Monthly Archives: March 2016

Ordered to reduce red tape, federal bureaucrats increased it

Government in action: In response to two executive orders by President Obama ordering federal agencies to review their regulations to eliminate red tape and streamline government operations, federal bureaucrats added 6.5 million paperwork hours to their workload and increased regulatory costs by $16 billion even as they wrote these reviews.

The American Action Forum has found the reviews consist mostly of recycled regulations by federal agencies that have actually increased regulatory costs. “The recent ‘retrospective reports’ from the administration reveal that executive agencies have added more than $16 billion in regulatory costs, up from $14.7 billion in the previous update, and 6.5 million paperwork hours,” the report said.

The agency reviews are a result of President Barack Obama’s initiative for a “government-wide review of rules on the books,” which the White House claims to have led to $28 billion in net five-year savings since 2011. However, the American Action Forum has found retrospective reviews often add additional costs to the economy. A review in 2014 added $23 billion in costs and 8.9 million paperwork burden hours.

No one should be surprised by this. Asking agencies to review their regulations will instead be seen by them as a glorious opportunity to justify their existence with more work. The way to eliminate these regulations is for the elected officials in charge to, surprise!, eliminate these regulations. Don’t ask the bureaucrats to do it. Tell them to do it.

And when these bureaucrats go to the press to complain and say how the elimination of this or that regulation will cause the sky to fall, the politicians have to have the courage to not back down, even when the press teams up with the bureaucrats to slander them for trying to bring the federal government under control.

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Fuel system on Atlas 5 linked to premature shutdown

An investigation into the early shutdown of the first stage engine on the Atlas 5 during last week’s Cygnus launch is now centered around the rocket’s fuel system.

Though they state that the system appears that it used its oxygen supply too quickly, the company has not released more details.

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White nose syndrome found on Washington state bat

Bad news for bats: Scientists have confirmed a bat with white nose syndrome in the state of Washington, 1,300 miles further west than the previous detection.

On March 11, hikers found the sick bat about 30 miles east of Seattle near North Bend, and took it to Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) for care. The bat died two days later, and had visible symptoms of a skin infection common in bats with WNS. PAWS then submitted the bat for testing to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, which confirmed through fungal culture, molecular and pathology analyses that it had WNS.

I hate to express such a thought, but I can’t help wonder about the legitimacy of this detection. It is so far west and so far from the nearest other bat with white nose syndrome I cannot understand how this bat came to be infected, naturally. In order for this discovery to be confirmed they are going to have to detect it again, and more than once, on a number of bats. Otherwise, it will remain suspect and a possible false positive.

The worst part of this is that the government is surely going to begin instituting draconian measures to protect the bats in Washington, as well as across the entire western United States, even before this detection is confirmed. Having this single detection will make it much easier for government officials to ban humans from many more places, even though white nose syndrome is nowhere close.

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India signs deal for its own LIGO

India today signed an agreement with the National Science Foundation to build its own LIGO gravitational wave detector

This deal, combined with the possibility that TMT might move to India as well, suggests that India is about to move aggressively from the Third World to the First. And the reason, after decades of wallowing in poverty and failure, is that they finally abandoned in the late 1990s the Soviet models of socialism and communism and embraced private enterprise and capitalism, ideas championed by the United States.

If only some modern Americans would do the same.

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OneWeb begins hiring in Florida

The competition heats up: The new satellite company OneWeb, with plans to launch a constellation of 900 satellites beginning next year, has begun hiring engineers for a manufacturing plant it intends to locate in Florida.

The article also notes the construction start of a new building that is suspected but not confirmed as the location of that manufacturing plant.

OneWeb’s existence is visible proof of my contention that if the launch business can lower the cost to orbit it will create new customers who can afford to buy the product. OneWeb is partly lowering the cost on its own by using small cubesat-like satellites, but it is also taking advantage of the renewed competition in the launch industry to get better deals on buying the rockets it needs to launch those satellites.

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Earth forming around sun-like star?

proto-planetary disk

Worlds without end: The ground-based telescope ALMA has imaged a proto-planetary disk around a sun-like star that suggests an exoEarth is forming there the same distance from the star as our Earth is from our Sun.

