Monthly Archives: September 2016

Airbus signs first customer for its ISS external platform

The competition heats up: Airbus has signed its first commercial customer for an external platform the company will be installing on ISS by the end of 2018.

Neumann Space is an Australian company developing a solar-electric thruster that uses metallic fuels rather than a gas like xenon. The company believes that the thruster will have a higher performance versus conventional electric thrusters and be able to use a wide range of metals as fuels. The company will install an experimental payload on Bartolomeo, a platform that Airbus plans to mount on the exterior of the Columbus module for experiments that require access to the space environment. Paddy Neumann, chief scientist and founder of Neumann Space, said the power requirements for the thruster made flying it on a cubesat or other small satellite impractical. “When we heard about the Bartolomeo platform, we leapt at the chance,” he said in a ceremony at Airbus’ booth at the IAC exhibit hall where the companies signed the agreement.

…Airbus announced the Bartolomeo platform in June as part of what the company called an “end-to-end service” to provide efficient commercial access to the ISS. The company hopes to have the platform installed on the Columbus module by the end of 2018, but officials at the conference said they were still working out launch arrangements and were in discussions with NASA for the spacewalk that will be needed to install the platform outside Columbus.

What is happening here with Airbus and ESA is the same thing that is happening at NASA: a transition from ownership by government to ownership by competing private companies. The positive ramifications of this transition cannot be measured, and have an almost limitless potential for accelerating the exploration of space.

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Libertarian VP candidate praises Hillary Clinton

No wonder all those mainstream newspapers are endorsing them: When asked if if Gary Johnson was more qualified to be president than Hillary Clinton, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for vice president, Bill Weld, expressed almost unqualified enthusiasm for Clinton.

When asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd if Johnson is more qualified for the presidency than Clinton, Weld responded that he is “not sure” if “anybody is more qualified” than Clinton for the position. Weld made the remark after expressing his displeasure with the idea of Donald Trump assuming the office.

It increasingly seems to me that Johnson and Weld’s sole purpose is to provide an option for those mainstream Republican RINO’s who hate Trump for irrational reasons and don’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton. The Libertarian candidates appear to give them a moderate choice (emphasis on the word moderate) that is also acceptable to the Washington crowd. I mean, really, how could anyone show up at a cocktail party in Silver Spring, Maryland after supporting Trump?

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Black Lives Matter protesters shut down debate at university

Brownshirts: A mob of Black Lives Matter protesters shouted down a planned debate on the movement by the debate club of the University of Michigan, preventing it from happening.

Holding signs with statements such as “my life is not a debate” and “black lives are not up for debate,” as well as chanting “Black Lives Matter,” hundreds of protesters filed into the room where the Michigan Political Union, a non-partisan parliamentary forum that facilitates discussions about contemporary issues, was just beginning its debate Tuesday night.

Michigan Political Union’s President student Joshua Strup had attempted to hold the door into the venue closed as those at the debate heard the crowd of protestors approaching, as the room was already filled to capacity, but to no avail. The protesters burst through and stood along the room’s four walls as well as the walkways between chairs.

Comments and yelling ensued between the protesters and Strup, as well as student moderator Carlos Owens, both of whom attempted to quiet the crowd. But the protesters would not be silenced. They shouted out a series of chants after they entered the room, including “racists hurt race relations,” “black lives are not up for debate, and neither is mine,” and “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” After their shouting spree, they laid on the ground to conduct a die-in demonstration. Thereafter, whenever a debate participant tried to speak, they would shout over them. Much of their comments were laced with profanity.

“You’re irrelevant [because] you’re white,” one protester shouted as student debater Jacob Roodvoets attempted to issue the speech he had prepared.

These bigoted fascists will not only not allow anyone to even discuss publicly the merits of their movement, they make it very clear that they are epitomize bigoted racism, ranking everything by race and preferring blacks over whites.

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Office politics delays Russian ISS module

It appears that the reason work has stalled once again on Russia’s long delayed next module for ISS, the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), is literally because of office politics between government officials.

According to industry sources, the management at the military certification authority apparently ran into worsening relations with the leadership of the space industry.

