Category Archives: Points of Information

Musk hints at a team-up with space-based internet provider

The competition heats up: Elon Musk yesterday revealed that he is in negotiations to team-up with a venture that would put in orbit a constellation of 700 satellites to provide low-cost internet access.

The venture was originally linked with Google, but that partnership has faded. Musk meanwhile said that his deal will be announced within the next three months.

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Italian appeals court overturns convictions of earthquake scientists

An Italian appeals court on Monday overturned the manslaughter convictions of six Italian earthquake scientist for the deaths of over 300 people during the L’Aquila earthquake of 2009.

Only one of the seven experts originally found guilty was convicted today: Bernardo De Bernardinis, who in 2009 was deputy head of Italy’s Civil Protection Department and who will now serve 2 years in jail, pending any further appeals.

De Bernardinis had been the guy who had publicly said that the swarm of tremors prior to the quake had released energy and thus reduced the chance of an earthquake, a claim that geology scientists do not support.

O boy! Obama wants to regulate the internet!

On Monday the Obama administration declared its desire that the FCC should increase its regulation of the internet, embracing White House proposals for something progressives like to label “net neutrality.”

By backing a policy commonly referred to as Net Neutrality, President Barack Obama is advocating for that the internet to be regulated like any other public utility. “To put these protections in place, I’m asking the [Federal Communications Commission] to reclassifying internet service under Title II of a law known as the Telecommunications Act,” Obama said in a statement on Monday.

Since the issue of “net neutrality” became a hot button progressive issue several years ago, I have tried to figure it out, all to no avail. The issue is so complex that my first instinct is that the government should simply leave well enough alone, since any action the government takes is usually harmful.

Now, however, with Obama putting his brilliant support behind it I have no doubts — these regulatory proposals should be doused with gasoline, burnt to a crisp, then buried in a hole so deep no one will ever be able to dig them up.

I say this not because of any personal hatred of Obama, but because I have seen the disaster of Obama’s biggest regulatory effort, Obamacare. Why should anyone with any brains at all ever trust him again with any future regulatory effort in any area of public policy? No one should. He and the present generation of Democrats proved with Obamacare that their ideas about government regulation are bankrupt. They should quietly sit down and shut up, and let some adults who know how to think run things.

Obamacare enrollments far below government predictions

Finding out what’s in it: The Obama administration admitted today that enrollments in Obamacare in 2015 will be 30 percent below their initial predictions.

Federal officials on Monday sought to lower expectations for upcoming enrollment in Obamacare, announcing that they now believe that only between 9 million and 9.9 million people will be enrolled in Affordable Care Act health insurance plans by the end of 2015. That is well below the 13 million people that the Congressional Budget Office has projected for Obamacare enrollment by the end of 2015. Open enrollment for 2015 plans resumes Saturday.
The new projection, more than 30 percent reduced from the CBO estimate, comes from the Health and Human Services Department, which oversees the Obamacare health reform program.

HHS also said it now appears that it will take longer—perhaps quite a bit longer—than 2017 to reach a “steady state” of 25 million Obamacare enrollees that CBO had been projecting for 2017 enrollment. The reduced projection is due to recent data showing “mixed evidence” about how quickly—and how dramatically—people will shift from employer-sponsored health insurance and non-Obamacare plans into insurance plans sold on government-run marketplaces such as HealthCare.gov, according to HHS. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted sentence once again illustrates how blatantly Obama was lying when he said, “If you like your plan you keep your plain. Period.” The goal was always to force people from the plans they had to government-run healthcare.

Speaking of lies, video from 2013 of the man who designed Obamacare for Obama shows that the Democrats knew they were lying when they described Obamacare in 2009 and 2010, and that they were doing so because they consider the American people “stupid.”

Of course, this story should surprise no one. Lying to the public has been the Democratic/leftwing method of operations since Bill Clinton arrived on the political scene. In fact, it amazes me that anyone is surprised by this.