The star, TW Hydrae, is a popular target of study for astronomers because of its proximity to Earth (approximately 175 light-years away) and its status as a veritable newborn (about 10 million years old). It also has a face-on orientation as seen from Earth. This affords astronomers a rare, undistorted view of the complete disk. “Previous studies with optical and radio telescopes confirm that this star hosts a prominent disk with features that strongly suggest planets are beginning to coalesce,” said Sean Andrews with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., and lead author on a paper published today in Astrophysical Journal Letters. “The new ALMA images show the disk in unprecedented detail, revealing a series of concentric dusty bright rings and dark gaps, including intriguing features that suggest a planet with an Earth-like orbit is forming there.”

Other pronounced gap features are located 3 billion and 6 billion kilometers from the central star, similar to the distances from the Sun to Uranus and Pluto in our own Solar System.

The image above right is the inner section of that disk, showing the gap at one astronomical unit, or about 100 million miles from the star, the same as the distance of the Earth from the Sun. Essentially, this relatively close star system is providing us a perfect opportunity to study the formation of a solar system not unlike our own.

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SpaceX wins first round in lawsuit

In the heat of competition: A state judge has denied a request by Broadcom for a temporary injunction to block the five engineers hired from that company by SpaceX from doing work during the lawsuit.

The article includes further information, including details from one of the poached employees, justifying and explaining their job move.

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Further chaos at Vostochny

One week after the Moscow Commercial Court ordered the contractor building the new Russian spaceport Vostochny to repay $52 million in bank loans, that contractor has now filed three lawsuits totaling $17.9 million against the organization that runs the spaceport.

The new lawsuits suggest that even as the contractor’s managers were embezzling millions from the spaceport, the spaceport organization was also pocketing some money that was supposed to go to the contractor.

Russia: a true worker’s paradise!

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Russia selling Sea Launch?

The competition heats up? Though he couldn’t reveal any details, the director of Russian space agency Roscosmos today said that they have found a buyer for Sea Launch.

“I cannot tell you who the investor is, or the value of the contract, due to certain obligations. I hope that we will have something to say about it by the end of April,” Komarov said. He did, however, say that investors from the U.S., Australia, China and Europe have expressed interest in the project.

Because Sea Launch is a floating launch platform, there really is no reason the company can’t be taken over by anyone in the world. And should the buyer use the Ukrainian Zenit rocket that the platform was designed to use, the technical problems might be reduced as well.

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Emory University alumni push back against free speech attacks

Push back: Emory University alumini are circulating a petition calling for the university to recommit itself to free speech instead of pandering to protesters demanding “emotional comfort, ideological conformity, and yes, ‘safe environments’.”

The petition was authored by alumni Matthew Walker and Ed Thayer, who said this:

“My Emory experience, which I look upon fondly, was periodically defined by eruptions of illiberal behavior from various student groups, although nothing as shrill and totalitarian as we are witnessing today,” Thayer said, adding that Emory administrators used to err on the side of free speech. “Nowadays they seem inclined to appease the worst intolerant and alarmist instincts of some students, while undercutting the foundations of free speech, tolerance, and a robust debate, which should thrive at a university.

Matthew Walker, for his part, summed up the whole situation in one word: “Unacceptable.”

The article above begins by focusing on how the university president has backed down from his original willingness to support the squelching of free speech. I suspect this pressure from alumni, who with most universities provide a great deal of financial support, is making him rethink his positions.

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Another subsidized solar power company going bust?

Your tax dollars at work! The U.S.’s largest solar power company, heavily subsidized by the federal government, now faces bankruptcy.

An SEC filing from TerraForm Global, a unit of SunEdison, claims “due to SunEdison’s liquidity difficulties, there is a substantial risk that SunEdison will soon seek bankruptcy protection.” Both SunEdison and TerraForm are delaying the filing of their annual financial report to the SEC.

News of SunEdison’s impending bankruptcy filing comes after the company’s shares fell 95 percent in the past 12 months, with shares now trading for less than $1 for the first time since the green energy company went public in 1995. SunEdison’s market value fell from $10 billion in July 2015 to around $400 million today.