In other words, there was some spat between the military guy and the space guy, and in revenge the military guy used his authority to stop all work.

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Airbus imposes management cuts to save money

The competition heats up: In restructuring to cut costs and reduce its bureaucracy Airbus has decided to make significant management cuts and merge different divisions.

More here, including this revealing quote:

The move is the latest in [Airbus Chief Executive Tom] Enders’ four-year campaign to overhaul the company in the wake of the 2012 failed merger attempt with Europe’s largest arms maker BAE Systems PLC. “For me this is the logical conclusion of the journey we started in 2012,” Mr. Enders said.

After the deal faltered on German government opposition, he won shareholder backing for a new structure that reduced French, German and Spanish government involvement in company decision making, a legacy of the founding of the company in 2000 through the combination of European aerospace and defense assets.

The first link above also adds this:

[Airbus] changed its name from EADS and overhauled its governance in 2013-14, limiting the influence of French and German minority state shareholdings and granting more independence to management under German-born Chief Executive Tom Enders. But it remained saddled with separate bureaucracies and confusion over the brand, with the planemaking unit keeping the core “Airbus” identity and no fewer than five CEOs spread across the parent company, three units and one geographical division.

In other words, this restructuring is intended to remove any further government influence on the management of the company. Rather than provide pork for politicians, Airbus will now focus on maximizing its profits. The thinking here also corresponds with how the company organized its joint partnership with Safran and took over design and construction of Ariane 6 from the bureaucracy of the European Space Agency. Expect similar management cuts and even the possible elimination entirely of ESA’s Arianespace division in the coming years.

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Rosetta’s last image

Rosetta's last image

The Rosetta mission has ended. The spacecraft worked up until it landed on the comet’s surface. The image on the right was the last image, taken from about 167 feet away with a resolution capable of seeing objects less than a quarter of an inch across.

You can see a nice collection of approach images here.

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SpaceX targets November 17 as next launch date

Though its investigation into the September 1 Falcon 9 launchpad explosion is not yet complete, and no launch has actually been scheduled, SpaceX and the Air Force 45th Space Wing that supervises the launch range at Cape Canaveral have penciled November 17 as the target date for SpaceX’s next launch.

The date has been chosen merely for “planning purposes” and I would not be surprised it no launch happens.

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Republican Congressmen question SpaceX’s investigation

The knives are out: Ten Republican House members have sent a letter to the Air Force, FAA, and NASA questioning whether SpaceX should lead the investigation into its September 1 launchpad explosion.

The Congress members said the investigation responses raised “serious concerns about the authority provided to commercial providers and the protection of national space assets…. Although subject to FAA oversight, it can be asserted the investigation lacked the openness taxpayers would expect before a return-to-flight,” the letter says. “We feel strongly that the current investigation should be led by NASA and the Air Force to ensure that proper investigative engineering rigor is applied and that the outcomes are sufficient to prevent NASA and military launch mishaps in the future.”

…The letter also includes a list of questions for each agency including whether the Air Force will reconsider certification of the Falcon 9 rocket for national security launches; whether NASA will reevaluate the use of the Falcon 9 rocket for its commercial resupply and upcoming commercial crew missions; and whether the FAA would reconsider issuing licenses to SpaceX after its September launch pad explosion.

More details here, including the letter’s full text. Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Colorado), whose district interestingly includes ULA’s headquarters, is heading this attack.

I find this a typical example of why conservatives are disgusted with the Republican Party. It claims it stands for private enterprise and less regulation, but the first chance these guys get, they demand more government control in order to benefit the crony companies they support. Nothing in this letter will make SpaceX’s operations safer. The only thing any of its demands will accomplish if enforced will be to damage the company, thus aiding its competitor ULA.

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Republican budget deal backed by more House Democrats than Republicans

Betrayal: The just passed budget deal worked out by the Republican establishment got more Democrats to vote for it than Republicans.

The continuing resolution spending deal that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed at 9:56 p.m. on Wednesday night, won more votes from Democratic members than from Republican members. 172 House Democrats and 170 Republicans voted for the spending deal, according to the roll call published by the Clerk of the House. 75 Republicans and 10 Democrats voted against it. 5 members did not vote.

