Monthly Archives: November 2014

Chinese spacecraft reaches L2

The service module for China’s test lunar probe, that circled the Moon before returning to Earth, has reached L2 as planned.

As of Friday, the service module had been flying for 28 days, and was 421,000 kilometers away from Earth and 63,000 km from the moon. All experiments are going well. The service module was separated from the return capsule of China’s test lunar orbiter, which returned to Earth on Nov. 1 after circling the moon in its eight-day mission launched on Oct. 24.

…After two orbital transfers, the service module re-entered the elliptical orbit with an apogee of 540,000 km and a perigee of 600 km. During the flight, the service module again performed orbital transfer actions twice, and flew along the pre-set Earth-moon transfer orbit. On Nov. 23, it reached the perilune and with the lunar gravity it was able to undertake the orbit maneuver to fly to the L2 point.

This is brilliant management. They not only test return-to-Earth capability, they practice flying a robot ship in deep space, doing complex orbital maneuvers. In addition, depending on the equipment on the service module, they get a cheap unmanned probe for observing the near lunar environment.

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Hayabusa-2 scheduled for launch

Delayed due to weather twice, the launch of Japan’s Hayabusa-2 asteroid probe has now been scheduled for Wednesday.

This probe comes with four mini-rovers and an impactor!

Hayabusa 2’s target is a 1km-wide asteroid labelled 1999 JU3, after the year when it was discovered. It is a C-type asteroid, thought to contain more organic material than other asteroids, and so might again help scientists understand how the Solar System evolved.

The Japanese space agency JAXA intend for Hayabusa 2 to catch up with asteroid 1999 JU3 in 2018. It will land a small cube-shaped probe called MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) developed by the German Space Agency (DLR) together with French space partners the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES). The lander is able to move its centre of gravity so that it can tip itself over in order to move across the asteroid’s surface. The three small rovers, called Minerva-II, will also roam the asteroid, gathering data. Hayabusa 2 also carries an impactor that will blast a 2-metre-wide crater in the asteroid’s surface, which will allow the spacecraft to collect fragments and bring them home for study in the laboratory. The spacecraft itself is designed to touch down briefly three times to gather samples.

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A scrambled SLS/Orion flight schedule

It ain’t gonna happen: In trying to figure out what to do with SLS/Orion, NASA has admitted that the earliest any crew mission to an asteroid can occur is now 2024.

I could quote from the article, but then I’d have to quote the entire article and comment on the absurdity of practically every sentence. NASA hasn’t the faintest idea what to do with SLS, it isn’t designed to do much of anything, and it doesn’t have the funding to anything even if they knew what they wanted to do with it. Hence, the constant scheduling rearrangements, all designed to push the actual manned flights farther and farther into the future.

The article does point out how NASA is now planning to fly its first crewed mission on SLS/Orion using an untested upper stage, since the rocket costs so much to launch they can’t afford to spend the money on an unmanned test flight beforehand. Meanwhile, they are demanding that SpaceX and Boeing do all kinds of unmanned test flights with their manned capsules at great cost to these companies, before allowing any astronauts on board.

As I’ve said repeatedly, this rocket is never going to fly anyone anywhere. By 2020 several private companies will be sending humans into space regularly at far less cost and with far greater capabilities. Congress will finally realize that they can spread their pork around more effectively by funding these companies instead, and they will cancel this bloated and wasteful program.

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Philae’s bouncing, tumbling landing sequence

Scientists and engineers have pieced together the bouncing and tumbling land sequence that Philae went through before it came to rest on Comet 67P/C-G, including the possibility that the second touch down was actually the spacecraft grazing a crater rim.