Comet Siding Spring’s fly-by of Mars changed the planet’s atmosphere

Data obtained by the various Mars orbiters during the close fly-by of Comet Siding Spring of Mars has revealed that the comet created a new temporary layer in the planet’s atmosphere.

The European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft detected an increase in electrons in Mars’ upper atmosphere, partly ionising it. This was attributed to fine cometary dust penetrating the atmosphere, which led to a meteor storm of thousands of meteors per hour. The increase in electrons led to the creation of a temporary new layer of charged particles in the ionosphere, which runs from an altitude of 120 kilometres to several hundred kilometres above. This is the first time such an event has been seen, even on Earth the extra density of electrons was measured to be five to ten times higher than normal by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Another NASA spacecraft, MAVEN, which also observed the new layer in the ionosphere, will monitor for any long-term events as it goes about its regular duties of studying Mars’ atmosphere.

MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph was able to ascertain the species of ions that flooded into the ionosphere from the comet, the first time a comet that has come direct from the distant Oort Cloud has been sampled in this way. It detected the signal of magnesium, iron and sodium ions following the meteor shower, a signal that dominated Mars’ ultraviolet spectrum for hours afterwards, taking two days to dissipate.

The chemistry that MAVEN detected appears superficially somewhat similar to the chemistry that Rosetta is detecting at Comet 67P/C-G, though there are differences.

China’s struggle to compete with SpaceX

This Aviation Week story provides a detailed update on China’s effort to build a new family of Long March rockets that are less expensive to operate and can effectively compete with SpaceX.

Two main take-aways from the article. First, the first flight of the Long March 7, a direct competitor with the Falcon 9, has been seriously delayed. Originally expected to fly in 2013, that first flight has apparently been pushed back to 2015.

Second, even with extensive cost savings, the Long March 7 will still cost a customer more than a Falcon 9, $70 million vs $61 million.

Police officer suspended for slapping citizen for refusing a warrantless search

This story demonstrates why it is becoming essential for every citizen to begin recording their interactions with the police every single time.

Yesterday police were contacted in regard to a video posted online which appeared to show an inappropriate interaction between an on-duty member of the Sheriff’s Office and a civilian, resulting from a suspicious vehicle complaint in the Town of Halfmoon.

The Sheriff’s Office has identified and interviewed all parties involved in the interaction and as a result, the police officer has been suspended without pay effective immediately, pending the outcome of the investigation and possible disciplinary action.

Make sure you watch the video. It is very clear that the officer did not know he was being recorded. It is also clear to me that his behavior in this situation was not unusual, that this police officer is quite used to using violence to get his way, regardless of the law. Had the recording not existed, however, he would not have been suspended, and would not be likely to lose his job.

The recording did exist, however, which has forced the Saratoga police force to take action.

Alternative rockets and 2015 launch dates for Cygnus

The heat of competition: Orbital Sciences has pinpointed available launch slots and alternative rockets for getting Cygnus into orbit in 2015.

[Orbital CEO David] Thompson said Wednesday the company has narrowed its options to three launch providers which have openings as early as the second quarter — between April 1 and June 30 — of next year. Two of the launch providers are based in the United States. Orbital could also launch Cygnus missions with a European-based company, Thompson said. The contractors under consideration are presumably United Launch Alliance, SpaceX and Arianespace.

Unlike Virgin Galactic’s claims in my previous post, I find Thompson’s prediction here quite likely. His main problem is not technical but political. He has to convince his competitors to help him, and this story is his first shot across the bow in that negotiation. By making these facts public, Thompson applies pressure on these other companies to agree. And though the request is unstated, he is also enlisting NASA’s aid, since the agency is certain to back him in this negotiation and apply its clout in his favor.

Virgin Galactic vows to fly again by April

The heat of competition: During a press tour of its Mojave facilities this week Virgin Galactic’s CEO revealed that the company expects to begin flying its replacement to SpaceShipTwo by April.

George Whitesides, the company’s chief executive, said construction of the second spaceship is already 65 per cent complete. Like its doomed predecessor, Enterprise, the new spaceship’s name is a tribute to both Nasa and Star Trek. It will be called SS Voyager, the Sunday Times reports.

