Monthly Archives: November 2017

Europe commits $107 million for new rocket and space plane

The European Space Agency (ESA) today allocated $107 million to develop both a new larger version of its Vega rocket as well as an orbital version of the spaceplane engineering test vehicle flown in 2015.

The Vega-E will be larger and will give them another rocket capable of competing for launch business, but the space plane project is more interesting.

ESA awarded 36.7 million split between Avio and Thales Alenia Space Italy for Space Rider, an unmanned spaceplane capable of lifting 800 kilograms to LEO for missions up to two months. A single Space Rider should be capable of six missions with refurbishing, according to Thales Alenia Space.

Space Rider leverages technology from ESA’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV), which performed a suborbital mission in February 2015, landing in the Pacific Ocean. Unlike its predecessor, Space Rider is designed for ground landings. ESA tasked Thales Alenia Space with building Space Rider’s reentry module based on the IXV.

It seems Europe wants its own version of X-37B and Dream Chaser.

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Portrait of Lotte, 0 to 18 years

An evening pause: Somehow, to me, this seems a fitting introduction to the holiday season. From the youtube website, “Lotte from the Netherlands (Utrecht) becomes 18 years old in this film! Dutch filmmaker and artist Frans Hofmeester has been filming and photographing his children Lotte and Vince since birth. Every week the images are shot in the same style.”

Hat tip Edward Thelen.

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House panel approves concealed carry reciprocity for all 50 states

The House Judiciary committee yesterday approved a nationwide law that would require states to recognize the legality of concealed carry licenses from other states.

The legislation allows firearm owners with a concealed carry permit issued by their home state to carry the firearm into any other state (all allow some form of concealed carry, although many are highly restrictive). The gun owners wouldn’t have to reveal they are carrying a weapon, though the bill does require they be eligible to possess a firearm under federal law (which requires a background check), carry a valid photo identification and a concealed carry permit. Gun owners from states that don’t require a concealed carry permit will need to obtain some credential from their home state to take advantage of the new law’s provisions. What form that would take isn’t specified in the House bill.

The bill still has to pass both the House and the Senate. A similar bill in the Senate already has 38 co-sponsors.

The article is typical for the modern mainstream press. It spends a lot of time getting quotes from numerous anti-gun groups and Democratic politicians, but never highlights the numerous examples in recent years where entirely innocent individuals have had their lives ruined because they entered places like New Jersey, DC, and New York with a gun that was totally legal in their home states.

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More delays in Democratic IT scandal

The attorney for Imran Awan, the computer specialist who had worked for numerous Democratic congressmen, including Debbie Wasserman Schlutz and is now charged with bank fraud, has caused a month delay in the court case in an effort to block the use of a laptop and its contents as evidence.

Wasserman Schultz fought to prevent law enforcement from looking at the laptop, threatening a police chief with “consequences” and implying it was “a member’s” laptop. She hired an outside lawyer, Bill Pittard, who specializes in the “speech and debate” clause of the Constitution that is designed to protect lawmakers from persecution for political stances, but lawmakers have used to try to stymie criminal probes in the past.

Now, it is Awans’ lawyers who are seeking the right to keep information in the backpack, including the “hard drive,” from being used as evidence.

The Awan attorneys are claiming that the laptop and all other information found in the backpack should be blocked as evidence because they fall under attorney-client privilege. This is absurd. If the court agrees with this interpretation, it will allow criminals to declare almost all evidence inadmissible, just by claiming it was communications between lawyer and client.

Based on all this effort to keep law enforcement from seeing what’s on that laptop, I suspect it contains some very damning information, both to Awan as well as to Wasserman Schultz and many other Democrats who had hired Awan.

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Someone in India finally reads its proposed oppressive space law

Link here. The analysis of India’s proposed new space law [pdf] is generally very negative, but strangely it avoids entirely the bill’s worst aspect, its requirement that everything launched by India into space must belong to the government.

Instead, the author focuses on how the bill’s broad language fails to deal with specific issues of insurance, the licensing of different kinds of space activities, and environmental pollution. In other words, it appears he cannot see the forest because of the trees.

In the end, however, in concluding that the bill as written does not serve the private sector he does make one good suggestion that I hope the Indian government takes to heart.

