Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

Dozens killed, including armed terrorists, in Gaza border violence

They also call this cutting off your nose to spite your face: Dozens have been killed today in riots along the Gaza-Israreli border as thousands of Gazan protesters attempted to invade Israel.

More than 35,000 protesters amassed at a dozen locations along the security fence, with many engaging in skirmishes that pushed the death toll Monday to the highest in Gaza since a 2014 cross-border standoff between the militant group Hamas and the Jewish state, according to the Associated Press.

Gaza health officials told the news agency that 41 people so far have been killed in Monday’s violence, and at least 772 have been wounded.

The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv, a key campaign promise of President Trump, has infuriated the Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as a future capital.

“Moments ago, an IDF patrol foiled a bomb-laying attack by a cell of three armed terrorists near Rafah, close to the border,” the Israeli military said Monday. “This is a particularly violent protest point. The troops responded with fire at the terrorists. The terrorists were killed.”

You want to live in peace? You show others that you mean it. You want others to see you as violent and a killer? You do things that prove it.

These demonstrations prove the latter. In the seventy years since Israel’s founding, that nation has shown, time after time, that it is more than willing to work with the Arabs, the Palestinians, the international community, anyone, in order to establish peaceful relations with its neighbors. Israel even unilaterally walked out of Gaza in order to show the world and the Palestinians that they are willing to allow an independent Palestinian state to exist side-by-side with Israel.

The Gazans here once again prove that they are unready to do so. They only hate, and want to kill, emotions that are hardly a good foundation for a reliable peace treaty.

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Riots prompted by Hamas have left Gaza with fuel crisis

This is called shooting oneself in the foot: The riots that the Hamas leadership of Gaza have been pushing this week have left the territory without cooking gas or diesel fuel, and no way to obtain more.

In Friday night’s attack, a large crowd broke into the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel, badly damaging a fuel and gas terminal and a conveyor belt for aggregate and animal feed.

Israel closed Kerem Shalom, saying it would take weeks or months to repair several million dollars in damages. It was not clear when the delivery of consumer goods by trucks would resume, said an army spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, adding that six trucks with medical supplies entered Gaza on Sunday.

There has been widespread speculation about the motives for the vandalism, with Israel holding Gaza’s rulers from the Islamic militant Hamas group responsible. Friday’s attack was the second on Kerem Shalom in a week, raising questions about why Hamas did not try to protect a key installation.

They estimate that Gaza only has about 7 to 10 days of fuel remaining.

It is unclear if Hamas leaders prompted the riot that destroyed the depot, or if the rioters themselves went out of control. No matter. It illustrates a madness in Gaza that has existed since Israel unilaterally left, giving them control of their own territory so they could rule themselves.

Rather than demonstrate that they were ready for their own state, the residents of Gaza have since chosen a terrorist organization as their leaders, destroyed the profitable infrastructure and businesses that the Israelis left them, and instead devoted their efforts to building missiles and bombs to fling at Israel.

This new destruction is merely par for the course. The riots that I expect tomorrow, when many Gaza residents will try to breach the border, under pressure from or in support of the Hamas leadership, is only going to cause more harm to those residents, and accomplish nothing good.

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The cave dwellers of China

Even as China tries to make them move out, the ethnic Miao villagers that have built homes and lived inside a cave for the past century or so refuse to leave.

Why? This explains it:

A cottage industry has popped up in which the cave dwellers earn extra money by renting out rooms in their homes, which over time have clustered within Zhong cave, a limestone cavern big enough to hold four American football fields. The hangar-like cave is so large that their wooden or bamboo-made residences form a small, subterranean village built along its undulating walls.

…Officials say that residents have not taken care of the cave, leaving it unsuitable for inhabitation, and that the government should oversee the village as it is listed as a protected community by the Getu River Tourism Administration, a local agency. They have offered each resident 60,000 renminbi, or approximately $9,500, to leave.

Only five families have agreed to move. The remaining 18 families have held on stubbornly to their homes inside the cave. They say that the new homes are too small, that they fear losing access to their land, and that they alone, because of their historical connection to the cave, should have the right to independently control its small tourism economy.

The Chinese government is simply not offering them enough to leave. And should they leave, I would expect the villagers to come out on the raw end of the deal, while the cave itself, no longer protected by their presence and financial self-interest to preserve it, will also suffer.

Hat tip Willi Kusche.