After the first touchdown, the spin rate started increasing. As the lander bounced off the surface, the control electronics of the flywheel were turned off and during the following 40 minutes of flight, the flywheel transferred its angular momentum to Philae. After this time, the lander was now spinning at a rate of about 1 rotation per 13 seconds;

At 16:20 GMT spacecraft time the lander is thought to have collided with a surface feature, a crater rim, for example. “It was not a touchdown like the first one, because there was no signature of a vertical deceleration due to a slight dipping of our magnetometer boom as measured during the first and also the final touchdown,” says Hans-Ulrich. “We think that Philae probably touched a surface with one leg only – perhaps grazing a crater rim – and after that the lander was tumbling. We did not see a simple rotation about the lander’s z-axis anymore, it was a much more complex motion with a strong signal in the magnetic field measurement.”

Following this event, the main rotation period had decreased slightly to 1 rotation per 24 seconds. At 17:25:26 GMT Philae touched the surface again, initially with just one foot but then all three, giving the characteristic touchdown signal. At 17:31:17 GMT, after travelling probably a few more metres, Philae found its final parking position on three feet.

The search for the spacecraft itself, sitting on the surface, continues.

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Safely landing the Falcon 9 first stage on the next launch

The competition heats up: The website SpaceFlightNow takes a close look at SpaceX’s effort on the next Falcon 9 launch on December 16 to recover the rocket’s first stage.

Musk estimates a 50% chance of success on this launch. Though I think his estimate is reasonable, I also think that this number is a testament to the skill and success of his company. Imagine: in less than three years, since Musk first proposed the idea of landing the first stage vertically, they have come so close to doing it! NASA certainly couldn’t have moved that fast. Neither could most of the experienced launch companies like Arianespace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, or Russia.

Instead, it takes a new company, a fresh outlook, and freedom to change the world. Who would have guessed?

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Proton launch postponed

The heat of competition: Russian engineers have scrubbed Friday’s commercial Proton launch due to a gyro issue with the rocket’s Briz upper stage.

They have begun to destack the rocket to get at the upper stage in order to repair the problem, with the new launch date expected to be no earlier than mid-December.

The problem once again raises questions about the quality control generally within the Russian aerospace industry and specifically in the companies that build Proton and its upper stage. At the same time, it is a good thing they spotted the problem before launch, allowing them to correct it. That is what a company with good quality control does.

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Ralph Vaughan Williams:- A Song of Thanksgiving

An evening pause: Written for the BBC to mark the end of World War II, Vaughan Williams selected text from the Bible, Shakespeare, and Rudyard Kipling.

Teach us the strength that cannot seek,
By deed, or thought, to hurt the weak;
That, under thee, we may possess
Man’s strength to comfort man’s distress.
Teach us delight in simple things,
The mirth that has no bitter springs;
Forgiveness free of evil done,
And love to all men ‘neath the sun.

Go here for the full lyrics. It is absolutely worthwhile to print them out and read them as you watch this video. The images and words work together with amazing force, and illustrate well the importance of giving thanks on this day.

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FAA moves to regulate and thus destroy drone use

We’re here to help you: The FAA is considering a new rule to require a pilot’s license in order to operate a private drone, even drones more akin to model airplanes.

The proposed rules would require that a drone owner would have to get certified as a pilot, “certification that can cost $10,000 and demand many hours flying aircraft that control nothing like a little drone.”

“Knowing the proper flap setting on a short runway approach for a Cessna 172 doesn’t do any good for a DJI Phantom [an inexpensive and popular commercial drone],” said Matt Waite, a University of Nebraska professor and founder of the Drone Journalism Lab. “A lot of people out there already running businesses in conflict with FAA policy, who don’t have pilot licenses, are probably looking at this like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.'”

Gee, here we have a new industry that is growing and prosperous, with many people coming up with creative ideas for using drones that none of its inventors ever dreamed of, and the government wants to step in and control it, regulating it to a point where it can’t even exist legally. Isn’t that nice of them?

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Court demands documents linked to IRS scandal

Working for the Democratic Party: After years of stonewalling, the Treasury Department has now been ordered by a federal court to release about 2,500 documents connected to the IRS’s illegal release to the Obama administration of the personal tax information of its opponents.