It will not do justice to the entrepreneurial community if this Bill is implemented as is. One of the exercises that can be conducted to align the Bill to enable a competitive ecosystem for commercial space in India is to conduct a review of international best practices in managing the space value chain and inducting them within the Bill.

In other words, read what other nations like the U.S. and Luxembourg are doing to encourage their private commercial space sector. India might find that the last entity allowed to own something in space should be the government.

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Chinese space probe detects possible dark matter signal

The uncertainty of science: A Chinese space probe designed to measure cosmic rays has detected a pattern that could be evidence of the existence of dark matter.

Researchers launched the spacecraft from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, about 1600 kilometers west of Beijing, in December 2015. Its primary instrument—a stack of thin, crisscrossed detector strips—is tuned to observe the incoming direction, energy, and electric charge of the particles that make up cosmic rays, particularly electrons and positrons, the antimatter counterparts of electrons. Cosmic rays emanate from conventional astrophysical objects, like exploding supernovae in the galaxy. But if dark matter consists of WIMPs, these would occasionally annihilate each other and create electron-positron pairs, which might be detected as an excess over the expected abundance of particles from conventional objects.

In its first 530 days of scientific observations, DAMPE detected 1.5 million cosmic ray electrons and positrons above a certain energy threshold. When researchers plot of the number of particles against their energy, they’d expect to see a smooth curve. But previous experiments have hinted at an anomalous break in the curve. Now, DAMPE has confirmed that deviation. “It may be evidence of dark matter,” but the break in the curve “may be from some other cosmic ray source,” says astrophysicist Chang Jin, who leads the collaboration at the Chinese Academy of Science’s (CAS’s) Purple Mountain Observatory (PMO) in Nanjing. [emphasis mine]

I must emphasize the large uncertainty here. They have not detected dark matter. Not even close. What they have detected is a pattern in how the spacecraft is detecting cosmic rays that was predicted by the existence of dark matter. That pattern however could have other causes, and the consistent failure of other efforts to directly find dark matter strengthens the possibility that this break is caused by those other causes.

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Soyuz failed because it was programmed for Baikonur, not Vostochny

It now appears that the Soyuz rocket failure this week occurred because the Fregat upper stage had not been programmed for a launch from Vostochny.

Although the information is still preliminary, it is increasingly clear that all the hardware aboard the Fregat upper stage performed as planned. But, almost unbelievably, the flight control system on the Fregat did not have the correct settings for the mission originating from the new launch site in Vostochny, as apposed to routine launches from Baikonur and Plesetsk. As a result, as soon as Fregat and its cargo separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle, its flight control system began commanding a change of orientation of the stack to compensate for what the computer had perceived as a deviation from the correct attitude, which was considerable. As a result, when the Fregat began its first preprogrammed main engine firing, the vehicle was apparently still changing its attitude, which led to a maneuvering in a wrong direction. [emphasis mine]

This reminds me of the NASA’s epic failure with Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998, where some programming used the metric system and other programming used the English system, and no one noticed.

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Orbital ATK shareholders approve sale to Northrop Grumman

Capitalism in space: The shareholders of Orbital ATK today approved the sale of the company to Northrop Grumman for $7.8 billion.

I suspect this will mean the end of the Orbital name, to be replaced by Northrop Grumman, once a major player in space but focused elsewhere in recent decades.

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Review of all Soyuz upper stages ordered by Russian manufacturer

According to anonymous sources, the Russian manufacturer of the Freget upper stage that failed yesterday during a Soyuz commercial launch has ordered a review of all Fregets.

The Lavochkin research and production association will check all manufactured Fregat boosters, a source in the space industry told TASS on Wednesday after a recent failed launch. “The Lavochkin Research and Production Association will check all Fregat boosters produced earlier. If defects are found, they [the boosters] will be sent for further development,” the source said.

The Lavochkin Research and Production Association did not comment on this information for TASS.

The problem is that Russia already spent almost a full year beginning in early 2016 checking all its rocket engines for substandard construction done by a corrupt manufacturer. Even though the Fregat is built by another manufacturer, did they not check the Fregat upper stages then also?

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NASA confirms next Dragon launch will be on used first stage

Capitalism in space: NASA today confirmed that it has finally approved the use of a Falcon 9 used first stage for the next Dragon launch on December 8.