More betrayal: The continuing resolution is set to expire on December 9, 2016, thereby allowing a lame duck Congress and President to negotiate a new budget, after the election, when they will be able to spend money any which way they want, for their crony friends.

What good is a Republican majority if its leadership is going to work hand-in-glove with the Democrats to pass Democratic Party proposals, while also working to make corrupt backroom deals that bust the budget? No wonder the outsiders cleaned the floor with the Republican establishment’s favorite son, Jeb Bush. No wonder Donald Trump became the Republican party’s presidential candidate.

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The end of freedom

Below is only a small sampling of the many stories I have been reading in the past two weeks that clearly signal the end of freedom and western civilization. Tolerance for opposing viewpoints is dying, even as our academic community descends into insanity.

The last story is especially depressing. The head of a university advocates the idea that students shouldn’t be forced to hear ideas they don’t like, that they shouldn’t be exposed to any thoughts or statements that might offend them. He then proceeds to insult and denigrate anyone who disagrees with him. This is a man in charge of a university! I read this, as well as the other stories, and realize that the coming dark age is coming far sooner than anyone imagines.

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Keeping the Deep Space Network working

According to this article in the journal Science, planetary scientists are increasingly worried about the future of the Deep Space Network (DSN), operated by JPL and that they use to communicate with their unmanned planetary probes.

For most of its life, the network, run by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has been metronomic in its reliability. Its three sites, spaced 120° apart around the globe, all have a 70-meter dish built in the 1960s or ’70s, and several newer, 34-meter dishes, which can be arrayed together to match the larger dishes’ downlink performance. The network allows continuous contact with spacecraft anywhere in the solar system—or beyond it, as in the case of Voyager 1, which officially entered interstellar space in 2013. Currently, 35 missions rely on the DSN.

Ironically, the glitches this past December and January largely stemmed from problems with the network’s newest 34-meter antenna, DSS-35, in Canberra, which began operating in 2014, NASA says. Rain and dust compromised an instrument that helps aim it, several other pointing components overheated, and contaminants leaked into a cryogenic refrigerator used to cool an amplifier. NASA says these problems have mostly been fixed, and the Canberra station’s reliability will increase when its next 34-meter antenna, DSS-36, begins operating on 1 October.

Staffing issues have also compounded the hardware problems. In January, the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, which measures the boundary between Earth’s magnetic field and the solar wind, was, like Cassini, having trouble connecting to DSS-35. Communications could have shifted to another Canberra antenna. But on 22 January, a snowstorm shut down the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. No one was there to reconfigure the spacecraft, and so the retrieval of a day’s worth of data was delayed.

While there has been a tendency to take the DSN for granted, much of this article seems to me to be a lobbying ploy for more money, budget increases that really aren’t needed that desperately. Almost all the problems listed in the article as well as in the quote above are not really from budgeting problems. In the first case above the failure came from a new antenna, showing that funds had been provided to upgrade the network’s equipment. The second case above was simply a problem caused by an unusual snowstorm.

Moreover, the article noted how Europe has finally built its own network to provide communications for its own planetary probes as well as redundancy to the American network. In addition, the U.S. is negotiating partnerships with several other countries to further supplement its DSN.

In other words, there really isn’t a problem here. The article is informative about this often ignored but essential component of planetary research, but when you read it ignore the pleas for more cash.

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The interior of Comet 67P/C-G

The Rosetta science team has released a summary of what they have learned about the interior of Comet 67P/C-G.

Essentially, they have found that the comet’s interior has a rather uniform and soft and fluffy interior, with few voids or dense pockets. They also found that the comet’s two lobes almost certainly came from two different objects that somehow made contact and stuck to each other. And finally, it appears that the upper few feet of the surface of the smaller lobe where Philae landed is different than its interior, a difference likely caused by the surface’s exposure to the Sun.

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Archaeologists find stone toilet in religious shrine

Archaeologists have uncovered what is obviously a stone toilet that appears to have been installed by the king inside a religious shrine in order to intentionally desecrate it.

