Monthly Archives: October 2016

TMT consortium picks Canary Islands as alternative site to Hawaii

Faced with delays from protesters and an Hawaiian government slow-walking its permit process, the consortium building the Thirty Meter Telescope has announced that it will build the telescope on the Canary Islands if it continues to be blocked in Hawaii.

The article does not say when they will make this decision, but based on previous reports, they have to make their decision soon in order to begin construction no later than April 2018.

I fully expect them to abandon Hawaii, since I see no desire by the Hawaiian government to play fair during the new permit hearings. Instead, it seems to me that they are rigging this process so that it will never end.

Posted from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, where Diane and I plan a nice day hike tomorrow down the Hermit Trail.

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Modern college students think America invented slavery

The coming dark age: Modern college students not only think America invented slavery, they know even less about American history.

Before even distributing the syllabus for his courses, Pesta administered his short quizzes with basic questions about American history, economics and Western culture. For instance, the questions asked students to circle which of three historical figures was a president of the United States, or to name three slave-holding countries over the last 2,000 years, or define “capitalism” and “socialism” in one sentence each.

Often, more students connected Thomas Jefferson to slavery then could identify him as president, according to Pesta. On one quiz, 29 out of 32 students responding knew that Jefferson owned slaves, but only three out of the 32 correctly identified him as president. Interestingly, more students— six of 32—actually believed Ben Franklin had been president.

The biggest irony of all is that it was in the United States that the abolition movement was born. Until that happened, the idea of slavery had been considered morally acceptable by all nations in all previous human history.

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Saturn from above

Saturn from above.

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced in resolution to show here, shows Saturn from above as Cassini began re-positioning itself into a higher inclination orbit for its last year of orbit dives near and inside the planet’s rings.

The view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 41 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on July 16, 2016 using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 752 nanometers. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1 million miles (2 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 68 miles (110 kilometers) per pixel.

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“Academic freedom: It’s great, as long as you don’t use it.”

Academic fascism: An New York University professor who created an anonymous Twitter account so that he could express conservative opinions without risking his teaching career has been forced to take paid leave for the rest of the semester.

A 12-person committee calling itself the Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group, including two deans, published a letter to the editor in the same paper. “As long as he airs his views with so little appeal to evidence and civility, we must find him guilty of illogic and incivility in a community that predicates its work in great part on rational thought and the civil exchange of ideas,” they wrote. “We seek to create a dynamic community that values full participation. Such efforts are not the ‘destruction of academic integrity’ Professor Rectenwald suggests, but rather what make possible our program’s approach to global studies,” they argued.

Rectenwald likened the attack to “a Salem witch trial. They took my views personally. I never even mentioned them and I never even said NYU liberal studies program. I was talking about academia at large.”

The same day that letter was published, Rectenwald was summoned to a meeting with his department dean and an HR representative, he says. “They claimed they were worried about me and a couple people had expressed concern about my mental health,” Rectenwald told The Post. The leave has “absolutely zero to do with his Twitter account or his opinions on issues of the day,” said NYU spokesman Matt Nagel, refusing to elaborate on the reason.

Rectenwald’s real crime? He had criticized the intolerance that is poisoning the academic community.

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Virgin Galactic to begin glide tests of Unity

Virgin Galactic will begin the first glide tests of its new SpaceShipTwo, Unity, this week.

Virgin Galactic test pilot CJ Sturckow, speaking at a “Space Stories” event at The Explorers Club here Oct. 29, said the company has scheduled the first glide flight of the vehicle, named VSS Unity, on Nov. 1. That flight would come after a single “captive carry” test flight of the vehicle in September, when the vehicle remained attached to its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft for its entire flight. “It’s ready to fly, and I’m really looking forward to seeing that,” he said of SpaceShipTwo’s upcoming glide flight.

That glide flight will be the first time VSS Unity has flown on its own, and will be the first in a series of glide flights before Virgin Galactic installs a hybrid rocket motor for powered flight tests.

According to the article, the new rocket motor has successfully completed several long duration test firings.

Virgin Galactic is running out of time. Their competition, Blue Origin, appears much closer to flying passengers.

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Kim Jong-un orders investigation into missile failures

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered an investigation into his country’s string of missile failures recently.

“Kim has instructed the special investigation team to implement a probe into the national defense sector starting on Nov. 1 to make the causes for the launch failures clear,” said Kim Heung-kwang, a North Korean defector and executive director of Seoul-based dissidents’ group North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, in a press conference. Kim attributed the investigation to the North Korean leader’s belief that spies from the United States and South Korea had been implicated in a series of Musudan missile failures.