The news also comes after the SEC announced it was launching an investigation into SunEdison’s disclosures to shareholders regarding the company’s liquidity. SEC enforcement officials “are looking into whether SunEdison overstated its liquidity last fall when it told investors it had more than $1 billion in cash,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

…The pro-labor union group Good Jobs First reported last year that SunEdison and its subsidiaries got nearly $650 million in subsidies and tax credits from the federal government since 2000. It was the 13th most heavily-subsidized company in America. This includes nearly $4.6 million in subsidies from the Department of Energy and Department of Treasury. Watchdog.org reported in October 2015 that SunEdison had gotten nearly $4.6 million from the Obama administration, including funding to build semi-conductors. A SunEdison bankruptcy could leave taxpayers on the hook for more than $2 billion.

But hey, what’s a few billion here or there, if the cause is worthwhile?

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Using lasers to travel to the stars

The competition really heats up! A research team at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) has proposed that an array of space-based lasers can be used to accelerate a solar sail to speeds as much as 26% the speed of light, thus making interstellar travel possible.

[The] key breakthrough was the development of modular arrays of synchronized high-power lasers, fed by a common “seed laser.” The modularity removes the need for building powerful lasers as a single device, splitting them instead into manageable parts and powering the seed laser with relatively little energy. Lockheed Martin has recently exploited this advance to manufacture powerful new weapons for the US Army. In March last year, the aerospace and defense giant demonstrated a 30 kW laser weapon (and its devastating effect on a truck). By October, the laser’s power had already doubled to 60 kW and offered the option to reach 120 kW by linking two modules using off-the-shelf components.

The UCSB researchers refer to their own planned arrays as DE-STAR (Directed Energy System for Targeting of Asteroids and ExploRation), with a trailing number to denote their size. A DE-STAR-1 would be a square array 10 meters (33 ft) per side and about as powerful as Lockheed’s latest; at the other end of the spectrum, a DE-STAR-4 would be a 70 GW array covering a massive area of 100 square kilometers (39 square miles).

…Lubin stresses that even a relatively modest orbital array could offer interesting propulsion capabilities to CubeSats and nanosatellites headed beyond Earth orbit, and that useful initial tests would still be conducted on the ground first on one-meter (3-ft) arrays, gradually ramping up toward assembling small arrays in orbit. While even a small laser array could accelerate probes of all sizes, the larger 70-GW system would of course be the most powerful, capable of generating enough thrust to send a CubeSat probe to Mars in eight hours – or a much larger 10,000-kg (22,000-lb) craft to the same destination in a single month, down from a typical six to eight.

Further upgrades would make it possible to send a cubesate and its lightsail to Alpha Centuri in about fifteen years.

The important point here is that it appears that all the technology for building this already exists, or is relatively straightforward to develop.

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Democratic AGs team up to prosecute global warming skeptics

Fascists: Democratic attorney generals from 16 states announced today that they plan on investigating and prosecuting companies for fraud if they dare express any skepticism about global warming.

“The bottom line is simple: Climate change is real; it is a threat to all the people we represent,” [New York Attorney General Eric] Schneiderman said. “If there are companies, whether they’re utilities, whether they’re fossil fuel companies, committing fraud in an effort to maximize their short-term profits at the expense of the people we represent, we want to find out about it. We want to expose it and want to pursue them to the fullest extent of the law.”

The concept of dissent and debate increasingly appears completely foreign to liberal, leftwing politicians and activists. Disagree with them in any way, and they think that gives them the right to destroy you.

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Federal law outlaws launches on foreign rockets

Killing competition: The American launch industry as well as the FAA regulators are in agreement that a 2005 law that limits American small satellite companies from using foreign launch companies should remain in place.

The CSLA, dating from 2005, is the U.S. government’s way of protecting the seemingly forever-nascent U.S. small-satellite launch industry from competing with government-controlled foreign launchers for U.S. business. It seeks to oblige non-U.S. rocket providers to sign a CSLA that, for all intents and purposes, sets U.S. commercial launch prices as the world minimum for government-owned non-U.S. launch providers.

The rationale is that these non-U.S. launchers, not bound by the constraints of profit and loss – but hungry for hard-currency export earnings – will undercut commercial U.S. companies’ launch prices and keep them from gaining market traction.

India’s launch rockets, for example, are designed and built by India’s space agency ISRO, and are backed not by private funds but by government money. The fear is that India could subsidize its rockets so that the price could always be kept below what any American company could charge.

