NASA still hasn’t established a baseline cost for SLS’s future missions

Despite being told to do so in an 2014 GAO report, NASA has still not developed a budget to determine what it would cost to use SLS for any future beyond-Earth-orbit missions.

Worse, NASA says it doesn’t have to do this.

The government report notes that it previously recommended to NASA and Congress that costs of the first (and subsequent) human missions be calculated and disclosed three years ago in 2014. Since then, the report says, a senior official at NASA’s Exploration Systems Development program, which manages the rocket and spacecraft programs, replied that NASA does not intend to establish a baseline cost for Exploration Mission 2 because it does not have to.

This response must have struck investigators with the General Accountability Office—Congress’ auditing service—as a bit in-your-face. Later in the report, the director of acquisition and sourcing management for the accountability office, Cristina Chaplain, notes that, “While later stages of the Mars mission are well in the future, getting to that point in time will require a funding commitment from the Congress and other stakeholders. Much of their willingness to make that commitment is likely to be based on the ability to assess the extent to which NASA has met prior goals within predicted cost and schedule targets.” [emphasis mine]

In other words, NASA expects Congress to give NASA and SLS a blank check, forever. Sadly, based on the behavior of Congress now and in the past two decades, NASA might very well have reasonable expectations here.


Trump administration backs off plans to end or reduce ethanol policy

The swamp wins: Scott Pruitt, EPA head, has retreated from his plans to reduce or end the program that subsidizes and encourages the use of ethanol in automobile gasoline.

After heavy pressure from lawmakers and other stakeholders, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Thursday night sided with pro-ethanol lawmakers and said his agency will abandon many controversial changes to the nation’s ethanol mandate — prompting a top biofuels leader to claim that Mr. Pruitt apparently has had an “epiphany” over the past few days.

In a letter to seven key senators, Mr. Pruitt — who had been critical of ethanol during his time as Oklahoma attorney general — shot down several major concerns about looming adjustments to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the federal law that requires the blending of ethanol with gasoline.

The letter comes just days after Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and perhaps the loudest pro-ethanol voice in Congress, threatened to hold up nominees for top-level EPA posts if Mr. Pruitt didn’t acquiesce to their demands on the RFS.

It is going to take many years to drain the swamp, since it presently holds great power and is willing to use it to maintain its corrupt control over taxpayer money.


Today in fascist academia

As I noted last week, it has gotten tiresome, depressing, and repetitive to post numerous individual links of stories each day that highlight the oppressive culture that apparently permeates much of today’s academic community. I found that by doing these posts individually, I would not post every important story.

To solve this, I have decided to periodically post the stories in a bunch, and have so far found that I still have had to do it twice a week. Below is today’s list. Check each out. The pattern that disturbs me most is that while much of the intolerance is coming from the students, the administrations and faculty of most of these schools appear quite content to either appease, or support, that intolerance.

And then there is this story from the journal Science: Analysis of China’s one-child policy sparks uproar

A new study of China’s one-child policy is roiling demography, sparking calls for the field’s leading journal to withdraw the paper. The controversy has ignited a debate over scholarly values in a discipline that some say often prioritizes reducing population growth above all else.

It is definitely worthwhile reading this story. While I have serious doubts about the scientific rigorousness of the paper in question, I find it remarkable and disturbing that the first instinct of the scientists in this field who question the paper is to demand its retraction. In other words, rather than argue their doubts and questions publicly and let the chips fall where they may, they prefer to grind their boots into the author’s face, silencing him entirely.


Vector signs deal to launch from Wallops

Capitalism in space: Vector has signed an agreement with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia to do commercial launches of its smallsat rocket there.

Vector Space Systems officials and Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne announced during a demonstration of the Vector-R launch vehicle at Launch Pad 0-B on Wallops Island that Vector has contracted to conduct three commercial orbital missions in the next two years from the Wallops spaceport, with an option for five additional launches.

Vector still needs to complete its test program, as its Vector-R rocket has not yet reached orbit.


Wearing Mars and Moon spacesuit prototypes

An evening pause: This video to me was interesting because it illustrated (though the reporter either does not realize it or is being kind by not mentioning it) how poorly designed both these suits are. They require a crew to put on something that would be impractical on either the Moon or Mars, and appears heavy and clumsy. For Mars especially a much lighter and more natural suit is going to be essential. This is not it, though I am sure it is a worthwhile first attempt.

Hat tip Edward Thelen.


Background of Mueller’s lead investigator confirms it is a witch hunt

Link here. The article provides some detailed information about the background of Robert Mueller’s chief investigator, Andrew Weissmann, that strongly illustrates the likelihood that Mueller’s investigation is the witch hunt.

