SpaceShipTwo crashes during test flight

During a powered flight test today SpaceShipTwo suffered an explosion, destroying the ship.

It is reported that the problem occurred after the ship fired its engines. It is also reported that parachutes were spotted after the explosion, but at this moment the fate of the pilots is unknown.

Update: One report says that one pilot was killed while the other was seriously injured. More info here.

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CDC deletes ebola info from website

Incompetence: One day after posting information that said ebola could be spread by a sneeze, the Centers for Disease Control has deleted that information from its webpage.

It could be the deleted webpage was wrong, which raises the question: Why had they posted it in the first place? Or it could be that the deleted webpage was right, which raises the question: Why did they delete it?

Or it could be that they haven’t the slightest idea what they are doing, which raises the question: Why do so many Americans still want to put their trust, and their lives, at the mercy of these government hacks?

The Earth/Moon double planet, as seen by China’s Chang’e 5 probe

Earth/Moon as seen by Chang'e 5

China’s Chang’e 5 probe has taken a spectacular image of the Moon and Earth as it whips around the Moon on its circumlunar test flight.

Though China has released little additional information about the status of the mission, this image demonstrates that the vehicle is functioning well, sending back data, and that they are controlling its operation precisely and exactly as planned. The spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth on November 1.

Meanwhile, China’s second lunar probe, Chang’e 2, now in solar orbit about 60 million miles from Earth, continues to operate four years after launch

A mysterious piece of Russian space junk does maneuvers!

What was first thought to be a piece of debris left over from the launch of three Russian military communication satellites has turned out to be a fourth satellite capable of maneuvers.

The three satellites were designated Kosmos-2496, -2497, -2498. However, as in the previous launch on December 25, 2013, the fourth unidentified object was detected orbiting the Earth a few kilometers away from “routine” Rodnik satellites.

Moreover, an analysis of orbital elements from a US radar by observers showed that the “ghost” spacecraft had made a maneuver between May 29 and May 31, 2014, despite being identified as “debris” (or Object 2014-028E) in the official US catalog at the time. On June 24, the mysterious spacecraft started maneuvering again, lowering its perigee (lowest point) by four kilometers and lifting its apogee by 3.5 kilometers. Object E then continued its relentless maneuvers in July and its perigee was lowered sharply, bringing it suspiciously close to the Briz upper stage, which had originally delivered all four payloads into orbit in May.

This is the second time a Russian piece of orbital junk has suddenly started to do maneuvers. The first time, in early 2014, the Russians finally admitted five months after launch that the “junk” was actually a satellite. In both cases, the Russians have not told anyone what these satellites are designed to do, though based on the second satellite’s maneuvers as well as its small size (about a foot in diameter) it is likely they are testing new cubesat capabilities, as most cubesats do not have the ability to do these kinds of orbital maneuvers.

Once you have that capability, you can then apply it to cubesats with any kind of purpose, from military anti-satellite technology to commercial applications.

Ex-construction boss at Vostochny arrested

The man formerly in charge of construction at Russia’s new spaceport in Vostochny has been arrested and charged with stealing $43 million dollars from the project.

The corruption might be true, as this kind of thing is culturally typical for the centralized government-run operations that are generally favored in Russia. It is also possible that Putin’s government wanted a scapegoat to blame for the construction delays and cost overruns in building Vostochny.

Either way, Putin gets what he wants. This prosecution will make it very clear to everyone involved in building Vostochny that the government wants it built fast and without further theft, and it is watching what people do there very closely.

Controversy surrounding IXV flight cancellation

Italian officials are suggesting politics or incompetence for the sudden cancellation Wednesday of the November test flight of Europe’s IXV experimental spaceplane.

ESA and CNES officials up to now have either declined to comment or, in the case of ESA, said they were at a loss to explain why a program whose mission profile has not changed in several years is now suddenly stalled for [range] safety issues that in principle should have been aired and resolved long ago.

One official, saying he could not believe that the two agencies simply forgot to evaluate the safety issues, said he preferred to suspect political motives. “Look, we are about to send a spacecraft and lander to Mars, in one year,” this official said. “Europe has rendezvoused with a comet a decade after the [Rosetta comet-chaser] satellite was launched. You want me to believe that somehow the agencies just forgot to evaluate safety? That is too far-fetched. I would rather believe there is some political motive.”

The claim is that no one ever evaluated the range issues in sending the Vega rocket to the east instead of its normal polar orbit trajectory. The Italian officials are suggesting that either the officials who cancelled the mission are incompetent, or that their competition with France within ESA over launch vehicles (Ariane 6 vs Vega) prompted the cancellation.