The truth, however, is that competition and innovation, here in the U.S., has so successful undercut foreign prices that no amount of subsidies can hope to compete. Those foreign companies are now scrambling to actually redesign their rockets to lower their costs and thus their prices, rather than asking for more handouts from their governments. This law should be repealed.

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A possible impact on Jupiter?

On March 17 two different amateur astronomers have taken videos of a bright flash on Jupiter which suggests something had crashed into the gas giant.

March 17th’s impact, if the evidence for it holds up, becomes the fourth such event in the past decade. The largest of these occurred July 19, 2009, and it left a distinctly dark “powder burn” in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere first spotted by Australian astro-imager Anthony Wesley. That was followed by three lesser strikes on June 3, 2010 (recorded independently by Wesley and Christopher Go); on August 10, 2010 (independently seen by Masayuki Tachikawa and Kazuo Aoki); and on September 10, 2012 (seen visually by Dan Petersen and independently recorded by George Hall).

Counting the historic multiple-hit crash of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in July 1994, that’s a grand total of six impacts on Jupiter in the past 22 years.

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Air Force: Hitomi not hit by space junk

The Air Force has concluded that the Japanese X-ray telescope was not hit by debris, and that its problem was thus likely caused by some internal engineering failure.

What exactly happened remains unclear. Moreover, Japanese engineers still hope they may be able to save the spacecraft, as they are periodically still getting some intermittent signals from it.

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More chalk oppression at Emory!

Push back: A conservative student group at Emory University has responded to the protests against pro-Trump chalk messages on campus by drawing more pro-Trump messages.

Over the weekend, students involved in Emory’s Young Americans for Liberty chapter responded to the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the $59,444-per-year private school’s social justice warriors with a new, bigger, better political message in support of Trump, reports Inside Higher Ed. The newest chalking at Emory represents the Republican presidential front-runner in his trademark baseball cap. Scribbled on the cap is the slogan: “Make Emory Great Again.”

Young Americans for Liberty also chalked other messages on campus on behalf of every other remaining Republican and Democratic presidential candidate. Some of the other chalk imagery also managed to make clever use of the other candidates’ slogans. Leaders of the limited-government-focused group said their multi-candidate campus chalking adventure is manifestly not intended to endorse any particular candidate. Instead, the goal is to buck the growing national impression that Emory is full of ninnies who are afraid of temporary, mainstream political speech that can be instantly washed away with a bucket of water and a bit of scrubbing.

Good for them. They have more courage and common sense than the university’s idiot president, who had immediately agreed with the protesters that messages in favor of Trump had to be racist.

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Combined Earth-Space radio array discovers superhot quasar interior

The uncertainty of science: Data obtained by combining four ground-based radio telescopes with the Russian orbiting RadioAstron 10-meter radio telescope have detected temperatures of 10 trillion degrees in the quasar 3C 273, a hundred times hotter than predicted possible by theory.

Supermassive black holes, containing millions to billions times the mass of our Sun, reside at the centers of all massive galaxies. These black holes can drive powerful jets that emit prodigiously, often outshining all the stars in their host galaxies. But there is a limit to how bright these jets can be – when electrons get hotter than about 100 billion degrees, they interact with their own emission to produce X-rays and Gamma-rays and quickly cool down.

Astronomers have just reported a startling violation of this long-standing theoretical limit in the quasar 3C 273. “We measure the effective temperature of the quasar core to be hotter than 10 trillion degrees!” comments Yuri Kovalev (Astro Space Center, Lebedev Physical Institute, Moscow, Russia), the RadioAstron project scientist. “This result is very challenging to explain with our current understanding of how relativistic jets of quasars radiate.”

In addition, the higher resolution of the radio images produced by this space/ground-based array was good enough to see the effect produced by the structure of the interstellar material between here and the quasar.

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Justice Department resumes program to steal property of citizens

Theft by government: The Obama Justice Department has resumed its partnership with state police departments to seize the property of citizens for profit.

Asset forfeiture is a contentious practice that lets police seize and keep cash and property from people who are never convicted of wrongdoing — and in many cases, never charged. Studies have found that use of the practice has exploded in recent years, prompting concern that, in some cases, police are motivated more by profit and less by justice.

The Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program allowed state and local authorities to pursue asset forfeiture under federal, rather than state law, particularly in instances where local law enforcement officers have a relationship with federal authorities as part of a joint task force. Federal forfeiture policies are more permissive than many state policies, allowing police to keep up to 80 percent of assets they seize.

Participation by the Justice Department had been suspended in December, but not because the Obama administration didn’t like the program, it turns out. Instead, the suspension allowed them to keep the money themselves that local police had seized under federal law. This however discouraged local police from pursuing more confiscations, so they have resumed the program.

The graph at the link is incredible. Do you know that citizens now lose more property to the government under this program than they do from ordinary burglaries?

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Video suggests Hitomi tumbling in orbit

Video taken by an amateur astronomer of Hitomi shows it spinning out of control, another indication that something catastrophic occurred to the newly launched X-ray telescope.

The video shows an object that looks like Hitomi, which lost contact Saturday with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), shining and then turning extremely dark in short intervals. The wild changes in brightness might mean its sunlight-reflecting side is moving turbulently. “The fact that it is rotating with extreme variations in brightness indicates that it is not controlled and that some event caused it to begin its rotation,” Paul Maley, a former NASA flight controller who observed Hitomi from the ground in Arizona, was quoted as saying.

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Computer chip company sues SpaceX

The competition heats up: A computer chip manufacturer has sued SpaceX, accusing it of stealing both its engineers and the computer chips they were designing.

Broadcom’s co-founder and chief technology officer Henry Samueli met with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in October 2015 in attempts to solidify an agreement, at which time Musk insisted Broadcom keep its “A-team” on the project, according to the complaint.

But even as Samueli and Musk were meeting, other SpaceX representatives were attempting to uncover the identities of the “A-team” engineers working on the Space X project, Broadcom says in its complaint. Five Broadcom engineers – all of whom worked on the SpaceX project – resigned their positions with the company effective March 11, and refused to disclose their new employer, according to the complaint. Broadcom says SpaceX confirmed they hired the five engineers on March 9, saying nothing prevented them from hiring other Broadcom engineers.

For its part, SpaceX says the Broadcom engineers – all named as defendants in Broadcom’s complaint – approached them. “SpaceX did not pursue or lure engineers from Broadcom,” a SpaceX spokesman said. “On the contrary, these engineers reached out to SpaceX anticipating significant layoffs at the Broadcom Irvine location.”

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SLS software over budget and behind schedule

Surprise! The launch control software NASA is writing from scratch for its SLS rocket is way behind schedule and way over budget.

Development of this new launch control software is now projected to exceed $207 million, 77 percent above 2012 projections. The software won’t be ready until fall 2017, instead of this summer as planned, and important capabilities like automatic failure detection, are being deferred, the audit noted. The system is vital, needed to control pumps, motors, valves and other ground equipment during countdowns and launches, and to monitor data before and during liftoff.

NASA decided to write its own computer code to “glue together” existing software products a decade ago — while space shuttles still were flying and commercial shippers had yet to service the space station. Both delivery companies, SpaceX and Orbital ATK, rely on commercial software, the audit noted. [emphasis mine]

In other words, even though NASA could have simply purchased already available software that other launch companies were using successfully, the agency decided to write its own. And that decision really didn’t come before the arrival of these commercial companies, because when it was made a decade ago that was exactly the time that SpaceX was beginning to build its rocket.

This is simply more proof that SLS is nothing more than a pork-laden waste of money designed not to explore space but to generate non-productive jobs in congressional districts.

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Conservative professor to be fired for his opinions

Fascists: A conservative Marquette University professor has been been suspended and will be fired if he does not apologize for daring to criticize the liberal actions of another professor.

The story is a bit complicated, but it is worth reading. He has had a conservative blog for about a decade, and his punishment was prompted when he objected to the other teacher’s willingness to squelch conservative opinions in her classroom. He has also said he will not apologize and will sue if they try to fire him.

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Debris spotted near Hitomi

U.S. military observations have detected debris near the Japanese X-ray telescope Hitomi that has failed to respond to communication signals.

The U.S. Joint Space Operations Center on Sunday said it has spotted five objects floating near Japan’s brand new Hitomi X-ray astronomy satellite that lost communication with Earth the previous day. In a Twitter post, the center, which tracks objects in orbit, said it identified five pieces of “break up” debris in the vicinity of the satellite.

None of this sounds encouraging.

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