Time after time, courts have reversed Weissmann’s most touted “victories” for his tactics. This is hardly the stuff of a hero in the law.

Weissmann, as deputy and later director of the Enron Task Force, destroyed the venerable accounting firm of Arthur Andersen LLP and its 85,000 jobs worldwide — only to be reversed several years later by a unanimous Supreme Court.

Next, Weissmann creatively criminalized a business transaction between Merrill Lynch and Enron. Four Merrill executives went to prison for as long as a year. Weissmann’s team made sure they did not even get bail pending their appeals, even though the charges Weissmann concocted, like those against Andersen, were literally unprecedented. Weissmann’s prosecution devastated the lives and families of the Merrill executives, causing enormous defense costs, unimaginable stress and torturous prison time. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the mass of the case.

Weissmann quietly resigned from the Enron Task Force just as the judge in the Enron Broadband prosecution began excoriating Weissmann’s team, and the press began catching on to Weissmann’s modus operandi.

Links are provided to every one of Weissmann’s previous cases above. I clicked on each, and confirmed that not only did he intimidate witnesses, each one of these major prosecutions was thrown out because of aggressive improprieties. Weissmann approach is to find a crime, and prosecute it, whether any real crime occurred or not.

I post once again below the fold the Congressional testimony of “Republican” Robert Mueller when he was head of the FBI and was being questioned about the investigation he was leading into the Obama administration’s use of the IRS to harass its political opponents. It illustrates forcefully how much a tool Mueller was, and is, for the Democratic Party.
» Read more


NASA instrument for European space telescope flawed and must be rebuilt

The NASA instrument for Europe’s Euclid optical/near-infrared space telescope has been found defective and must be rebuilt, thus delaying the launch of the telescope by at least one year.

What interested me about this telescope is its goals and specifications:

Euclid is a two-ton space telescope selected by ESA in 2011 as a medium-class mission in its Cosmic Vision program of space science missions. The spacecraft features a 1.2-meter telescope with visible and near-infrared instruments to study dark energy and dark matter, which combined account for about 95 percent of the universe. Euclid will operate at the Earth-sun L-2 Lagrange point, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, that is used by other infrared astronomy missions.

With a mirror is about half the size of Hubble’s, this telescope will act as a partial replacement and back up for it. In fact, it will likely make numerous ground-breaking discoveries, as every optical telescope placed above the atmosphere has so far done.

Meanwhile, the article provided no information on the flaws, who built the flawed instrument, and who will pay for the delays its failure will cause.


Blue Origin successfully completes first test of BE-4 rocket engine

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin has successfully conducted the first static fire test of its BE-4 rocket engine.

The test was six seconds long. The company has not released any further details, other than to say it was a success. This not only puts them closer to building their New Glenn rocket, it increases the chances that ULA will choose this engine for its Vulcan rocket.


Juno’s first hints of Jupiter’s interior

Data from Juno not only suggests that the gas giant has a small fuzzy core, its storms appear to extend thousands of miles into the interior.

By studying Jupiter’s gravitational field, researchers can probe thousands of kilometres into the planet. On each close fly-by, Juno measures the planet’s complex gravitational tug. These observations have already revealed that Jupiter has a small, ‘fuzzy’, poorly defined core.

The latest results show that Jupiter’s gravitational field is askew, with different patterns in its northern and southern hemispheres, said Tristan Guillot, a planetary scientist at the Observatory of the Côte d’Azur in Nice, France. That suggests that its hydrogen-rich gas is flowing asymmetrically deep in the planet. “This is something that was not expected,” Guillot said at the meeting. “We were not sure at all whether we would be able to see that.”

Another clue to the structure of Jupiter’s interior came from how the gravity field varies with depth. Theoretical studies predict that the bigger the gravity signal, the stronger the flow of gas deep down. That information is important for teasing out whether all of Jupiter’s interior is rotating as a single solid body, or whether different layers spin separately from one another, like a set of nesting Russian dolls moving within each other.

Juno detected a gravity signal powerful enough to indicate that material is flowing as far down as 3,000 kilometres. “We’re just taking the clouds and the winds and extending them into the interior,” Kaspi said. Future work could help to pinpoint how strong the flow is at various depths, which could resolve whether Jupiter’s interior really resembles Russian dolls.

What is especially fascinating is that this first study of Jupiter shows it to appear so very different than Cassini’s first look at Saturn. Their polar regions are completely different, their storms are different, even their horizontal bands behave and look different. As I’ve said numerous times, the one given in planetary exploration is that every single planetary object we look at will be completely different from every other object.