Whitesides also said that LauncherOne, designed to put very small payloads into orbit, is 18 months away from its first flight.

I hope this predictions are true, but coming from Virgin Galactic I think I can be forgiven if I am very skeptical. Nonetheless, in referring to the new ship I will make it a policy to call it Voyager from here on out to distinguish it from the first ship.

Bringing Dream Chaser home

The competition heats up: At an space industry conference this week Sierra Nevada outlined the ability of Dream Chaser to land at almost any airport, including the many financial and safety advantages of that flexibility.

The story notes that because Dream Chaser would not need an unusually long runway, it could land at most airports. Also, because it would have no hazardous materials on board, removing it from the runway after landing would be simple and straightforward. You would simply tow it away. The biggest advantage of this, howevr, is that if the spacecraft was docked at ISS and there was an emergency that required immediate evacuation, bringing Dream Chaser and its passengers home to a runway will be possible any time.

This presentation is part of Sierra Nevada’s sales effort to find new backers for their spacecraft, now that NASA has begged out. I think they make a good sales pitch. I hope someone with money agrees.

White student supports/attends Mike Brown event and is attacked

Feel the liberal love! This story epitomizes nicely the hate, violence, and incoherence of the race-baiters behind the entire Mike Brown death:

A young white man and student of Saint Louis University named Chris Schaefer attended a meeting of Ferguson protestors at St. Mark’s church. The church acts as a safe house for the organizing protestors.

Apparently while there, Mr. Schaefer began recording the meeting; or at least he was perceived to be recording the meeting. The mob, who ironically demand all police wear body cameras, did not like the thought of their meeting being recorded – so they attacked him.

Schaefer attended the event as a strong supporter of Mike Brown. He still was attacked, his cell phone grabbed, and the recordings on it deleted, by a woman with academic and left wing activist credentials as well as her own criminal rap sheet.

Why the polls underestimate Tuesday’s Republican sweep

The answer is very simple, at least according to this particular pollster:

The American people cannot stand Barack Obama. They dislike his policies. They dislike his “above it all” demeanor. And they rose out of their chairs and off their couches and came out in droves to defeat anyone who they thought was even remotely supportive of him or his administration.

Yep, I was one of those dumb pollster/analysts who thought that no president in a midterm election could possibly be as big of a drag on candidates as was Obama. But I was wrong. He wasn’t just a drag; he was his own voter turnout machine for Republicans.

How could this be? How could the voters be so blind? Don’t they realize that Barack Obama cares!?

The November 12 timeline of events for Philae’s landing on a comet

ESA has released a detailed timeline of events on November 11-12, when Rosetta’s Philae lander will be released and land on Comet 67P/C-G. They have also released a much more readable summary of the most critical events, describing what will be happening.

For Americans, these events will be occurring from around 3 pm (Eastern) November 11, when the process begins, to 12 pm (Eastern) November 12, when Philae will send back the first signals after landing. Much of the most critical events will take place in the wee hours of the morning.

Meanwhile, one of Rosetta’s instruments has confirmed the presence of water vapor and carbon dioxide in the jets seen near the comet’s narrow neck.

Orion heat shield redesigned before its launch?

Even before Orion’s first flight next month to test its heat shield, engineers are proposing a major change in the shield’s design and manufacture.

The Orion heat shield’s titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin was fabricated by Lockheed Martin — the craft’s prime contractor — in Colorado. The skeleton was shipped to Textron Defense Systems in Massachusetts for installation of a fiberglass-phenolic honeycomb structure. More than 330,000 individual cells make up the honeycomb, and Textron technicians — using a special dispensing gun — filled the cells by hand with a material called Avcoat. The Avcoat insulation is supposed to ablate away during the Orion spacecraft’s re-entry, protecting the underlying structure from searing temperatures. The Apollo moon capsule used the same type of manually-applied material for its heat shield, and it worked so well Lockheed Martin and NASA decided to dust off the design.