I wouldn’t want to be an engineer who worked on this missile, as Kim has a bad habit of routinely executing people at the slightest whim, and the failures here have been routinely spectacular.

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Commercial space industry meets to set its own safety standards

Because of legal restrictions that prevent the FAA from imposing its own safety regulations on the commercial space industry, the industry itself is forming its own committee to work out its own standards.

At a meeting here Oct. 24, ASTM International, an organization founded in 1898 that develops voluntary consensus standards for a wide range of industries, agreed to move ahead with the creation of a committee that will work on creating such standards for commercial launch vehicles, spacecraft and spaceports. “It will allow industry to use a 110-year-old process to produce consensus standards,” said Oscar Garcia, chairman of the standards working group of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), during a meeting of that working group here Oct. 25. The new committee, he said, “will develop standards and related roadmaps to address activities such as human spaceflight occupant safety standards, spaceports and space traffic management.”

A total of 53 people representing 29 companies and organizations attended that kickoff meeting, said Christine DeJong, director of business development for ASTM International, at the COMSTAC working group meeting. The committee won’t be formally created until after the completion an internal ASTM review process.

This is excellent news. It is far better that the industry voluntarily puts together and imposes its own safety standards than if the federal government imposes those rules. The government can’t possibly know the situation as well as the industry. This will guarantee that those rules will be not only work, but they will be cost effective and will not act to squelch innovation and experimentation.

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Resonance experiment

An evening pause: While I am sure there are engineers out there who can explain how the interaction of the vibrator with the plate causes the patterns, I look at this from my more philosophical side, and note how this experiment reveals very simply how the universe is filled with hidden wonders and patterns that challenge us as humans to uncover.

Hat tip Tom Wilson.

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Want to see an Ariane 5 launch in French Guiana? You can!

Arianespace and Airbus Safran are holding a contest where the winning prize is an all-expenses paid trip to French Guiana to see an Ariane 5 launch in 2017.

This is part of Airbus Safran’s public relations effort to promote their new rocket, Ariane 6, that will replace Ariane 5.

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SpaceX update on Sept 1Falcon 9 launchpad explosion

SpaceX today released an update on its investigation of the September 1 Falcon 9 launchpad explosion.

Previously, we announced the investigation was focusing on a breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank. The root cause of the breach has not yet been confirmed, but attention has continued to narrow to one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the LOX tank. Through extensive testing in Texas, SpaceX has shown that it can re-create a COPV failure entirely through helium loading conditions. These conditions are mainly affected by the temperature and pressure of the helium being loaded.

SpaceX’s efforts are now focused on two areas – finding the exact root cause, and developing improved helium loading conditions that allow SpaceX to reliably load Falcon 9. With the advanced state of the investigation, we also plan to resume stage testing in Texas in the coming days, while continuing to focus on completion of the investigation.

The report suggests that they are starting to pin down the very specific temperature and pressure conditions during loading of the helium tank that cause the problem, which also suggests they will soon also be able to adjust their procedures to avoid those conditions. This also suggests that they repeated assurances that they will be able to fly before the end of the year are not unreasonable.

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More climate fear-mongering

This article from the journal Nature yesterday, Climate change could flip Mediterranean lands to desert, about a new Science journal paper, is very typical of too much of the climate research and reporting these days.

First, they outline the coming and certain disaster:

Maintaining the historic ranges of the region’s ecosystems would require limiting warming to just 1.5 ºC, by making substantial cuts to the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, the analysis concludes. Otherwise, the vegetation and ecosystems of the Mediterranean basin will shift as temperatures rise. Increasing desertification in southern Europe is just one of the changes that would result. “Everything is moving in parallel. Shrubby vegetation will move into the deciduous forests, while the forests move to higher elevation in the mountains,” says Joel Guiot, a palaeoclimatologist at the European Centre for Geoscience Research and Education in Aix-en-Provence, France, and lead author of the study.

Then they point out the necessary political solution, which of course requires us to agree to an odious international agreement that will limit our individual freedoms and give more power to international governments:

“I like that they’re doing this comparison across different warming scenarios in line with the Paris agreement, to start to gauge the sensitivity to them,” says Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. The study confirms the vulnerability of many ecosystems, and could guide policymakers’ efforts to help natural systems adapt to climate change, says Patrick Gonzalez, principal climate-change scientist at the US National Park Service based at the University of California, Berkeley. “This study shows how essential it is for nations to meet their Paris commitments.”