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ULA picks Aerojet Rocketdyne engine for Vulcan upper stage

Capitalism in space: ULA has chosen an Aerojet Rocketdyne engine to power the upper stage of its next generation rocket Vulcan.

The company has not yet made a decision on the engine for the first stage, where Blue Origin’s BE-4 still appears favored over Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1 engine. This decision on the upper stage could partly be a political move, giving Aerojet the upper stage in order to make it easier to give the lower stage to Blue Origin.

ULA is forced to play politics here because politicians are involved. A number of power members of Congress want Aerojet Rocketdyne to get the business, and ULA risks offending these legislators should it abandon that company entirely.

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Hiding messages using fonts

A new computer technique has been developed that uses subtle changes to a document’s fonts to encode secret messages and data.

Using Columbia University’s FontCode system, however, users can hide messages within unrelated text via virtually-invisible changes to the displayed letters.

Developed by a team led by associate professor of computer science Changxi Zheng, FontCode works with commonly-used fonts such as Times Roman, Helvetica, and Calibri, plus it’s compatible with most word processing programs. Additionally, the hidden messages are retained even when the document is printed on paper or converted to a different file type.

The video at the link explains very nicely how this works. The technology has some excellent potentially positive applications, such as providing a method of finding out if an original document has been modified. It also carries with it a great potential for misuse because of its ability to hide information unobtrusively in a written document.

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NASA will fly a test drone on 2020 Mars rover mission

NASA today announced that a test drone, dubbed Mars Helicopter, will be flown on the 2020 Mars rover mission.

Once the rover is on the planet’s surface, a suitable location will be found to deploy the helicopter down from the vehicle and place it onto the ground. The rover then will be driven away from the helicopter to a safe distance from which it will relay commands. After its batteries are charged and a myriad of tests are performed, controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter to take its first autonomous flight into history.

“We don’t have a pilot and Earth will be several light minutes away, so there is no way to joystick this mission in real time,” said Aung. “Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own.”

The full 30-day flight test campaign will include up to five flights of incrementally farther flight distances, up to a few hundred meters, and longer durations as long as 90 seconds, over a period. On its first flight, the helicopter will make a short vertical climb to 10 feet (3 meters), where it will hover for about 30 seconds.

As a technology demonstration, the Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward project. If it does not work, the Mars 2020 mission will not be impacted. If it does work, helicopters may have a real future as low-flying scouts and aerial vehicles to access locations not reachable by ground travel.

The only word I can think of to express my thoughts on this is “Cool!”

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SpaceX successfully launches in Block 5 Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully placed in orbit Bangladesh’s first communications satellite, successfully using its upgraded Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket, its first stage designed to be reused a minimum of ten times.

They successfully recovered the first stage, and will now take it apart to confirm this new version worked as planned. If so, it will be put back together and returned to service.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

14 China
9 SpaceX
5 Russia
5 ULA

The U.S. and China are once again tied at 14 for the nation lead. SpaceX’s launch rate is presently double what it achieved last year, when it launched the most rockets of any private company ever.

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Did the Obama administration use the FBI to put a spy in the Trump campaign?

New evidence forced by Congress from the FBI now suggests that during the campaign the Obama administration used the FBI to insert a spy into the Trump campaign.

The details can be found here, including this quote:

The bureau already has some explaining to do. Thanks to the Washington Post’s unnamed law-enforcement leakers, we know Mr. Nunes’s request deals with a “top secret intelligence source” of the FBI and CIA, who is a U.S. citizen and who was involved in the Russia collusion probe. When government agencies refer to sources, they mean people who appear to be average citizens but use their profession or contacts to spy for the agency. Ergo, we might take this to mean that the FBI secretly had a person on the payroll who used his or her non-FBI credentials to interact in some capacity with the Trump campaign.

This would amount to spying, and it is hugely disconcerting. It would also be a major escalation from the electronic surveillance we already knew about, which was bad enough. Obama political appointees rampantly “unmasked” Trump campaign officials to monitor their conversations, while the FBI played dirty with its surveillance warrant against Carter Page, failing to tell the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that its supporting information came from the Hillary Clinton campaign. Now we find it may have also been rolling out human intelligence, John Le Carré style, to infiltrate the Trump campaign.

If this is true, this abuse of power here by the Obama administration, during a campaign, is far worse that anything anyone has accused Trump of doing. More important, we have zero evidence against Trump, but now ample evidence against Obama and the Democrats. Just as Obama weaponized the IRS illegally to attack conservatives, it now appears he used the FBI and the Justice Department to illegally spy on the Republican campaign for President.