Engineers scaled up the heat shield for the Orion crew capsule, which is about four feet wider at its base than the Apollo command module. “That’s what worked for Apollo, and that’s what we’ll work with for this mission,” Bray said, referring to the EFT-1 launch in December.

But a review of the heat shield on the Orion spacecraft set for launch Dec. 4 revealed the Avcoat was slightly more uneven than expected, according to Jim Bray, crew module director at Lockheed Martin, Orion’s prime contractor.

It also appears that it is too expensive to build the shield by hand, as it was done during Apollo. Instead, they intend to build future heat shields as single blocks assembled not by hand but by machine.

This is another example of why SLS/Orion is an incredible money black hole. What is the point of next month’s test flight of the heat shield if the shield they are testing is not going to be used on future flights?

Meanwhile, the press (apparently ignorant and uninformed about this subject and brainwashed by a NASA Orion press event) is filled with numerous stories claiming that this test flight is NASA’s first step to getting to Mars. What hogwash.

I especially like this quote from the space.com article:

On Dec. 4, NASA officials are expected to launch the Orion spacecraft on its first test flight, putting the capsule through its paces in space before it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean. The goal of the flight is to see how some key Orion systems — like its huge heat shield and parachutes — work before launching humans into deep space sometime in the future. [emphasis mine]

Yet, most of the heat shield test data obtained by this test flight will be worthless and inapplicable to future Orion capsules. In other words, this test flight is, as I said, hogwash, a public relations stunt to sell Orion to Congress and to uneducated reporters. It is also an enormous waste of taxpayer money and the limited resources NASA has.

Solid rocket motors for American rockets?

The competition heats up: Even as ULA and Blue Origin begin work building an American engine to replace the Russian engines on the Atlas 5 rocket, ATK is offering its solid rocket motors for both Atlas 5 as well as Antares.

The company’s sales pitch is that they can get their product ready faster and cheaper. And since they are merging with Orbital Sciences anyway, I will not be at all surprised if Antares ends up with ATK solid rocket motors for its first stage.

As for Atlas 5, this sales pitch is actually aimed at Congress, which could step in and force ULA to buy ATK motors instead of Blue Origin’s new engine, even if this switch is against the wishes of ULA. As foolish as this might seem, the politics of pork (ATK provides more jobs than Blue Origin) could make it happen.

A pause in investment commitment to Virgin Galactic

The heat of competition: Virgin Galactic’s Arab investors have decided to hold off further commitment to the project until the investigation of the SpaceShipTwo crash is completed.

The backing of deep-pocketed Aabar Investments, run by the Abu Dhabi government, may be crucial to Virgin Galactic as it struggles to recover from the accident, which killed one test pilot and left another seriously injured. “As an investor, Aabar is concerned of course. It is a challenge – nothing can be decided until investigations are over,” the source said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject. “For now, it is a wait-and-watch situation.” Asked if Aabar was still committed to Virgin Galactic, the source said only: “There is time to make an assessment of the future strategy.”

This is hardly a surprise. Nor does it guarantee an end to Richard Branson’s company. What it signals is a recognition that Virgin Galactic has had a serious problem and must demonstrate that it can fix that problem before it will regain the trust of its investors.

A simple but powerful strategy for Congress against Obama

I’ve read a lot of analysis offering many ideas on what the Republican Congress should do to combat Obama in the next two years, but the best proposal I’ve read yet was posted as a comment to this website earlier today by mpthompson:

The best thing the Republicans can do would be to craft small, simple pieces of legislation that have the broad support of the American people (hmmmm,hmmmm border enforcement) and dare the Obama to veto. Do this week after week until it’s drilled into the electorates heads as to who is really the obstructionist.

Regarding Obamacare. Craft a one page amendment to the law that removes the mandate so that people can choose for themselves whether they want to participate (a pro-choice amendment so to speak). Then another amendment that removes the restrictions on they type of coverage a company can offer (another pro-choice amendment). Then let the public see the Dems for the big-government fascist they are.