Only at the very end of the article, almost as an aside, do they note these inconvenient facts about the limitations of the paper (which also happens to be based entirely on computer models):
» Read more

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“This year, my premium is going up 96 percent. Ninety-six percent.”

Finding out what’s in it: Link here. This quote kind of says it all:

When President Obama sold Obamacare to the American people, he promised three things. 1) That we could keep our plans if we liked them. 2) That the new system would offer competition between great options through an Obamacare marketplace, and 3) That our premiums would go down. Not “go up slower” or “go up but eventually go down,” but go down— $2,500 was the figure.

The letter I got last week is a betrayal of every one of those promises. I did not get to keep the plan I liked. The new system does not offer competition between great options through an Obamacare marketplace. And my premiums have gone up more than 150 percent in two years.

This was all predictable and predicted, by many (including me!).

Nor was she alone. Every single prediction by conservatives about Obamacare has proven true. And everything promised by Obama and the Democrats has turned out to be an insulting lie.

But don’t worry. Americans plan to make Hillary Clinton president and give Congress back to the Democrats so that she and the Democrats can use their same dishonest incompetence to fix the mess they themselves created.

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U.S. marshals attack lawyer in Bundy case

Fascists: Just after a jury had acquitted the defendants on all charges in the Bundy occupation of a federal wildlife preserve, U.S. marshals surrounded the lawyer of one defendant as he was arguing that his client should now be released, threw him to the ground, tasered him, and then arrested him.

As noted by another defense lawyer in the case, “What happened at the end is symbolic of the improper use of force by the federal government.”

Or as another lawyer noted,

Margaret “Margie” Paris, a University of Oregon law professor and former dean, said she couldn’t believe what occurred when she learned of the confrontation. “It just blows my mind,” Paris said. “To have a lawyer who’s making an argument in court physically restrained and taken down is extraordinary. He’s entitled to make these arguments. If he was repeating himself over and over, the more typical response is to hold him in contempt. But to physically accost him is just shocking.”

Read the article. The behavior here by federal officials reeks of corruption and the abuse of power.

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NASA solar weather satellite in trouble

DSCOVR, re-purposed by NASA from Al Gore’s Triana Earth-observing satellite to instead monitor solar storm activity, is having serious technical problems.

A US space-weather satellite that is supposed to alert Earth to incoming solar storms has temporarily dropped offline five times in the year since it became operational. Its onboard computer may be experiencing hiccups caused unexpectedly by galactic cosmic rays.

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) went out of action most recently on 11 October. In each case, it unexpectedly entered a ‘safe hold’ in which scientific data stopped flowing and engineers had to scramble to try to recover the spacecraft. In total, DSCOVR’s space-weather forecasting instruments have been offline for more than 42 hours since 28 October 2015, when the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) took the spacecraft over from NASA, which built and launched it. Each outage lasts for only a few hours, and the total downtime amounts to 0.48% of its time in space — well below NOAA’s requirement that the spacecraft operate at least 96% of the time.

They think the outages are being caused by cosmic rays. Because DSCOVR was initially not designed to do the work it is now doing, its problems with cosmic rays are likely related to this change in its goals. Had the money that was used on Gore’s pet project (something that NASA did not really need) been instead used to build DSCOVR (something that NASA did need), we might not be having these problems now.

So that no one misunderstands me, I am not saying that politicians shouldn’t be involved in deciding what missions NASA flies. What I am saying is that politicians should not impose their petty demands on the agency, but use their brains to help the agency do the best job it can, with the resources available. Gore deserves criticism here because he forced NASA to divert needed resources away from necessary projects to build a satellite that NASA didn’t need. The agency eventually did the best it could to turn that lemon into lemonade, but Gore’s interference means they are using lemonade for something that really required something better.

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SLS schedule changes impending

NASA’s refurbishment plans for the mobile launcher and SLS launchpad suggest that the first manned flight of SLS is increasingly likely to be delayed from its present 2021 launch date.

The situation is complicated. The SLS configuration that will launch an unmanned capsule in December 2018 will use a Delta rocket upper stage, and will only have the capability of launching about 70 metric tons into low Earth orbit. After this one flight NASA wants to begin using SLS’s own upper stage, which it calls the Exploration Upper Stage and which will raise the rocket’s payload capacity to 105 metric tons. Because these changes will make SLS taller, however, they have to refurbish both the mobile launcher that brings the rocket to the launchpad as well as the launch tower used to fuel the rocket during countdown. These changes, now scheduled, will shut down the launchpad from January 2019 until the end of 2020.