Some time in the next month these documents will become public knowledge. Considering the effort the Obama administration has made to keep them secret, I expect we shall then discover that the IRS was routinely and illegally feeding the Democrats the private tax records of their Republican opponents. Since the documents will also likely name names, we will also find out who among the Democrats demanded this illegal information, who in the IRS gave it to them, and who took that information and used it illegally.

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Obamacare and amnesty: working together to screw Americans

Finding out what’s in it: Because of the way Obamacare is written, it provides employees an incentive to hire illegal immigrants — temporarily and illegally given amnesty by Obama — instead of legal Americans.

Under the president’s new amnesty, businesses will have a $3,000-per-employee incentive to hire illegal immigrants over native-born workers because of a quirk of Obamacare. President Obama’s temporary amnesty, which lasts three years, declares up to 5 million illegal immigrants to be lawfully in the country and eligible for work permits, but it still deems them ineligible for public benefits such as buying insurance on Obamacare’s health exchanges. Under the Affordable Care Act, that means businesses who hire them won’t have to pay a penalty for not providing them health coverage — making them $3,000 more attractive than a similar native-born worker, whom the business by law would have to cover.

Just remember: Obama and the Democrats care! Though what they care about is maybe something more Americans should ask themselves.

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Billion-dollar-plus NASA medical research contract under dispute

A bidding dispute has forced NASA to again put up for bid a $1.5 billion contract for space medicine.

The dispute has to do with two dueling contractors, Wyle and SAIC, both of whom want the big bucks.

After Wyle won the Human Health and Performance contract in March 2013, SAIC filed a protest with the GAO, ultimately prompting NASA to reopen the competition.

When NASA reawarded the contract in August 2013, it chose SAIC. The following month, the McLean, Virginia-based firm — which had announced plans the previous summer to split into two companies — rebranded itself as Leidos and spun off its $4 billion government information technology and technical services unit as a publicly traded firm that kept the name SAIC and was slated to get the Human Health and Performance contract.

But Wyle filed its own protest with GAO in September 2013, arguing that NASA should discount SAIC’s lower bid — at $975 million, nearly 10 percent lower than Wyle’s — because it was submitted when the unit was still part of a much larger company with deeper pockets. This time, the GAO sided with Wyle.

The article says practically nothing about what all this money buys me, the taxpayer. And it is an awful lot of money. Is it for medical research on ISS? Is it for monitoring the health of the astronauts? Is it for biological research? What is it for exactly? I honestly can’t imagine how this kind of research or medical monitoring on ISS can cost this much. My skeptical nature has me wondering if this contract might instead be a bit inflated, much like SLS and Orion, in order to funnel pork to congressional districts to employ as many voters as possible.

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First 3D part manufactured in space

Astronauts on ISS have used a 3D printer, shipped to the station on the last Dragon flight, to print the first item ever manufactured in space.

“Everything worked exactly as planned, maybe a little better than planned,” Kemmer told NBC News. He said only two calibration passes were needed in advance of the first honest-to-goodness print job, which finished up at 4:28 p.m. ET Monday and was pulled out of the box early Tuesday. “It’s not only the first part printed in space, it’s really the first object truly manufactured off planet Earth,” Kemmer said. “Where there was not an object before, we essentially ‘teleported’ an object by sending the bits and having it made on the printer. It’s a big milestone, not only for NASA and Made In Space, but for humanity as a whole.”

The part made was a faceplate for the printer itself. This printer is a demonstration project, launched to test the engineering and to see how 3D printing operates in weightlessness. Eventually the goal is to have most of the spare parts on a interplanetary vehicle manufactured in space in this manner, using a supply of standard material, called feedstock, that would be much cheaper to ship from Earth.

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Looking down a comet’s neck

Looking down Comet 67P/C-G's neck

Because all the focus in past two weeks has been on the attempt to land Philae on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G, no one has been paying much attention to the images that Rosetta has continued to produce. On the right however is a humdinger, released on November 17. The image looks into the neck or saddle of the comet, from the side. The giant boulder Cheops can be seen in the saddle, with a jet visible against the black sky above it.

