Monthly Archives: January 2018

New Zimmerman op-ed: NASA’s safety bureaucracy sabotaging manned space

The website American Greatness has now published a new op-ed I have written that describes how the bureaucracy at NASA is acting to sabotage commercial space, even as it ignores far more significant safety issues with SLS and Orion.

I was prompted to write the op-ed after reading the reports in the past few weeks by NASA’s safety panel and the GAO, both of which clearly favored NASA’s bloated projects.

What both reports actually demonstrate is that the bureaucrats in Washington have very little interest in safety, but instead are more focused on putting their thumbs on the scale in order specifically to harm these private efforts—especially SpaceX’s. One report in particular, by NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), was especially hostile to these private efforts, even as it remained completely unconcerned about similar but far worse safety issues that exist with NASA’s government-built and competing SLS and Orion programs.

Both reports also illustrated starkly the complete lack of understanding that the Washington community has for the nature of exploration, the very task that NASA was founded to spearhead. The result is a bureaucratic culture that makes the manned exploration of space by the United States practically impossible.

If things do not change, expect this country to be bypassed in the coming decades by the rest of the world as the solar system is colonized and settled.

Check it out.

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Falcon 9 first stage survives splashdown

The controlled splashdown of today’s Falcon 9 first stage was apparently so gentle that the stage survived intact and has been photographed floating at sea.

SpaceX says it plans to tow the stage back and try to salvage it. According to Musk, they were testing “a very high retrothrust” during the landing, whatever that means.

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Gustav Holst – St Paul’s Suite

An evening pause: Performed by the Eufonico String Orchestra, Rafał Nicze, conductor, as part of the 3rd Polish Nationwide Music Schools’ Symphonic Orchestras Competition, May 19, 2015.

The music here is soooo British, as it should be, written by Holst in honor of the St Paul’s Girls’ School where Holst was Director of Music for almost thirty years.

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SpaceX successfully launches Luxembourg’s first government satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched Luxembourg’s first government satellite, GovSat 1.

The launch used a previously flown first stage, which was intentionally not recovered on this flight. They did however land it in the ocean, probably to simply practice the entire routine.

The 2018 launch standings:

5 China
2 SpaceX
2 ULA
1 Rocket Lab
1 Europe
1 India
1 Japan

This launch puts the U.S. and China in a tie for the lead. I must also note that the world’s aerospace industry completed 13 launches in the first month of 2018. If this pace is maintained, we shall see about 150 launches in 2018, the most since before 1980, and possible the most in a single year ever. (I need to check the records for the 1970s, as it is possible but very unlikely this number was topped during that time.)

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Fractures in the floor of Occator Crater

Fractures in floor of Occator Crater

Cool image time! The Dawn science team has released an image of Ceres, cropped to post here in the right, that shows a spiderweb of fractures radiating out from a single point in the floor of Occator Crater.

These fractures have been interpreted as evidence that material came up from below and formed a dome shape, as if a piston was pushing Occator’s floor from beneath the surface. This may be due to the upwelling of material coming from Ceres’ deep interior. An alternative hypothesis is that the deformation is due to volume changes inside a reservoir of icy magma in the shallow subsurface that is in the process of freezing, similar to the change in volume that a bottle of water experiences when put in a freezer.

In the image sunlight is coming from the right. This fractured area can be seen in this earlier simulated oblique image of Occator Crater, in the southwest corner of the crater floor, well away from the crater’s more well known bright areas.

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Private Chinese company developing vertical take-off and landing rocket

Capitalism in space? A private Chinese company, Linkspace, is developing a small rocket with the ability to vertically land, much like SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

Chinese private space company Linkspace has taken a step in its development of a reusable orbital rocket with a successful vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) test. VTVL has allowed US company SpaceX to launch, land and reuse its Falcon 9 rocket first stages, and will next week attempt the same with the new Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.

The breakthrough by Linkspace will be used for its own, much smaller rockets which will aim to provide low-cost access to space for clients looking to launch small satellites. The NewLine-1 rocket, with a reusable first stage, will be capable of carrying 200 kg of micro and nanosats to Sun-synchronous orbit up to an altitude of 500 kilometres. Linkspace is aiming for the maiden flight to take place in 2020

I have embedded below the fold a PR video from the company that shows a few seconds of this test.

The article also provides the status of another Chinese private smallsat rocket company, OneSpace, as well as an overview of the government’s policy in connection with these private operations.