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The Middle East following Trump’s rejection of Iran deal

Many pundits had predicted that Donald Trump as president would lead to war with North Korea.

They were wrong. Completely, utterly, and foolishly. Instead, Trump’s hardline approach finally forced North Korea’s allies to force that nation to come to the negotiating table. For the first time in decades it appears we are going to see some substantive and positive changes in North Korea’s relations with the world.

This same pundit class, all operatives of the Democratic Party, have for the last few days been screaming that Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal would also lead to war. Will these predictions be right this time? At this moment it is hard to say. Almost immediately after Trump’s announcement Iran and Israel exchanged missile fire. Overall, however, that exchange has turned out badly for Iran, the world’s biggest financier of terrorism and the instigator of most of the problems that presently exist in the Middle East.

First, it appears that militarily Iran did badly in the missile exchange, with Israel doing their capabilities in Syria serious harm. Second, Iran apparently did not tell anyone in Syria it was going to do use that country as a military launch site, and this is already causing them problems with their allies. For example, Russia announced today that it will not deliver new missiles to Syria, despite an earlier promise to do so.

Finally, a host of Arab Middle East countries have not only celebrated Trump’s actions, it has prompted some to reveal support for Israel, something that would have seemed impossible only two years ago.

It remains unclear if Trump’s actions will have the same positive effect on Iran as his actions did on North Korea. The two situations are not identical. Iran’s leaders have more flexibility and options that North Korea’s. Still, what Trump has accomplished is to get some important Arab nations to move to our side against Iran, and in doing so to increasingly ally themselves with Israel as well. This cannot be a bad thing.

Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic leader of Hamas announced yesterday that the protests next week in Gaza will be “decisive” and that many will die. Whether this really happens, it is apparent that such protests are not garnering Hamas the same worldwide support they once did. The same Middle East countries that have celebrated Trump’s actions have also made it clear they no longer support the terrorist tactics of the leaders in both the West Bank and Gaza. These Arab nations have quietly made it clear that they actually back Israel now.

Trump’s actions in the Middle East appear to have shifted the balance of power, and that shift has been in favor of Israel, the only democratically-elected nation in the area. This cannot be a bad thing.

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People object to Google’s robot call technology sounding just like a human

In creating its new Google assistant, called Duplex, and designing it to be able to make phone calls to schedule appointments, the company made it indistinguishable from a human and successfully hid the fact that it was a robot.

The company was then surprised that many were horrified by this and objected.

The demonstration of the technology at the conference was both impressive and startling. The first example showed Duplex calling a hair salon and scheduling an appointment. The second example involved an even more complex conversation, with the system calling a restaurant to try to make a reservation. In the course of the conversation the system is told it wouldn’t need a reservation for that many people on that particular day. Understanding this, Duplex thanks the person on the other end and hangs up.

These examples of a human-sounding AI interacting with a real person are undeniably impressive, but the technology’s ability to so blatantly fool another human being into thinking it is real has left many unnerved. From suggestions Google had failed at ethical and creative AI design to more explicit accusations that the company was ethically lost, rudderless and outright deceptive, it seems something had gone drastically wrong.

You can watch the demonstration at the link. The robocall technology is quite amazing, and it is also incredibly dishonest and morally bankrupt. Google makes no effort to identify its robot to the listener, and is actually proud that it successfully fools them into thinking they are talking to a human.

The article notes that the company has gotten a lot of negative response to this, and has since said it will always make full disclosure in the future. I have my doubts. I also expect that politicians and survey companies will soon take advantage of this as well. I now routinely hang up on surveys that use robots. To discover that they can fool us makes me want to hang up on all surveys, in all cases.

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Cracks in pedestrian bridge possible root of failure

Cracks found in a Florida pedestrian bridge prior to its collapse, killing six, might have indicated the upcoming failure.

A key concrete support truss in the doomed Florida International University pedestrian bridge developed worrisome cracks 10 days before the structure was lifted into place over the Tamiami Trail, photographs and an internal email unintentionally released by the school show.

The documents, released in response to public records requests from the Miami Herald, show that FIU’s construction and engineering team discovered potentially problematic cracks in the bridge earlier than officials have previously acknowledged.

Because of the ongoing investigation we do not yet how the engineering company building the bridge responded to the cracks. They might have analyzed them and dismissed them. Or the might have ignored them entirely.

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Most scientific studies cannot be reproduced

A new report looking at a number of important research studies has found that almost all could not be reproduced, and that the research was often fraught with fraud and “political groupthink.”