What I like about this image is that I can imagine hiking up the sandy slope to this narrow saddle, where I could stand next to Cheops and look out at that jet. For the explorer in all of us this sure wets the appetite for the future. If only people could go and do that now!

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Italy’s legislature rejects additional funding for space

The Italian legislature has refused to add an additional $250 million to the budget of its space program, money requested to help pay the country’s share in the development of Arianespace’s next generation commercial rocket, Ariane 6.

The money was also needed for several other ESA space projects. Not having it puts a question mark on Italy’s future in space. The article also illustrates how the committee nature of Europe’s cooperative space effort makes it almost impossible for it to compete in the commercial market.

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Carnegie Mellon unveils its Google X-Prize lunar rover

The lunar rover that one of the competitors wants to use to win the Google Lunar X-prize was unveiled on Monday.

The rover was built by students as part of a college school project. Whether it ever flies is entirely unknown. The effort, however, has helped train a new generation of space engineers.

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Cygnus on Falcon 9?

The heat of competition: Industry rumors now suggest that Orbital Sciences’s first choice for launching its next ISS freighter Cygnus is SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

The articles offers this explanation for why Orbital is favoring its chief competitor:

While flying on a competitor’s launch vehicle might be viewed as awkward, the decision could boil down to one simple determining factor – cost. It has been estimated that a flight on a F9 would set a customer back $62 million. By comparison, United Launch Alliance’s (ULA ) Atlas V 401 launch vehicle, a booster with similar capabilities to the F9, costs an estimated $100 million per mission. Moreover, SpaceX has a proven track record with the Falcon 9.

All true, but I can think of two more reasons SpaceX is the top choice.
» Read more

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Antarctic ice sheet thicker than expected

The uncertainty of science: New measurements of the Antarctic ice sheets using an unmanned underwater drone have found them to be much thicker than expected.

Risky robotic exploration of the vast expanse of sea ice around Antarctica has revealed it to be far thicker in many places than previously measured. “The conventional picture of Antarctic sea ice being a thin veneer over the ocean is probably only true for some portion of it,” says Ted Maksym, an ice researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts (WHOI). “We need to do a better job of surveying the overall ice cover.”

Previous observations of the thickness of Antarctic sea ice produced a mean draught — the depth between the waterline and the bottom of the ice sheet — of around 1 metre; the new work gives a mean draught of over 3 metres. And a previous maximum recorded ice-sheet thickness of 10 metres has now been increased to 16 metres.

Near the end of the article there is also this:

The more data scientists can gather about Antarctic sea ice, the more they can unpick why climate models struggle to accurately predict its extent. Although researchers have been generally successful at modelling the huge declines in Arctic sea ice, the extent of Antarctic sea ice has actually increased in recent years, contrary to the predictions of models.

Actually, the Antarctic sea ice has grown to record size in recent years, and the Arctic sea ice has significantly recovered in the past two years, all contrary to all climate models.

“But the science is settled,” whines a certain unnamed politician. “This can’t be true! Zimmerman must be a racist for writing it!”

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Obama proclaims he will fail to do what every President has failed to do since Carter and the right goes crazy.

I was reading Newt Gingrich”s commentary blasting Obama for his immigration amnesty announcement and was struck by this paragraph:

[Under Obama’s directive] there will be one group, estimated at 4 million or so, who are eligible for the new work authorization program. But at the same time, there will be no resources directed at enforcing immigration law against the other 7 million people here illegally as long as they do not fall into a few narrow categories, according to the President’s Office of Legislative Affairs. And indeed, a “senior administration official” told Roll Call that the administration “will order immigration agents to prioritize deportations of criminals and recent arrivals — and let people who are not on that priority list go free.”