Europe’s lead launch-vehicle nation is France, which initially balked at participating in the Vega program. A French minister said that in Europe, launch vehicles are French. The French government declined to allow the export, to Italy, of the avionics suite that guides Vega, forcing Italy to develop its own. Italy has since done so and successfully flown it on Vega. As it stands now, one official said, France must accept the idea that with Vega, Italy has led development of a vehicle that at least in principle resembles an intercontinental ballistic missile. “Some people don’t like that,” this official said.

Either way, this cancellation combined with the difficult and extended disagreements within ESA over replacing Ariane 5 suggest that the future of this European partnership is becoming increasingly shaky.

A further update on Antares failure

A close look at the damaged launchpad from Tuesday’s Antares launch failure has confirmed both that it avoided significant damage and that the rocket debris being recovered there will speed up and aid in the failure investigation.

Also, the Ukrainian company that built Antares first stage has opened its own investigation of the launch failure.

Two Republican senators propose limiting ability of government to confiscate property

Theft by government: Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) are both proposing limits to the federal government’s ability to confiscate private property.

Since these confiscations are essentially unconstitutional and illegal, “limiting” the government’s ability here to me seems to be a weak response. These confiscations should cease entirely, now. Still, at least these Republicans are making sounds they want to do something about this fascist behavior.

Massive voter fraud in Maryland

An election watchdog group has uncovered evidence of massive voter fraud in Maryland, including evidence large numbers of non-citizens voting as well as more than 40,000 individuals registered to vote in both Virginia and Maryland.

The group, Virginia Voters Alliance, says that it compared how voters in Frederick County filled out jury duty statements compared with their voting records. The group’s investigation found that thousands of people in Frederick County who stated that they are not U.S. citizens on jury duty forms went on to cast votes in elections. Either they failed to tell the truth when they were summoned for jury duty, or they cast illegal votes. Both are crimes. The same group previously found that about 40,000 people are registered to vote in both Virginia and Maryland.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, numerous officials and campaign workers, almost all supporters of Democratic Senator Kay Hagan, have been caught on tape eagerly encouraging an illegal immigrant to vote illegally. I’ve posted the video below the fold.
» Read more

Atlas 5 successfully launches GPS satellite

ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket today successfully launched an Air Force GPS satellite.

The article is worth reading because it does a nice job of summarizing the launch history of the Atlas 5, first introduced in 2002. The key quote, however, is this:

All of the rocket’s early flights carried commercial communications satellites, with the next few launches orbiting HellasSat-2, Rainbow 1, AMC-16 and Inmarsat-4F1. In August 2005 the sixth Atlas V embarked on the type’s first mission for the US Government, deploying NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on the first leg of its mission to the Red Planet.

In other words, the first six flights were commercial, with every flight since 2005 for either NASA or the military. What this suggests to me is that the Atlas 5 is not competitive in the commercial market. It is too expensive, and commercial customers can’t afford it. In contrast, the federal government hasn’t been interested in saving the taxpayer money for years, and pays for this overpriced rocket in order to keep its builders employed.

TSA confiscates a toy ray-gun belt buckle

Does this make you feel safer? At an airport security checkpoint the TSA confiscated a belt buckle made to look like a toy Flash Gordon ray-gun.

It wasn’t a real gun. It wasn’t even a toy gun. It was a belt buckle fashioned to look like a 1940s science fiction ray-gun. Even if it was one of the actual Flash Gordon ray-guns that was used in the movie serial, it couldn’t have done anything.

But it wasn’t. It was a belt buckle.

I am so glad we have the TSA looking out for us!

Initial assessement of Wallops launchpad completed

The investigation into the Antares launch failure has completed its initial assessment of the launchpad.

More here. Overall, the pad’s condition sounds better than expected. To quote the Orbital press release at the first link above,

The overall findings indicate the major elements of the launch complex infrastructure, such as the pad and fuel tanks, avoided serious damage, although some repairs will be necessary. However, until the facility is inspected in greater detail in the coming days, the full extent of necessary repairs or how long they will take to accomplish will not be known.

The image at the second link above shows some of the damage, none of which looks devastating.

Cheap alternatives to Obamacare on the rise

Finding out what’s in it: The purchase of short-term health plans outside of Obamacare is sky-rocketing as citizens scramble to avoid the law’s high costs.