For this study, researchers tried to reproduce the results of “53 landmark studies in oncology and hematology.” Researchers were only able to replicate the results of six studies. “People have found similar results in psychology and economics. Different fields are affected different amounts,” Randall told The College Fix. “As a rule of thumb, fields that use statistics intensively are more likely to have troubles than fields that don’t.”

The report hypothesized that there are a number of different reasons for irreproducibility that include such things as “flawed statistics, faulty data, deliberate exclusion of data, and political groupthink,” among other reasons. “Actual fraud on the part of researchers appears to be a growing problem,” the report also states.

The report also singled out the field of climate science as having significant problems along these same lines, especially in areas of its statistical research.

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Mars Odyssey looks down at Curiosity

Gale Crater

The Mars Odyssey team today released an image the spacecraft took of Gale Crater on January 16, 2018. This image, reduced in resolution, is posted on the right and captures the entire region that the rover Curiosity has been traversing for the past six years. If you click on the image you can view the full resolution original.

I have placed Curiosity’s full route since its landing on this image so that we can see where the rover has been. The actual peak of Mount Sharp is a considerable distance to the south and is not visible in this image. (For the full context of the crater and Curiosity’s travels see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater)

The river-like flow feature cutting through the north rim is called Peace Vallis. Scientists think this was formed by water flowing into the crater when the climate of Mars was wetter and there was a lake inside the crater floor.

You can get another perspective of this same view by looking at the panorama looking north that Curiosity took once it climbed up onto Vera Rubin Ridge.

I have said this before, but this Mars Odyssey image once again illustrates how little of Mars we have so far seen. Curiosity has barely begun its climb into the foothills of Mount Sharp. The mile-high mountains that form the rim of Gale Crater are far away, and will not be walked for probably generations. I do not expect any space probe or explorer to enter Peace Vallis for at least a hundred years, since there are so many other places on Mars to visit and Gale Crater has already gotten its first reconnaissance by Curiosity.

The image also gives as a view of Curiosity’s future travels. Based on this October 3, 2016 press release, Curiosity will eventually head into the mouth of the large canyon directly to the south of its present position. Whether the mission will continue up this canyon wash, using it as the route up Mount Sharp, will depend on many things, including the roughness of the terrain in that canyon and the simple question of whether the rover will be able to operate that long.

If it does, the views then from inside that canyon should be quite breathtaking.

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Juno images processed by citizens highlighted at conference

Several Juno images that have been cleverly processed by citizen scientists are being highlighted at a Jupiter conference being held in London this week.

JunoCam images presented at the meeting by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran include an animation showing the evolution of swirling features in the giant planet’s atmosphere and a composite image of Jupiter’s cloud tops.

Gerald Eichstädt, a mathematician working as a software professional, has taken two images from JunoCam and reprojected them to the same vantage point to enable a direct comparison between the images and show the subtle motions within the atmosphere. By modelling the movement of individual pixels in the images, he has created an animation that extrapolates the swirling evolution of the vortices in the atmosphere.

Eichstädt explains: “This animation represents a ‘feasibility test’. Building on this initial work, we can add in more variables that will give us a more detailed description and physical understanding of Jupiter’s atmosphere.”

Seán Doran, in collaboration with Eichstädt, has created a new composite image of Jupiter as seen by Juno as it swung away from Jupiter’s south pole on 1st April 2018. Because Jupiter was larger than JunoCam’s field of view when the main portion of the image was taken, Eichstädt rendered four other images to the same viewing geometry to reconstruct a mosaic of the whole planet. Doran then processed the composite image to balance and blend the overlapping components, sharpen the contrast, and fill gaps.

I have myself highlighted images by both previously at Behind the Black, here and here and here and here. This press release nicely places both in the limelight at last.

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Trump administration shuts down $10 million carbon measuring program at NASA

The Trump administration has shut down a $10 million ground-based carbon measuring program that was being run by NASA.

The program, dubbed Carbon Measuring System (CMS), was a collection of 65 ground-based research projects.

Although Congress fended off the budget and mission cuts [proposed by the Trump administration], a spending deal signed in March made no mention of the CMS. That allowed the administration’s move to take effect, says Steve Cole, a NASA spokesperson in Washington, D.C. Cole says existing grants will be allowed to finish up, but no new research will be supported.