The problem with doing this is that SLS’s second flight, presently scheduled in 2021, is supposed to be manned. To use the Exploration Upper Stage untested on this manned flight is something NASA doesn’t really want to do. Flying another unmanned flight to test that upper stage however will require NASA to delay the first manned flight again, probably to 2023.

Based on the article at the link above, those delays now seem almost certain. Because NASA is moving to refurbish the launchpad right after that first unmanned flight in December 2018, this means all later SLS launches will use the Exploration Upper Stage. Since Congress has also ordered NASA to fly its upcoming Europa orbiter mission on SLS, it seems to me that NASA is now quietly moving to add a second unmanned SLS test flight between the rocket’s first flight in 2018 and the first manned flight and will use it to launch the Europa orbiter some time in 2021. This will in turn delay the launch of that first manned flight, probably until 2023, a date that is presently listed in many NASA documents as the latest SLS’s first manned mission will fly.

If this is the case, it means that it will have literally taken NASA two decades to build and fly a single manned Orion capsule, beginning when George Bush ordered the construction of the Crew Exploration Vehicle in January 2004.

Does no one but me see something wrong here?

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SES financial report

In releasing its year-to-date and third quarter financial report (which showed significant growth), the satellite company SES also revealed that the launch of its SES-10 satellite will use a recovered Falcon 9 first stage, and that right now it is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2017.

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New Horizons returns the last data from Pluto fly-by

The New Horizons science team announced today that they have finally received the last bit of data obtained by the spacecraft during its July 14, 2015 fly-by of Pluto.

Having traveled from the New Horizons spacecraft over 3.1 billion miles (five hours, eight minutes at light speed), the final item – a segment of a Pluto-Charon observation sequence taken by the Ralph/LEISA imager – arrived at mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, at 5:48 a.m. EDT on Oct. 25. The downlink came via NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia. It was the last of the 50-plus total gigabits of Pluto system data transmitted to Earth by New Horizons over the past 15 months.

Once they have checked this data, they will wipe the spacecraft’s onboard hard drives to prepare for the January 1, 2019 fly-by of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69.

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Police arrest man who destroyed Trump’s sidewalk star

Los Angeles police have arrested the man who used a sledgehammer and pickax to destroy Donald Trump’s sidewalk star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

It is rare that a leftwing or Democratic protester who breaks the law gets arrested. However, when they do, they usually then get off with a mere slap on the wrist. Expect the same here.

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New details emerge of Schiaparelli crash site

Schiaparelli crash site

A new high resolution image from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HIRISE camera, reduced in resolution on the right, confirms that Schiaparelli crashed into the ground on October 19.

The scene shown by HiRISE includes three locations where hardware reached the ground. A dark, roughly circular feature is interpreted as where the lander itself struck. A pattern of rays extending from the circle suggests that a shallow crater was excavated by the impact, as expected given the premature engine shutdown. About 0.8 mile (1.4 kilometers) eastward, an object with several bright spots surrounded by darkened ground is likely the heat shield. About 0.8 mile (1.4 kilometers) south of the lander impact site, two features side-by-side are interpreted as the spacecraft’s parachute and the back shell to which the parachute was attached.

The center insert is a close-up of the impact site on the left, which clearly shows that the lander hit the ground hard, producing impact ejecta. That the rays are somewhat asymmetric also suggests that Schiaparellit hit the ground at an oblique angle.

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Spacesuit problem from January declared solved

NASA has completed its investigation into the spacesuit water leak that forced a January spacewalk to end two hours early by declaring the problem is not serious and needs no significant re-engineering.

However, thanks to the suit being returned to Earth on the Dragon, the problem with [astronaut Tim] Kopra’s suit was deemed to be more an unfortunate coincidence, as opposed to a wider issue with the EMUs [spacesuits] on Station. Mr. Shireman told the ASAP [Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel] that the conclusion reached was that the incident was not an example of the same failure as in the previous water-in-the-helmet instance. “In this case, the likely cause was a combination of both environmental and operational factors that blocked outlet port slurper holes. The finding was that the amount of water was considerably smaller than before, and the conclusion reached was that this was a non-hazardous occurrence, even if it occurs in the future.”

