Category Archives: Behind The Black

Announcement: Capitalism in Space:
Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry

This post will remain at the top of the page for the next week. Scroll down for updates.

After much delay and discussion, my policy paper for the Center for a New American Security, Capitalism in Space: Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry, has finally been published.

You can download the pdf here or at the Center here. Please feel free to distribute this widely. If you visit other websites please pass it on to them. This should be read by as many people as possible, especially since the space policy of the Trump administration remains at present undecided. This policy paper will help them work out a wise policy, with the paper’s key data point contained in this table:

SLS vs Commercial space

I document my numbers very carefully. The result illustrates clearly how much a failure the government model has been and continues to be. We have spent a lot of money since the 1970s on NASA and space, and have generally gotten very little for that investment, as demonstrated by the comparison between the accomplishments of private and government space in the past two decades. Going forward it is going to be very difficult for SLS/Orion to compete with the heavy lift rockets coming from SpaceX and Blue Origin.

My concluding words:

A close look at these recommendations will reveal one common thread. Each is focused on shifting power and regulatory authority away from the federal government and increasing the freedom of American companies to act as they see fit to meet the demands of the market. The key word that defines this common thread is freedom, a fundamental principle that has been aspired to since the nation’s founding.

Political leaders from both parties have made the concept a central core tenet of American policy. Democrat John Kennedy stated that his commitment to go to the Moon was a “stand for freedom” in the Cold War. Republican Ronald Reagan proposed “Freedom” as the name for the new space station, and viewed it as a platform for promoting private enterprise in space.

Freedom is actually a very simple idea. Give people and companies the freedom to act, in a competitive environment that encourages intelligent and wise action, and they will respond intelligently and wisely.

The United States’ history proves that freedom can work. It is time to prove it again, in space.

Anyway, read the whole paper. I make a number of recommendations that I hope both Congress and the Trump administration will consider seriously. If they do, the United States will lead the world in the exploration and colonization of the solar system, and we will do it quickly and for a reasonable amount of money.

More importantly, we will be doing it under the banner of freedom.

SpaceX wins another Air Force launch contract

The competition heats up: SpaceX has been awarded a $96.5 million contract to launch an Air Force GPS satellite.

This price is about $14 million more than the last SpaceX Air Force launch contract. That’s probably because SpaceX was trying to undercut ULA’s price by as little as possible so that they could increase their profit. Until there are others in the business who can compete with SpaceX’s prices, the company is sitting pretty in any competitive bidding situation. Their costs are less, so they can always beat everyone else’s prices, while maximizing their profits.

Ukraine-Canadian partnership to launch from Nova Scotia

The competition heats up: A new launch company based in Canada and using a Ukrainian-made rocket called the Cyclone-4M has chosen as its launch site a location in Nova Scotia.

The rocket appears to be a variation of the Ukrainian Tsiklon-4 rocket, and would make this company competitive and in fact more capable than India’s smaller PSLV rocket that recently put 100 smallsats into orbit.

Engineer invents teabag dunking machine

Rube Goldberg lives! I don’t know why, but an engineer has invented a machine that can dunk his teabag automatically.

The teabag is hooked onto a crank and kept in position with a piston-like mechanism so that it’s moved up and down over a strategically-placed mug of hot water. The crank is mounted to copper tubing and chained to a five sprocket cassette that in turn is chained to the shaded-pole motor. Dunking starts when a switch is flicked.

Be sure to watch the video at the link.

University removes weight scale from gym because TRIGGER

The coming dark age: Carleton University in Canada has decided to remove the weight scale in their gym because someone complained it “triggered” them.

Several students were completely onboard with the decision. Per the Charlatan, one student named Samar El-Faki said it was a good call that accommodated people with eating disorders. “Scales are very triggering,” she said. “I think people are being insensitive because they simply don’t understand. They think eating disorders are a choice when they are actually a serious illness.”

But she was in the minority, as many other students criticized the college for pandering to special snowflakes. “Next it will be the mirrors,” wrote another student on Facebook.

This is essentially the heckler’s veto. One person complains that they don’t like something, and the university bows to that one person’s wishes, banning something that everyone else uses and needs. More important, the whiner had a very easy solution that would not have required removal of the scale: Don’t step on the damned scale and it won’t bother you! That they didn’t take that route illustrates that power and intimidation was their real game.

I should add that even though the university is considering bringing the scale back because of the criticism it has faced for removing it, that its officials were willing to bow so easily to this heckler’s veto suggests this is not a good university to send your kids.