NASA had said back on November 12 that they were considering this idea. It seems to me that SpaceX has probably been proceeding under the assumption they would say yes, which essentially at this point, only a few weeks from launch, put pressure on the timid NASA bureaucracy to finally get on the bandwagon.

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Rocket Lab sets launch window for 2nd Electron launch test

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has scheduled a ten day launch window, beginning on December 8, for its second Electron rocket launch test.

Because this test will also carry three smallsats for commercial customers it suggests they have strong hopes it will reach orbit.

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The Space Show’s annual fund-raising campaign

David Livingston has begun his annual campaign to show support for The Space Show.

The year 2017 is quickly coming to a close. Now is the time to support The Space Show/OGLF by making a contribution to help maintain and further develop our programming and show access. If you pay U.S. federal taxes, you get a tax deduction for your gift. The same is true for those of you paying California taxes as we are both a federal 501C3 nonprofit corporation and a California Public Benefit Corporation….

Per above, you can make your donation online using Pay Pal at the above links (or click on the Pay Pal logo on the right side of our home page). For those of you who prefer mailing a check, please make your check payable to One Giant Leap Foundation, Inc. and mail it in care of me to P.O. Box 95, Tiburon, CA 94920 USA. Remember, your gift makes possible The Space Show programming and all of the services we provide including our blog

David has most generously permitted me to appear on the Space Show more than any other guest, a gift for which I am deeply grateful. More important, he has led the way in the effort to encourage commercial private space. I hope my readers here will help him continue this effort.

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India’s next launch might slip to 2018

India’s next PSLV commercial launch might slip to 2018, despite months of effort to resume launches in 2017 following the August 31 PSLV launch failure when the rockets fairing did not release.

“We are working towards it. It will be in the end of December or first week of January. In that time frame,” ISRO Chairman A S Kiran Kumar said.

Kumar also said ISRO will try to launch on an average of once a month in 2018. The article also mentions the new and very oppressive Indian space law that has been proposed.

Asked whether the Space Activities Bill, 2017 would come up during the Budget session of Parliament, Kiran Kumar said “We have now put it in public comments. It would have to go through a set of discussions. The process has started.”

The draft of the proposed Bill to promote and regulate space activities of India, along with encouraging the participation of the private sector, has been uploaded on the ISRO website for comments from stakeholders and the public. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text is typical of all news reports coming from India. The law does no such thing, and in fact will strongly discourage any work by the private sector. It appears that in India reporters either do not read the text of laws they are reporting on, or they really do not have freedom of the press there.

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“Yeti” DNA found to come from bears and dogs

Scientists analyzing DNA samples said to come from either the legendary yeti in the Himalayas or sasquatch in North America have found that all come from known ordinary animals, mostly bears.

Of the nine “yeti” samples, eight turned out to be from bears native to the area, the researchers report today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The other sample came from a dog. Similar studies of hair samples supposedly related to North America’s big hairy hominid, the sasquatch (aka Bigfoot), have revealed that those fibers came from bears, horses, dogs, and a variety of other creatures—even a human.

Debunking aside, the new study also yielded lots of scientifically useful info, Lindqvist says. The analyses generated the first full mitochondrial genomes for the Himalayan brown bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus) and the Himalayan black bear (Ursus thibetanus laniger), for example. That could help scientists figure out how genetically different these rare subspecies are from more common species, as well as the last time these groups shared maternal ancestors in the past.

While we must always recognize the uncertainties of science, we must also recognize when it provides us clarity. This is an example of the latter.

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North Korea launches another ICBM

North Korea today launched another ICBM, landing it in the Sea of Japan.

The Department of Defense said that initial assessments indicated the missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. In a news conference, Japan’s defense minister also said it seemed to be an ICBM. The missile went higher than any shot North Korea had previously taken, according to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

This was North Korea’s first launch in a couple of months.

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Wind eating away the Martian terrain

Yardangs on Mars

Cool image time! The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) image on the right, cropped and reduced in resolution to post here, shows the transition zone between the lower flat plain to the north and the higher but rougher region to the south. What makes it interesting is the north-south aligned mesas. These are yardangs, a geological feature that actually acts like a weather vane.

Yardangs are composed of sand grains that have clumped together and have become more resistant to erosion than their surrounding materials.