NASA extends Dawn’s mission orbiting Ceres

NASA has decided to extend the Dawn mission again, but have that extension remain in orbit around Ceres.

A priority of the second Ceres mission extension is collecting data with Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, which measures the number and energy of gamma rays and neutrons. This information is important for understanding the composition of Ceres’ uppermost layer and how much ice it contains.

The spacecraft also will take visible-light images of Ceres’ surface geology with its camera, as well as measurements of Ceres’ mineralogy with its visible and infrared mapping spectrometer.

The extended mission at Ceres additionally allows Dawn to be in orbit while the dwarf planet goes through perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun, which will occur in April 2018. At closer proximity to the Sun, more ice on Ceres’ surface may turn to water vapor, which may in turn contribute to the weak transient atmosphere detected by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory before Dawn’s arrival. Building on Dawn’s findings, the team has hypothesized that water vapor may be produced in part from energetic particles from the Sun interacting with ice in Ceres’ shallow surface.Scientists will combine data from ground-based observatories with Dawn’s observations to further study these phenomena as Ceres approaches perihelion.

They aim to get as close as 120 miles of the surface during this extension, half as close as the previous closest approach.


NOAA declares record-setting warming where it has no data

NOAA’s September update on the climate has declared that central and southern Africa experienced “record warmth,” even though NOAA itself admits it has no ground data for this region, and the satellite data shows temperatures normal.

Except for the satellite data, which comes from a different research source, all the graphs at the second link are from NOAA itself. Despite admitting in one graph that they have zero data for most of Africa, they declare in a different graph that most of Africa experienced record-setting warming.

This is not the first time NOAA has done this. I noted similar intellectual dishonesty by NOAA two years ago. In the interim they have followed this pattern repeatedly, claiming new warming records all over the globe in many areas where they have absolutely no surface data and the satellite data remains inconclusive.

There is an intellectual corruption in the climate field, especially within government agencies like NOAA, that is ruining our ability to really learn what is going on with the climate. And until someone in power steps in and either demands a forthright explanation that justifies these actions (something that I think is impossible) or demands that it stop, this corruption is only going to get worse.


China to begin development of its own SLS rocket

The new colonial movement: Even as China struggles to fix the problems that caused the launch failure in July of its newest most powerful rocket, Long March 5, it is about to start work on a new heavy-lift rocket, Long March 9, that will be able to lift 140 tons into orbit and make it more powerful than the Saturn 5 and comparable to the still unbuilt most powerful version of SLS.

Meanwhile, this article reveals that the reason engineers lost control of Tiangong-1, their first space station module, was because of the failure of the charger for the spacecraft’s batteries. Essentially, the module has no power.

Interestingly, this is the exact same thing that happened to the Soviet Union’s Salyut 7 space station in 1985. In that case, however, the Soviet Union had the time and the capability to put together a manned rescue mission where two cosmonauts docked with the dead station and brought it back to life.


Budget cuts for Roscosmos in 2017

The budget problems in Russia continue, with the government revealing today that the budget for Roscosmos in 2017 was cut by about $1 billion, and that the budget for the next two years will remain essentially flat.

Roscosmos and the Russian press periodically make grand announcements about what they plan to do, but all their plans end up, like NASA’s SLS, being delayed endlessly. This is how government operations operate. The goal really isn’t to build anything for sale, but to create make-work jobs.


Iridium switches two upcoming launches to reused Falcon 9 first stages

Capitalism in space: Iridium has revised its launch agreements for two upcoming launches using the Falcon 9 rocket to have both use previously flown first stages.

While the article provides a lot of good background on SpaceX’s increasing sales of reused first stages, including the fact that 20% of SpaceX’s launches this year might end up using re-used first stages, an amazing number consider this is also the first year they are doing so, this quote from the article however is even more astonishing:

Importantly for Iridium, and for the launch market as a whole, Iridium revealed in its announcement that the cost of insuring the Iridium NEXT-4 and -5 missions did not change with the switch to flight-proven boosters. “Iridium confirmed with its insurers that there is no increase in premium for the launch program as a result of the use of flight-proven Falcon 9 rockets, further supporting Iridium’s conclusion that the risk profile is unchanged,” noted the release.

Overall, this is an excellent sign that the all-important insurance market element of spaceflight continues to see no increased risk with launching atop flight-proven boosters.

One of my sources close to SpaceX says that the company will likely not fly these reused first stages intact more than twice, but will still salvage the engines for additional reuses. Considering the engines are the most expensive component, this makes great sense. Even if SpaceX doesn’t fly a first stage intact, it has developed an efficient and effective method for recovering the engines for reuse.