OneSpace received support from the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND), which oversees China’s space activities, and has raised 500 million yuan (US$77.6m) through finance rounds since its establishment in summer 2015, according to Tencent Technology.

This follows a government decision in 2014 to allow the diversification of sources of income for space companies in an effort to boost innovation. This was backed up in a 2016 Space ‘White Paper’, which underlined commercial space activities and funding for the first time in a government document.

» Read more

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Curiosity takes a panorama that shows its entire journey so far

Cool image time! The Curiosity science team has released a panorama taken in October 2017 that looks north across the floor of Gale Crater and shows the rover’s entire journey since it landed in 2012.

Rather than post the image here, I have posted below the fold a video produced by the science team that pans across the entire panorama, and then shows where Curiosity has traveled in that panorama. Look close, and you will realize how truly little of Mars we have so far explored.
» Read more

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SpaceX seeks more government money for Texas spaceport

It appears that SpaceX is asking for an additional $5 million in government subsidies to build local infrastructure for its Boca Chica spaceport in Texas.

This new money would be in addition to about $15 million already set aside for SpaceX’s spaceport. It is unclear however what it will exactly pay for.

Update: Meanwhile, the New Mexico state legislature is considering dumping another $10 million to Spaceport America. (Hat tip Robert Pratt) From the article:

Other provisions of the updated budget proposal might raise eyebrows. One is $10 million for Spaceport America to build a new hangar. State officials hope the Spaceport can become a tourist draw.

I don’t know how they can imagine this will ever be a tourist draw, since Spaceport America is a spaceport with practically no customers except for Virgin Galactic, which unlike SpaceX will likely never fly.

Note: A reader noted that I mistakenly wrote that Spaceport America was in Texas in the initial post. The reader is correct. I wrote without thinking, and now have fixed the post.

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House committee votes to release memo on Justice Dept surveillance abuse

The House Intelligence committee today voted to release a memo the Republicans there have written that supposedly outlines the surveillance abuse committed at the Justice Department in connection with Special Counsel Robert Meullers Russian collusion investigation.

It is hard to say how much impact this much ballyhooed memo will have. Without the underlying original material (which they are likely to hold back because it is classified), the memo can easily be written off merely as Republican talking points, as the article notes Democrats are already doing.

It does appear however that it was connected with the removal of McCabe earlier today, as that event occurred after his boss, FBI Director Christopher Wray, was allowed to review the memo this past weekend.

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Another anti-Trump FBI official steps down

Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe today officially stepped down from his post two months before he had planned to retire.

There have been numerous stories about McCabe (who has definite partisan connections to the Democratic Party) as a leaker and as maybe the instigator of the underground effort at the FBI to sabotage the results of the 2016 election.

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The landing site of NASA’s next Mars lander

InSight's landing site on Mars

InSight, NASA’s next Mars lander scheduled to launch later this year (two years late), is aiming for a landing site in a region called Elysium Planitia, a flat plain north of the equator.

InSight’s scientific success and safe landing depends on landing in a relatively flat area, with an elevation low enough to have sufficient atmosphere above the site for a safe landing. It also depends on landing in an area where rocks are few in number. Elysium Planitia has just the right surface for the instruments to be able to probe the deep interior, and its proximity to the equator ensures that the solar-powered lander is exposed to plenty of sunlight.

The target area is centered at 4.5 N latitude and 135.9 East longitude. If you zoom in on that latitude and longitude at the archive of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) high resolution images, you get the red blob on the right, which shows how many images they have taken of this area in preparation for InSight’s mission. The X indicates the location of lat/long above.

Below the fold is a reduced version of the MRO image for the center of this target area. The black spots near the center are thought to be a recent crater impact site. In general, this image shows an area with more features than the region around it. Most of the landing area of Elysium Planitia is a featureless flat plain with scattered small craters. Since InSight is not a rover, where it lands will be where it does its research, so there was no reason to pick a site with lots of interesting surface features. Moreover, since InSight is focused not on studying the surface but the interior geology of Mars, it matters little what the surface looks like anyway. One instrument will be a seismograph, while another will insert a thermometer about sixteen feet into the ground to measure the interior temperature.
» Read more

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Problem with new ISS robot arm hand

Update: Software patch fixes robot arm latching mechanism. (Hat tip reader jburn.)