As the winds of Mars blow and erode away at the landscape, the more cohesive rock is left behind as a standing feature. (This Context Camera image shows several examples of yardangs that overlie the darker iron-rich material that makes up the lava plains in the southern portion of Elysium Planitia.) Resistant as they may be, the yardangs are not permanent, and will eventually be eroded away by the persistence of the Martian winds.

For scientists observing the Red Planet, yardangs serve as a useful indicator of regional prevailing wind direction. The sandy structures are slowly eroded down and carved into elongated shapes that point in the downwind direction, like giant weathervanes. In this instance, the yardangs are all aligned, pointing towards north-northwest. This shows that the winds in this area generally gust in that direction.

Crater splash

The wind comes from the southeast and blows to the northwest, and is slowly wearing down the southern rougher terrain. Why some of these yardangs are surrounded by dark material remains a mystery, as noted I noted in a previous post.

Meanwhile, the northern plain is not as boring as it seems. Only a short distance to the north is an unusual crater, cropped from the full image to show here on the right. To my eye, when this impact occurred it literally caused a splashlike feature of compressed and more resistant material. Over time, the prevailing wind has eroded away the surrounding less resistant regolith to better reveal that splash, leaving behind a mesa with a crater in its center.

Why the impact created this splash tells us something about the density and make-up of the plain. It suggests to me a surface that was once muddy and soft that over time has hardened like sandstone.

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Worms on Mars!

Scientists growing plants on Earth using a simulated Martian soil have found that earthworms like it.

These slimy invertebrates play a key role in making Earth soil healthy by digesting dead organic matter and excreting a potent fertilizer that helps release nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Their constant burrowing also helps lighten up the soil, allowing air and water to seep through better.

That’s an important improvement for the simulated Mars soil, which water struggled to soak through in previous tests. Altogether, the tests showed that the combination of worms and pig slurry helped the plants grow in Martin soil, and the worms not only thrived but reproduced. “Clearly the manure stimulated growth, especially in the Mars soil simulant, and we saw that the worms were active,” says Wamelink. “However, the best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant.”

Obviously, we do not know yet how the worms would respond to the lower Martian gravity, but it sure would be a significant experiment to see them reproduce there.

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SpaceX raises another $100 million in investment capital

Capitalism in space: In its current round of stock sales SpaceX had raised another $100 million in investment capital.

In August, the space exploration company sold $349.9 million worth of shares, a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing showed. That amount has now risen to $449.9 million, a new filing showed on Monday, adding an extra $100 million onto the current fundraising effort.

The latest injection of cash values SpaceX at $21.5 billion, according to Equidate, a platform that facilitates the trading of shares in private technology firms. SpaceX was not immediately available for comment on the valuation when contacted by CNBC.

If I was a big money investor I too would be interested in buying some SpaceX stock. Meanwhile, Aviation Week is reporting that the first Falcon Heavy launch has slipped to 2018. I am not surprised, but I have also not seen any other news reports on this, so I am withholding judgement.

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Second Soyuz launch from Vostochny a failure

The second Soyuz rocket launch from Russia’s new spaceport in Vostochny ended in failure this morning due to a problem with the rocket’s upper stage

It is presently unclear what happened. One Russian news report suggests “human error,” though I do not understand exactly what they mean by that. Either way, all 19 satellites, including a new Russian weather satellite and 18 smallsats, were lost.

For Russia, this failure comes at a bad time. Roscosmos had been striving to recover from last year’s recall of all rocket engines due to corruption at one of their factories. A new launch failure, especially if it is due to another engine issue, will not encourage sales from the international market. Worse, the lose of the 18 smallsats on this launch will certainly make future smallsat companies more reluctant to fly on a Russian rocket.

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Europe finally begins to realize that reusability cuts costs

Capitalism in space: Faced with stiff and increasing competition from SpaceX, European governments are finally beginning to realize that their decades of poo-pooing the concept of rocket reusability might have been a big mistake.

In what was likely an unexpected question during a Nov. 19 interview with Europe 1 radio, French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire was asked if SpaceX meant the death of Ariane.

“Death? I’m not sure I’d say that. But I am certain of the threat,” Le Maire said. “I am worried.” Le Maire cited figures that are far from proven — including a possible 80% reduction in the already low SpaceX Falcon 9 launch price once the benefits of reusability are realized. “We need to relfect on a reusable launcher in Europe, and we need to invest massively in innovation,” Le Maire said.