But, then, what university today is a good place? They all seem infested with these fascists who have the support and aid of the administrations in power.

Microsoft inserts ads in Windows 10

Why I use Linux, part 5,234,657: Microsoft is now inserting advertisements for its software throughout its Windows 10 operating system.

Microsoft has taken the next step in pushing advertising on customers of its Windows 10 operating system, with users reporting an advertisement for Microsoft OneDrive now appearing in their File Explorer.

Windows 10 has been repeatedly reprimanded by technology journalists over the past year for the increasing amounts of advertising that are baked into the system. Advertisements in various forms have appeared in the Start menu, the lock screen, the taskbar, in the Windows Store, and various other areas. This seems to be the first time that users are noticing them in the File Explorer, the application that allows users to look through their documents and applications on their computer.

As I have been saying for years, dump Windows. It invades your privacy, provides you bad service while crashing at the worst possible moments. There are alternatives. I have been using Linux now for more than a decade, and it hasn’t held me back. Here again are the links to James Stephens’ series on Behind the Black for Getting and Installing Linux:

New York dumps literacy tests for teachers

The coming dark age: In the name of political correctness and ethnic diversity, New York has decided to eliminate literacy tests for its teachers.

It seems that about one third fewer black and hispanic applicants passed the test.

“We want high standards, without a doubt. Not every given test is going to get us there,” Pace University professor Leslie Soodak told the AP. Soodak was a member of the task force that advocated abandoning literacy tests for teachers.

“Having a white workforce really doesn’t match our student body anymore,” Soodak added. [emphasis mine]

Having an uneducated workforce that can’t read, that’s okay however.

Parachute tests for Boeing Starliner

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has successfully completed a parachute test at New Mexico’s Spaceport America.

Uniquely, this test wasn’t conducted via the use of a helicopter of an aircraft – as seen with other vehicles, such as the Orion spacecraft. Boeing was not able to fit the Starliner test article into the hold of a C-130 or C-17 aircraft, so they instead used a 1.3-million-cubic-foot balloon, which is able to lift the capsule to its intended altitude.

The test went well, with Starliner released from the balloon, deploying two drogue parachutes at 28,000 feet to stabilize the spacecraft, then its pilot parachutes at 12,000 feet. The main parachutes followed at 8,000 feet above the ground prior to the jettison of the spacecraft’s base heat shield at 4,500 feet. Finally, the spacecraft successfully touched down.

The article once again makes note of NASA’s fake concern over the Atlas 5 rocket. The concern isn’t that the rocket isn’t reliable. The concern is that Boeing hasn’t yet gotten NASA’s certification that it is reliable. In other words, because NASA hasn’t signed a piece of paper stating the obvious fact that the Atlas 5 is safe, Boeing’s Starliner cannot be considered safe.

Decision on new Orbital ATK rocket expected in 2018

The competition heats up? Orbital ATK says it will decide whether it will introduce a new commercial rocket sometime in early 2018.

Orbital ATK has released few details about what is known only as its “Next-Generation Launcher.” The vehicle would use solid-fuel lower stages based on space shuttle solid rocket motor segments developed by the company, as well as solid strap-on boosters. A liquid-oxygen, liquid-hydrogen upper stage would use a version of Blue Origin’s BE-3 engine that company is currently flying on its New Shepard suborbital vehicle.

The rocket’s design has at least superficial similarities to a vehicle concept called Liberty that ATK proposed prior to its merger with Orbital Sciences Corporation. Liberty, with a five-segment shuttle solid rocket booster first stage and a second stage derived from the Ariane 5 core stage provided by Astrium, was itself a commercial spinoff of the cancelled Ares 1 rocket from NASA’s Constellation program. ATK proposed Liberty for NASA’s commercial crew program but failed to win funding.

The decision itself will be based on whether the Air Force remains interested. At the present time the Air Force is investing about half the capital required to develop the rocket. If the Air Force backs out, Orbital ATK will decide against the rocket. If the Air Force support remains firm, they will go ahead with development. Essentially, this story is Orbital ATK lobbying to keep the Air Force support going.

Lockheed Martin abandons Athena rocket

Lockheed Martin has decided to shutdown its Athena rocket, and instead focus on flying its Atlas 5 rocket, even after ULA’s transitions to the new Vulcan rocket.

They say they will not retire Atlas until 2023, when the final version of Vulcan is expected to fly.

Sessions asks all remaining attorneys appointed by Obama to resign

Better late than never: Attorney General Jeff Sessions today asked the attorneys appointed by Obama that remain in the Justice Department to resign.