There are a host of proposals that could fit this strategy. In addition to the ones suggested above, what about the approving the Keystone pipeline, cancelling the Obamacare medical tax, limiting the abuses of the IRS, limiting Obama’s travel expenses, and punishing the National Park Service for its partisan administration of the law during the Occupy movement and the government shutdown.

I am sure that my readers could think of many many more.

Update: It appears that the new Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), might be planning to follow this strategy, at least when it comes to Obamacare.

Former SpaceX employee arrested

A former SpaceX employee has been arrested for operating one of the largest drug marketplaces on the dark part of the web.

It appears he must have spent a lot of his time at SpaceX designing and operating a dark web website where people could go to buy illegal drugs. It also appears that this might have contributed to SpaceX’s decision to fire him during SpaceX’s most recent employee purges.

I must say that I find this story very sad. The guy gets a job at one of the premier cutting edge companies in the world where he can help that company build rockets that will take humans to the stars, and what does he do with his time? He creates a webpage to sell illegal drugs.

The best image yet of the birth of a solar system

HL Tau

The new ground-based telescope ALMA has taken an amazing image of a baby star and the planet-forming accretion disk that surrounds it.

ALMA uncovered never-before-seen features in this system, including multiple concentric rings separated by clearly defined gaps. These structures suggest that planet formation is already well underway around this remarkably young star. “These features are almost certainly the result of young planet-like bodies that are being formed in the disk. This is surprising since HL Tau is no more than a million years old and such young stars are not expected to have large planetary bodies capable of producing the structures we see in this image,” said ALMA Deputy Director Stuartt Corder.

ALMA has just been completed and is only in its initial shake-out period. It is also not an optical telescope, but observes in longer wavelengths above infrared. Thus, it can peer through dust clouds to see details like this. And these details confirm that the most accepted theory of planetary formation appears to be right.

Second SpaceShipTwo almost ready for flight

The heat of competition: Virgin Galactic today released hanger photos of the almost finished second SpaceShipTwo.

Even as the investigation into the fatal breakup of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane continues in Mojave, California, the next SpaceShipTwo is more than halfway complete in a Mojave hangar — and is expected to start going through tests on the ground and in the air next year.

Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing subsidiary, The Spaceship Company, has been working on the plane for two and a half years. It’s variously known as SpaceShipTwo Tail No. 2 or N202VG, and it’s part of Virgin Galactic plan to have a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo rocket planes and two WhiteKnightTwo carrier planes.

This story is a great example of the public relations genius of Richard Branson. Even with the pieces of SpaceShipTwo still being picked up on the ground he finds a way to sell his company positively to the world. They not only intend to continue their effort, they have the ship to prove it!

20 delusions that shape how liberals vote

Disconnected from reality: Twenty crazy beliefs repeatedly argued by liberals and Democrats that have no connection at all with reality.

I especially like the one on climate, with this line: “Politicians in this country can vote to change the world’s climate to be an ideal climate.”

Turbopump failure in first stage engine eyed for the Antares launch failure

The investigation into the launch failure of the Antares rocket one week ago is now focusing on the turbopump in one of the rocket’s first stage engines.

“The Investigation Board (AIB) is making good progress in determining the primary cause of last week’s failure. A preliminary review of telemetry and video data has been conducted and substantial debris from the Antares rocket and its Cygnus payload has been collected and examined,” noted Orbital on Wednesday. “While the work of the AIB continues, preliminary evidence and analysis conducted to date points to a probable turbopump-related failure in one of the two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 stage one main engines. As a result, the use of these engines for the Antares vehicle likely will be discontinued.”

It was later noted that the AJ-26 could still be used if they were proven to be completely flight-worthy.

If Orbital Sciences decides to completely cease using the Russian engines, it could mean a very significant delay before they can launch again, maybe several years. If they do that, I expect them to face contract penalties from NASA for the failure to deliver cargo to ISS on a reasonable schedule. It will also mean that their chances of winning a second contract will go down significantly.