Less that a week after astronauts did a spacewalk to install a new latching end effector on the end of one of the station’s robot arms NASA has decided to do another spacewalk to put the old “hand” back on.

Hints of an issue cropped up during the previous spacewalk when two of the six Expedition 54 astronauts—NASA’s Mark Vande Hei and Scott Tingle—replaced the end effector, called LEE-B, but ground teams were unable to communicate with the mechanism. “The spacewalking crew demated and remated the connectors and ground teams were able to power up the arm to an operational state on its secondary communications sting leaving the arm operational but without a redundant communications string,” a NASA statement reads.

After several days of troubleshooting, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency—which built the 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) long Canadarm2—said the decision was made to use the upcoming spacewalk to re-install the old LEE-B to restore the redundant capability with the arm. The space agency said if Canada and its robotics specialists find a way to solve the issue, the Jan. 29 spacewalk could be delayed.

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SpaceX sets February 6 for first Falcon Heavy launch attempt

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has now scheduled February 6 as the date for its first attempt to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket.

I was amused by this tidbit from the article:

While a launch date has been set, the company still faces a regulatory obstacle ahead of the launch. The Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation has not yet issued a launch license for the Falcon Heavy, a requirement for a commercial launch such as this. Such licenses are often issued days ahead of a launch.

I dare the FAA to deny this launch a license. I just dare them.

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Bad times fall on Russian Proton rocket

Link here. The key quote is this:

All this means that after 53 years in service, the venerable Proton rocket might set an anti-record in 2018 by flying only a couple of missions. And, for the first time since its entrance onto the world market at the end of the Cold War, it may not bring any money to its cash-strapped developer.

This story confirms much of what I have been reporting about Proton and the loss of its customer base in the past three years.

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Moon Express loses lawsuit by subcontractor

Capitalism in space: Moon Express has lost a lawsuit by one of its subcontractors, who had claimed it had ceased work because the former Google Lunar X-Prize finalist had failed to pay for its work.

Intuitive Machines further claimed that Moon Express’s failure to pay harmed its business. The jury found in favor of Intuitive Machines and awarded the company $1.125 million in cash and $2.5 million in Moon Express equity related to the flight software claim. The jury also awarded Intuitive Machines $732,000 related to its work on the terrestrial return vehicle.

The importance of this story is that it suggests that Moon Express lacks sufficient capital to do what it claims. The decision further robs it of more capital.

Now it could be that Moon Express stopped paying because Intuitive Machines was not delivering good product, as Moon Express claims. The jury did not agree with this claim, however. I do wonder if the jury was sufficiently educated about the product itself.

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Amateur discovers long-dead NASA satellite has come back to life

Back from the dead: In his hunt to locate Zuma an amateur astronomer has discovered that a long-dead NASA satellite, designed to study the magnetosphere, has come back to life.

IMAGE went dead in 2005, and though NASA thought it might come back to life after experiencing a total eclipse in 2007 that would force a reboot, no evidence of life was seen then. It now appears that the satellite came to life sometime between then and 2018, and was chattering away at Earth waiting for a response. NASA is now looking at what it must do to take control of the spacecraft and resume science operations.

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Weird Martian geology: Kaiser Crater

Kaiser Crater bedrock

Cool image time! This week JPL’s image site highlighted a picture taken by Mars Odyssey of the floor and dunes inside Kaiser Crater, located to the west of Helles basin in an area dubbed the Noachis Region.

To my eye, the Mars Odyssey picture was interesting, but not worth a post here on Behind the Black. However, I decided to take a look at what HiRise, the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), had taken of the same area, just out of curiosity. A search at the master HiRise image site at the same latitude and longitude (-45 latitude, 180 longitude) showed that HiRise had imaged a part of the same area, but at much higher resolution.

When I zoomed in on this hi resolution image I came across some interesting and weird geology, cropped to show here on the right. Now this, I thought, is worth posting. Notice how the dark tracks, caused by dust devils, leave no tracks as they cut across the brighter areas. Obviously, these bright areas have no dust or sand, and are likely solid bedrock of some kind. The depressions might be craters, but they also might not. The raised area around the depressions might have been caused by the impact, or it might have been caused by some internal geological process that caused the depression while also raising the surrounding bulge. Since then the wind has been steadily depositing sand in the depressions, causing it to get trapped there.

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Forensic experts baffled about FBI claims about lost texts

They were lying: Forensic experts consider absurd the FBI claim that the texts between two anti-Trump FBI investigators were lost.