Thomas Jefferson’s legal reading list going on line

The almost four hundred legal books that Thomas Jefferson recommended all lawyers should read are about to go on line for everyone to read.

The book list goes back to the creation of the University of Virginia, a project Jefferson took on after he finished serving two terms as America’s third president. A voracious reader himself, Jefferson believed the school’s library would be the heart of the new university, which opened in 1825. So he drew up a list of about 7,000 books ranging in topic from agriculture to zoology that he believed the school should have in its collections. At the time, books were pricey, and Jefferson thought part of the duty of the university was to make great works available for study. “Great standard works of established reputation, too voluminous and too expensive for private libraries, should have a place in every public library, for the free resort of individuals,” Jefferson wrote of the list of works he drew up.

The books were the starting point for the university’s collection, but they didn’t last. Most were destroyed in an 1895 fire that gutted a historic campus building called the Rotunda, the same building that was the endpoint of an August torch-light rally by white nationalists whose demonstration in the city the following day over the removal of a Confederate statue descended into chaos.

It was a law librarian at the university who, 40 years ago, got the idea of re-creating the collection of law books Jefferson recommended. Since then, the university has collected 336 of the 375 legal works listed by Jefferson, a lawyer himself. It’s those works that are now being put online.

I guarantee that a reading of these books would also teach any lawyer about the philosophical foundations of western and British culture, based on individual rights, freedom, and the rule of law.


Obama administration blocked FBI informant from testifying to Congress about uranium deal and Russian bribes

The Clinton uranium scandal: The lawyer for an FBI informant has revealed that the Obama administration blocked, and even threatened his client, in order to prevent him from testifying to Congress about Russian bribes to Clinton and others in connection with the transfer of 20% of the U.S. uranium resources to Russian control.

The undercover client witnessed “a lot of bribery going on around the U.S.” but was asked by the FBI to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) that prevents him from revealing what he knows to Congress, [Attorney Victoria] Toensing explained. When he tried to bring some of the allegations to light in the lawsuit last year, “the Obama Justice Department threatened him with loss of freedom. They said they would bring a criminal case against him for violating an NDA,” she added.

Emails obtained by The Hill show that a civil attorney working with the former undercover witness described the pressure the Justice Department exerted to keep the client from disclosing to a federal court what he knew last summer. “The government was taking a very harsh position that threatened both your reputation and liberty,” the civil lawyer wrote in one email. In another, she added, “As you will recall the gov’t made serious threats sufficient to cause you to withdraw your civil complaint.”

Justice Department and FBI officials did not return calls seeking comment.

It is important to emphasize that it is an undisputed fact that Bill Clinton received $500,000 in speaking fees from the Russians just before Hillary Clinton decided to approve the Russian deal. The Russians also gave the Clinton Foundation millions at the same time.

It also must be emphasized that Robert Mueller, now running an open-ended Democratic investigation of Trump, was head of the FBI during this time period.


Senate committee opens investigation into Russian uranium bribes to Clintons

Some real Russian collusion! The Senate Judiciary committee has opened an investigation into the revelations yesterday that the Clinton Foundation received significant money from the Russians prior to Hillary Clinton’s approval in 2010 of a deal giving Russia control of 20 percent of the U.S. uranium resources, and that the FBI had evidence of this pay-for-play and the Obama administration covered it up.

Unlike the empty accusations of Russian collusion against Trump, which have been based on zero evidence, these allegations involve some solid facts, including documented contributions by the Russians, in the millions, to the Clintons and their foundation.


UK health system considers banning surgery for smokers and the obese

Coming to a single-payer plan near you! Great Britain’s nationalized health system has proposed banning surgeries for anyone who smokes or is overweight.

In recent years, a number of areas have introduced delays for such patients – with some told operations will be put back for months, during which time they are expected to try to lose weight or stop smoking.

But the new rules, drawn up by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Hertfordshire, say that obese patients “will not get non-urgent surgery until they reduce their weight” at all, unless the circumstances are exceptional. The criteria also mean smokers will only be referred for operations if they have stopped smoking for at least eight weeks, with such patients breathalysed before referral.

East and North Hertfordshire CCG and Herts Valleys said the plans aimed to encourage people “to take more responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, wherever possible, freeing up limited NHS resources for priority treatment”. Both are in financial difficulty, and between them seeking to save £68m during this financial year. [emphasis mine]

This is what happens when you centralize control of an industry into the hands of government. Rather than compete and find ways to better serve their customers while saving money, as the competitive private market does, a centralized top-down government operation rations services so that fewer people can get them.