As a result, the NASA team recommended a “go” for nominal and planned EVAs. Two EVAs, with special contingency allowances, were conducted since EVA-35, both without issue.

The whole article reads like a government press release trying to paper over a problem. “Move along, nothing to see here!” While they might have located and solved the problem, this tone makes me very suspicious. They would be smarter to just tell us the story straight, rather acting like NASA cheerleaders

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Russia to test components of nuclear engine on ISS

The competition heats up: Roscosmos is planning this week to award a research grant for test flying components on ISS of a nuclear rocket engine Russia has been developing since 2009.

The small amount of money, about $4 million, likely means this will not be a full scale model. Moreover, that this research grant is only being awarded now, seven years after the program began, suggests to me that work is going very slowly. While the delays might be technical, I suspect it is more likely because of the underlying corruption that percolates throughout the government-run Russian system. The project is being slow-walked, so that the funds will be available to the one Russian company that is doing the work for as long as possible.

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Birds that can fly practically forever

New research using data loggers tagged to thirteen common swifts has revealed that these birds were capable of remaining airborne for months at a time.

The researchers found that some of the birds made a few brief night landings in winter but remained airborne for 99% of the time. Three birds didn’t touch down once in the entire ten months….“Common swifts have evolved to be very efficient flyers, with streamlined body shapes and long and narrow wings, generating lift force at low cost,” says Anders Hedenström, a study co-author and a biologist at Lund University in Sweden. The birds even eat while airborne, snatching flying termites, ballooning spiders and other aerial insects for in-flight meals.

Hedenström says that common swifts have adapted to a low-energy lifestyle, but his team does not yet know whether the birds sleep while aloft. “Most animals suffer dramatically from far less sleep loss,” says Niels Rattenborg, a neurobiologist at Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany. “But these birds seem to have found a trick through evolution that allows them to get by on far less sleep.”

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Designing a propulsion system for cubesats

The competition heats up: Just like the Chinese tests of a smallsat propulsion system noted in my previous post, this U.S. company is designing a propulsion system for cubesats.

McDevitt’s propulsion system is deceptively simple. It combines rocket-fuel-grade hydrogen peroxide with a patented proprietary catalyst to create a chemical reaction that results in thrust channeled through tiny square nozzles incorporated into the small satellite. The system allows the satellites to be steered or stopped. The only byproduct of McDevitt’s tiny rocket motors is water vapor.

Except for this quote the article doesn’t provide much information about the design, probably because the builders didn’t reveal the details for proprietary reasons. They hope to launch a test satellite by 2018.

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Chinese smallsat snaps pictures of Chinese space station

One third of the way through their month long mission, on Sunday the two Chinese astronauts aboard Tiangong-2 released a smallsat designed to maneuver around the station and take images of it.

The cubical craft deployed from Tiangong 2 on Sunday is about the size of a printer, and it took sharp black-and-white pictures of the space lab and the Shenzhou 11 crew transport craft docked together around 235 miles (380 kilometers) above Earth. Fitted with a 25-megapixel camera and an ammonia-based propulsion system, the Banxing 2 satellite is expected to loiter around Tiangong 2 and Shenzhou 11, and eventually return to the vicinity of the complex to take pictures from above with Earth in the background, according to Chinese state media reports.

The first batch of photos from Banxing 2’s departure are looking up at the mini-space station complex, with the blackness of space as a backdrop. In addition to the imagery taken by the micro-satellite’s visible camera, Banxing 2 captured more than 300 infrared pictures during the flyaway sequence.

This is a neat idea, one that neither Russia nor the U.S. ever did on their stations. Moreover, to provide this smallsat a propulsion system is significant, since satellites this small have traditionally not had one. Testing that system is certainly one of the smallsats main purposes.

The image at the link of the station and capsule docked together reveals how relatively small Tiangong-2 really is, compared to the Shenzhou manned spacecraft as well as other Russian single module stations. Shenzhou is about as long as Tiangong, and though the Chinese have made their manned capsule bigger than the Soyuz spacecraft they based it on, it isn’t that much bigger. In fact, the article says that the combined station and spacecraft is about 60 feet long. Russia’s Salyut stations, which were also a single module like Tiangong-2, were about that long, before the Soyuz was added.

In other words, Tiangong-2, as was Tiangong-1, are exactly what the Chinese have said they are, prototype testbeds for testing the engineering needed for building a much bigger multi-module station in 2020. What is unclear is whether the modules of that bigger station will be bigger as well.

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