The Science article takes the typical journalistic approach of the past century, innocently assuming that this research is vital and must be funded and that it is a tragedy that it is being cut. Mainstream reporters today seem incapable of exercising any skepticism when it comes to government spending.

Look, this research might be worthwhile. Then again, maybe not. More importantly, why is NASA funding this ground-based climate research? The agency’s task is the exploration of space. This work has nothing to do with that task. If environmental scientists need this work done, they need to go to the appropriate funding sources, which in the federal government would be NOAA, EPA, or the Department of Energy, not NASA.

Meanwhile, it appears that much of this work is going to be made somewhat redundant anyway, with the launch of several carbon monitoring satellites by both NASA and Europe, one of which is already in orbit, according to the article.

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Asteroid that formed in the inner solar system discovered in Kuiper Belt

Astronomers have discovered a carbonaceous asteroid in the distant Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto, even though it likely formed in the inner solar system.

The asteroid’s existence serves to confirm models of the solar system’s formation that say that the orbits of gas giants migrate inward and outward during the formation process, and as they do so they can fling material out of the inner solar system. This asteroid is the first evidence of this process.

At the same time, the data here is quite slim. They have only found one such asteroid. It could be that it was flung into the Kuiper Belt by other processes. If the formation model is correct, many more such Kuiper Belt asteroids will be eventually be found.

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Kenya’s first satellite to be deployed tomorrow from ISS

The new colonial movement: Kenya’s first satellite, a cubesat built by students at the engineering school at the University of Nairobi, will be deployed tomorrow from ISS.

The cubesat was launched by SpaceX in its Dragon cargo freighter in early April, and was built using funding from the UN with technical help from Japan.

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Air Force forces delay in next Falcon Heavy launch

Because the Air Force wishes to do more testing and review of both its payload and the rocket, the second launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy has been delayed several months.

The Falcon Heavy mission for the Air Force will be its first for a paying customer. STP-2 has a number of objectives, including demonstrating the new rocket’s capabilities and launching several satellites.

The launch had been set for June.

That the Air Force is on board Falcon Heavy now indicates that it wants to get this rocket certified for military launches as quickly as possible, thus giving it another heavy lift launch option besides the much more expensive Delta Heavy of ULA. This strategy is good for the Air Force, good for the taxpayer, and good for the launch industry. It will lower launch costs while encouraging competition.

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Customs steals $41K from nurse

Theft by government: When a nurse decided to bring $41K in cash savings to Nigeria to open a medical clinic there, U.S. Customs decided it wanted the money instead and simply stole it.

The questioning threw her off guard. She explained she had legally earned the money and she was alone. Nwaorie, who lives in Katy, Tex., became a U.S. citizen since 1994. She showed her passport, thinking perhaps they were questioning her legal status. The agents took her to a room to search her and her luggage anyway.

Then they seized all $41,377 dollars. “It was like I was a criminal,” she said. “I felt so humiliated, so petrified, too. They were talking among themselves, saying how ‘this is how people smuggle money out of the country. This is how they do it.’”

More than six months later, Customs and Border Protection still has not given back her money.

This, despite the fact that the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of Texas did not bring a civil asset forfeiture case against her or charge her with any crime. The infraction she committed was failing to declare the money to Customs before traveling. According to the agency’s website, “there is no limit on the amount of money that can be taken out” of the country, but if a traveler is carrying more than $10,000 in currency they must fill out a declaration, a rule she said she did not know existed.

Read the article. It illustrates once again the power-hungry and corrupt nature of the federal government. For example, Nwaorie’s suit to get her money back states,

According to documents provided to The Post, prosecutors declined to pursue a case against Nwaorie. The lawsuit states that under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, the government should have been required to “promptly release” Nwaorie’s $41,000 to her, no questions asked. Alban contends that forcing a person to agree not to sue the government — and to pay the government’s legal fees if CBP has to enforce the agreement in court — is an “unconstitutional condition.”

Apparently, despite a law that requires them to return the money immediately if no charges are brought, Customs is still refusing to give it back. This is more evidence that government agencies are increasingly willing to nonchalantly ignore the law, when they wish to.

I think some of these government officials should face prison.

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A new net for Mr. Steven

Photos of the ship, Mr. Steven, that SpaceX wants to use to recover its rocket fairings show that the company has installed a new net for catching those fairings.

The article theorizes that this heftier net has actually been installed for eventually catching the Falcon 9’s upper stage.