A fast-growing, short-term alternative to ObamaCare that allows customers to get cheap, one-year policies could put the government-subsidized plan into a death spiral. The plans, the only ones allowed for sale outside of ObamaCare exchanges, generally cost less than half of what similar ObamaCare policies cost, and are increasing in popularity as uninsured Americans learn they are required to get health coverage. The catch — that the policies only last for a year — is not much of a deterrent, given that customers can always sign up for ObamaCare if their short-term coverage is not renewed.

“Applications rose 30 percent compared to last year,” eHealthInsurance.com Enrollment Specialist Carrie McLean told FoxNews.com. Other providers said they also see rapid growth in the plans, which have a typical monthly premium of just over $100, compared to traditional plans that cost an average of $271.

The irony here is that when Obamacare caused the cancellation of hundreds of thousands if not millions of health plans that people liked, wanted, and could afford, Obama and the Democrats claimed that those plans were cheap and bad plans that those people shouldn’t have liked or purchased in the first place. The Democrats knew better, and because they cared, they passed Obamacare to force everyone off those plans. Now, because Obamacare plans are so expensive many simply can’t afford them, people are buying these short-term health plans, which are exactly like the kind of garbage health plans that the Democrats claimed Obamacare had eliminated.

Thank you Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Your wisdom knows no bounds!

Note also that when government creates a situation where needed products or goods are no longer affordable, some form of black market in those products or goods is going to appear, no matter what. This is an example of that.

Video of election machine voter fraud?

Video has finally become available showing a voting machine picking a Democrat when a voter presses the touchscreen for a Republican.

Having been an election judge in Maryland, up until now I have been generally skeptical of this story that has been making the rounds in the past week. It is notoriously easy to accidently press the wrong button on a touchscreen, so hearing that people pressed Republican and got Democrat did not impress me. The story could easily be an example of Republican partisans trying to drum up outrage against Democrats, something I abhor, from either party. I wanted to see actual video.

Well, we’ve got some video now, which I’ve posted below the fold. As the article notes,

The YouTube footage is the first visual report of the alleged problem with the voting machines. The error appears to occur when the voter’s finger is slightly off center in the Republican box, which appears below the Democrat box. It is apparently still possible to vote for the Republican candidate, and it is possible for a vigilant voter to correct the mistake and vote again, but a voter in a hurry might easily register a mistaken vote for the Democrat by mistake and fail to notice. The problem seems to recur throughout the ticket of races. (No test involving a voter trying to choose the Democratic candidate and selecting the Republican instead is shown.)

The footage is still not conclusive, as there are many ways the action could be made to appear worse than it really is, and there is no real proof that this video is of an actual voting machine, in a voting booth.

If true, however, it suggests real voter fraud, as there is no way the machine could have accidently been programmed to misread a finger touch like this. Someone would have had to intentionally calibrated the machine to do this.

» Read more

How the biggest sunspot in a quarter century fits into history

Want to know the overall context of the biggest sunspot in almost 25 years, even as it rotates off the Sun’s face? Read this.

Based on past history, this sunspot will be long lasting. As this appears to be its first rotation, it will likely return in about two weeks when the Sun completes another half-rotation.

Houston mayor withdrews sermon subpoenas

A partial victory for free speech: The lesbian mayor of Houston has withdrawn the subpoenas her administration had issued demanding that conservative pastors turn over to the government any sermons or communications which had discussed politics.

I call this a partial victory because the mayor, Annise Parker, is still in office, and was still unapologetic about the subpoenas.

“The goal of the subpoenas is to defend against the lawsuit and not to provoke a public debate,” Parker said. She is ordering the subpoenas removed for the sake of Houston, not because the request were in any way illegal or intended to intrude on religious liberties, Parker said. “I didn’t do this to satisfy them,” Parker said of critics. “I did it because it was not serving Houston.”

She still thinks it was perfectly okay to make this demand against her opponents. Such a person should never be allowed the power of any political office, including dog-catcher.

Test flight of European space plane delayed

The November suborbital test flight of Europe’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) has been delayed to allow additional preparation.

For this mission, instead of heading north into a polar orbit, as on previous flights, Vega will head eastwards to release the spaceplane into a suborbital path reaching all the way to the Pacific Ocean to test new technologies for future autonomous controlled reentry for return missions. This trajectory is unprecedented for Vega and therefore more information is being generated on the performance of the launch vehicle, should an anomaly occur after liftoff.

ESA will not only be testing the flight characteristics of the space plane, they will be testing their new Vega rocket, which has only been launched a handful of times.