The article says that this is standard operating procedure, but that is not entirely true. Until Clinton was president most Justice Department attorneys were long term prosecutors who remained in office from administration to administration. They were not partisan appointees. Clinton changed that when he fired them all. I do not know if Bush followed through and did the same thing, but I tend to doubt it. Obama however would have certainly fired any Bush appointees when he took office.

What makes this significant is that it appears to be the first time that a Republican president since Clinton is fighting back and cleaning house of Democratic appointees.

Saturn’s weird moon Pan

Pan

New images from Cassini have provided scientists their first sharp images of Saturn’s moon Pan, and what those images show is something really weird. The image on the right is only one sample, with the link providing more.

Pan orbits in a gap between two rings, and the ridge might have accumulated from material from those rings. Then again, maybe not. It will take more data to I think completely unravel how this moon got to look like it does.

Congress micromanages rocket development at ULA

Corrupt Congress: Even though ULA favors Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for its Vulcan rocket, various elected officials in Alabama are pushing the company to use Aeroject Rocketdyne’s AR-4 engine instead.

At the end of February, two US representatives, Mike Rogers of Alabama [Republican] and Mac Thornberry of Texas [Republican], decided to push a little harder. On February 28, they sent a letter to Lisa Disbrow, the acting secretary of the US Air Force, and James MacStravic, who is performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics. In addition to reiterating a desire that ULA continue to fly a second rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, the letter urges the Pentagon officials to be skeptical about the BE-4 engine.

“The United States Government (USG) must have a hands-on, decision-making role… in any decision made by United Launch Alliance to down-select engines on its proposed Vulcan space launch system, especially where one of the technologies is unproven at the required size and power,” the letter states. “If ULA plans on requesting hundreds of millions of dollars from the USG for development of its launch vehicle and associated infrastructure, then it is not only appropriate but required that the USG have a significant role in the decision-making concerning the vehicle.” The letter then goes on to say the Air Force should not give any additional funding to ULA, other than for current launch vehicles, until the company provides “full access, oversight of, and approval rights over decision-making” in its choice of contractors for the engines on Vulcan.

The article also mentions porkmaster Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), who also favors Aerojet Rocketdyne because they say they will build it in Alabama. Note also that these elected officials are not only trying to pick the winner in the private competition between these two rocket engines, they also want to force ULA to keep using the Delta rocket, even though it is very expensive and not competitive with the newer rockets being developed by other companies. And their only reason for doing so is because they provide jobs for their districts.

This one story illustrates perfectly the corruption that permeates both parties in Congress. While it is more likely that Democrats will play this pork game, there are plenty of corrupt Republicans who play it as well. These petty dictators all think they have the right to interfere in the private efforts of Americans, whether it involves building a new rocket or buying health insurance. And all we get from this is a poorer nation and a bankrupt federal government.

Stratolaunch to fly in 2017?

The competition heats up: In an interview Paul Allen has revealed that he hopes to begin flight tests of his gigantic Stratolaunch airplane, the largest ever built, later this year.

No word on the rocket that this air-launched system would launch, however. In fact, it appears that no one seems interested in providing one. This could change once the plane is flying.

Meet the fascist professors at Middlebury College

Following the violent protests at Middlebury College in Vermont that injured a professor during a speaking event by author Charles Murray last week, two professors issued a “statement of principles” in favor of free speech and expressing opposition to such violence. The following, only an excerpt, gives a flavor of the whole statement:

Exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.

Students have the right to challenge and to protest non-disruptively the views of their professors and guest speakers.

A protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.

No group of professors or students has the right to act as final arbiter of the opinions that students may entertain.

No group of professors or students has the right to determine for the entire community that a question is closed for discussion.

The purpose of college is not to make faculty or students comfortable in their opinions and prejudices.

So far 79 professors at Middlebury College have put their names to this document. What is interesting, however, is a list of those professors who have not signed this basic statement in favor of free speech. An academic at a different college took a close look at the signatories, and found not surprisingly that no teachers from certain departments had signed. Before you click to see, I am willing to bet you can guess many of the departments and their teachers who oppose the idea of free speech. There are surprises however:
» Read more

Rand Paul introduces his Obamacare replacement

Competing crap: Senator Rand Paul, who opposes the Obamacare replacement introduced by the Republican leadership, introduced his own bill today to replace Obamacare.