Apart from being the nerve center of the city’s bureaucratic system, the site also housed a gate shrine, which was accessible via “steps … in the form of a staircase [that] ascended to a large room where there was a bench upon which offerings were placed.” While finding religious artifacts such as altars and ceremonial artifacts is par for the course at such sites, what has gotten archaeologists buzzing is something far more incongruous: “A stone fashioned in the shape of a chair with a hole in its center.” In other words, a toilet.

Installing such an object in the Holy of Holies, a sacred inner sanctum in the shrine accessible only to a High Priest, would have been considered “the ultimate desecration” of a holy space, which was most likely what [King] Hezekiah in mind. A purely symbolic act – lab tests have confirmed that the commode was never used – it was meant to show pagan worshippers that he meant business when he declared he was getting rid of religious cults.

While such practices, most notably King Jehu’s destruction of temples dedicated to the pagan god Baal, have been documented in the Bible, this is the first time that archaeological evidence has confirmed it.

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Roman coins found in Japan

The mysteries of science: Archaeologists have uncovered Roman coins in a 13th century Japanese castle in Okinawa.

An X-ray analysis of the dime-sized coins showed some were embossed with Roman letters and possibly the image of Emperor Constantine I and a soldier holding a spear. Several others dated from a later period — the 17th century Ottoman empire.

Researchers were left scratching their heads about how the coins ended up at the castle in faraway Okinawa, which was built sometime in late 13th or early 14th century and abandoned about 200 years later. It was once the residence of a feudal lord, whose wealth was linked to regional trade but he was not known to have had business ties with Europe.

It is likely that the coins were obtained as curiosities by someone living at the castle, but the specific circumstances remain unknown.

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Vandenberg wildfire overview given by base commander

In a public meeting yesterday evening, the base commander of Vandenberg Air Force Base gave the public an update on the base’s wildfires that have raged for the past few weeks.

All the fires appear now to be under control. No launch facilities or base housing was damaged. They have increased security and are investigating the causes, including not dismissing the possibility of arson. He also noted that the fires not only caused the delay of an Atlas 5 launch, they might cause a cascading delaying effect on the scheduling of other subsequent launches.

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Dream Chaser to fly 14-day UN mission in 2021

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada today signed a deal with the United Nations to fly a 14-day mission in 2021 using Dream Chaser.

The first-ever United Nations space mission is intended to launch in 2021 and will allow United Nations Member States to participate in a 14-day flight to low-Earth orbit (LEO) on SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft. “One of UNOOSA’s core responsibilities is to promote international cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space,” said Simonetta Di Pippo, director of UNOOSA. “I am proud to say that one of the ways UNOOSA will achieve this, in cooperation with our partner SNC, is by dedicating an entire microgravity mission to United Nations Member States, many of which do not have the infrastructure or financial backing to have a standalone space program.”

According to Ms. Di Pippo, funding of the mission will come from multiple sources. “We will continue to work closely with SNC to define the parameters of this mission which, in turn, will provide United Nations Member States with the ability to access space in a cost-effective and collaborative manner within a few short years. The possibilities are endless.” Countries selected to provide mission payloads will be asked to pay a pro-rated portion of the mission cost, based on the resources required to host the payload and their ability to pay. In addition, major sponsors are being sought to finance a large portion of the mission costs.

While the press today is in a feeding frenzy writing stories about Elon Musk’s speech, they are ignoring this story. Yet, this deal between the UN and Sierra Nevada is actually far more important. Musk’s proposals, while exciting and important in how they move the conversation of space exploration forward, are mostly Powerpoint fantasies. He does not have customers for his interplanetary transportation system. He does not have a rocket. All he has is the Raptor engine, which is only beginning its design testing. It will be years before any of his proposals here become real.

This UN/Sierra Nevada deal however is reality. A private American company is building a spaceship that it is now selling successfully to third world nations. Actual money will change hands. Profit will be earned. And Sierra Nevada will be in a position to use those earnings to upgrade and advance its designs. This will be the future, far sooner than Elon Musk’s International Transportation System.

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Russian airline owner signs deal to buy Sea Launch

The competition heats up: A Russian airline owner has signed a deal with the Russian government to buy Sea Launch.