Producing oxygen and fuel from Martian CO2

New research suggests that the conditions on Mars are ideal for using its carbon dioxide to produce both oxygen and fuel for future manned missions.

Mars has excellent conditions for In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) by plasma. As well as its CO2 atmosphere, the cold surrounding atmosphere (on average about 210 Kelvin) may induce a stronger vibrational effect than that achievable on Earth. The low atmospheric temperature also works to slow the reaction, giving additional time for the separation of molecules.

Dr Guerra said: “The low temperature plasma decomposition method offers a twofold solution for a manned mission to Mars. Not only would it provide a stable, reliable supply of oxygen, but as source of fuel as well, as carbon monoxide has been proposed as to be used as a propellant mixture in rocket vehicles.

While achieving this kind of in-situ resource use is not trivial, it is essential if humans are going to settle colonies on Mars. This research seems to be a good start.


Higher insurance rates for Proton threaten its market viability

Capitalism in space: Because the insurance industry is presently charging significantly more to insure a Proton launch than it charges for Falcon 9 or Ariane 5, the Russian share of the launch market is threatened.

Insurance premiums for launches of International Launch Services’ Russian Proton rocket, which satellite operators and insurers say is a necessary third leg for the commercial market — the SpaceX Falcon 9 and the ArianeGroup Ariane 5 being the other two — total about 12% of the insured value. That compares with 3-4% for Ariane 5 and 4-5% for the Falcon 9.

In dollar terms, that means that ILS customers seeking a $200 million policy covering the the value of the satellite, the launch and the satellite’s first year in orbit, would pay a $24 million premium. The same customer launching the same satellite on Falcon 9 or the Ariane 5 would pay no more than $10 million, and possibly less.

The industry cites the quality control problems experienced by the entire Russian space industry, and Proton in particular, in the past decade for this differential. They say they expect these rates to fall if Proton continues its string of successful launches, now totaling 12 in a row.

The article also includes an interesting interview with Kirk Pysher, the head of International Launch Services (ILS), which handles the commercial launches of Proton for Russia. He mentions the possibility that Russia will self-insure so private customers will no longer have bear the cost of these higher rates, thus making ILS more competitive with SpaceX and ArianeGroup.

I think there is another unstated reason why the insurance company is charging more. In the past five years Russia consolidated its entire aerospace industry into a single corporation, Roscosmos, run by the government. I suspect that insurers do not trust this set-up for being the best vehicle for achieving efficiency and good quality control, and that is why they are still taking a wait-and-see attitude on whether Russia has gotten a handle on the quality control issues that caused so many failures in recent years.


NASA and Australia sign extension of space-tracking agreement

NASA and Australia have signed an extension of the treaty that allowed for the construction and operation of antennas in Australia used by NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Australia’s ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, signed the Space Tracking Treaty on behalf of Australia, with the acting administrator of NASA, Robert Lightfoot, signing on behalf of the US, at a ceremony at the Australian Embassy in Washington DC.

The treaty covers civil space facilities owned by NASA and located within Australia, including the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla, as well as facilities in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

That the treaty signing was turned into a photo-op, something that previous signings did not require, suggests to me that Australia’s politicians are planning bigger things for their future space program.


Thirty mile cave on the Moon?

A new analysis of data from Japan’s Kaguya lunar orbiter suggests that one of the cave pits it found could be an entrance to a lava tube 30 miles long.

In 2009, the Kaguya probe found a large shaft with an opening about 50 meters in diameter in the Marius Hills area. The shaft descends about 50 meters beneath the surface.

The JAXA team analyzed data obtained from a lunar radar sounder on the probe that indicated an underground structure extended west from the shaft. The study confirmed that the cavern, likely created by volcanic activity, has not collapsed, and there is the possibility of ice or water existing in rocks within the cave, the team said.

Do a search on Behind the Black using the search terms “cave” and “moon” and you will see many images of this pit, taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter as a follow-up to the Kaguya mission.


Turkey will establish space agency this year

The new colonial movement: According to one Turkish official, Turkey is aiming to establish its own space agency within a year in order to better coordinate its aerospace effort.

Arslan also said that once established, the Turkish space agency shall oversee all Turkish satellite manufacturing and needs, the development of Turkey’s own indigenous space launch capability and launch centre, all other aerospace requirements, and even a human spaceflight programme.

Like many of these third world space efforts, it is the country itself that is running the space program, not private companies. While the competition between these different countries (and the private American companies) will fuel the growth of the industry and the establishment of space colonies, in the long run this is not the best way to do things. It would be far better to establish policies that encourage private, competing, and independent companies within each of these third world countries. In that way, they will eventually have a larger economy and can better compete on the open market.

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