at Vostochny until after 2019. Even with these trims, they also note that the budget will still depend on how the Russian economy does in the coming years.

Airbus to slash more than a 1,000 jobs to cut costs

The competition heats up: In a continuing re-organization to cut costs, Airbus yesterday announced plans to slash 1,164 jobs.

The initiative is part of [Airbus Chief Executive Tom] Enders’s four-year campaign to reshape the business in the wake of the failed attempt in 2012 to merge with BAE Systems PLC, Europe’s largest arms maker. After the deal with BAE faltered on German government opposition, he won shareholder backing for a new structure that reduced French, German and Spanish government involvement in company decision-making. The old structure was a legacy of the founding of the company in 2000 through the combination of European aerospace and defense assets.

Airbus in 2013 moved to merge its defense and space assets and shed some operations not central to its aerospace business.

This approach matches very well with the company’s joint partnership with Safran and their hard-nosed insistence that they own and control Ariane 6. They are pushing to get the government bureaucracy out of their business so that they can work more efficiently and make more money.

Trump picks NASA transition team leader

The Trump transition team has named its first member whose focus is NASA.

The pick is Chris Shank, who worked under Mike Griffin during the last Bush administration and has more recently been a staffer at the House science committee.

Shank is an experienced space policy professional. From 2001-2005, he served on what was then the House Science Committee staff specializing in human spaceflight and Earth science issues. After joining NASA as a special assistant to Griffin in 2005, he was appointed NASA’s chief of strategic communications in 2008. He left NASA in January 2009 at the end of the Bush Administration and worked first at the Applied Physics Lab and later Honeywell Aerospace. He returned to Capitol Hill in 2011 as Deputy Chief of Staff to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who is now chairman of House SS&T, and in 2013 was appointed policy and coalitions director for the full committee.

The science lobby looks at Trump’s pick for Health Secretary

Link here. The Nature article clearly takes a partisan and opposition view of Trump’s pick, Congressman Tom Price (R-Georgia). Nonetheless, it does give good insight into Price himself. I especially like this quote, used by Nature to imply that Price is somehow hostile to science:

But Price’s stance on biomedical research issues is harder to parse. He has taken few public positions on science, but has consistently pushed to cut overall federal spending. Last year, he voted against a bill that would overhaul FDA regulations and provide US$8.75 billion in mandatory funding to the NIH over five years.

Price also opposes President Barack Obama’s proposed $755-million Cancer Moonshot, which seeks to double the pace of cancer research over the next decade. “We’re all in favour of increasing funding for cancer research,” Price told STAT News in January. “The problem that the administration has is that they always want to add funding on, they never want to decrease funding somewhere else. That’s what needs to happen.” [emphasis mine]

There was once a time where Price’s approach would have been considered plain common sense. In today’s mad leftwing world however the idea that resources are not unlimited and that people have to make careful choices is considered evil and anti-science.

Expect these kinds of attacks to continue nonstop throughout the entire Trump administration, especially if that administration and Congress continue to push for a bit of restraint on budget issues. This is what happened during Reagan’s first term in the 1980s. The result was that eventually Reagan was never able to trim costs or eliminate any federal agencies, as the attacks caused many of his more radical cabinet picks to resign and the Republicans in Congress to eventually back down.

Today, however, things are different in one major way. Then, there was no alternative to the liberal press. Today, there are such alternatives. Moreover, the bias of the liberal press today is much more evident. Many more people recognize it, and do not take their howls of indignation as seriously. If Trump and the Republicans have some courage and do not back down, they can win this battle. All it will take is some courage. We shall see if they have it.

New ULA website allows customers to configure their launch

The competition heats up: ULA today announced the creation of a new website, dubbed Rocketbuilder, where customers and the public and configure their own launch rocket.

ULA noted that the tool also provides insight into reliability, schedule assurance and performance, allowing users to make a true value comparison. “The value of a launch is a lot more than its price tag,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and chief executive officer. “Through our RocketBuilder website, customers are now empowered with pricing information that can be used to make decisions during their spacecraft development process, potentially helping customers keep program costs down. In addition, customers are able to build a rocket based on the needs they input, their spacecraft specifications and mission requirements.”

Users have the flexibility to select a launch date, the satellite’s orbit, rocket configuration and the customized service level needed for the mission. Finally, the site will capture savings in extra revenue or mission life, provide the true total cost of the specific mission requirements, and allow users to begin the contracting process.

This is great news, as it shows that Bruno and ULA are very serious about competing aggressively with SpaceX. For example, Bruno notes that the price of the cheapest Atlas 5 configuration has dropped from $191 million to $109 million in the last few years. And while this price remains significantly more expensive than SpaceX’s $62 million, this new tool should help to drive the costs down more. When ULA learns which configurations sell best, it will then be able to make those configurations cheaper.

The site is also cool. I tried it, and found that it strongly resembles the experience of buying an airplane ticket at sites like Travelocity. You pick various options (payload weight, payload size, orbit, etc) and the site automatically adjusts the rocket’s configuration and the price.