Whether this guy can make the company viable again is a big question. He has to settle the court suit with Boeing and he also has to settle with either Russia or Ukraine about what rocket to use.

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Mars rover update: Sept 27, 2016

Curiosity

Curiosity traverse map, Sol 1471

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see this post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

In the past week Curiosity finally left Murray Buttes and began moving south towards Mount Sharp, and, for at least one day, I thought tracking the rover’s movements might become easier. Early in the week the science team published an updated overhead traverse map that not only showed the topographical elevation contour lines for the surrounding terrain, but also included a blue line roughly indicating the rover’s future route. For reasons I do not understand, however, they only did this for one day, and then went back to the un-annotated traverse maps they had been using previously. I have therefore revised the most recent traverse map, shown on the right, to include these contour lines as well as the planned future route. The contour lines are hard to read on the full image, but below the fold on the right is a zoomed in view of Curiosity’s position as it left Murray Buttes, which shows the rover’s elevation at about 4376 meters below the peak of Mount Sharp. This means the rover has gained about 1,150 meters, or about 3,775 feet, since its landing, but only 50 meters or about 150 feet since March of this year. It is still not on the mountain but in the low foothills at its base.
» Read more

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Musk’s Mars plan

Musk's Mars plan

Today Elon Musk gave a speech at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. The speech laid out SpaceX’s proposed architecture for building what he presently calls his interplanetary transport system. The image on the right is one of his talk slides, showing the basic concept, which is built around using the company’s new Raptor engine — still under development — which only got its first test firing this past week.

The plan is ambitious and visionary, which from Musk is not surprising. It is also aimed to be as practical and as cost effective as possible, which also is not surprising coming from Musk. The rocket itself will be larger than both the Saturn 5 and SLS, but not significantly more. Compared to those government rockets however it will be far cheaper and faster to build, though Musk’s hope that they will be launching their first test flights in four years is almost certainly too optimistic. The concept is to use what they have learned with the Falcon 9 to build a bigger rocket with a reusable first stage that launches a large second stage that is either the spaceship taking people to Mars or a giant tanker for refueling that spaceship.

In one of Musk’s early slides he noted something that I have been arguing for decades. “Speading the required lift capacity across multiple launches substantially reduces development costs and compresses schedule.” Though he is still proposing a heavy-lift rocket, he is also following in the footsteps of Wernher Von Braun by proposing that any Mars mission will require some assembly in orbit.

The plan is also aimed at making space travel as affordable as possible. Musk structured the design in as many ways as possible to make it as efficient and as inexpensive as possible. It still won’t be cheap, at about $140K per ton, but at that price it will be affordable to a lot of people. He also mentioned that it include free passage back to Earth.

I doubt we will see this system built as outlined today in the time span predicted by Musk. At the same time, I would not be surprised if we do see some variation of it, and see it built within the near future. In 2011 Musk proposed recovering his Falcon 9 first stages by landing them vertically. The idea seems radical. He got it done in four years. There is every reason to believe he will make this Mars proposal happen as well.

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First computer music recording restored

Engineers have restored the first recording of computer-generated music from 1951.

The oldest recording of computer music was made in late 1951 by a BBC outside broadcast unit at the University of Manchester for the BBC Home Service program Children’s Hour. The rough two-minute recording is of the Ferranti Mark I computer playing “God Save the King”, “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, and the popular swing-band hit “In the Mood.” The recording was made on mobile recording equipment and etched into a 12-inch, single-sided acetate disc, as was normal for the time.

The restoration determined that the record, one of only two in existence, played the music at the wrong speed. To make it sound correct, “it had to be sped up, extraneous noise filtered out, and digitally pitch-corrected to remove wobbles.”

You should definitely listen to it. Quite fascinating, especially since it includes the candid commentary of the technicians as they tried to get the computer to play.

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Jeff Bezos releases first images of New Glenn prototype

The competition heats up: In a series of tweets Jeff Bezos on Monday released the first images Blue Origin’s next rocket, New Glenn, showing a scale-model being during wind tunnel tests.

They were testing the rocket’s aerodynamics during launch and return, and were apparently happy with the results.

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