[T]he newly-installed net is by all appearances magnitudes larger, heavier, and stronger than the minimal mesh specimen it is clearly replacing. Given the fact that SpaceX thus far has self-admittedly failed to catch a gliding fairing half in the net, it seems unlikely that such a drastic upgrade would be necessitated by any field-testing that occurred since Mr. Steven’s debut late last year. Rather, a significantly more capable net seems to more readily fit alongside CEO Elon Musk’s tweet reveal three weeks prior that SpaceX would attempt to close the final major loop of Falcon reusability by recovering the orbital upper stage (S2). Estimated to weigh approximately 4000 kilograms empty, the upper stage is a minimum of four times heavier than Falcon 9’s payload fairing halves, Mr Steven’s current meal of choice.

Judging from the new net’s beefy rigging, broader bars, and general appearance, one could safely argue that it looks at least several times stronger than the mesh net before it. One could also argue that the absolutely massive metal arms installed on Mr. Steven are far larger than what might be required to catch the extremely low mass-to-area ratio payload fairings, with structural heft and bulky netting more reminiscent of safety nets present on naval vessels that are designed to catch aircraft and helicopters weighing five metric tons or more.

This is an interesting theory, but I have my doubts. At the same time, I would not dismiss Musk’s willingness to try daring engineering approaches.

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House committee boosts NASA budget while micromanaging its projects

A NASA budget proposal released earlier this week by the House Appropriations Committee boosts NASA’s budget to $21.5 billion, while also micro-managing some of NASA’s planetary projects.

The bill, though, does specify funding for some programs. It calls for spending $545 million on the Europa Clipper mission and $195 million for a follow-on lander. NASA requested only $264.7 million for Europa Clipper and nothing for the lander.

NASA said in the budget proposal it was seeking to launch Europa Clipper in 2025 on a commercial vehicle, while the bill calls for the use of the Space Launch System and a launch by 2022. In its budget proposal, NASA estimated needing $565 million in 2019 to keep Europa Clipper on track for a 2022 launch but warned of “potential impacts to the rest of the Science portfolio” if funded at that level.

The bill also included $3.5 billion for SLS/Orion, continuing that boondoggle as it continues to fall behind schedule and go over budget. Also in the bill was a half billion dollars for LOP-G, confirming Congress’s desire to get this new boondoggle running, even though the rocket and capsule necessary to fly it, SLS/Orion, hasn’t even come close to completion after almost two decades of work and almost $40 billion so far in spending.

Overall, this NASA budget proposal illustrates once again why we have Trump. Congress is corrupt, is only interested in distributing money to its corporate buddies, and doesn’t care if that cash ever produces anything. In fact, it appears they prefer that nothing ever get built, as a real space effort would carry risk, and we can’t have that!

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China launches Earth observation satellite

China’s Long March 4C rocket today launched an Earth observation remote sensing satellite.

I think I need to put together an outline of all of China’s operational rockets. The 4C appears to be similar to the 4B, but knowing how it differs from their other rockets, and why they have each, would be helpful information.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

14 China
8 SpaceX
5 Russia
5 ULA

China has once again pulled ahead of the U.S., 14-13, in the national standings.

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Putin dumps Rogozin

In a reshuffle of cabinet positions, Putin has replaced Dmitri Rogozin, putting a new man in charge of the Russian defense and space industry.

The new guy, Yuri Borisov, appears to have the title of Vice Prime Minister. I suspect Putin had grown tired of the continuing corruption and loss of market share under Rogozin’s watch during the past decade. I also suspect that Borisov will have little ability to change things. The problem isn’t the person in charge. The problem is Russia’s centralized top-down method of operations. It discourages competition and cost control, while providing no incentives for innovation and quality control.

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Astronomers find evidence for thousands of black holes near galaxy center

The uncertainty of science: Using data from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, astronomers have found evidence suggesting that thousands of stellar-mass black holes might exist circling Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-star), the super-massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Essentially, they found a dozen likely black hole candidates in what they think are X-ray binaries system. From this they extrapolate the number of potential stellar-massed black holes at the center of the galaxy. However,

While the authors strongly favor the black hole explanation, they cannot rule out the possibility that up to about half of the observed dozen sources are from a population of millisecond pulsars, i.e., very rapidly rotating neutron stars with strong magnetic fields.

In other words, this conclusion is very uncertain. Nonetheless, even if half of their candidates are not stellar-mass black holes, the results do suggest that there are a very large number of black holes circling Sagittarius A*. Using this information astronomers will be able to better refine their theories on the formation process for such super-massive black holes.

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