A former FBI special agent, who worked extensively on counterterrorism related cases, stated they were “dumbfounded” by the FBI’s original excuse that the text messages were irretrievable.

“Even though the servers ‘lost’ the text messages of Strzok they would still be on his actual device, even if he deleted them,” stated the former FBI special agent, who asked to speak on background due to the sensitivity of the case. “That’s how we catch bad guys, we forensically search their phones. Nothing disappears off the device, nothing… unless they take a hammer to it or microwave it. The question is, the FBI knows this, so why did the bureau say they couldn’t retrieve them – why did they mislead Congress.”

Makes sense to me. They are lying. They are trying to cover-up. And what they are lying about and trying to cover up is down-right treasonous.

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Today’s Ariane 5 launch NOT a failure

Arianespace’s first launch attempt in 2018 appears to have gotten the satellites into orbit, even though contact was lost during launch.

From the reports, it appears that contact was lost when the second stage began firing.

Before this, the Ariane 5 had completed 83 straight successful launches, a track record that Arianespace repeatedly touted as justification for its higher rates.

Update: Arianespace is now saying that though they had entirely lost contact with the rocket after the second stage fired, the satellite’s themselves reached orbit.

A few seconds after ignition of the upper stage, the second tracking station located in Natal, Brazil, did not acquire the launcher telemetry. This lack of telemetry lasted throughout the rest of powered flight.

Subsequently, both satellites were confirmed separated, acquired and they are on orbit. SES-14 and Al Yah 3 are communicating with their respective control centers. Both missions are continuing.

It appears that the SES-14 satellite can reach its planned orbit using its own engines. Al Yah 3’s status is less certain.

If these results hold up, I will then declare, for the purpose of my 2018 launch standings, that this launch is a success for Arianespace. Arianespace however will certainly not consider it so, and will need to figure out why it lost contact with its rocket and why the upper stage did not function as planned.

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Justice Dept inspector general says he has recovered missing texts

The inspector general of the Justice Department has told the pertinent congressional committees that he has recovered the missing texts between two anti-Trump FBI investigators that the FBI had claimed were lost.

In a letter sent to congressional committees, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office “succeeded in using forensic tools to recover text messages from FBI devices, including text messages between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page that were sent or received between December 14, 2016 and May 17, 2017. …Our effort to recover any additional text messages is ongoing,” Horowitz said. “We will provide copies of the text messages that we recover from these devices to the Department so that the Department’s leadership can take any management action it deems appropriate.”

Fox News has learned from U.S. government officials that the inspector general recovered the texts by taking possession of “at least four” phones belonging to Strzok and Page.

This quick recovery is proof to my mind that the initial claim by the FBI that the texts were lost was a lie. The FBI was stonewalling, and also hoping no one would push them about it, as had been the case with the Lois Lerner IRS emails that were so conveniently lost. Here, however, the people under attack are the politicians doing the investigation. They are not going to let this slide.

Expect some shocking revelations to come out in the coming weeks.

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Scientists created tiny projected 3D image using light and lasers

While the technique and result is a far cry from a projected image of Princess Leia begging for help, scientists have now been able to create a tiny but simple projected 3D image using light and lasers.

Using a barely visible violet laser controlled by mirrors, the researchers trapped a cellulose particle and moved it rapidly through space. The quickly moving mote was illuminated by other, colored lasers, making it visible. By moving the trapped particle fast enough, the researchers were able to trace out patterns in the air that, to an observer, appeared as a single image. “It’s not unlike when you have a sparkler at nighttime and you draw your name in the air,” Smalley says. “We know intellectually that it’s just one spot, but our eyes will integrate if it goes too fast.”

The researchers admit that this research is not aimed at producing 3D TV. Instead, they say its best use would be to provide 3D images of tiny difficult-to-see places, such as human internal organs that physicians might need to travel through remotely to complete a surgery. The images, provided prior to surgery, would help make that surgery safer and more reliable.

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China successfully launches four satellites

China today completed its fifth launch so far this year, placing three reconnaissance satellites, plus one nanosat, into orbit.

The 2018 launch standings:

5 China
2 ULA
1 SpaceX
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan
1 India

Two past major players, Europe and Russia, remain launchless. However, later today Arianespace hopes to complete its first launch. Russia meanwhile has its first launch off scheduled for before the end of the month.

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