I’ve looked at the summary [pdf] of his bill, and it contains most of the same problems contained in the Republican leadership’s proposal. Neither repeals Obamacare really, since both keep the ability of everyone to wait until they are sick before they buy health insurance, thereby guaranteeing that every health insurance company will go bankrupt.

We need Congress to repeal Obamacare, clean and simple. The tinkering by Congress in this business has only caused problems. The more tinkering they do, the more problems they will cause. They need to get out, now.

Blue Origin signs second contract for New Glenn

The competition heats up: One day after announcing its first launch contract, Blue Origin announced today a second contract for its New Glenn rocket.

In a tweet this morning, Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos said OneWeb has reserved five launches using the rocket, bringing to six the number of missions in the New Glenn manifest.

So far I can find no information about the prices being charged by Blue Origin for these launches. I suspect they are giving their customers discounts for being the first, but this is not confirmed yet.

At the crest

Looking north at the crest

Cool images time! The image above, cropped and reduced to show here, is a panorama that I have created from the most recent images sent down from Opportunity yesterday. The rover sits on the crest of the rim of Endeavour Crater, and this panorama looks north at that crest, back in the direction where the rover has come. The rovers tracks can be seen fading away into the distance slightly to the left of the crestline..If you click on the picture you can see the full resolution image.

The crater floor is to the right, the plains that surround the crater are to the left.

Below is another panorama, created by me from the same images sent down today, this time looking south at the crest in the direction Opportunity is heading. Once again, if you click on the picture you can see the full resolution version.

The full set of today’s images from Opportunity suggest that the science team took them to assemble a full 360 degree panorama before they begin the journey south to the gully that is just now becoming visible at the southernmost edge of the most recent overhead traverse image. To get to that gully they will now have to descend off the crest and down outside the rim of Endeavour Crater, moving to the right in the panorama below. This is therefore their last opportunity for awhile to get a good view from a high overlook.

Looking south at the crest

Local Vermont voters dump mayor who pushed accepting refugees

What a surprise! A town mayor in Vermont who had advocated accepting a hundred unvetted Middle East refugees has lost his re-election bid.

It appears this guy, who had been mayor for about a decade and had twice defeated his opponent in earlier elections, had pushed his plan without consulting anyone else in the government. In this election he got trounced.

A Ted Cruz telecon

Last night I did a long radio appearance with Robert Pratt in Texas. While I was on the air with him he received a notice from Senator Ted Cruz’s office, announcing a press telecon today on the just-passed NASA authorization bill. Pratt asked me if I would be willing to attend that telecon as his press correspondence. I agreed.

The telecon has just ended. Cruz’s statements about that NASA authorization were very uncommitted and vague, though he clearly wants to encourage private space. He also was careful not to say bad things about SLS/Orion, since it sends a lot of money to Texas.

I asked him about the lack of any mention of Earth science research in the authorization bill. He noted that during the Obama administration NASA’S climate research had become politicized, and it is his hope that this will now end, that NASA will continue to do this research but that “it will no longer be used for political purposes.” Like his comments about SLS/Orion, this was a careful answer that avoided setting off a firestorm of controversy.

Cruz did say two things of note however during the press teleconference.

  • Cruz and family is having dinner with Trump tonight
  • Cruz has reservations about the Republican proposal on Obamacare

It appears that Cruz is putting aside the ugly events of the campaign in order to try to exert influence on Trump now. It also appears that he intends to discuss the bad Obamacare replacement bill with Trump, pushing for changes to it.

Anti-Trump protesters who threatened violence during inauguration get off scott free

The three protesters who were filmed planning violence during the Trump inauguration by undercover agents of Project Veritas have all pleaded guilty and gotten off with no jail time.

An anti-Trump protester pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy for his role in plotting to shut down an inaugural ball by setting off stink bombs and sprinklers. Scott Ryan Charney, 34, was sentenced to community service after agreeing to plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit assault after he was caught on videotape discussing the scheme by Project Veritas.

Charney was the third of three members of the D.C. Anti-Fascist Coalition charged with conspiracy after being captured on hidden-camera video at the Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. Paul “Luke” Kuhn and Colin B. Dunn were sentenced Thursday to community service but no jail time after entering guilty pleas in D.C. Superior Court on unlawful conspiracy to commit an offense.

This is par for the course. Leftwing and Democratic protesters can do whatever they want, including planning and even committing life-threatening violence, and receive no punishment. Rightwing and Republican protesters can sneeze in the wrong direction and end up spending years and their life savings trying to avoid heavy prison sentences or the destruction of their lives.

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