They need to replace the engine, but they also need to keep launching. The article as well as a company press release today describes how they are exploring other launch vehicles, including the Falcon 9, to launch Cygnus, but I see no reason for them to completely abandon the Russian engines immediately. What they need to do is find what failed, fix it in the remaining engines, and keep flying while they scramble hard to replace the engine entirely.

A geological score for Curiosity!

Spectroscopy from Curiosity’s most recent drilling has been found to match and thus confirm the spectroscopy of the same spot taken years ago from orbit.

In observations reported in 2010, before selection of Curiosity’s landing site, a mineral-mapping instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provided evidence of hematite in the geological unit that includes the Pahrump Hills outcrop. The landing site is inside Gale Crater, an impact basin about 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter with the layered Mount Sharp rising about three miles (five kilometers) high in the center.

“We’ve reached the part of the crater where we have the mineralogical information that was important in selection of Gale Crater as the landing site,” said Ralph Milliken of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. He is a member of Curiosity’s science team and was lead author of that 2010 report in Geophysical Research Letters identifying minerals based on observations of lower Mount Sharp by the orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM). “We’re now on a path where the orbital data can help us predict what minerals we’ll find and make good choices about where to drill. Analyses like these will help us place rover-scale observations into the broader geologic history of Gale that we see from orbital data.”

This is a significant finding. Not only does this data now prove that the orbital data is correct, it demonstrates that scientists can now use that orbital data to direct Curiosity to even more interesting geological surface features. In fact, this ground-based data will help them calibrate all their orbital data more precisely, thus making our geological knowledge of Mars more accurate and reliable.

Mathematical models badly overstate ebola numbers

The uncertainty of science: New evidence suggests that the on-going ebola epidemic in Africa is beginning to ease, contrary to the predictions made by computer models.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has infected at least 13,567 people and killed 4,951, according to figures released on 31 October by the World Health Organization (WHO). Now, in a rare encouraging sign, the number of new cases in Liberia seems to be flattening after months of exponential growth. Scientists say it is too soon to declare that the disease is in retreat: case data are often unreliable, and Ebola can be quick to resurge. But it is clear that mathematical models have failed to accurately project the outbreak’s course. [emphasis mine]

The creators of these mathematical models should switch fields and go into climate change modeling. At least in that field the journal Nature would never trumpet the failure of their models to work. In climate science, the major journals do whatever they can, for political reasons, to hide these failures.

Update on SpaceShipTwo investigation

Additional details about the investigation into the crash of SpaceShipTwo have now been released.

The investigators are focusing on the telemetry that the pilots were receiving, as well as the system for activating the ship’s braking feathering system.

As I have noted in the comments, we must try not to speculate on this subject, especially because this issue could do harm to innocent people. For example, some reports have incorrectly attributed the crash to pilot error. To say this now is false. All the investigation has noted is that the co-pilot took the first step to activating the feathering system, as he was supposed to do, though slightly early. The feathering system then deployed on its own, without the second command being given.

We do not yet know the finer details that make his action significant, or not. This is why the investigation is checking into the telemetry the pilots were getting, which might have affected when they did what they did.

We need to wait for more data.

Some Virgin Galactic customers demand money back

News reports suggest that — following last week’s SpaceShipTwo crash — more than thirty of the seven hundred people who placed deposits with Virgin Galactic to fly on SpaceshipTwo have pulled out, demanding their money back.

In response to the claim that more than 30 customers are considering their position in the aftermath of the crash, a spokesperson for Virgin Galactic admitted a number of people have asked for their money back. “We can confirm that less than three per cent of people have requested refunds,” the spokesman said.

This is not a surprise, nor should it be. A company can only survive a crisis like this by responding honestly, quickly, and directly. If Virgin Galactic does this, finding the cause of the crash and fixing it, they will likely hold onto most of their customers. If they don’t, those remaining customers will leave. This week’s cancellations are the first immediate response to the crash. The future of the company, however, will be determined by what happens in the next six months.

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