U.S. and China top Russia for most launches in 2016

The competition heats up: In 2016 it appears that the United States will complete the most rocket launches, at 20, followed by China with 19 and Russia with 18.

For the past two decades Russia has generally been the yearly leader in launches, but recent competition from the U.S. private sector and China’s surging government program, combined with lagging quality control problems and budget shortages in Russia, has had their launch rate decline to third. I also fully expect the U.S. lead to grow in the coming years as a range of low cost new companies come on line.

New Chinese launch company gets its first customer

The competition heats up: A new Chinese launch company aimed at putting smallsats in orbit for a low price has signed its first customer.

In a statement published by China Daily, Zhang Di, vice president of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC) Fourth Academy, said Expace Technology Co. would charge around $10,000 per kilogram of satellite payload, which he said was less than half the prevailing commercial price. Zhang is also chairman of Expace.

CASIC created Expace in early 2016 as China’s second commercial-launch provider after China Great Wall Industry Corp. of Beijing, which has long been China’s showcase export vehicle for launches and commercial satellite contracts. China Great Wall is part of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CAST). Zhang said Expace has already signed its first commercial contract, valued at 100 million Chinese yuan, or around $14.5 million, to place three Earth observation satellites into low Earth orbit aboard a Kuaizhou 1 rocket for the government-owned Changguang Satellite Technology Co.

This same company has more than 10 other satellites slated for future launches on Kuaizhou rockets.

The situation here is interesting. This small company is essentially competing against China’s big space company that builds that country’s Long March rockets. It is also aiming to capture some of the market share of the new smallsat industry, specifically targeting international satellite companies that are becoming less and less dependent on the U.S. rocket components that would forbid their use on a Chinese rocket.

Another Google Lunar X-Prize team secures launch contract

Part Time Scientists, one of the teams competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize, has secured a launch contract through launch rideshare broker Spaceflight Inc.

Their rover will launch as a secondary payload. It is the broker’s job to secure that slot.

PTScientists plans to land its rovers in the moon’s Taurus-Littrow valley, the last place humans set foot on the lunar surface in December 1972, in the hopes of getting a closer look at how the Apollo moon buggy has survived over the past four and a half decades in the extreme temperatures and inhospitable conditions on the moon. “There is a reason we have chosen the Apollo 17 landing site,” said Karsten Becker, PTScientists electronics head, said in a call with reporters on Tuesday. “That is because the Taurus-Littrow valley is geographically very interesting — that is why it was chosen for Apollo 17 — but it is also a very-well documented site. There are many pictures where you can see that it is very flat, and that there are not that many stones laying around.”

The landing site has been chosen to be within reach of the Apollo 17 site, but not so close that it could risk damage to the NASA preservation heritage area. “We want to land 3 to 5 kilometers [2 to 4 miles] away from the [Apollo 17] landing site,” said Becker.

This team is now the fourth X-Prize team to secure a launch contract. All are hoping to launch within the next two years.

Trump and the Republican establishment team up

The House Republican majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) today said that their partnership with Trump will allow them to ignore the conservative Freedom Caucus.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy signaled that Republican brass doesn’t plan to kowtow to the conservatives anymore. Ryan’s No. 2 predicted that it’ll finally be the other way around. The group will be forced to fall in line. During a forum hosted by The Washington Post, McCarthy forecasted a less influential Freedom Caucus, a bolder GOP leadership team, and a more unified GOP conference. Altogether, the California Republican explained, “you’re going to see us sticking together more.” That’d be a significant change from the last two years.

…Famous for making deals, Trump won’t worry about reaching across the aisle to compromise with Democrats. For the pragmatic president-elect, bipartisanship is a bonus, not a liability. The threat of losing 35 members of the Freedom Caucus won’t fill Trump’s White House with fear. Depending on the significance of the legislation, Trump won’t have much trouble getting his agenda through the House. Democrats have already signaled that they’re ready to work with the new administration. They won’t hesitate to jump onboard a trillion-dollar infrastructure package or a protectionist trade deal.

I am not surprised. I do feel bad for all those conservatives who went with Trump instead of Cruz because they imagined him first as an “outsider” instead of the moderate Democrat that he is.

ISS Fisheye Fly-Through

An evening pause: Make sure you watch this full screen. In many ways this video tour of ISS illustrates its magnificence and its failure. It is not an easy thing to build a house in space, and it is clear that we have done it here. At the same time, ISS hardly appears to be a comfortable vessel to live in during travel to other planets. Skylab was much more livable.

Hat tip Phil Berardelli and Tom Wilson.

Trump picks pro-voucher conservative for Education Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Betsy DeVos, a wealthy pro-voucher Republican activist, to head the Education Department.

Her record puts her dead center within establishment Republican Party circles.

In related news, Trump has chosen Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary. Chao was previously labor secretary in the last Bush administration, and also happens to be the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Once again, someone deeply linked to the establishment Republican Party.

At the same time, both picks have strong links to the very conservative Heritage Foundation.

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