I read this and realized that what Obama is doing, or not doing, depending on your point of view, is exactly what every President since Carter has done or failed to do. For the right to blast him for this unconstitutional behavior is fine, but we mustn’t forget that Republican presidents have been just as corrupt and as unconstitutional. Since the 1970s the executive branch of our federal government has simply failed to enforce the immigration laws that exist, in exactly the way Obama outlined it, and the result has been the arrival of millions of illegal immigrants inside the United States.

All Obama has done is admit to this failure, and draped it in the mantle of his approval. Past presidents had instead made believe they were doing their constitutional duty, even as they quietly allowed immigration officials to cease enforcing the law. Why else are so many illegals here?

It is this failure, by Presidents of both parties, that ipitomizes the corruption and failure of the federal government on all issues. From the budget to immigration to healthcare to pushing for wasted funding for SLS, our federal government is a pile of garbage that is choking the life out of American society, on all levels. It is for this reason that I heartily and without fear routinely support the election of untried and sometimes foolish sounding tea party candidates: they can’t possibliy be worse than what we already have and — because of their passion for smaller government — are far more likely to be much better.

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Emails reveal press willingness to be manipulated by the Obama administration

Transparency! Freedom of Information emails obtained from the Obama administration in connection with the Justice Department’s effort to allow guns to leave the U.S. for Mexico illegally, dubbed Fast-and-Furious, show the administration’s aggressive effort to manipulate the press and squelch any reporters willing to report the scandal honestly.

Key quote: “Any way we can fix Fox?” The emails also show that White House officials trying to silence reporting by Sharyl Attkisson, then working for CBS.

I am less outraged by the jackbooted behavior of the Obama administraton here than the wimpy willingness of the so-called independent press to follow the administration’s orders. The very effort of White House officials to silence journalists was a story in itself, and any good press person should jump at the chance to reveal this behavior to everyone. Instead, top editors at the major networks apparently got down on their knees to lick the boots of these White House officials.

It amazes me that anyone believes anything aired by these mainstream media news organizations. They have become a joke.

More here, including this juicy quote: “There are very few things that are actually as dishonest, wicked and corrupt as conservatives think they are. But CBS News is one of them.”

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Sheriff tases and arrests homeschooling family because their house is messy

We’re here to help you! Lacking a warrant, police officers forced their way into the home of a homeschooling family, tased the parents, and then arrested them.

The reason? A child protection caseworker had visited the house a few days previously and had found it to be “messy.” When the caseworker returned with the sheriff and his deputy, without a warrant, the parents refused them entry.

As Jason [the father] turned to go back inside, Glidden [the deputy] sprayed him with pepper spray—first at the back of his head and then directly in his face. Glidden also sprayed Laura [the mother], who fell to the floor. Glidden then turned to Jason, who was still standing, and shot him in the back with his Taser. As Jason fell, Laura closed the front door. Glidden triggered the Taser three more times through the closed door.

Sheriff White joined Glidden on the front porch. Together they forced open the door and found Laura and Jason lying on the floor. Glidden sprayed Laura in the face a second time while White sprayed Jason and tried to turn him over onto his stomach. Laura shouted to the officers that Jason had been taken to the emergency room earlier in the week for chest pains. White nevertheless continued attempting to turn Jason over and sprayed him a third time when he was unsuccessful. The officers also sprayed the Hagans’ dog with chemical agent and threatened to shoot it if it didn’t stop barking.

Finally, the officers handcuffed and arrested Laura and Jason and charged them with resisting arrest and child endangerment.

The charges were dismissed because of the lack of warrant, and the family is now suing. The article does not say whether they are suing the state or the officers themselves. I hope they are suing the officers, as there should be some direct consequnces for this kind of fascist behavior.

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Images of Falcon 9 first stage fins and landing platform

The heat of competition: Elon Musk today tweeted images of the floating landing platform and new fins to be tested on SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 attempt to safely land the first stage vertically.

The launch is presently scheduled for December 16. Imagine the excitment if that first stage successful lands on that platform.

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