First chemical results from Rosetta

Spectroscopy from Rosetta has identified the make-up of a single dust grain captured by the spacecraft.

For the convenience of communications the science team had dubbed this single grain “Boris.”

[T]hese first results show that among the grain’s components are magnesium and sodium. Since 95 percent of the known observed minerals in comets resemble olivine and pyroxenes – containing a lot of magnesium – the detection of this element is not a big surprise. But, finding sodium in the dust grain, in a refractory mineral phase, has sparked our interest considerably.

The coma and tails of other comets are already known to contain sodium; it was observed in the dust samples returned from Comet Wild 2 by NASA’s Stardust mission, and a prominent example was also the sodium tail of Comet Hale-Bopp that flew past the Sun in April 1997 and which could be seen in the night sky for many weeks. However, by contrast, neither sodium nor magnesium were observed in Comet 67P/C-G dust grains before sampling the inner coma dust. But our dust grain Boris has showed off with clear sodium and magnesium mass peaks in the secondary ion mass spectra that we obtained.

Their next goal is to identify where on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G this sodium came from.

Avalanches on an asteroid

A new analysis predicts that when the asteroid Apophis flies past the Earth in 2029, the close fly-by will cause avalanches on the asteroid.

If asteroids pass close to Earth, they begin to experience the effects of our planet’s gravity. Just like the moon pushes and pulls the oceans, creating the tides, asteroids are susceptible to tidal forces from our planet. To judge what effect this will have on Apophis, scientists need to know what it’s made of. Their best guess is based on photos taken by a Japanese spacecraft named Hayabusa, which took detailed pictures of an Apophis-sized asteroid named Itokawa. Those images revealed that the asteroid wasn’t a solid mass of rock spinning through space, but rather a giant clump of debris held together loosely by gravity. “You look at the [Hayabusa] pictures and you’re like, ‘Uh, that’s a pile of rocks, dude.’ It’s very likely that Apophis is similar,” says astrophysicist Derek Richardson of the University of Maryland, College Park.

To show that Earth’s gravity could cause some of these rocks to tumble, Richardson and his colleagues developed a computer model that allowed them to place virtual sand piles across the surface of a model asteroid with roughly the same dimensions as Apophis. By factoring in the gravity from the asteroid, the tidal force from Earth, centrifugal force caused by the asteroid’s rotation, inertial forces, and other effects, the team was able to predict how the particles on the surface of the asteroid would behave on approach. The results confirm that Earth’s tidal forces would be strong enough to cause tiny avalanches on the asteroid, the team reported online ahead of print in Icarus.

Need I note that there are a lot of uncertainties here? Because they are using what is known about a different asteroid, all of their assumptions about Apophis’s properties in their computer model could be very wrong.

Still, this is interesting, because it does demonstrate that an asteroid could be significantly disturbed simply by flying past a planet.

Updates on Antares launch failure

This link provides a summary of the post-accident press conference, while this link gives a good overview of the situation.

The value of having more than one cargo supplier has become immediately evident, as the scheduled December 9 launch of Dragon to ISS will go forward, and might have its cargo adjusted because of the Antares failure.

LADEE impact site located

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted the impact crater formed when engineers sent the probe LADEE crashing into the lunar surface in April 2014.

Compared with asteroid and meteoroid impacts on the moon, LADEE was actually traveling pretty slow, ‘only’ 3,800 miles per hour (1,700 meters per second). That combined with the relatively low mass and density of the spacecraft, a fairly neat crater of only 10 feet (3 meters) across was created. The crater barely registered in LROC’s image resolution, making it a very difficult task to identify the fresh man-made divot.

Doctors flee Obamacare

Finding out what’s in it: Because of low reimbursements, complex paperwork and regulations, and requirement that doctors treat patients even if they don’t pay for treatment, almost a quarter of a million doctors have opted out of Obamacare.

Remember, it was the Democratic Party and Barack Obama that gave us Obamacare, and only them. They got no help from anyone else, and actually were not interested in anyone else’s advice. They knew better, and the result has been this disaster. Remember this on election day.

Antares launch failure

Immediately after lifting off from the launchpad this evening, Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket exploded, falling back onto the launchpad.

We will have to wait for more details, but regardless this is bad news for Orbital Sciences. The bidding for the second round of cargo contracts to ISS is about to begin, and they will have competition from Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser. This accident will hurt them.

I’ve embedded footage of the launch failure below. The damage to the launchpad itself could be the worst aspect of this, as it will cost Orbital Sciences a great deal of money and time to get the pad rebuilt.

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