Then there was a report out of Germany that has concluded that SpaceX commitment to reusability is about to pay off.

The article also cites those in Europe and with the U.S. company ULA that remain convinced that they can compete with expendable rockets. In reading their analysis, however, I was struck by how much it appeared they were putting their heads in the sand to avoid facing the realities, one of which has been the obvious fact that SpaceX has been competitively running rings around them all. This is a company that did not even exist a decade ago. This year it very well could launch more satellites than Europe and ULA combined.

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New report says WFIRST is “not executable”

Another Webb! New NASA report has declared the agency’s next big telescope following the James Webb Space Telescope, dubbed the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is “not executable” and is significantly over budget.

“The risks to the primary mission of WFIRST are significant and therefore the mission is not executable without adjustments and/or additional resources,” the report states. It estimated the cost of the project at $3.9 billion to $4.2 billion, significantly above the project’s $3.6 billion budget.

Produced by an independent and external team to review the technical aspects of the program, its management, and costs, the report is critical of a series of key decisions made by NASA. The addition of a coronagraph and other design choices have made for a telescope that is “more complex than probably anticipated” and have substantially increased risks and costs, according to the report.

It also offered a scathing review of the relationship between NASA headquarters and the telescope’s program managers at Goddard Space Flight Center. “The NASA HQ-to-Program governance structure is dysfunctional and should be corrected for clarity in roles, accountability, and authority,” the report states.

Did you ever get a feeling of deja-vu? This is the same story that we saw with Hubble, and with Webb. It’s called a buy-in. The agency purposely sets the budget too low to begin with, gets it started, which then forces Congress to pay the big bucks when the budget inevitably goes out of control.

From my perspective I think this is the time to shut the project down. Since Hubble astronomers have apparently begun to take NASA’s cash cow for granted, and need to relearn the lesson that they don’t have a guarantee on the treasury. Once they get over the shock of losing WFIRST, they might then start proposing good space telescopes that are affordable and can be built relatively quickly, instead of these boondoggles that take forever and ten times the initial budget to build.

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Another Evergreen employee resigns to protest college policies

Fascist and corrupt: Another Evergreen employee has resigned to protest policies at the leftist college, including some of which appear to violate state law.

Michael Radelich, who left the Washington state public college earlier this month, told The College Fix the Writing Center had been using financial aid money intended for students to hire non-student workers….According to documents given to The Fix by Radelich, the Writing Center spent 73 percent of its budget on items other than student salaries during the 2016-2017 academic year. Of that amount, 55 percent was spent on non-student temporary assistants and 18 percent on non-student elements of Inkwell, the annual magazine it produced.

…According to the exit survey that Radelich filled out and submitted when he left, “the college’s financial policy makers” told Yannone “every year” that she needed to spend at least 90 percent of her budget on student salaries. “She was always told you can’t be hiring temporary workers that are paid with student funds. There was no oversight from stopping her from doing that,” Radelich said in the interview near WWU.

In addition, the article describes how Radelich wanted out because of the college’s unbearable leftist politically correct culture.

Why anyone is sending their children to this college baffles me. The last thing anyone would accomplish there is to learn how to think.

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Russia astronauts have found bacteria living on the outside of ISS

Russia astronauts have found bacteria that was not intentionally brought into space living on the outside of ISS.

They are being studied on Earth but most likely they don’t pose any sort of danger, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov told TASS on Monday. According to him, during spacewalks from the International Space Station under the Russian program, the cosmonauts took samples with cotton swabs from the station’s external surface. In particular, they took probes from places where the accumulation of fuel wastes were discharged during the engines’ operation or at places where the station’s surface is more obscure. After that, the samples were sent back to Earth.

“And now it turns out that somehow these swabs reveal bacteria that were absent during the launch of the ISS module. That is, they have come from outer space and settled along the external surface.”

I suspect it is a bit of hyperbole to say the bacteria came from outer space. It more likely came from either the station itself, or later spacecraft docking with the station. At the same time, the article is vague about what has been discovered. For example, it says nothing about the bacteria itself.

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China launches three more military reconnaissance satellites

China today launched three more military reconnaissance satellites with its Long March 2C rocket.

The race for the most launches in 2017 is tightening, with China coming up the rear.

17 Russia
16 SpaceX
13 China

The US itself has a comfortable lead with 27 total launches.

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